let me be/ your breath a poem by Grace Kelley grow in me— all that is new & tender the unseen seems more real with each fluttering sign of presence. (the flutters gave them away after all) —how I knew they were two & not only one. Now my desires are more refined than ever. so grow in me— until the pain makes it hard to rise from my sheets until I’m stretched & marred far beyond my capacity until red stripes mark my belly full & heavy with the weight of the glory of you. grow in me— until sleep becomes a stranger until breaths feel hard to take— for the crowding of my lungs is no less Holy than singing praises to the God who made you. grow in me— until you are ready to breathe with fresh lungs— until the sweet echos of your first cries tear open places always meant for loving you. Until then Dear Ones, grow in me— & let me be your breath.
I didn’t see this coming.
But when I saw the two of them on the ultrasound monitor, kicking and waving, dancing and playing—I felt like I had known them all my life.
Willy and I were talking last night about taking a trip sometime after they are born, and as we talked about taking “the whole family”—all SEVEN of us, instead of feeling only the over-whelm of having not one, but two tiny babies in the car along with our older three kids, all I felt was a sense of rightness—of completion.
“This is our whole family,”I said, “these babies are who we have been missing all this time.”
My husband nodded wordlessly, with a slight mist in his eyes, and I knew he felt it too. The sense of rightness—of an adventure on which not one of our members would be missing.
I should have gotten my first hint from my mother-in-law; but I wasn’t at all ready to hear it. Upon telling her that we were expecting for the fourth time, she almost immediately said, “This time, I think it’s twins.”
I wheeled on her with shock and probably a little bit of anger and said, “Don’t say that to me!” The overwhelm was immediate, and all I could see in that moment was the birth center birth of my dreams crashing and burning in the wake of a high-risk pregnancy. (Not to mention the fact that these babies were conceived naturally, in my 29th year, and we have no history of twins in my family that I knew of.)
Northern Colorado has needed a free standing birth center for as long as I’ve lived here. Eight years ago, when I was expecting my first child, I even considered driving to Denver or Boulder to have that midwife led, natural birth experience I had always longed for—but in the end the drive was too daunting, and those centers filled up very quickly. Last year when I saw they were making the final preparations to open a birth center in the middle of my town, right next to our favorite coffee shop and brewery no less, I knew I was ready to have a fourth baby with the kind of compassionate and personable care that would never say to a woman in labor—“Well, do you want to stay pregnant forever?”
Yeah that happened.
I don’t know who said it first, but I’ve read it many places—the way a woman in labor is treated will impact her for the rest of her life. It’s a vulnerable place that can very easily become traumatic or ecstatic, depending on the kind of care the woman receives.
My first born daughter came just 30 minutes after my gentle female doctor with the soft voice and the long brown hair streaked with grey had to go to the clinic for her regular office rotation. I was at the point in my labor when I really couldn’t care less that some guy I had never met would be delivering my baby instead of the doctor that I loved, but the way he came into the room filled me with a confidence I didn’t know I was lacking. He admired me, he encouraged me, he made me laugh and lit up the room with his joyful demeanor. When my daughter emerged at last, he encouraged me to pick her up and lift her to my chest myself. When he knew she was small and would need to be checked for IUGR, instead of making a big fuss, he said, “she doesn’t look too big,” with a kindly smile. And even though this very doctor ended up needing to do some extremely unpleasant things to me within those next thirty minutes to help my “pain in the butt placenta” detach and make sure there was none left inside my very-unmedicated-body—I still have a tender feeling towards this man who delivered my daughter, because he treated me like a person worthy of dignity and respect and not just a body with a baby in it.
My second two experiences were not nearly as pleasant as the first. My second child born via an un-planned and borderline emergent c-section after ten excruciating hours of labor; my third via a successful VBAC with a doctor who seemed more like she was making fun of me than cheering me on as I pushed with all my might against the fear of what would happen if I didn’t do things her way. I carry these experiences with me; the good and the bad. Whether I want to or not, each of these births has left its scars on me, just as each baby has left me with a few new stretch marks and a few extra pounds.
I brushed off my Mother-in-Law’s well-intentioned comment, until at 18 weeks pregnant, I knew for sure something was different. My belly button had already begun turning inside out, and my uterus wasn’t even supposed to be that high in my abdomen at that point. Then I started feeling the flutterings—those welcome signs of the new life within me—on complete opposite sides of my abdomen, at the very same time. For a baby that was supposed to be the size of a sweet potato, that seemed unusual to say the least. Then, I had a dream of a boy and a girl—twins. The girl was smaller than the boy, with a sweet and mild demeanor. The boy was a bright burst of exuberant sunshine. And when I woke that next morning I could feel it in their kicks; the differences between these flutterings on opposite sides of my abdomen, like the differences between alternative rock and classical radio stations. Two nights later I woke up at 5:30 with a start—and I couldn’t go back to sleep until I had decided on a name for the boy baby.
I heard it in the silence and the dark—from the mouth of God, a name for the son I still wasn’t even completely sure I had suddenly emerged. A name I had never considered, but loved immediately. Finally settled in my mind, I went back to sleep.
A few more weeks went by, with days in which I was sure there were twins in my womb, and more days in which I wondered if I had just really messed up my dates somehow and that’s why I was so much bigger than I thought I should be. My sweet husband tried to comfort me by saying; “It’s just one really big baby.” Somehow though I didn’t find this at all reassuring.
The week of my ultrasound finally came, and Sunday morning I woke up full of emotions about what this week would hold. My parents had our other three kids for the weekend, my husband was going to be drumming at our church, and I myself planned to attend the first in person service I had been to in over a year. As I rested and prepared that morning I spent some time praying about the pregnancy and in the depths of my heart I heard the Lord chuckle to me;
“You’re just waiting for science to confirm what you know I’ve already told you—”
The fear welled up in me, but then I heard him again, “I am giving you a double portion.” Like a lightning flash my perspective shifted—not to the weight of the burden I was already beginning to waddle while carrying, but the weight of the blessing. A double portion of children—where I had only expected one. And with it I knew would also come a double portion of provision from the God who gave them to me.
The peace that enveloped my heart that morning carried me into the week, but by Wednesday evening I was anxious just to know for sure. Then came the text message from the receptionist at the birth center—something had come up with the tech, and they needed to reschedule my ultrasound appointment.
I felt like an overtightened harp string that had been plucked on a sour note, and the melt down ensued. All that evening and the next day I walked around in a fog, hoping upon hope that the midwives who would be doing my regular pre-natal appointment would be able to tell me something. Just something to confirm that I wasn’t in fact, losing my mind thinking that I might be having twins. After having spent the whole previous evening being angry at God and feeling like he was pulling a prank on me, I felt him inviting me once again to trust him—that I would know what I needed to know, when I needed to know it.
I have never been more grateful to be in a practice where they actually listen to me and care about my heart. Hearing my whole story, my lovely midwife examined me and confirmed that, yes in fact, I was measuring at 29 weeks, when I was only 21. Yes in fact, it did seem like there was an awful lot of baby in my belly for 21 weeks. And yes in fact, it did seem like there were two heart beats when we used different dopplers on different sides of my belly.
I felt affirmed, but without an ultrasound, how could we say for sure?
That’s when the lovely midwives decided to just use the ultrasound themselves, not for anything technical, but just to see if they could see two babies. A short parade down the hallway, some cold jelly and a thousand button presses later—there they were. Two babies, in two sacs, kicking separately from each other. The child on the right, which I was pretty sure was my son, squirming and kicking up a storm with his tiny feet. The child on the left, who I was pretty sure was my daughter— mild and placid, sucking her thumb.
I wept tears of relief and joy, said something along the lines of “I’m not crazy!” and looked at these babies I wasn’t expecting and felt my heart grow big enough for two more.
A mother’s love knows that there are things worth giving up your dreams for, things worth fighting for, things worth dying for. And as much as I mourned the loss of the birth I had been hoping for, I rejoiced that in the span of four more months, we will have not one, but two more beautiful babies, God-willing. And whatever comes, I know already that they are worth it all.
Starting into the fire pit last night I found myself thinking back on the disciples. On the grace of God that left the disciples grieving on the Sabbath.
When Jesus died that Friday night they buried his body hastily because it was almost time for the Sabbath. It was their weekly day of rest and there wasn’t time to prepare him as properly as they would have liked. I imagine them sitting around fires and tables that Holy Saturday, wondering where it had all gone wrong. Spared from making plans, from trying to decide what would be next for these who had followed this carpenter preacher around for the past three years. Spared for the moment by the rest they were required to take on the Sabbath day.
I imagine Peter’s grief and repentance at betraying Jesus with his words. And the vacuum of guilt and condemnation that consumed Judas. The tears that John the beloved disciple wept with Mary, Jesus’ mother. Was it hard for them to eat that day? When the last meal they remembered their friend and teacher had told them that true feast was his body broken and blood shed for them. Did they remember how he had tenderly washed their feet? Did all his words suddenly come in sharp relief—his commands to love one another. His words about where he was going and how they could not follow him—at least not yet.
Around the fire pit last night I kept thinking that if the disciples had actually had time to prepare his body properly on Friday, they would not have been back at the tomb on Sunday. How it must have irked them to leave his body less than prepared for a proper burial! How it must have burned, and felt like a betryal. Like the last thing from common decency. Yet, this was the very avenue by which they were to discover his resurrection.
The dark of that Sunday morning, as Mary rose in the dark to go to the tomb of her beloved teacher and friend, she had no idea what awaited her. Perhaps she wept the whole way there, Jesus’ other female disciples with her. Hurrying along in the dark, worry about what they would say to get past the Roman guards stationed at the tomb. Hoping no one stopped them from doing what was the least they could do for this man who has somehow changed everything ever since they had met him.
And then to discover—the stone rolled away. The body, nowhere to be found. An angel sitting outside asking them the strangely obvious question: “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, for he has risen, just as he told you.”
How his words must have returned to them in sharp relief! The lightning bolt of the revelation that their Lord wasn’t there—that while they thought every circumstance pointed to him being dead and gone from their lives forever, the very opposite was true.
Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, HE IS RISEN.
He is Risen indeed.
I stared down at the plastic box on the dryer. It looked almost just as she had left her. Hair clips neatly arranged in a plastic tray, lotions neatly arranged, brushes with missing bristles still full of her shining white hairs.
“I figured I’d at least let you look at it. I didn’t want to just throw it all into the trash,” my grandpa had said an hour before, pointing me to the box where he had set it upon his arrival at our home for a Mother’s Day barbecue.
It was my own Mother’s first Mother’s day without her Mom. She died at the beginning of the Coronavirus panic-inducing-pandemic, and we weren’t able to have her funeral for months afterwards. The lack of closure was as tangible and palpable as the white hairs left in her hairbrush; as the thought that this box of things was only here sitting on my dryer because she didn’t need them anymore.
Is this all I have left? I thought to myself after everyone had gone. Staring down at the hearts on the metal clip she used to pull her hair back into a half-up-do ever since I was a little girl.
And though I was glad to have her clips, the bath and body works lotion that always was her favorite and reminds me of her—these things are far from an inheritance. They are only the small and ordinary remains of a life lived with beauty.
I wonder if the disciples felt the same way. After they had laid his broken body in the grave where they thought he would stay. Which one of them took it upon themselves to open up his traveling pack? Did they find his extra tunic, the comb for his beard, his fishing lures and knife? Must this not have seemed a far cry from the inheritance he had promised to them?
Did they wonder as I do, in moments of doubt: is this all we have left?
I threw away all of the lotions but one. I kept most of the clips. The brush with the most bristles now runs through my short red hair each morning, and my strands of DNA lie alongside the strands of my grandmothers—some of the only earthly evidence left of a life well lived.
It’s too easy to believe that this is it. Her body burned down to ashes mere hours after I received the news in the pre-dawn of a March morning. Sometimes I think I hear her warbling voice singing the old hymns she loved so much. I see her weathered hands holding open the precious pages of her Bible in her lap, her neck bent so she could see, her chin in her hand, pinkie finger extended to her bottom lip in contemplation—the same gesture I catch myself doing at times.
Getting older was no piece of cake for her. She lived in chronic pain for many, many of that late years of her life. When the pain and the meds made it hard for her to have her daily study time with the Lord she told me once, “I just know that God is teaching me something I’ve never learned before.”
The God of the resurrection will have no trouble bringing her back from the ashes that were once her body—they are only the seeds. And be they scattered on a mountainside here in her Colorado home, or in the wood of Washington that she loved so much, it doesn’t much matter.
I can almost feel her long arms hugging me around the shoulders. Her lips puckered to kiss whichever part of my face was closest. Her voice saying words that were always the honest truth: “I LOVE you.”
Like a blessing. Like a benediction. Like Jesus’ words to his Disciples;
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me…Truly, truly I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow with turn to joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”John 16:16-22 ESV
Sometimes what we have left feels like nothing near enough—where was that joy for the morning again, I often ask?
But this is only my shallow perception—my finite mind cannot grasp the weightyness of the glory that is unfolding all around me even now. Nor can I ever hope to fully imagine the glory that is to come.
This isn’t all I have left. There is so much more.
Even so—Come Again LORD Jesus.
Be blessed this Good Friday friends, and as you sit in the grief of the Savior and your own personal griefs that I know weigh heavily still on your own shoulders—may you remember that whatever your “this” is; THIS ISN’T IT.
It’s Friday. But Sunday is coming.
I didn’t know what you meant by “kingdom” the words felt foreign & meaningless in my mouth. Perhaps I pictured the caste of some fairy tale aspiration—foreign to my modern mind. Perhaps I pictured something archaic something that cost more than it was worth. Perhaps I pictured a moat & drawbridge full of beasts snapping at the heels of those who don’t belong. Perhaps I envisioned those streets of gold the palace with your robe, the temple full of smoke— But nothing else. No true life, no blade of grass, no creatures (except those terrifying ones) setting themselves to sing your praises for all eternity. But then I saw it. A picture of a long table on a mountain top. Cushions littering the ground, linens & lovely place settings, a breeze blowing the soft grasses. I could almost smell the aroma of a feast being prepared— & I knew I had gotten it wrong. The Kingdom is a table— Where those who were enemies become friends with each other & the God who made friends with us all. Where the hungry eat without price— wine & milk honey & marrow in abundance. Where we dwell in your presence & soak it in— like the lush grasses beneath my feet in summertime. We are not forced to praise, with harps of gold on nimbus clouds— rather, praise flows from our lips like wine as we see you as you are. Today, I think about the last supper & how you washed the filthy feet of an enemy who betrayed you & dined with friends who did the same. Can I help but marvel at the God who still prepares wretched sinners a table in his presence? A table that will satisfy all the lack & longing we have felt for all these painful earthly years— Where all at once, we will be full of joy & satisfied.
Photo c/o Stella de Smit on Unsplash
I know your heart is full of anguish & longing — mine is too. How I have longed to gather you beneath my plumage; as a mother hen gathers her vulnerable chicks—shielding them from all that would seek to do them harm. I would treat your wounds with the balm of my presence & cure your sorrow with the sound of my laughter. Oh if you only knew how I delight in you. But you have been wayward sons & daughters— Jerusalem the Holy City slaughters the prophets & those who are sent to seek and save it. Yet I would gather you even still; —children who cannot believe a promise only because it isn't the way you imagined it. —children who cannot believe my words because your eyes have yet to see them come true. But it was for this reason Beloved that I have come.
Those who said they would help have only hurt me more. The blood won’t stop coming & all these wounds refuse to be bound. But I heard a rumor yesterday— it caused my heart to leap inside my frail & aching chest. They say: a man— a prophet— a healer— has come to Israel again. In the crowd I hide my face behind my shawl. I hope no one recognizes me— I don’t belong here. All who touch me are unclean & in this crowd I could pollute dozens—yet do I really seek to touch him? Not him I say to myself just his hem— if I can just touch the hem of his robe I know I will be healed— After all this time walking alone perhaps I could be a mother— a friend— a daughter— again. When my fingers graze fabric I feel the Power working. My body feels more whole than it has in twelve long years, but with the joy comes like a lightning flash both awe & terror. What have I done? But before I can slip away anonymous & unnamed his eyes turn toward me. His gaze is searching & he’s asking; “Who touched me?” And I, shaking in a body only moments made whole, confess it all before him. I thought he would chastise me for making him unclean— instead I feel his hand beneath my chin, lifting my eyes to his gaze. He looks at me like he knows me from the top of my head, to the soles of my feet. He calls me daughter & says my faith has made me well. If only everyone could be seen like this— his loving gaze made well parts of me even miracles couldn’t heal.
Photo c/o Luca Lawrence on Unsplash
Sometimes the heaviness here makes it hard to breathe. When my lungs are burning for breath I close my eyes & think about the wedding feast. The long table, laid with fine linens & fruits of glorious labor— beloved faces of those I have wept with, rejoiced with, & grieved— all shining like the glassen sea’s surface in summer. I hear the wind blowing fragrance through the trees in the orchard. Joy overwhelms me & I know he’s coming. I lift my eyes to meet his own & when he smiles, I feel it to the soles of my bare feet where they plant themselves in warm grass, like a tree who knows where she’s growing. He laughs easy as breathing & like the sudden break of dawn over mountaintops I breathe in the reality that this sound could fill every crack, every lack every longing of my whole life. I open my eyes, shining with unshed tears & my heart breaks to find myself here again. But the burdens feel lighter with his laughter to buoy me.
To the God of Hagar— God of wandering people in wilderness places— We know that you see— but we are having a hard time believing what we are seeing and seeing it— still believing that you see. God who has seen all violence done upon the earth— who sees the mothers and fathers fleeing— their babies in their arms only to arrive at safer shores that do not want them. God who has seen every innocence stolen by the hands of wicked men some who claim your name while inflicting unspeakable pain. God who has seen every victim silenced by lies and deceit and the idolatry of the comfort of lies so much easier to swallow than the bitter draught of truth. God who has seen every genocide, every leader drunk on power and prejudice, who values not what you called holy —the imago dei— of all of human kind. God who has seen the ruthless grip of natural disasters tearing houses and lands and peoples apart. God who has seen the ravages of every kind of sickness and disease; we know this is not the first pandemic you have seen. God who himself has felt the sting of sickness that leads to death— the tears of grief for your beloved, Lazarus in the tomb and for the moment out of reach. These times are not “unprecedented” to you. But we are still afraid. We need to know— do you see us here? Do you see every lonely heart turned lonelier by pandemic isolation? I had days where I was scared to make contact— to smile, to wave even to those a street away. The distance has felt more than social. But God, these are small things I know. What about the family members saying goodbye with nothing but a lousy internet connection connecting them to a parent a child a loved one— dying in the ICU? Do you see how the fingertips ache to be squeezed? to be held one last earthly time? Do you see the fear in our eyes— that we (or one we love) could be next to die alone? Or what about the cries for justice God? You’ve been hearing some version of the these for millenia— the oppressor always has his boot pressed against the neck of someone unable to fight back. Some of us are just now beginning to understand this is not the promised land. This is the valley of shadows. I’ve known it since I was seven. And despite all you’ve done to heal and redeem— some days all I can say is: “I hate it here.” Like Hagar running through the night her heart beat slamming her short breaths burning her shaking lungs. forced into service forced into her master’s bed forced to carry the burden of the patriarch’s lack of faith and her mistresses’ abuse— she fled. But where could she go? Where can we find shelter in a world that seems to be tearing always at some new seam we didn’t know was there? Do you see her God? See the tears track down her dirty cheeks? See her face, pale with fears her heart cannot hold? What more can she take God? (What I mean to say is what more can we take?) Is there a spring after all? A spring rising up in this wilderness— water bubbling like the sound of joy from the ground? Would you speak as you once did to Hagar— to ask us where have you been and where are you going? Will you give to the wounded, outcast, abandoned, lonely, bleeding heart— promise of a blessing? Can we name our sons Ishmael—knowing you have heard our affliction? Knowing you have your eye upon us even still? The chickadees in the barren lilac out my window always have enough to eat— will you feed us even here Jesus? Will it taste like bread and water to know you see us still?
They were angry with you when you turned over those tables. The coins clattered in the courtyard and you could hear the cries—the bleating, cooing cacophony of the sacrifice-for-sale. The offerings offered for a price that seemed payable that seemed enough perhaps— but missed the heart. Your heart beat hammered human in your chest as you, the righteous God-Man ransacked the place. Wrath is reserved especially for we who have eyes but refuse to see. They were angry. They called you a thief, a menace—a disturber of the peace. They said the prince of darkness had paid to have your soul But you were the One who spent 40 days with nothing; a wilderness wandering, just so you could return and wonder of wonders give us a world in yourself— the Word. How many tables have you toppled this year? How many images did we imagine were worthy of you, but we see now are rotted, rusted with all the rest of our earthly treasures? How many idols of security, of normalcy, of the easy & good life, you have shattered— scattered at our feet like coins from the money changers. Like the dung scattered from the sacrificial sheep? Who our true gods are has never been more obvious. Where we put our hope in the midst of crisis— the thread, the shred that we hold that helps us sleep at night. LORD, if it be not the edge of your robe then turn it over again— Turn us into children hungry for you, O Bread of Life— who thirst for water that quenches the soul.
Header photo c/o KaLisa Veer on Unsplash