Posts in Faith

I am afraid
Of people behind counters
And of talking on the phone.
“Here; you answer it.
I don’t know who it is.”
My husband shakes his head,
Takes the phone, and says,
Like it’s not the hardest word.
He smiles,
Calls me ridiculous,
Kisses me on the cheek.
I laugh even though
I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.

I am afraid
Of neighbors across the street
And of visiting our friends.
“Our friends”
Because I don’t have any of my own.
My husband says hello again.
“Dinner next week?”
He raises eyebrows at me
And I nod my head,
like I know he hopes I will.
The next seven days are
Composed of dread and low expectations.
During dinner my mind
snaps a picture of every awkward silence
and confused stare.

But after is the worst,
When I take the photographs from their box
and read the writing on their backs.
They hate you.
You always say the wrong thing.
Why do you—
Now I am especially aware
That they are our friends.
“Our friends,” not mine.
Because he is the one
Who answers the phone
And I am the one who is afraid.

I am afraid
Of congregants in their pews
And of talking to the pastor.
My husband isn’t here to answer.
He’s across the room,
A link in a circle of strangers,
Talking to our friends.
So I sit next to the pastor’s wife,
Our bibles on the pew between us.
She tells me it’s the devil
Saying those things I hear;
It’s the devil
Making me afraid of the telephone,
Of being a link in the circle,
Of singing the wrong note during worship,
Of talking too much, too little,
Too fast, too loud,
Too soft, too slow.
“It’s the devil,” she says
When I bring up brain chemistry
And therapy and medicine.
“It’s the devil,” she says.
“Let me pray with you.”

So we pray.
And I try to concentrate,
But I’m too busy being afraid
That I will say the wrong thing,
Pray the wrong thing;
That she will notice
My stutters–
My halting phrases–
That I am holding her hands too hard,
Or that my fingers are too cold,
That I am too open, too closed,
Too little, too much.
But most of all I am afraid
Because we are calling God
And he might notice too.

I hang up before He answers,
Smiling at the pastor’s wife,
Letting her hug me after “Amen.”
She laughs at the devil,
Her way of giving glory.
I laugh too, even though
This devil is me
And I’m not funny;
I am not a joke.
“Just pray,” she quips, looking away,
Punching a number
into her cell phone,
Like it’s something she
does every day.
“Call on Him and He will answer.”

But that’s what I’m afraid of.

Pride and Poverty

An urban slum in Hanoi, Viet Nam. According to the World Bank, over 13 percent of Viet Nam’s population, and a quarter of the world population – nearly 2 billion people – live on $1.25 or less a day.  Photo Credit:  Kibae Park/UN Photo I've been awed lately by how richly blessed our family is. We always have food, clothing, a roof over our head, water, electricity and--praise God because we live in Louisiana--air conditioning. We are financially independent and consistently have money left over to save, to go on dates, to have family days. We've had access to tools that have taught us how to budget, and as long as we stick to that, we have very few financial worries. We are richly blessed, indeed.

It can be easy to forget sometimes that not everyone has been granted the same opportunities that we have. At just a stone's throw above the US poverty line, our household is actually richer than 99% of the world's population. While we have running water and air conditioning in our home, there are people walking miles through the heat every day for just the hope of clean water to drink. While we have money left over to save or to have fun with, there are people who don't know how they're going to feed their families for the week. And while we've learned how to budget every paycheck so we have exactly the right amount going to the right place, there are families living off a daily amount less than the forgotten change in the bottom of my purse. And usually, I'm not even aware of the disparity.

Even more than awed by how fortunate we are, I'm humbled. My perspective is awful sometimes. Pride and selfishness go hand in hand, each concerned with the self above all. At times, I have definitely been concerned with myself above anything else. That goes for finances too. Money often seems like too much when we're giving it and not enough when we're receiving it, as though somehow the context of a dollar can change its value. But it's always a gift. It's a gift to receive, and it's a gift to have the ability to help others, even if that means parting with what you have.

Every so often I have revelations like this. But they fade. I get comfortable again and forget about these things until something else brings them up again (thanks, humanity). I forget to be grateful; forget to be humble; forget to think about the needs of others. This time, I don't want to forget. I hope that no matter what happens with our finances, I could remain cognizant of the situation of those less fortunate, be grateful for the abundance we have, and out of that gratefulness, give. And I know that as I'm sanctified, I will become more like Christ: less prideful, more humble; less selfish, more giving; more and more loving of those around me. He is the source of everything good in me. May he increase as I decrease, until only Christ remains.

Dear Moms: Sometimes Love Grows, and That's Okay.

  Three years ago this morning, I posted this scripture: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3.30)

Little did I know that I would indeed be decreasing that day—by about 20 pounds. My oldest daughter, now affectionately called Biggle in public internet posts, was born that afternoon, filling my life and shrinking my belly.

I'm not going to lie; as wonderful as she is, I wasn't quite sure what to make of her for a while. The two of us got off to a rough start. I loved her, but I found that the happy warnings everyone had given me fell flat on their faces, and that had me confuddled, to say the least. Veteran mothers had assured me:

"As soon as you see her, you'll realize you never really knew what love was before." 

"You'll fall in love with her instantly,"

"You think you love your husband until you have kids. Then you find out what love really is."

All of these things I had heard countless times during my pregnancy, and yet in the twilight hours, after visitors had gone and we were left alone with our brand new person, I looked over my daughter's tiny head and swirls of black hair at the man who helped make her. Still, I loved him more than anything on the planet—more even than the baby in my arms. When I looked down at those steely, new-to-the-world eyes, I didn't find love at first sight. I found a tiny, squalling creature with rolled up fists and a purple Angel's Kiss splashed across her forehead, but that love? The love that was so great and terrible I never could have understood it before I had kids?  It wasn't there—or if it was, it wasn't what I'd been led to believe. She left me in awe. I would have given my life for her in a heartbeat, but at that time, that instinct was biological. It wasn't emotional. I didn't even know her. After an early arrival and a surprise C-section that I didn't want, I barely even felt like she was mine. It was like someone handed me a baby and said, "Here, this is yours." She didn't look like me. I'd never met her. I did nothing to physically push her into the world. I didn't even see her for 15 minutes after she was born. Then almost as soon as I got her, she was taken and passed around to visitors. When they gave her back, they said, "Here, this is yours."

But I was exhausted. She was so unfamiliar. So even though I smiled and nursed her and did everything I knew I should, and even though I loved her in that strange, biological-imperative kind of way, my heart said back, "Is it? Well, someone prove it."

On top of that, I wasn't ready for her yet—we had been working on getting our home livable, but it still wasn't prepared to move into. We wrapped her up in blankets and took her "home" to someone else's home. I'm so grateful we had somewhere to go after leaving the hospital, but it wasn't the way it was supposed to be. I felt out of place, uncertain,  and shaky. Nothing seemed solid to me. It was as if I was floating, suspended in midair, with no control over anything. How was I supposed to be the solid, unshakeable being I thought a mother should have been? I couldn't. Beneath the heartbreaking happiness that came with my little girl, there was an undeniable sadness to it all. And I worried that I was an awful person because I loved my husband more than ever and only loved her because I should have.

Just like with any other person I've ever known and loved, I grew to love my daughter. Our love wasn't instant or all-consuming, but steady and real. I had to learn how to love like a mother loves, and what that meant. When my second child was born, I already knew. I knew how to be a mother and I knew what that love felt like. When they put him in my arms, I loved him. Instantly. But Biggle and I, we were in the trenches together, so to speak. We figured out this whole parent-child thing, side by side, together. And because of that I love her in a greater, entirely different way than I possibly could have three years ago when they laid her against my breast.

Today she is three years old, with beautiful brown hair that falls like silk ribbon in curls around her face. She wrinkles her nose when she smiles, can't stand to wear clothes, and has enough sass to rival even my own, which I've dutifully cultivated since birth. Although there's still a healthy distinction between the love I have for my husband and the love I have for my kids (my relationship with him comes first, always. That's the best we could do for out children and they thrive because of it), I couldn't love her more if I tried. I love her more than myself. I love her more than my own life. That love just took a while to grow.

My prayer is the same today. Let there be more of you and less of me, Father. You are the love that I give my children and the rest of the world. Let that love increase.

Happy Birthday Biggle, and cheers to all the mothers out there.