Nourished

late nights bw

At the end of Jacob’s first week, I hobbled into my midwife’s office, bleeding and crying and snotting all over the place. She asked me how we were doing. “I’m bruised,” I said. “I’m bleeding. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Tell me I don’t have to do this, I begged her with my eyes.

She prescribed me heavy duty nipple cream and sent me off with a hug. “Nursing is a great way to take care of your baby,” she said. “But it is not the only way. What Jacob needs most is to be nourished, and to be loved. Nursing is not the only way to accomplish those goals. You’ve got to take care of yourself, too.”

***

At first, both my boys latched like naturals. For the first hour or so after birth, I congratulated myself on knowing what to do. Such a natural mother.

I was a fool.

Mere hours later with Jacob, my first, I began to experience intense pain when he would latch. One of the nurses encouraged me to self express with my fingers, to use a spoon to make sure he was getting the precious liquid gold, even if he couldn’t latch properly. So I did.

The next morning he was fussy, inconsolable. Another nurse asked me how long it had been since the last feeding. Four, maybe five hours earlier I had expressed some colostrum. Could it really be time to do this again? I was already bruised and discouraged. I registered the shock in her eyes: four to five hours? This baby needs to eat. Apparently I wasn’t a natural after all. A lactation consultant asked me to show her how I was feeding him and to my disbelief she praised me on our technique. Gold star, baby! I began to breathe easily again.

The relief was short-lived.

Once we were home, I dreaded feedings. He wouldn’t latch properly. He’d scream until he was red and then, once latched, would cause me to bleed. Even when we were lucky enough to latch well, I wasn’t producing enough to satisfy his hunger. I began to feel the prickle of fear and resentment every time he cried. And then I felt guilty—wasn’t I supposed to be enjoying this? Weren’t we supposed to be bonding?

At his first pediatric check-up, our doctor came through the door while he latched—well, for the first time in hours—and drank and drank and drank. I was ecstatic – Look! We’re doing this! Even so, we learned he had lost 10% of his birth weight, and they told me I needed to supplement with formula.

I felt like a failure. The words of the instructor of the hospital’s breastfeeding class rattled around in my head. She had told us she wouldn’t even talk about formula because she knew we wouldn’t “give in to the temptation.” She told us to be on the lookout for formula samples that would come in the mail. “Throw them away immediately,” she said. “You don’t want to give in at 3am when you feel like you’re about to lose your mind.” Pre-birth, I resolved to do whatever it took to breastfeed my son, no matter how I felt about it in the moment.

But at 3am, in the face of my screaming, (starving?) newborn, feeling like I was about to lose my mind, I “gave in” and followed the instructions of his doctor, feeding him the formula I had asked my husband to buy at the store that day.

I still felt like a failure—I wasn’t enough for him. But for the first time in his three days of life, he slept soundly and peacefully and longer than 45 minutes. Finally, he was satisfied.

***

I met with a lactation consultant a few days after seeing my midwife, and braced myself for a lecture. When she asked me how it was going, I burst into tears. “I’m not sure I can do this,” I said. I gasped for breath, struggling to find the words to speak the truth I hadn’t wanted to face: “I’m a sexual assault survivor . . . and I just . . . I can’t . . .”

There it was. Nursing my child was a triggering event. I resented my newborn and felt so ashamed.

She handed me a box of tissues and put her hand on my arm. “You don’t have to do this,” she said. “I don’t say that lightly; it’s my job to convince you otherwise. But you have got to take care of yourself. The most important thing you can offer this boy is your love and your presence. Take care of yourself first so you can give him the love that he needs.”

***

I pumped for a month. Every two hours I’d go up to Jacob’s room, turn on Gilmore Girls, and pump pump pump away. My mom and husband helped hold him and feed him and gave me a break to shower and rest. But then my husband went back to work and my mom went back home. He wasn’t content to sit with me while I pumped. He screamed. And screamed. And suddenly I was faced with a terrible predicament: do I sit here and pump and let him scream? Or do I skip the pump, pick him up, and feed him more formula?

I set the pump down. I made a bottle and brought him to my chest. And I stared into his eyes and sang him songs and told him how precious he was to me.

It wasn’t long before I saw the effects of bottle-feeding: Jacob and I both were sleeping better. The tension in my shoulders released. Rocking him and feeding him became my favorite time. My prayers shifted from laments and requests for peace to songs of quiet praise.

My perinatal therapist diagnosed me with postpartum anxiety, and with her help I learned to re-tell the story of feeding Jacob as one of great hope and love: rather than give in to the fear of failure or let my heart grow bitter from resentment, I had chosen to change course so we could flourish in our new relationship as mother and son.

In those days I began to see how inextricably linked self-care is to the well-being of our children.

***

With Henry, it was different. I wasn’t sure how it would go—would I be triggered again? I told myself I would nurse him for the first three days, at least. I would make sure he received the colostrum. And then I would check in with myself. Three days passed and I continued to nurse. My milk came in and I continued to nurse.

And something strange happened. I began to enjoy this time with my son. We had figured it out. We did it together. I quietly rejoiced as he fed, feeling so much pride and love and connection.

Rather than triggering me, he was healing me.

But I still wasn’t producing enough milk. I could tell he wasn’t eating enough. So we began to supplement.

As much as I was (mostly) enjoying the time nursing Henry, I couldn’t figure out how to stick it out for the long term; we had a big move on the horizon and my stress level was at all-time high. Jacob, only 19 months, needed lots of love and attention in the wake of his baby brother’s arrival. I didn’t know how I would make the time to pump to increase my supply.

When, in his second week, Henry began to clusterfeed, my confidence dwindled even further. Feedings became more painful, he became more frustrated, and the old familiar feelings of dread and resentment began to creep their way into my heart each time I heard him cry.

On day ten I made cold cabbage compresses and stuck them in my bra.

***

Today, both kids have oatmeal in their hair and peanut butter on their faces. Jacob hates tomatoes while Henry eats marinara by the spoonful. Both boys are great eaters and generous with their affection.

They are nourished and they are loved.

There are still those moments, as I hold them close before bed, when I dream of how wonderful it could have been. I am wistful as I imagine a calmer, more integrated version of myself who could have handled the stress of the moments that come barrelling so quickly at mothers so soon after birth. It is easy to long for a more idealized version of the mother I wish I was and could have been.

But then I remember I am doing the best that I can. I nourish myself these days with food and sleep and long showers and slow runs by the ocean. I take care of myself well so that in the ever-present stress of motherhood I can attempt to present my children with the best version of the woman I am today.

And that, I am convinced, is enough.

This post originally appeared on the Good Mother Project

Splinter

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Jacob ran out the front screen door, exclaiming, “Christmas wreath!” in his two-year-old toddlerese. It was early December in Hawaii and the wreath I had picked up at the local Target was our lone Christmas decoration. With a deployed husband, two small children, and an upcoming holiday trip to my parents’ house on the mainland, I felt justified in skipping all the trimmings.

He couldn’t believe his luck – not only had I brought home a wreath, but also wrapping supplies. “CHRISTMAS BOWS!” he squealed, and immediately insisted we add one to the wreath. Why not. So I picked him up and steadied him as he added a huge, shiny red bow.

“Yay! I did it!” he grinned ear to ear and as soon as I set him back on his feet, he began to do his signature celebratory dance.

I was distracted for a few minutes, chatting with Monica, our nanny, as she updated me on the day’s events and prepared to go home. I didn’t see the moment when the splinter got lodged in the tender skin of Jacob’s foot.

At first, he didn’t want to let us see. He ran around the house, favoring the foot, insisting he was okay.

We were finally able to corral him, and when we saw the splinter’s size, we knew we needed to act quickly. Monica saw the horror on my face (how do I even do this?) and graciously offered to stay and help.

As I carried my screaming child to the well-lit bathroom, tweezers in hand, I couldn’t help but think of my thirteen-year-old self, spinning around barefoot on the hardwood floor of my parents’ kitchen, ending up with a splinter the size of a toothpick. I finished that day in the Emergency Room. The nurses rolled their eyes at me until they caught a look at how big it was and realized someone needed to cut it out.

Like mother like son. Please God, don’t let it be that bad. Not when Tim isn’t here. He’d know what to do.

Monica said she had experience removing splinters from thrashing toddlers, so we decided she’d take the tweezers and I’d hold him steady.

“NO THANK YOU, MAMA!” He sobbed the words I had taught him to say when he doesn’t want someone touching him, when he needs his space. “I hear you, baby. I know you are saying ‘No thank you,’ but Mama and Monica have to do this to make you feel better. I am so sorry.” He screamed, and it was heartbreaking, shattering, to hear my child crying from the depths of fear and distress, pleading with me to stop the pain I was allowing.

Tethered so firmly to the present moment, he was too young to understand sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. How could I convince him to trust me?

His tears brought tears to my eyes as I held him tightly, clutched to my chest, holding down his kicking legs and flailing arms.  Monica was the essence of calm. She spoke quietly, reassuring him, doing her best to efficiently remove the splinter.

When it was done, we smiled at Jacob. “You did it!” I squeezed him. “I am so proud of you.” He drew a big, shuddering breath and said, “Thank you, Mama.”

***

It’s no secret that in recent years I’ve been working through some anger with God. This all-knowing, all-loving, ever present Father has allowed so much heartache and pain in my life, the lives of my loved ones, the lives of people all over the world. I’m over it. It hurts so much and he allows it to get worse. So I kick and I scream and I buck and I cry. I’m like a toddler who can’t be consoled, who doesn’t want to listen to assurances that God knows what he’s doing and that ultimately there is a greater plan.

A few months ago, not long before Tim deployed, I was in church and the pastor asked us to imagine being in the presence of God – what would be like if we were standing face to face? I suddenly had this image of me pummeling God’s chest. Just hitting and hitting and yelling and screaming and crying. And he held me. As I hit him and kicked him and said “NO MORE!” He just held me. He didn’t chastise me. He didn’t tell me to buck up. He didn’t tell me I knew what I was signing up for when I became an Army wife. He didn’t tell me to stop being a baby. He didn’t let go of me and say “I don’t deserve this from you,” or “Have you forgotten all I’ve given you?”  He just held me with love and confidence and grace. He let me struggle, but never without assuring me with his strong arms and tender gaze.

***

How do we teach children to trust? It’s a tricky thing. Jacob and I have talked about it quite a bit since the splinter incident, and while I realize it’s going to be a while before he completely understands, I think the basic idea is starting to settle in.

I try to explain to him that I would never hurt him on purpose, that I am here to protect him, to keep him safe, to help him be healthy. That if I ever allow him pain, it is because I know it will be better on the other side. And that in the midst of the pain, he can always turn to me for comfort. Always.

Deep down I know that God is like that, too, because I’ve experienced him to be that way. In the middle of pain, and even in the middle of anger, I still know the God I am wrestling with is a God of love and patience and goodness. I have experienced his overwhelming peace at the strangest times, as nonsensical as it may seem.

He’s teaching me, in these anxious days, how to trust him again. He’s bringing me closer to the light, examining all the splinters I’ve lodged in my heart: the fear, pride, and self-pity he knows will fester if we don’t work together to dig them out. He reminds me, tenderly, that sometimes things have to be more painful before we can heal.

***

I don’t have a scar from the toothpick-sized splinter; in fact, I can’t even remember which foot endured the pain. But I do remember the path to healing was a long, embarrassing one. I showed up to middle school on crutches and had to explain why I couldn’t walk (I uh…got a huge splinter? When I was, uh…dancing around in my kitchen?). Later that week a lymph node swelled so badly I thought I was seriously ill. The doctor assured me it was just my body’s way of fighting an infection that must have begun before the splinter was removed. He gave me some antibiotics, and that was that.

It was done. But it took surgery and drugs and a week on crutches before the pain began to abate. The ER doctor’s scalpel was just the beginning.

When it comes to healing, there are no quick fixes, and that’s true of our hearts just as much as our earthly frames. It’s one thing for me to turn to God and acknowledge that I’m angry and hurt. It’s another thing entirely for me to hand over my heart and let him get to work. Just like Jacob, I’d much rather run away and self protect. And even when I do ask for help, God doesn’t magically make the splinters disappear; he removes them one by one with the precision and care of a surgeon. He takes his time, and he makes no promises that it won’t hurt.

It’s up to me then, whether I want to keep screaming and thrashing. He’s going to hold me regardless. I have to believe that as he holds me, my tears bring tears to his eyes, and with whatever progress we make, he is proud.

I am still learning how to say thank you.

What of the dancing? I’m happy to tell you I still dance around barefoot in the kitchen; to be honest I’d rather have the joy of dancing than live my life on the lookout for loose wood. As for Jacob, until we refinish the porch I try to make sure he wears shoes in the front of the house.

But I don’t catch him every time. I won’t, because he is full of life and curiosity and he’s just going to keep running and dancing. It is inevitable he will find pain along the way. But I will be there to hold him when he cries, just like my Abba holds me.

 

The Miracle of (im)Perfect Timing

img_2113Two kids under two was never part of my plan.

My husband, whose sister is a mere 14 months his senior, assured me having kids close together would be not only good planning (get those hard years out of the way) but also a good investment in their friendship (he counts his sister and her husband among his best friends). My brother is six years younger than I am, and as much as I have always adored him, the years between us often seemed like eons. I figured there was probably a happy medium. Perhaps we’d try for a second baby after the first was potty trained. Or in preschool.

I am what you might call a “small plate person” – introverted, prone to daydreams, preferring a whole afternoon alone with a book to an adventure with friends – I don’t do well with multi-tasking. I knew myself well enough to know that having two kids in the span of two years would be asking a lot of myself, especially if I wanted to do it well and with any semblance of grace.

Which is why it was so strange to me that, when my first was 10 months old, I found myself saying to my husband, “Maybe I don’t want to wait much longer to get pregnant again.”

Now, if you think this occurred to me because first children are often a breeze compared to their loud and feisty younger siblings, let me set you straight. Our first, our wonderfully vibrant Jacob, is anything but easy. He (and therefore I) didn’t sleep more than 45 minutes at a time for the first two months of his life. And this was just the beginning. Often a solo parent due to my husband’s rigorous medical residency schedule, I spent the majority of my days intently interacting with my very extroverted, very loud, very intense son. I couldn’t even leave him on the play mat for the two minutes it would take to reheat my coffee without him screaming as though a piece of heavy furniture had fallen on him (this tendency did not help with my postpartum anxiety).

So why the change of heart? Partially, because at 10 months, Jacob was slightly less challenging and more solid and less prone to breaking. He had teeth and could eat Cheerios and was cruising and laughing and snuggling. We had fun together, even inside jokes. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The newborn months may have been terrible, but they suddenly felt light years away.

I had survived. I knew I could do it again.

I began to think about my upcoming 34th birthday and how I only had a year before my womb would be considered “geriatric” (can we please come up with a better word for this?).

Originally my plan had been to wait another year, after moving the following summer, wherever the Army would send us. But then I began to think about the potential for my husband to deploy (even though he assured me it wasn’t likely to happen so soon).

Also, it may have been momnesia.

My husband was ecstatic. When can we start?

So, when Jacob was 10 months old I quit taking the pill. You know how it goes: we weren’t trying, but we weren’t trying to NOT. After one particularly romantic evening, I thought I felt a twinge in my belly and I thought Oh my – did we just make a baby? A couple weeks later I took a pregnancy test and with mixed feelings read “negative.”

Mostly I was relieved. I started doing the math and realized if I had been pregnant, the due date would be a mere six weeks before the Army moved us God knows where. I thought to myself, Maybe we should wait a couple more months so we’re not moving with a newborn and a toddler.

Five days later I realized it was time to take another pregnancy test. This time it was positive.

When the first trimester nausea hit (so much worse this time around), and each morning I found myself sprawled out on the floor eating saltine crackers in front of Daniel Tiger with my son, who couldn’t even walk yet, I thought, How am I going to do this?

I comforted myself with the idea that this baby was meant to be. It might not be my timing, but it was the right time for him or her. The last time I checked, God doesn’t consult me about his plans.

I told myself if we had waited, we wouldn’t be having this baby. This baby is the one who is meant to be ours.

And sure enough, in May, seven weeks before we had to move, our sweet Henry was born. We knew right away he was my husband’s son. He looked just like him, and, unlike Jacob–intense and emotional like his mama–Henry eased into life with a gentle spirit and a love of sleep.

There was a peacefulness about him that drew us in, a quiet calm that almost had us fighting over who got to put him to bed. During a stressful move, quiet time with Henry became a welcome respite. When we learned my husband would have to deploy only a few weeks after starting his new job, Henry’s presence became not only an anchor to the present moment but the embodiment of hope in our family’s future.

In the face of our fears, his slobbery kisses were like christening, his coos a benediction.

Sometimes, I catch myself wondering how different life would be now had we waited to get pregnant with our second, especially during this time of transition and separation. Certainly, Jacob and I would have more quality time and fun adventures to the beach and the park. I’d get more sleep. I’d only have one nap to plan my days around, one bath time and bedtime, only one size of diapers to buy (and change). Life would be simpler. Easier.

But then, I wouldn’t have Henry.

At seven months, he still looks just like his daddy, except his daddy has teeth (and, now that he is deployed, a “silly mustache,” as Jacob would say).

When he smiles at me, I see my husband: his kind blue eyes, his impish grin, his calm and steadfast love. What a gift.

And I have to think, as I rock him to sleep, maybe the timing was pretty perfect after all.

Originally appeared on The Good Mother Project

Waiting For My Missing Piece

crown-gecko-1302347_1280The lizard was tiny and speckled brown, and it ran across the carpet of the new master bedroom as Jake and I played on the floor. Excited to show my toddler a creature he’d never met before, I pointed to it.

“Look, Jakey! A little gecko!”

With the speed and curiosity inherent to boys of his age, my little scientist jumped up, ran to the gecko, and promptly pinned it down by its tail.

The gecko kept moving; the tail did not.

After our first week living in Hawaii, in a house without furniture or air conditioning (with a toddler and a newborn), my coping skills were at their limit.

Without thinking, I squealed. “Oh NO!”

My little boy came running back to me, wide-eyed, almost shaking with fear. “Mama!”

As he threw himself into my embrace—something that happens so rarely these days—I took a deep breath and prepared myself to do damage control. “It’s okay, sweetie. Geckos’ tails grow back. She will be okay. I was just surprised!”

“Oh no,” he repeated, hanging his head. “Oh no.”

How quickly things change from the time our little ones cannot comprehend the words we speak over their heads to the days when they absorb everything we do – our words, our tone of voice, our knee-jerk reactions. The responsibility we carry as parents suddenly shifts from not only providing them their physical needs but ushering in a safe emotional space to inhabit as well.

I held him close and whispered reassurances, but I could feel the weight of what happened settle onto his small shoulders.

Our summer was one of immense upheaval—we introduced him to his baby brother in May and seven weeks later packed our things and said goodbye to the town and the friends who had been the only home he’d ever known. On my mind throughout most of this was how he would handle so much change with so little consistency to cling to.

At a time when we should be phasing out bottles and maybe even diapers, here came a little brother who claimed my attention 24/7 with feeding and changing. And thus my toddler learned the words “Me, too!”

At a time when he needed more supervision and coaching to better understand boundaries and structure and measures of safety, I was distracted and sleep-deprived and ever-ready with the iPad.

At a time when he most needed his Mama and Dada to be loving and encouraging and kind, we were stressed and impatient and short-tempered.

All the while I kept telling myself, Just get through the summer. Soon, my husband would start his new job with more consistent hours. We’d find a church and community to remind us to keep our eyes lifted up and hands extended out toward one another. We’d find a routine and finally figure out how to parent two under two. We’d celebrate all we’d accomplished and the blessed fact that kids are resilient and thrive on even the simplest offerings of love.

Then came the news of my husband’s deployment.

Read more on the Good Mother Project

 

The Last Thing I Wanted to Do

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It rattles softly at the window like the fingers of a child as I sit on the edge of the tub to tie my shoes. It comes down the glass in crooked paths to stir my heart absurdly as it always has, and dear God in Heaven, the sound of it on the roof, on the taut black silk of the umbrella, on the catalpa leaves, dimpling the glassy surface of the peepering pond. It is the rain, and it tastes of silver; it is the rain, and it smells of christening. The rain is falling on the morning of my first day, and everything is wet with it: wet earth, wet fur, the smell of the grass when it is wet, the smell of the wet pavements of the city and the sound of tires on the wet streets, the wet hair and face of a woman doing errands in the rain. Wherever my feet take me now, it will be to something wet, something new, that I have never seen before.

-Frederick Buechner, The Alphabet of Grace

It was a cold, rainy morning and going to church was the last thing I wanted to do.

It’s going to be so crowded . . . the message will be watered down . . . you’re just going to have to watch a bunch of baptisms of people you don’t even know. I mean . . . baptisms on Easter? How cliché can you get?

It was Easter Sunday, 2009, in Seattle. I had only been attending the church for a month, and I had already decided the Easter baptism service was going to be over-produced and emotionally manipulative. All I wanted to do was drink my coffee in my robe and watch a Friends marathon.

Yet I felt a prompting, and my feet led me up the hill to church.

My dragging feet (and curled hair and carefully applied make-up because, Easter) made me late, so I sat high up in the balcony. I floated through the service, halfway listening to the message, halfway worshiping in my heart.

But then a soft-spoken guy in a black t-shirt walked up to the microphone. He shared he had grown up Catholic and was baptized as an infant. That he had begun to think very differently about faith when he was in high school. And how, as an adult, his faith had become just that—his faith. It was a personal thing that he didn’t talk about with anyone. He thought it was enough to have this conversation with God on his own. But without the support of a community, he found himself making decisions that were leading him away from God and that ultimately caused him great sadness.

My heart began to pound. I could hardly breathe. He was giving voice to a piece of my own story.

His face radiated with beauty and ease as he spoke about the promise God had given him through Jesus—that it was through Jesus’ strength and sacrifice, through his goodness and love—that he was redeemed and made new each and every day. With a huge smile, he walked to the baptismal pool and made a public commitment of faith.

After the baptisms, our pastor announced we’d be entering into a time of prayer and worship. I bowed my head, feeling heavy and sad as a stream of dark memories came flooding through my mind. I brushed a few tears from my cheek.

Yet cutting through the barrage of my iniquities and my litany of confessions was a surreal sense of peace.

I began to feel like maybe it was time to actually let go.

The pastor was still talking. “We’re going to do something different today. We’re going to keep the baptisms going. If any of you feel the Spirit moving in your heart, you are welcome to come up here.” My head jerked up.

What?

“As you are praying, remember that you are dealing with an audience of One. It’s not about where you are.”

You are wearing your Easter dress, Erin, don’t be silly.

“It’s not about what you’re wearing — in fact, we have towels and sweatpants for you here backstage.”

Of course they have sweatpants for you. They’re hawking mass-produced Christianity, here, Erin. What a production.

“It’s not about the production, or the people, or the day. It’s about you and Jesus.”

I looked down at my dress, spotted with tears.

The feet I stood on felt like lead. My body trembled as I made my way down the stairs, through the hallway, down the aisle, and to the front of the stage. The man in front of me turned and offered a smile. “Nervous?”

Incredibly.

Somehow I made my way up the steps and into the pool. And when the pastor turned to me and asked if I was ready to fully put my trust in Jesus, my answer came immediately and with power: YES.

When I resurfaced from the water, I couldn’t stop smiling. Joy radiated through my body.

I was wet, bedraggled, with mascara running down my face.

I had never felt more beautiful.

Originally appeared on All In

 

Faith in the Dark

 

Faith in the Dark“One last drink?” His gray eyes twinkled in the low light.  We were standing on a tree-lined path, shadows from the street lamp cast about us. I should have known to turn back—never trust a stranger friend; no one knows how it will end—but the summer air was warm and he was witty and kind. I felt safe walking beside him into the darkness.

His living room walls were lined with well-worn books. The built-in bookshelves were curved and painted white to match the rest of the apartment; I was comforted by their embrace. He gestured for me to take a seat on the leather couch, and as he left the room, I smiled. On the coffee table sat a thick, abridged copy of the OED.

He returned with two open bottles of beer and sat next to me, not too close. We chatted easily, comparing notes on favorite writers. He grabbed a book from one of the sturdy shelves and handed it to me.

“It’s a coming of age story.” I held the book in my hands, smoothing the faded cover. “Take it,” he grinned. “Borrow from my library.”

When he sat again, his long legs were just inches from mine. “Do you not like that kind of beer? You haven’t touched it.”

I glanced down at the bottle. “Just taking a breather.”

“I wish you had told me,” he said lightly. “I wouldn’t have opened it if I had known.”

I put the cool glass to my lips and took a few gulps. Warm. Dark.

There was a shift in his energy as he stood suddenly, moving past the lamp to the right of the couch, receding into the shadows beyond the bookshelves. I looked after him, and in the darkness, could see the faint outline of a bed.

It was dark when he raped me.

*

It’s strange and somewhat beautiful how our brains protect us from having to deal with trauma before we’re ready. I didn’t realize I was a rape survivor until two years ago, six years after I followed him down that tree-lined path, so romantic in the dim light of the street lamps. Until then I had categorized the event in my mind as something I had brought upon myself, a mistake, a terrible night that I should have been able to prevent. I should have been able to read the signs that something was about to go horribly wrong.

I had messed up.

So I asked for God’s forgiveness. Over and over and over again. It wasn’t the first time I had made a mistake with a man—I should have known better. I felt ashamed and broken.

I asked God to help me forgive this man who had so easily fooled me into believing he was someone special, a kindred soul.

I cried and I begged and I pleaded and received no relief, no restoration. So many tear-stained journal pages, so many prayers groaned out from the depths of my wasted heart, and nothing. No answer.

Fearful. Anxious. Uncertain. The faith that had held me through so many other difficult times suddenly seemed so thin.

And then one day, a few months after my counselor first said the word “rape,” a whisper came from somewhere deep inside me: maybe you need to forgive God.

A startling thought, but maybe it was true. Maybe this sick anxiety I felt about the world and my place in it had less to do with my own missteps and more to do with the fact that I felt unprotected and afraid.

Because truly: where was God that night?

*

Up until the night I was raped, I had felt God’s unwavering protection on my life. I felt it deep in my bones. It didn’t matter how low I found myself, I was convinced of his presence and his providence. The right worship song, the right Bible verse, the right amount of sunlight sparkling on the water, and I’d feel goosebumps prickling my skin, the cool rush of confidence that He is near.

When my father’s job moved us overseas before my freshman year of high school—and I was convinced my life was over—God was near.

When high school romance led to betrayal and binders full of bad poetry, God was near.

When I started college an ocean away from my family and could not remember who I was or wanted to be, God was near.

When the plane crashed into the twin towers and everything I thought I knew about my home country and my faith was thrown into question, God was near.

When I watched our family’s home go up in flames, God was near.

And on other nights, with other men, after drinks and too much flirtation, God was near.

In it, and afterwards, I would praise him and thank him for his unwavering protection.

I felt so blessed.

I never felt alone.

*

Once, as she led me through a guided prayer intended to offer healing, someone I love very dearly asked if I could go back to that dark room that night and imagine God there with me.

Where was God that night? 

As the tears streamed down my cheeks, I tried. But the image of Jesus, sitting on a chair in the corner of the room as the unthinkable occurred was too tragic. The only image I could conjure was a false Jesus: blonde, blue-eyed, sitting with a calm smile and folded hands.

It wasn’t right. That’s not the Jesus I had come to know.

I knew what I was supposed to say – he was there with me, he didn’t abandon me, he was there the whole time – but I couldn’t.

I just wept.

*

My son, an adventurous 18 month old, has been fighting for his independence since the day we met. Active, curious, he wanted to crawl before he could sit up. When he first started practicing his pull-ups on the living room coffee table the summer before he turned one, he fell often and with great frustration.

I’m not quite sure what possessed me to reprimand the floor that hit his diapered bum as he came toppling down that first time and looked to me with sad, anxious eyes. I guess I wanted him to understand I recognized his pain but also to make light of it somehow.

So instead of saying, “Oh, sweetie, good try. It’s okay. Get up. Try again,” I widened my eyes, shook my finger at the hardwood floor beneath him and said, “No, no, no, floor! Don’t you hurt my Jakey!”

He looked at me, confused at first. And then through teary eyes, he offered a smile.

From that day on, it became an inside joke between us. “No, no, no, table!” “No, no, no, block!” “No, no, no, Elmo!”

What I didn’t realize then was how seriously he was taking all of this. Now, whenever my exuberant little boy stubs a toe or trips or bumps an elbow, he is looking for something or someone to blame. “No, no, no!” he declares and looks to me to join him in the refrain.

I guess I realized in that moment, as I watched him topple over, I wouldn’t always be able to catch him, no matter how close I might be. But I wanted him to know I felt the pain right along with him – that I didn’t think it was okay that he was hurting.

There have been times I have watched him from a distance as he runs so fast and far from me, caught up in the delight of the air and the sun and the freedom of being alive, and I know it is only moments before he stumbles and scrapes the palms of his hands. I know it, yet I can’t stop it. When I hear his wailing and I see his tears, my heart breaks and it is almost more than I can bear.

But the worst moment is when I reach him and he looks at me with fear and frustration and anger and it’s almost as if I can see the accusation in his tender brown eyes.

Why weren’t you there? Why didn’t you stop this from happening?

All I can do is open my arms to him, comfort him, and tend to his wounds.

And I can pray that as he grows in understanding, he’ll know the depths of my love for him, even when I’m nowhere in sight.

*

I can’t give a straight answer about where God was the night I followed my heart, full speed, down that concrete path in the lamplight. I can’t tell you his thoughts as my innocent trust in his provision was taken from me, my heart bruised, body battered.

I can’t tell you where God’s will ended and my will began. I can’t tell you if that matters.

But I can choose to believe his heart was breaking as he watched his daughter experience pain.

I can choose to believe he was near.

And I still choose to believe that his arms are open, ready to tend to my wounds and offer me the comfort of his love, both in the light of day and the darkness of night.

Even when I can’t feel it.

Night-Driving-Synchroblog

I just read Addie Zierman’s new memoir, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark, in less than 48 hours. Her honesty, vulnerability, and gorgeous writing have inspired me once again. In celebration of her book release, this post will be linked to her #NightDriving synchroblog. Visit her website for more info

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Live on Bread Alone

open-book-981405_960_720This week I reworked an old post from October 2013, which was shared on All In this morning. May it bring you hope, as it did for me, as I recalled the events of that fall.

I am a bibliophile. I could spend all day in a bookstore, leafing through pages, inhaling that sweet aroma, running my fingers over their spines. My bedside table gathers more words than I can read in a month (or even a year), and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But I have a confession: as much as I love books, and as much as I love Jesus, I don’t always love picking up my Bible.

There was a time this hesitation made sense because I felt intimidated by both its prose and poetry; I worried I wouldn’t understand what Jesus said should be so clear. But that’s no longer the case. Last week, as I was studying and reflecting on the power of scripture, I was reminded of when God surprised me by opening my eyes just two and a half years ago.

*

Our books are still in boxes.

It is October. We moved into our house in July.

Usually, when I set up a new living space, my books are the first to be unpacked. I like to touch each one, pause; if there’s time, I open a few of the pages and read a few lines. Meditate on words once read, underlined, starred, recalling back to a younger self who read with passion and curiosity.

I married a man with as many, if not more, books as I have in my possession. The fact that some are duplicates is a private confirmation to me of our perfect synchronization. Thus we are the Curletts of Many Books and at the moment these treasures are still in boxes, sitting in the corner of our basement.

One book in one of those boxes is my Ryrie Study Bible, which I’ve had since sophomore year of college, when I decided my faith needed to be my own. Lately I’ve been craving the word, and Googling each verse in question hasn’t been cutting it. My husband’s Bible is worn; crammed with pencils, notes, and memorabilia; it is held together tightly by a rubber band. I love his Bible, but at a distance.

Rather than open every one of the twenty boxes in our basement to find my collegiate companion, I instead went to Amazon and purchased a thin line ESV Bible. I imagined myself tucking it into a purse or a suitcase, something toteable. Perfect. When I read the description I realized that there would be no notes, no cross-references, no footnote exegesis. I worried a bit that I wouldn’t be able to follow these words without the guidance of scholars. (I know, I know. Martin Luther and all that. But you know, sometimes I need a little help.)

But . . .ever since that Bible made it to my doorstep? My hungry soul has been eating it up. Chapter by chapter. Number by number. Epistle by epistle. It feels comfortable, friendly. It makes sense to me. I am understanding its words in a way I never have before. There is clarity and an understanding that has never been present with me as I’ve read the Word of God.

Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, but I have to be honest: I am surprised. This prayer thing? It works. Sure, in certain denominations and certain pulpits, pastors and ministers pray that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the Word of God. But how many times do we do that and experience . . . nothing? I would venture a guess that most of you reading this know what I’m talking about (or perhaps just as likely, you really have *no idea* what I’m talking about and the idea of asking the Spirit of God to help us do anything sounds a little weird and woo-woo. I don’t blame you. It’s bizarre, right? Nonsensical).

But here’s the thing: I asked him to help me, and he has been helping me. Honest truth.

How did this come to be? Well, a couple of weeks ago I had an ugly cry episode (definitely not the first!) where I professed from the very depths of my being that I believe in who he is and what he is capable of doing – namely, changing me. But this time I also specifically asked him to open up my eyes and ears and heart to the truth of his Word.

And guess what? He’s been doing it. He is true to his Word. It feels like a fog has been lifted. And it’s rocking my world.

I don’t know what to make of all of this, other than to laugh through my tears. Cathartic is the word that comes to mind. I feel compelled to laugh, to share, to write. I have a new confidence I’ve never, ever experienced before.

Could it be possible that the Lord has known, since before the creation of this world, that it would take me until October of my 32nd year to fully experience the truth of his promises? That it would take me this long to study the clues along the way?

I go down to the basement and open a box. It is strewn with gifts. Brennan Manning. Frederick Buechner. Madeline L’Engle. The words in their books affirm what God has been teaching me:

You’re forgiven. You’re called. You’re a creator.

And now: the questions remain, “What do I create?” and, “Am I worthy of the task to which I am called?”

Something is brewing. Something is being knit together. And my Father, who purchased my life with the sacrifice of his Son, clothes me in righteousness and undeserved reward.

He is with me.

*

In three short months, movers will arrive to once again pack our belongings—including our precious books—and send them to our new home, miles away. This time, as I gather clothes and toiletries and the supplies we’ll need in the in-between, I’ll make sure my Bible stays right where I want it: within arm’s reach. Because I know as I continue to pour my heart out onto the page, I will need his words of hope and truth and grace to fill me up time and time again.