My grandson, Jude, was born three weeks ago. Three days ago, he was baptized. On the day after the baptism, there was a total eclipse of the sun.
All of these things take up three sentences on a page. All of these things take up more space than I have room for in my heart and more meaning than I have words for, though I sit here trying to come up with words the best I know how.
The day after the baptism, on the Monday where much of the country experienced a total eclipse, we spent the day visiting with family who had come to town. My parents were here, along with Chris’ parents and I took the day off work to rest and spend time with them. After the clouds had lifted that had completely blocked from view any partial eclipse that we may have experienced here on the central coast of California that morning, we decided to head to our favorite beach. We ate lunch outside at one of our favorite restaurants, while basking in the sun and the ocean breeze, and watched the waves crash over the sand and avoided the swooping birds trying to steal any scraps that may have fallen from our plates. After a walk on the beach and some ice cream, it was time to head back. We were in two cars, and half of us wanted to go see Callie’s house, while the other half who had already seen Callie’s house and were exhausted decided to head straight home. It just so happened that we who were exhausted and heading home in one car together were me, my mom, Sadie and Jude.
I drove, my mom sat beside me in the passenger seat, Sadie in the back seat, with Jude in the car seat next to her. And there we were, Great Grandma, Grandma, Mother and Child, all in one car together, when my random music shuffle began to play “Mary” by Patty Griffin. We drove home without speaking, along the highway overlooking the Pacific ocean, with the brilliant sun sparkling off the water and we let the music overtake us.
Mary, she moves behind me
She leaves her fingerprints everywhere
Every time the snow drifts, every time the sand shifts
Even when the night lifts, she’s always there
Mary, the Mother of God; she experienced this thing with us. She experienced grief and love and joy and sorrow. As I get deeper into this mother journey that I am on, I am ever more drawn to Mary. She carried God in her womb. She bore him. She loved and nurtured him. She lost him. She grieved him. She points the way to him even now. She is the ultimate mother; she is blessed among women, of which I am one.
As we sat there, the mother of the mother of the mother of the baby, each of us lost in our own world, I was struck by how universal the grief of motherhood is. We deliver our children into this world through unimaginable pain. We endure more pain as we survive those first difficult, blurry weeks of new hormones and little sleep and not knowing how to best feed and care for this creature that we somehow love with the fiercest of strengths.
This unimaginable pain somehow produces the greatest joy imaginable. Some of us are even blessed enough to make it here, to this stage of motherhood, where we support our daughters through this same cycle as they become mothers themselves. Some of us are even blessed enough to still have our own mothers with us at the same time. That’s a lot of mothering through the years, right there, all coming together in one little green car, driving along the Pacific Coast Highway.
I looked in the rear view mirror, as the song talked about Mary being covered in birds, who can sing a million songs without any words, and I saw my daughter, gazing at her son asleep in his car seat. The same daughter who has filled our lives with song from a very early age. I thought about Mary, how she carried within her the very God who created those birds who sing those million songs who inspire all mothers everywhere to sing to their little ones as they gaze at them in love.
I thought about the baptism the day before, and the mysteries that took place as the parents and godparents made vows on behalf of this little protesting man-child. I thought about how my husband and dad, Grandpa and Great Grandpa, baptized my grandson, where grace was poured down in the form of water and little Julian Van Brigham was marked with the sign and seal of the cross. I thought about his receiving of his first taste of the holy eucharist wherein he and all of us present filled ourselves, our very bodies, with God himself, just like Mary was filled so many years ago.
These mysteries are too great to process. This pain and this joy together sometimes feels too great to process. This journey of being a mother is too great to process. One thing I know: this little guy is loved more deeply than he could ever possibly fathom.
I’m glad that we only have to take it one day at a time.
“One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.”
(Annie Dillard from ‘Total Eclipse’)
When I started this blog over (gulp) eleven years ago, I was preparing to go to Eastern Europe, for my first-ever trip over the ocean. We were thinking of moving there permanently as missionaries and I was scared to death. Just agreeing to get my passport and go on that two-week trip was one of the most terrifying things I had ever worked myself up to do. Trips like those are always life-changing and that one was no exception. Looking back at the much younger mother of three that I was then, I almost don’t recognize myself, but I know that I was one person before I went on that trip and somebody else when I came home. We didn’t end up moving there. We ended up staying in Texas and not being missionaries at all anymore. As both my husband and I continued becoming more and more of two different somebody elses, we found ourselves on a long and painful journey through a very dry land. We didn’t know when and if we would ever drink again. Although I didn’t intend it to be when I started it, much of this blog is about that journey.
And life went on. The kids grew older, got married, had babies. I grew older, moved on, got a very busy job, and lost much of the time that I once had for reflection. We didn’t end up staying in Texas. We ended up coming out west and allowing ourselves to be planted right near the world’s biggest body of water, where we are drinking deeply of God’s goodness, both in body and soul. In the midst of these years, there has been so much joy. In the midst of these years, there has been so much heartache. In the midst of these years, there has been love. Always love. So much love.
Last week, I returned from my third-ever trip across the ocean. We finally went to visit our dear friends, the Beans, who moved to England ten years ago. In those ten years, they became somebody else, we became somebody else, all of our kids became many little somebody elses. But what was amazing about this trip was that in spite of all the changes, love remains. Ties that bind loved ones together are strong; strong enough to withstand the storms of many years and many miles. Deep enough to fill even the most parched lands. Restful enough to leave room for reflection while in the company of one another.
We went to England, the four of us in our ever-changing little, hodge podge family: Chris, Grace, Crystal Mistal and me. While in England, we drove 5 million miles in a rental van with nine of us while singing and laughing and talking and sleeping, we walked 5 million miles over lands where our ancestors walked, we cried at the overwhelming beauty of buildings and the remembrance of those who built them and worshiped in them, we had many deep conversations and many great, big laughs, we renewed our spirits and let our eyes be opened and our minds be at peace. Like usual, I took far too many pictures to post, but here we are on a hill overlooking a beautiful country that will now forever have a piece of my heart. (If you click here: England Pictures, you can see all 437 pictures from our trip, if you are someone who cares…. I think I have at least a few readers who care but I won’t subject the rest of you to it!)
Speaking of pieces of my heart, right here are two of them. Seems like my heart keeps breaking into more and more pieces at this stage of life. Sometimes I don’t know how it goes on beating. This girl in this picture, who was once our baby, is about to start her senior year of high school and I don’t know what happens after that. This man in this picture, who was once my high school sweetheart, now has wrinkles by his eyes and gray in his hair and says “well, well, well” just like an old man, every time he sees his grandson.
Maybe looking back, I don’t recognize who I was, and looking now, I don’t recognize who I am… but looking forward, I know there’s hope. My heart goes on beating, in spite of the breaking, the world goes on spinning, in spite of the changes; more babies will come, more loved ones will die, and we will swim on in these deep, deep waters of our baptism while loving one another and drinking it all in.
On my recent work trip to Dallas, I landed at DFW after midnight Sunday night and walked out of the airport into a night that was warmer by twenty degrees than it had been when I left sunny San Luis Obispo at four that same afternoon. I took an Uber into uptown and was dropped off at a hotel where multiple men speaking in falsetto rushed to assist me and called me ma’am, and where the gold satin shades next to the bath raised up and down by remote. When leg and foot cramps woke me at 2am, being able to view the city lights of Dallas from a pitch black, deep, hot water bath made it the most beautiful episode of late night foot cramps I’ve ever had by far.
I got up the next morning and walked across the street to my office where I worked my brain to a bloody pulp the entire week: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Bloody pulp, all five days.
After lunch at the office with the girls on Friday (where we laughed way too loudly in the conference room with the glass walls, while the rest of the office worked quietly away in plain view of our hilarity), I somehow shoved all of my workly goods into bags that were too small and my brain went along with my body as they both hurled themselves out the door to my Uber to start my journey home. Home. Where my people live. Where a bonfire on the beach would be waiting for me. Where there are no satin shades next to bathtubs and nobody wears high heels or carries designer bags. Where hair dries naturally and blows freely in the ocean breeze and bare feet in the sand are much preferred to shoes of any kind. What different worlds I live in.
Halfway to the airport I got notice that my flight had been delayed an hour, which was the exact connection time that I was supposed to have in the Phoenix airport. And there I sat in the backseat of my Uber, unable to act or do anything at all, just a bit player in the grand game being played by the Federal Aviation Admistration and I bore no responsibility for the outcome of millions of travelers, all trying to get somewhere, just like me. After arriving at the airport and then sitting some more, my plane finally ascended into the dark and stormy afternoon skies of Dallas, an hour and a half after the scheduled departure time. The clouds loomed ominously in front of me and my fellow passengers and gave no indication that there was ever a sun that shone upon earth. I watched the dramatic shadows they made on the ground below us while the wind blew them swiftly overhead. I sat in my seat, a passively interested observer, feeling small and unafraid and irresponsible, as our plane dove headlong into those very clouds. When we hit the blackness, we all gripped the handles of our seats a little tighter as the clouds enveloped our little plane and shook it to its core. And then, in an instant, the shaking subsided as we burst through to the other side, where clouds that had five seconds before been dark and foreboding, were now glorious and white and fluffy and bright, reflecting the magnificent sunlight that was suddenly everywhere. Still unafraid and somewhat awed, I gazed out my window at the difference in scenery, sometimes catching glimpses of the city we had left below us as the piles of white fluffiness broke apart and came together again while we climbed ever upward.
Two hours later, we landed and pulled up to our gate in Phoenix, two minutes before my connecting flight was supposed to take off. Never one to lose hope, I ran like mad off that airplane, not caring who I offended in the process. I ran with no thought other than the thought of home. I arrived breathless at the gate only for the sympathetic gate agent to look at me kindly while shaking his head and saying, “It just left. Five minutes ago. I held it as long as I could”. I sat down and called my husband and we laughed to the point of hysteria because what else was there to do while the now worthless adrenaline continued its meaningless course throughout my tired body?
Since the next flight home didn’t leave for three and a half hours, I found myself a nice big, greasy burger and a glass of wine, put in my headphones and began to watch Manchester By the Sea on my phone. There I sat, in a busy restaurant in the Phoenix airport, surrounded by other weary travelers and their crying babies, watching one of the most intensely sad movies I have ever seen for two hours. The waitress kept checking on me and I kept waving her away and drinking my wine and I’m telling you what. I bawled like a baby. That was some good movie writing (and acting) right there. Maybe a good cry was exactly what I needed after the bloody pulp brain work and the bloody adrenaline body work as I waited in between two worlds.
I finished the movie just in time to hear my flight number being called to begin boarding. I grabbed my bags, and walked out into the Phoenix night, where it was a good twenty degrees hotter than it had been when I left a cloudy, muggy Dallas at four that same afternoon. I climbed the ramp of my little plane that would take me to the little town I now call home.
I watched the lights of Phoenix as we ascended into the night sky. I would arrive too late for any bonfires, but I would arrive home nonetheless.
Where my world was waiting.
On this Good Friday, the sun is out. There is a soft breeze blowing through the grass and trees surrounding my deck. There is a hint of the ocean on that breeze, which fills my senses as I breathe in deeply. Birds call out to one another, lizards with bright blue bellies skitter by, Grace’s bright red hammock blows gently down at the bottom of the yard, surrounded by grass so tall, the tops of the blades are now soft and pink and flowered like stalks of wheat, swaying this way and that, this way and that.
On this Good Friday, I am out on my deck and not at my desk. Good Friday is a stock market holiday, which means I don’t work today. The phones are silent, the madness of the emails and the finances and the scheduling is stilled, the futures have frozen in time and I am free to just be. To not think, to not deliberate, to not act or worry about acting or worry about making eye contact with people, which will create a connection, which will lead to expectations, including the expectation of acting. Once acted, there is no unacting. Once acted, the future has forever been altered. But today, the stock market is closed, which means no futures are being altered.
I am free to unact.
I am free to be still.
There is nothing to do except be and listen as every individual blade of grass that blankets my yard, along with the leaves in the surrounding trees, blow together, beating against one another gently, in a quiet symphony of stillness, while the expectation of what is to come grows.
On this Good Friday, I remember last night’s stripping of the altar and the darkness that followed. The instituting of the holy sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, the command to love one another, then the betrayal, the loneliness in the garden, and the arrival at this day. This day we call Good Friday.
On this Good Friday, I remember this morning’s prayer time, in a sanctuary with a stripped altar and a cross veiled in black. There is no cross to acknowledge, no sign of the cross being made, no beauty and no song. My body wants to do the familiar movements that have become a part of my very being. Denying myself these comforts makes me realize how much I long for them. We hear the story of Christ’s passion and the denial jumps out at me at this end of the season of Lent; this season of denial, these very days of denial.
He said he would be with us always, even unto the very end of the age.
And so we wait.
Just a quick post here to share my daughter’s new blog and latest music: Sadie’s Blog
You may read her latest post about the song that is linked here.
I always have a hard time writing as Lent draws to a close, but this sums it up for me so well. Thank you, dear daughters of mine, for giving life to your mama. And thank you for being home to one another.
1. On March 21, 1992, you and I were married. I wore an ornate dress with millions of beads and miles of lace and a long train and puffy sleeves, because that’s what we did in the 90’s. You had an almost completely shaved head because a few days before our wedding, you were walking around your house, shaving with an electric razor when you tripped, making the razor go straight up the side of your head, which meant you had to shave all your hair off in order to make it blend in with the completely vertical stripe. We had three bridesmaids and three groomsmen, two potted plants, and one unity candle. My brothers walked me down the aisle, one on each arm, because my dad was the pastor who married us. Six of our grandparents were in town, although your grandma had fallen the night before the wedding and was in the hospital with a broken hip. We sang our vows to one another, we danced our first dance while my grandpa played guitar, then we fed cake to each other and got the heck outta that place, driving across Klamath Falls, Oregon to our hotel room that night with the horn blaring the entire time, thanks to your ingenious friends who hooked the headlights up to the horn. We were young and skinny and full of hope for the future, and we loved being on our honeymoon knowing that our parents had no idea where we were and we didn’t have to check in with them. It was just you and I for three days, on the beach in Oregon, and it was beautiful.
2. Oh yeah. We were bad. But you were actually a little badder than me with that denim jacket over a denim shirt over a white tee, driving all over the big D while I threw down peace signs with the best of the gangstas.
3. And then Callie came along and I thought my heart would explode right out of my chest as all the love I had for you multiplied into five thousand square roots of itself. You and I would get down on the floor every night after she went to bed, imitating everything she had done that day. It was the best entertainment ever. We cracked ourselves up big time.
4. And then came Sadie, who opened up our world to sisters… something neither you nor I had ever known. And all the particles of the universe came together in our little family as we grew in love and tried to spread some of that love outside of ourselves as well.
6. When we weren’t in Mexico, we were working the home office of the mission in Dallas, where I would spend hours trying to explain to you the ins and outs of MS-DOS commands on ridiculously large computers. Just kidding. I don’t even know any MS-DOS commands. I don’t know what the heck is going on in this picture.
7. When you weren’t in Mexico or at the office or down on the floor imitating our hilarious children, you were going to Bible College, which you finished in only seven years with a real-live degree. That was a happy day. I was especially happy (although Sadie really looks the happiest here since she obviously just ate chocolate) because it meant you were done with school FOREVER.
8. By the time Grace came along, we had the whole birth and labor thing down so good, we decided that this time you would be the one to have the contractions while I applied the counter pressure to your back.
9. Life was pretty good during those crazy early years. Actually, there was a lot of hardness in there too. But the beauty of pictures is that they help you remember the goodness. And there was truly oh so very much goodness. Our dimpled little third girl stole our hearts in new ways and our love continued to grow deeper.
11. Our little family of five drove all over this country and the next in the 15-passenger van that was the only family vehicle we had really ever known. It was honestly a lot of hard work, those years as missionaries. But in the hard work, we all learned and grew in immeasurable ways.
13. Somewhere in there, our work expanded to places our 15-passenger van couldn’t drive and we began the process of trying to go full time to Eastern Europe. Somewhere on a hill in Kosovo, someone stole a picture of us stealing a moment.
14. And then one day, we took the leap right out of missionary life and into whatever might be out there. It’s funny now that it seemed so terrifying then. It seems that most people would have been terrified to think of being missionaries. But I think you and I were scared to stop. It was truly a leap of faith and we didn’t know where we would land, but we jumped together. You more, straight down and me wild and flailing, but with a calm exterior.
18. Once upon a time, we even got some fully-fledged teenagers who just didn’t think we were quite as hilarious as we considered ourselves to be. But you, eating a hot dog during a family photo shoot, and purposely smearing the mustard on your nose, while smiling with half-crossed eyes… I find that hilarious and probably always will.
19. Laying in the grass in the spring Texas weather, waiting for the promised thunderstorm, will always be one of my favorite memories. I love to weather storms with you. I love the calm before the storm, especially. But you can’t get that without the storm that follows, so I’ll take the whole package. I’ll take all of it, if I can have it with you.
20. By the time Callie graduated from high school, you had landed. Yes, part of landing meant going back to school but I landed with you, flailing the whole way, and I knew we could do this. It was good to be home.
24. How did we get here, I ask you? There’s been a lot of love, I’ll tell you that much. A lot of pain and heartache and disappointment too, but they say love covers a multitude of sins. And suddenly we’re here, in 2017, where two kids named Chris and Leslie turned into a whole bunch more kids named Callie, Sadie, Grace, Jeremy, Elisha, Ezra and grandbaby number two, who doesn’t yet have a name, due later this year. I don’t know how we got here, but I’ll take it.
Here I am. A little wet and a lot exhausted, and a lot humbled by my bad, bad attitude.
We didn’t have electricity for three days, and no water for four. You can bet our kitchen stank, stunk, and stinked to high heaven. After all the food in the fridge rotted, and rotted food-water leaked all over the floor, we finally decided to go ahead and clean out the fridge even though we still had no water. Boy, was that something. After it took both Grace and I together, using all the strength we could muster while trying not to breathe through our noses, to lug that awful garbage out to end of the driveway (sometimes I really regret not having sons), we still had all the dirty dishes that had held all that rotted food all over our counter that we couldn’t rinse out. We also had all the dishes from the previous three days that we had been unable to wash.
All that stinkiness sat there for what seemed like an eternity before our property owners were able to find the leak in our well, caused by trees falling and their roots wreaking havoc on the underground world. They repaired it and refilled the tank and I tell you I have never loved water so much. Nor have I ever loved more the people who know how to find and fix things in places like underground worlds. I might even go so far as to show my appreciation by actually drinking water again, even though I’m always trying to stick it to the man by not drinking it. I don’t like when they say I have to drink it even though I’m not thirsty. But that’s another post for another day…
I think I reached my lowest point on the evening of the second day, as I drove to Trader Joe’s after the sun had set, looking for food that didn’t need to be prepared (or refrigerated) that I could take to the potluck at church the next day. I was in such a deep funk. First of all, not only was our house freezing beyond belief and all our firewood wet, but our house was also very nearly inaccessible. All entrances and exits were blocked by either police cars with spinning lights or a simple sign in the road that said “Road Closed.” Every time we tried to drive anywhere was a gamble. We’d drive around the “Road Closed” signs and hope for the best, often getting all the way to the end of the road, only to be turned back around and have to try another way. Once I got out, all I could do was look at all the houses that I drove past in the night with all their beautiful lights and all I could feel was jealousy. “Those people in those houses…. they don’t even KNOW what they have right now!” I grumbled in my heart. I think I might have hated the people in those houses with those beautiful lights. It was a seriously ugly, low point for me. And then I got home and cried because of the beauty of simple fire light, while sharing a simple meal of pizza and wine and Sprite with lovely people. What a fickle heart I have.
But eventually, power WAS restored. And when our road finally opened up and we could actually drive down it, we couldn’t believe what we saw. 20-30 trees had fallen across our little road, some were still dangling from live power lines. Crews had been working around the clock, cutting through a mess of trunks, branches and leaves to try to make a way through and bring life back to the living. By the way, have you ever smelled fresh-cut eucalyptus trees, wet with rain? I will never forget that amazing smell in the midst of such a disaster zone. It was like all my senses were awakened and the view was made even more poignant. Sometimes I’m awakened in this same way on Sunday mornings when I’m tired and maybe grumpy and always hungry and the prayers start to stick in my throat… and then the incense comes swinging down the aisles. I couldn’t escape it if I wanted, but why would I want to? It swings my direction, it swings the other direction, it swings over all of us, with large puffs of smoke, rising to heaven along with our prayers. It opens our senses and we turn toward the reading of the gospel and we listen to the words chanted, and we cross our bodies, mind, mouth and heart, and it’s all made so very poignant as we prepare ourselves for Holy Eucharist, and prepare ourselves to be made whole. Bit by bit, week by week. It’s a process for such a fickle-hearted person like me.
But now the sun is out and chainsaws have been the soundtrack of my work day today. I’m sitting here looking out my back window, watching the sun set through a clearing that wasn’t there before. I’m looking at seven newly cut trunks, just in my line of view from my couch, which has let in light that wasn’t there before. It’s no small feat, cutting these tall trees, I tell you. See those teeny, tiny guys, way up there in those trees? They went almost to the top and cut down all the branches, working their way down. Then they cut the bare trunks. That view right there…imagine seven of the trees gone now. I don’t know why cutting trees always makes me so sad. I don’t think I could possibly be the granddaughter of a forester. I’m way too sentimental about these things.
But on the other hand, do you see that grass? I mean, yeah, I know it’s like two feet tall but do you see that green? I would never have thought that green was a real-life color, but it is. Oh, it is. It is everywhere right now. It’s like we live in a fairy tale. A very rainy, muddy fairy tale.
In the midst of my funk last Saturday, my mom sent me videos she was finally getting around to uploading from Christmas. I tell you, I couldn’t stop smiling. I know this post is long and I know I have a fickle heart, and I know it makes no sense to put this video here in this post. But something about this night at my mom and dad’s last December in Dallas, surrounded by people that I love, just brings my heart gladness and now I’d like to share that gladness here. It was one of those impromptu music nights that somehow always go better than if we had planned it. Sadie and Grace singing (I think I joined in some on the chorus), Sadie and Josh on guitar, Robbie jumped up and started plunking out a piano part, and then the best part of the night was when Uncle Billy suddenly pulled out a harmonica that nobody even knew he had in his pocket. Perfect. It was perfect. Maybe the lyrics about untying all the cables and ropes and just floating are exactly what I needed to hear right now.