The Wonderful – Preggo Pastor Post

It happened again recently. Someone asks me about how wonderful pregnancy is and I reply with a blank stare and awkward silence. The awkward part, I got. It’s just usually me over-answering and over-sharing. When I found some words, I said, “it’s been really hard.” I’ve been honest about how difficult pregnancy is. Some women have it easier. Some women have it harder. I’ve gotten to know a slew of side-effects and apparently normal happenings of pregnancy. They’ve all thrown me for a loop. Every single one. The existential questions surrounding loss of self and change have made me stumble too. As those have overwhelmed, I need to name the parts of all this that are overwhelmingly wonderful. So, here are a few.

I’ve known unending love and encouragement by women. The Administrator and Financial Administrator at the church preschool have listened to me talk about these new-to-me things without ever saying “get over yourself” which they had every right to do. Between them, they have 6 kids. Girlfriends have fielded text messages that without the context of pregnancy would be cause for major alarm. The women of my church have carried many emotions for me as the trimesters progressed. They’ve been excited when I’ve been scared. They’ve been joyous when I’ve been scared. They’ve been hopeful when I’ve been, well, you get the drift.

This little girl is fully Nick and fully me. Some might say half and half with the way DNA works, but I am a Christian who loves some theology talk. Borrowing the language about how some describe Jesus makes sense here. She is fully Nick and fully me, an embodiment of our commitment to one another and this call that we felt to be parents. She is fully Nick and fully me, because we are fully dedicated to her. Sure, she will probably look more like me. (If you know my family, all the women pop out looking like sisters.) Hopefully, she will have Nick’s arms and legs, eventually able to see the world from a foot above her mother. When I look at her picture from the sonogram, I see both of us whirled together in the mystery of genetic code, a sign that life comes forth even when we were beginning to think it wouldn’t.

I’ve fallen in love with Nick for the second time. Pregnancy is stressful and he’s met me where I am over and over again. It’s not a new trait. That was one of the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place. I had baggage for a boat trip across the Atlantic when we first met. He helped me unpack and unlearn, relearn and let go. One of the great treasures of our relationship is his forehead-kisses. It would be impossible to count the number of forehead-kisses I’ve received during this pregnancy. Those kisses melt away anything else that is going on. Those kisses remind in the moment that the only thing I know is that I am loved and I can rest right there. Little bit will get an abundance of forehead kisses from Nick and me. My wish for her is that with each one she learns what I’ve learned from them.

Those are my wonderful lessons – for now.

Does it hurt, God? Preggo Pastor Post

I’ve been thinking a lot about creation the past few months. At first, it was the obvious, how can a church-nerd not think about creation while she is growing a life? I mean, I’m actually creating life, with my husband, out of what seems like nothing, the miniscule elements of a single cell egg and a single cell sperm. There is another element that cannot be seen, only felt. The third element is the drive to create, the deep ache of desire to enter into the holy act of creating, growing, and nurturing life. It seems to me that while that part cannot be seen, the deep ache is the greatest of the three for me.

We’ve been watching Cosmos, enjoying greatly the vast amount of information about our universe, it’s nuances, complexities and patterns. With the beginning of all coming from nothing and expanding into the beyond that is our universe, I come back to that deep ache that I imagine prompted God to create. Was God so deeply overcome by desire for creation that a dream became real from nothing? Did the first dreamer create the dream from nothing except desire?

God as first dreamer is an image discovered this week from a workshop with J. Philip Newell, a theologian and Celtic Christianity expert. Boston Avenue United Methodist Church hosted him this week with a public lecture and a workshop. It was a mighty blessing to attend. His first prayer was so outstanding that I was moved to purchase a couple of his prayer books to use in worship at Bethany. Newell’s work focuses on re-connecting with creation. God is seen as the great dreamer and creator whose character is to seek relationship with all creation, not just humanity. Prior to my being there (I was sadly late), he spoke of the womb of God. I’ve got some investigating to do around that image, but just like God as first dreamer, it got me wondering.

I want so deeply to ask God, did it hurt? Or, as we know creation continues to expand, literally with the universe getting bigger, and as creation continues in its cycles, I want to ask, does it hurt? Maybe it’s an unfair anthropomorphizing, but I’m going there anyway. Pregnancy hurts. It hurts emotionally because there are so many emotions experienced, not to mention how the hormone fluctuations affect you. It hurts physically because my body is expanding. I knew it would be uncomfortable, but -y’all- this HURTS. I won’t go into the details, but there are lots of strange pains that I could not have anticipated. It hurts spiritually because there is so much dreaming that happens held in tension with the hope that because of and in spite of my dreaming this baby will thrive in her very own way.

Did it hurt, God? Were you aching for creation as you dreamed? At the moment of the big bang, where your dream began to take shape and life, did you know the physicality of what was happening? As the atoms moved outward, could you feel yourself expand into all that is and yet being uncontained by any of it?[1] Did it hurt, God? When your dream-made-real began and morphed into its own self-perpetuating expression and self-destroying tendencies, what brought your first tear? Does it hurt, God? As the reverberations (newly confirmed) of our expanding creation move ever outward, does it feel like the rip in my abdominal wall where growth has to happen in order to make room for what is so good and so scary at the same time? Does it hurt, God? When we hear Paul in Romans talking about the groaning of creation, is it creation that groans or your voice reverberating in creation through the ages? (Romans 8:22)

Does it hurt, God? Did you know, as you dreamt the very first dream, that what would come would be so hard, so beautiful, so wondrously chaotic and so simple, all at the same time?

Does it hurt?

As I went up to J. Philip Newell afterward to get my books signed, I was strangely quiet. He has this quality of soft beauty that is difficult to explain. The woman helping him with the line asked me when I was due. As I replied, mumbling almost, Newell said, “the shape of a pregnant woman is the most beautiful shape in the universe.” If you couldn’t see me after he said that it was because I melted into the floor. I said thank you and he replied with “Blessings for your baby.” Without knowing what to say, I touched his arm and said thank you again. All the while, diligently controlling the tears welling up in my eyes. This man so clearly in relationship with the divine blessed our baby. I was awe-struck with thankfulness. It may have well have been Pope Francis.

When reflecting on his sense of the pregnant shape, I think it is beautiful because it is the shape of a dream’s first blossoming. It’s like the bud of the flower that lasts just a day too long, granting us, in the moment, more anticipation than satisfaction at it’s bloom.

[1] Language borrowed from Newell’s prayer that got to me.

I love her. Preggo Pastor Post.

Around 19 weeks, I started feeling the quickening, the butterfly kisses, the tickling that a growing baby first makes as they move inside. We didn’t know yet that the creature was a she. I called her the creature until about 22 weeks. (Nick hated it, but I meant it in kind of a Dobby-the-house-elf endearment and oddity way. On really sick days I may have meant it in a Gollum way. Whatever.) On the first day of 22 weeks, I made my way to the Pearl district to enjoy lunch with a pastor friend.  I rapped and sang along with the Warren G and Nate Dogg as the radio played Regulators. It’s a pretty consistent habit to jam in the car and that morning the pregnancy app on my phone alerted me to the fact that her ears were really able to hear me at that point. She’s starting out with some classics. Upon getting out of the car, I patted my belly and said without thinking, “Mama loves you.”

That moment stopped me in my tracks. I literally halted walking and teared up. It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that I love her. It had noticed that I had friends who loved their baby-in-the-making and said it even before they were pregnant. I felt guilt about not feeling that way. Nick would talk to my belly and tell her I love you. But, I couldn’t. And then, without even knowing how it happened, I loved her.

Perhaps it’s my tendency to be so afraid of the worst-case scenario that kept me from investing like others. Maybe it’s my deep trust issues around allowing myself to be hurt. Maybe it was just my path to loving her. But, it came about without intentionality. I love this little bit growing. I love that her femur measures long, with my deep hope that she has Nick’s arms and legs. I love that she has the hiccups these days and I can tell the difference between a kick and the hiccups. I love that on the ultrasound she has her hand on her face, saying, with one small sign, ‘don’t look – I’m growing in here.” I love that there is the holy community of faith that already prays for her and will love her at first breath, maybe even before then. I love that she has pastor-aunties who field my weird text messages about pregnancy and will soon enough get way too many photos of her via viber. I love that Nick’s family and my family love her and are ready to be grandparents, aunts, uncles, and all.

I love her.

I wrote it; I really did. Preggo Pastor Post

As a last minute Christmas gift, I bought us tickets to see Aziz Ansari. Nick and I enjoy live comedy in general, but to see someone so utterly gifted, who isn’t afraid of taking on racism, heterosexism and how people seem to be the rudest ever these days; well, we can’t pass that up. His show was fantastic. Yet, the good word I needed to hear came from his opening act, Jerrod Carmichael. Both single guys, they talked about dating woes. Jerrod said one thing that struck home. He said that he still considers pregnancy as a consequence.  I laughed because in many ways there is still a part of me functioning with that mentality.

For those outside ministry-as-profession, it seems like (from my grass-is-greener-over-there mentality) that it may be easier to talk about sexuality. Although, that is probably just an illusion. I’ve talked with dear clergy girlfriends about this weird transition from pregnancy-as-consequence to trying to being pregnant. It’s a touchy subject to talk about because it intrinsically brings up one’s sex life. And talking about that as a clergy person, well, that’s a level of vulnerability about which even I wasn’t sure. I feel like it’s time to talk and be honest about this transition because if a comic can, so can I. Deeper than that, it’s inescapable in the emotional sense. It’s healthy to talk about this. It’s healthy to write about this, if for nothing else, for me. And pregnancy is helping me remember that “for me” is enough. That’s a lesson the little one growing inside will be taught over and over again: you are enough.

As a teenager, the idea of being intimate with someone usually threw me into fits of anxiety. Suffice it to say, those years were single and celibate. Sex was something people did when they were making bad decisions. Those among my peers who were sexually active kind of mystified me. Weren’t they afraid? What about the diseases? What about the baby that could come? Sex, in my upbringing, was by its very nature dirty and shame inducing. Thankfully, in college, my eyes were opened about what intimacy can mean, a little. There was a developing freedom to be truly educated around sexuality.  My twenties were sexually active and very safe. No diseases. No pregnancy. Successful for this type A overachiever! The physical consequences I’d been threatened with as a teen proved to be avoidable. The emotional consequences connected to not truly understanding what healthy relationships were like and what the fullness of intimacy could be, well, those came. I had those consequences in spades. (Oddly enough, nobody really focused on those consequences.) I didn’t face them until my late twenties after two unhealthy relationships that made up most of that decade. I shifted to really consider that I was enough, enough for something that mattered.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was never that person who wanted to be a parent as a defining characteristic. Once Nick and I fell in love, that urge started. At first, it was as simple as this: he will be an amazing dad. Then, it became: I ache for a baby with Nick’s face. (Go ahead and laugh; I don’t know another way to explain it.) Eventually, it was: my heart breaks that we aren’t parents. That was the moment when we starting considering adoption after a year and a half of trying. That also seemed to be the moment that our bodies did the thing we wanted most, fertilizing and implanting this little bit that is growing now.

I’m writing all this to say that I still get fits of anxiety about this consequence of sex.  My mind, due to unhealthy teachings in adolescence by the church, family and society about sex, still panics that I’m showing the world what I’ve been up to!  I wonder what decisions we will make about teaching little one about sex, sexuality and the gift it is from God. How will we honor it by acknowledging special things need rules around them? What will we do to connect physical and emotional intimacy in a way that is healthy for our daughter? I want for her an approach to life that doesn’t induce shame. Am I bold enough to build that for her?

Shavasna and Dogs… preggo pastor post #2

I got stuck in shavasna pose this week. It’s ridiculous to even write on paper, much less say out loud. If you aren’t familiar with yoga, shavasna is the ‘corpse’ pose wherein you lay on the floor on your back, completely relaxed. After 35 minutes on the elliptical, I transitioned to yoga poses and stretching to complete my exercise. Taking seriously the modifications my pregnancy-yoga video suggested, I placed a blanket under my hips and started to lie down. Quickly, it became apparent that I would not be able to lay my legs down to complete the pose. With knees bent, I became stuck attempting shavasna. Thankfully, Nick had made it home already. Calling him over and laughing as I explained, he picked up my legs and pulled the blanket out from under my hips. Isolation work with the body is not uncommon for me as I stretch and move with yoga and old ballet habits coming into memory.  Isolation work with extreme pain and an inability to move; well, that’s new. Chalk it up to pregnancy. My chiropractor has been working diligently on my hips that are giving me fits.

It was a hilarious scenario, something that felt straight out of a sitcom. Even after I had been rescued, I was rolling from back to stomach to push my aching body upright. I couldn’t see Nick at the time, but I could feel the look of confusion on his face as he asked me, “what are you doing?” Making it up, I went about my business making dinner and talking to the dogs.  As I shared this with my chiropractor, his response was “that makes quite a sermon illustration.” Yes, yes it does, Dr Lau. When life changes, can we really continue to do things the same way, even modified? Can we listen to the innate wisdom in our hearts, minds and bodies in a way that creates new methods of living? Then the last couple days happened and I discovered a new connection, the way in which I am beginning and ending this week.

Nick and I have been trying to take a break from fostering German Shorthair pointers. Our last foster was with us for nearly a year. Given that and being pregnant, we thought it was time for a break. That worked for all of 5 minutes. I keep seeing the posts of dogs who need a caretaker. The leader who recruits fosters reminded me of our desired break, in a healthy way, since she had just had her own baby. But, then this elderly male popped up in my facebook feed with the need for someone to share with him hospice care. He was pulled from a shelter that put him at 3 years old with major health issues. That, we can handle. The vet we use for the organization put him at 10-12 with major health issues. The OK GSP Rescue decided to give him some time with a foster until it was truly time to end his suffering. We thought we’d foster him for a few months, maybe less. Nick was rightly concerned about exposing our girls to anything he might have. So, we were to pick him up Monday and bring him home for love then. I couldn’t escape this deep desire to care for this dog in his last days. Perhaps it is this privilege of caring for a growing life within that pushed me to care for this dog who was at the other end of the cycle. Perhaps this strong heartbeat we heard yesterday for the first time encouraged me to pick up this drum for dignity at death. Perhaps my getting stuck in shavasna was only the first time this week I’d deal with death. You see, this sweet male won’t make it to our home on Monday. He is simply too weak. I’ll be meeting his current care taker at the vet at 5 p.m. I’ll meet him for the first time in order to be the last human he knows.

People often share with me the stories of their long-gone pets. They wonder how Nick and I can foster dogs and pass them along to their forever homes. Occasionally, I’ll go into a hidden-until-home rage when someone tells me about how they let their dog have pups “because we wanted her to do it once.” I pass over the statistics and Sarah McLachlan commercials because I don’t need to be reminded of how many pets get put down each year simply because people are too lazy to have their pets fixed or self righteous enough to think they ought to breed them for profit. All I need to do is remember Sally the beagle, our first foster, who wasn’t sure about walking on grass because she’d never really done it before. Her life before rescue was in a lifted chicken wire cage. She now lives with an awesome couple in Columbia, Missouri.

Maybe fostering brings me closer to death than I’ve ever realized. It keeps me with one leg in shavasna and one leg moving around. Being closer to death, however, brings me closer to the true meaning of life; that all life matters enough that it should have full dignity. I’m more and more convinced that ignorance surrounding death both as individuals and as a culture keeps us from truly appreciating and living lives with dignity. It certainly keeps these companion creatures called dogs from having full lives. An obsession with creating more life oddly enough brings about more death, and those deaths are not ones that end with love and human tears on shining fur.

Shavasna, catch me. I need to see death to know life.

Update: Little Buddy was a sweetheart. He could barely walk with his bowlegged front paws carrying the most of his weight. He let me carry him in and pet him softly. I told him he was a good boy as they relieved him of his suffering peacefully.

Preggo Pastor Journey begins

The idea of having kids always seemed like “that’s what people do.”  People get married, have kids and probably get divorced. I know it sounds nihilistic, or negative at the least. However, that just seemed like the routine. I could see myself being a parent, but just as much, or more so, I could see myself never being a parent.

I spent 7 years as a children’s minister, dearly loving that time. I saw a variety of parents: the overprotective ones; the somehow bend-space-and-time parents who were everywhere with the early 2000’s version of a pinterest project in hand; the balanced ones; the waited so long in hope parents; and so many more. I marveled at them, their children and often took for granted the trust I’d been given to nurture their spiritual development. I too often judged them as I dealt with my own adolescence and teen years, wishing they had been different. I regret that.

In those years, I spent a great deal of time with children and in personal relationships that weren’t exactly what anyone would call healthy. Suffice it to say, that mixture ended up with my take on having kids as “what people do.” A more accurate description would be that’s “what other people do.” When friends would talk about wanting to be a mom one day, I couldn’t relate. An internal shrug of my shoulders resulted and an outwardly vocal, “ok.” Things started to change, albeit slowly, around 7 years ago.

The Monday after Thanksgiving in 2006, I went on the last first date I will ever have. It’s completely corny, but true. It’s another thing that I never thought would happen: a last first date. While I didn’t exactly talk about it, I was pretty sure that divorce would be in my future. I mean, when your mom, grandmother and great-grandmother had all been divorced; you begin to think, maybe, it’s in the blood. (It was most certainly in the familial habits of relationship.)

A couple months before that Monday, my best friend and I had one of our Thursday girl nights. We’d drink wine, watch Grey’s Anatomy, talk shop (church) and complain about dating. Sound familiar? Eventually, she talked me in to signing up for match.com. My response was basically, let’s get a few meals and meet a few jerks. That really was my state of mind. The idea of meeting someone I’d actually like, much less had the social and life skills I finally understood were necessary in a mate, became a joke. I went to that first date without much trying. Seriously, I wore khaki pants, a denim jacket and dansko clogs. It wasn’t exactly a come-hither look. Nick looked nice, even prepared (!), with his button down shirt and dress pants. We talked for hours and sipped wine. Little did I know that this one date would change my life so fully. In seven years, I’ve fallen in love, managed to learn more about who I am as an individual, grow a strong marriage and, eventually, get pregnant. Here’s to a life journey I never thought would happen and one I didn’t think I deserved. Little baby, you’ve already got a big life to come into!