Mantras

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness.” ~Rachel Naomi Remen

When I was on the road to recovery from Briella’s birth, I had a series of stints placed within my body to aid a few of the organs damaged in her delivery and subsequent emergency surgeries. My body was not very happy with these long vessels extending from my kidneys through my ureters and into my bladder. I read somewhere along the way that some people don’t even notice the presence of these implanted foreign objects. Other people have bodies that make it known that they are not happy at all with the intrusion. My body was in alignment with the latter camp. I was in near constant pain as my nerves shouted and convinced my brain that the insides of my organs were being perpetually stabbed by these straw-like vessels that allowed urine to flow through my impaired bodily system. And then there were the constant infections, the evidence of my bodily resistance to it’s need for assistance. I would take three to five baths a day in an effort to minimize gravity and relax my confused and frustrated body. Every single day was a struggle and it left me completely depleted.

My mantra, repeated over and over again in those days, “This too shall come to pass,” carried me through. And that’s just it – I knew that inevitably the pain, the infections, the tubes both in and out of my body, the fixation on my injured urinary system, that it would all move toward some semblance of resolution. But I often wondered in that season about people who experience chronic pain. What must it be like to accept that there may not be an end to the pain? What must it be like to know no cure? What mantra could carry one through the open-ended days of pain? I shuddered at the thought back then. I felt my heart grow heavy and weary with empathy for those who carry such narratives. And I would marvel too at the realization that so many humans find the strength and resilience each day to bear their own stories.

As life would have it, those months of unrelenting pain and those wonderings that increased my empathy for individuals who contend with chronic pain were a clearly a primer for this current season of life. I am cautious to share too many details in this space, mainly because it’s not really my story to tell, though it undeniably intersects with mine. What I can share is that much of our life over the past 16 months has revolved around sorting out and tending to the health issues of our 15 year old daughter, Bailey. Though we seem to have ruled out any life threatening conditions at this point, chronic and unrelenting pain has been a significant part of this chapter in her life, and ours as we all bear the impact day in and day out.

BaileyWe are trying to figure out individual and family mantras to get through the hardest days. Instead of anticipating and hoping for the passing of a season (because we’re not sure that will ever be the case), we are learning how to search for beauty, and laughter, and delight even in the midst of the cloud of pain that follows her everywhere she goes.

Some days are way harder than others. Somedays the cloud pisses me off. Somedays the cloud rages and pours down on her…and us too. Somedays I remember that a cloud that rains periodically and diffuses our access to the source of light is not the same as having no sun at all. The sun is still there even if I can’t always find it, or feel it. The clouds and the sun can coexist. Maybe that will be my mantra.

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It seems fitting that I’ve been mostly bed ridden with a nasty virus these first few days of the new year in anticipation of Briella’s 4th birthday. I had no choice but to be present – present to my body and how it aches right now with sickness, but also present to the memories of that day and the months and now years that have followed. I wonder sometimes if there will come a time where Briella’s birthday won’t carry with it the sting of trauma. Maybe someday. But for now, it is still so full of all of the jumbled-up-ness of a birthing trauma.

This one day held within it a hope that was years in the making. The truth is our marriage was pretty busted up over a decade ago. It had been cracking left and right in the earliest years – the years we had three babies (and lost one) within a four year span. We were barely adults when we married and tried to do grown up things like pay the bills and buy houses. An unconscious fantasy of escaping the wounds from my family of origin by creating an entirely new family of my own along side Brian’s conditioning to be the good Christian boy drove most of our joint decisions. And we tread water for a little while, partially sustained from years of marriage counseling and bound together by the expectations and demands of our faith tradition. But eventually the shit hit the fan and went flying everywhere, as shit does when it hits the fan (not that I’ve ever tried that or anything).

The departure of our pastor, my boss and mentor of nearly a decade, from our community and his marriage triggered an abandonment wound, or re-opened the deep abyss, leaving me questioning almost every decision I had made in my life up until that point. The desire for someone, something, to fill that big gaping canyon in my heart and soul left me struggling to get out of bed some days and clawing at those who weren’t able to take the pain away on other days. Brian discovered that the good Christian boy routine was leaving him and our relationship cold and smelling of near death.

I considered an affair. Brian considered leaving me. We decided to move to Seattle instead where I would get a degree to be better equipped for the possibility of single parenting. We thought we were preparing for an inevitable transition out of our marriage. Instead, with greater distance from both of our families, from the man I thought I couldn’t live without, and from the church culture that was suffocating both of us, we were able to find ourselves a little more. We’re still finding ourselves all these years later, because that’s the only way to keep finding each other too.

So Briella’s birth story was 8 years in the making because following the birth of our third daughter, our life together was looking kinda shady. We found our way through near catastrophe, I managed to get that grad degree, we moved back to Colorado where Brian acquired his masters and we bought another house all the while hope was rising. Perhaps we could create one more life out of ours together. Perhaps that fourth child would be our denouement, the evidence of the long, hard, and beautiful work of creating a family and then forging a family back together again.

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That’s a whole lot of hope to place upon or point toward a single event in the epic novel of our life together. As the story would go, that pregnancy, and that day, and the following days did not go as we imagined, dreamt and hoped they would. Except for this: She is glorious. She was then and she is now and she forever will be. Of this, I am certain. She has every single one of us (especially her sisters) swooning at her every word and dance and laugh. If she had not come to be, I wonder if we all would have felt something missing from our life together. She is glorious from her chipped front tooth to her nugget like toes. She is glorious in her ability to take up space in a family with several spacious personalities. She is glorious in her determination to do things her way and on her own. She is glorious in her repeated declarations of love for those she holds most dear and in her impassioned expressions of disappointment when she does not get her way.

So her birthday holds undeniable glory but it also holds memories of great terror. I was the closest I’ve ever been to death on that day. Twice. Brian was faced with the possibility of raising four girls all on his own after we had been working so hard all those years to stay at it together. My girls were confused and terrified for several hours as no one knew how to help them process what was going on in that frantic operating room. And the thing about tip-toeing to the very edge of your terror, is that you can’t just shake that image out of your mind. Pretending it doesn’t matter now because she was okay and I am still here doesn’t really work. I witnessed the threshold of my own finite life. That experience must be reconciled and somehow integrated into our current existence for wholeness to even be possible.

The truth is we are each still learning how to carry that intimate experience of the terror of death in direct correlation to the birth of her glory in a way that ultimately sets us free to hope more, to hope deeper. Remembering both the terror and the glory, letting them inform each other, is part of the healing work still, four years later. Before January 3, 2013 our hope was limited to imaginings of an idyllic birth to symbolize or represent the beauty of the ongoing healing work in our marriage. But our imaginings were too small. Too limited. And so our hope was refined through her birth – it needed to expand large enough to hold the jumbled-up-ness of both terror and glory, of the finite and the infinite.

So on this day I celebrate her absolute glory, and I remember and honor my unshakeable encounter with the terror of finitude.

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Photo by the very talented Bailey Gauthier

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