Cultivate Space (for the Sweet Mercy)
I’ve basically been gone from this blog for, um, around eight weeks. (Except for when I introduced you to my main squeeze, Ace.) Let’s call it a maternity leave.
In my former blogging life I would have shed a lot of tears, frantically paced the floor over the amount of unwritten words, and internally berated myself for letting all my readers forget about this blog, and (let’s be honest) this writer.
Those are fair concerns. In fact, if you’re reading this post, I’m shocked and amazed that you noticed it was here. And I’m also okay with the fact that many people will probably not notice.
My blogging life has changed a lot in the past year. I’ve written here about how I’m learning to release my unhealthy obsession with performance and perfection, how I’m learning to slow down and make space for rest and for my family when I need to.
But spaciousness in my life has not only been about blogging. The desire to cultivate space in my days for health and relationships has come as slowly as my babies. With each child, I discovered more of my weaknesses, more of my need for wholeness.
When August, my first, was born I was overwhelmed and stunned by the reality of motherhood. When my second baby, Brooks, came around I wanted to feel like motherhood had made me capable. So I tried to prove that I had parenthood figured out, that I was totally cool with two kids. I pushed myself to keep every commitment, to keep writing blog posts (instead of getting sleep), to keep it together. I was a mess.
Some people can transition to a new place in life and continue with their routine. In fact, they need that routine. They are cool moms, you guys. But I am not. I’ve learned this about myself. When there’s a transition, I crave complete focus on the transition. I crave the present moment.
And this time around, that has meant ignoring my writing career for a long amount of time. I spent the early weeks reading, breastfeeding, going to doctor’s appointments with Ace, and playing with my older boys. I needed space to transition. I needed to nap. I needed to eat chocolate nib and sea salt cookies at night while I watched cheesy BBC shows with my mom.
This time, with my third—with a special needs baby—I’ve been given the gift of two seemingly opposite feelings: The peace of already knowing how to take care of a baby, and the wild uncertainty of all that I don’t understand about Down syndrome, of all that can go wrong.
Ace spent the first few weeks struggling to eat, struggling to gain weight. And the gift of those weeks was that I’d done the breastfeeding thing before: I knew how to feed my babies. I didn’t have to beat myself up. I got to receive the reality that this is a different baby and I will learn him as I go. I was wise enough that I didn’t listen when the mean voices in my head told me I was failing.
Maybe that’s what spaciousness is: Giving yourself room to receive the challenge in front of you, while still clinging to the truth. Learning to see that within the pain of the suffering, there is something remarkable. Beautiful. There’s always a both/and.
And so far in Ace’s life I’m learning the goodness of holding to both at the same time: Holding the heartbreak of an uncertain diagnosis in the same hand as I hold the sack of flour baby snuggles. Blessing my older children’s cheers for him as he learns what all newborns are trying to learn: how to lift his head on tummy time, how to grab a toy, how to smile.
When we received Ace’s diagnosis, Chris and I were surprised that though we grieved, though we struggled to see what this would mean for Ace’s life, for our older boys’ lives, for our lives, we never really found ourselves asking why it was happening to us.
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about that. How did we skip that feeling? Did we skip that feeling? And our only answer was that we’ve spent most of the past six years in a church that always reminds us that the world and our city are both beautiful and broken, always at the same time. And that liturgy has been planted deep into our souls. It is always both. Life is always beautiful. Life is always heart-breaking.
We can ask why, but we can’t ask why without noticing that everyone else is suffering as well. In different ways, we all walk through pain.
And sometimes your suffering is also your sweetest joy. A now-nine-pound baby that cuddles like a sack of flour and gulps milk (making those baby nursing sounds), and daily grows chunkier thighs.
Time passes and we all learn what we need in the transition. (I need dark chocolate and Netflix.) And babies grow and sometimes struggle to grow. And little boys play and get taller and their blonde hair grows longer. And first graders learn to spell longer words and graduate to second grade.
And the middle boy takes the baby’s face in his hands and says, I just love you so much, my sweet little mercy. And I hold my breath, because, isn’t he? A sweet mercy.
Yesterday was a hard day. A hard day after two and a half months of hard days as an Elder in my church. And when I came home, I sat my baby in his bathtub and poured water on his head over and over, like baptism. And I told him—again, as if he doesn’t know (of course he knows)—that he is God’s beloved, that his life is important and beautiful and valuable. And he stared at me with his dark blue eyes and let me pour the warm water on his head…
In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m learning—over and over again—to cultivate space for this miraculous life I’m already in the middle of: hard Sundays and ordinary baptisms and four-year-olds recognizing mercy.
Sweet Mercy right in front of us.