Monday, July 24, 2017

Forty Days, My Son, and Faith

Our first photo as a family of three (in which I had been up for about 30 hours)

Sometimes my kids will accuse me of loving the other one more. I always reassure them that I love both of them so much and it amazes me how my heart continues to expand to love them more all the time. And while it is true that my love for one is not greater than what I feel for the other, I'm not going to deny that the relationships are different. Each relationship is bonded in unique ways, with those tethers being fiercely strong and devoted.

I can share with you the hundred ways in which I love my daughter and why our connection is so powerful. But today, as I prepare to celebrate my son's eighth birthday, I want to let you know how my son gave me strength and what he taught me about faith.

On July 23, 2009, I dropped off my three-year-old daughter at a music camp at a local church that she was attending for the week. I then took a blanket to the lake near our home, sat by the water, and cried. I was due to have my second child in a month and a half and I was newly separated from my then husband. There were so many questions. What would happen when I went into labor? Do I get my daughter to a friend's house and then drive to the hospital? Do I take my daughter to the hospital and then have a friend pick her up there? And what about after this baby was born? Would I have the energy to care for both of them? Does my daughter understand what is happening? Working as a freelance writer at the time, would I have an income steady enough to provide for my family? Will I always be sad? What do people think of me and my situation? How did this happen?

I closed my eyes and prayed. Although I had become a Christian several years prior, I'm not going to claim that prayer was my forte. I did not do it regularly and I never was convinced that I was doing it "right." But that morning, I told God that I was scared. I asked for His help. As I opened my eyes, a sprinkle of rain fell on me out of the clear blue sky and I felt such peace.

The next evening, I went into labor. In hindsight, the back pain I had been experiencing all day should have been a clue. With intense contractions now only a few minutes apart, there was no denying this kid was coming.

Here's the catch. My baby was not due until September 3. I was not ready. But here is also where it all gets amazing.

My daughter had just left for her first night ever away from me as I anticipated a fun night with friends at my home. I had six women on their way over to paint and decorate the nursery for this baby who we assumed was still at least a month away from making his or her arrival, with wine for them and water for me and pizza all around. But instead, I called the ones I could reach on cell phones and said, "Change of plans. The first one who gets here is driving me to the hospital."

I had no bag packed, so I gathered a towel, some socks, and my contact lens case, because that is what I thought I needed as I walked through the house shaking. Then I sat on my porch and waited. My friend Jill arrived first, helped me into her minivan, then called another friend whose husband is a cop and asked for advice if police should try to pull her over for speeding as we raced to the hospital. Luckily, we arrived VERY quickly but free of law enforcement encounters.

One of my closest friends and the woman whom I had asked to be by my side as I gave birth had just arrived back from her Florida vacation earlier that afternoon. Again, perfect timing. She met me at the hospital with tears in her eyes at the excitement of being my partner in all that was about to happen. Over the next couple of hours, the most amazing group of girlfriends a woman ever could hope to have left their own families at home and showed up at the hospital, holding vigil in the waiting room. I felt so loved and so safe.

Ian Charles Moore was born at 5:56am (I think?) on July 25, 2009, forty days before his due date and two inches shorter and more than a pound lighter than his sister at her birth. The neonatal nurses rushed him off soon after his delivery to check his lungs and the rest of his development, concerned that his early arrival had not allowed his body the time it needed before joining all of us on the outside. They soon returned and put him in my arms and said, "He's amazing. He is strong. He is ready to be here." I'm crying even now as I type those words.

Forty - it's a number of great significance in the Bible. Noah and his paired animals stayed on the ark for forty days. The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Christ fasted for forty days ahead of His crucifixion and returned for forty days after His earthly death. The number is meant to represent a period of testing, and plays a similar role in the Koran and other writings of faith. In addition to testing, though, I also see the time as being evidence of God's provision through those tests.

Those who have known me for a long time know that I did not grow up believing in God. In fact, I spent much of my teens and twenties being quite argumentative with people of faith. All along, though, there were seeds being planted and I always secretly was curious about those who found solace in Scripture and their church families. It was after reading and traveling and listening to many sermons by a pastor in Nashville who remains one of the greatest and most authentic communicators I know, that I became a Christian.

Do I still question things? Yes. All the time. I wonder about what I see as God's personality inconsistencies in the Old and New Testaments. I cringe when a mom of a returning soldier says, "God was looking out for him and brought him home safely." So God totally ignored his buddy who was killed by an IED? I don't understand why I have had friends, young parents of children, die of cancer. I hesitate to align myself with my faith when I see others using the banner of Christianity to speak and act in ways that are counter to Christ's call to love. I believe in evolution. I think that some parables in the Bible are important stories that God uses to explain how we are to act instead of literal occurrences. I'm not content with the answer, "Well, there are just some things the human mind cannot understand this side of heaven." I see that sentence as a cop out from handling the hard stuff.

But I also KNOW how I felt that day on the lake when God comforted me. While this sounds selfish, I believe God knew I needed Ian to come into the world when he did. It was the fact that I had no choice but to get up and care for my young daughter and my newborn son that kept me from heading down a very dark place that summer. And despite being an exhausted single mom, I felt more peace in those early months as a family of three than I recall having at any other point in my adult life. In the months and years that have followed, I have seen countless examples of people being His hands and feet in such selfless and inspiring ways that have meant so much to my family. I have read the words in red and they speak to me about brotherhood and compassion and caring for the marginalized and acting out of love without exception. I have been a witness to others who bear joy and peace and comfort that is beyond what their circumstances should dictate.

I get that you may read all of this and discount the role of God in Ian's birth. All of the people who were right where they needed to be when no one was expecting his arrival could have been a case of great timing and coincidence. And what about when it doesn't work out that way? Because sometimes it doesn't. I understand. Every moment that one person attributes to God can be explained away by another who holds a different belief. I'm not here to convince you otherwise. But as I celebrate the birth of my son eight years ago, forty days early, I only can tell you what I feel and what is true in my heart. Looking at the face of that beautiful soul as he sleeps and thinking about all of the precious moments of love and comfort I have experienced because of him, my faith and God's provision is affirmed time and again.

Happy birthday, Ian! I love you more every day.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Fast Foward Summer (Subtitle - My Girl is Growing Up)

On Monday morning, my girl will head out of state for camp and return on Friday afternoon. Since she will miss her brother and me so much and wants to spend as much time as possible with us this weekend, she left about an hour ago to spend the night with a group of girlfriends from her softball team.

I never was a parent who lamented each passing stage of my children's development. I did not get sad at their first birthdays or when they started their first days of kindergarten. I didn't want them to stay babies. Instead, I was excited to watch them grow and tried to embrace each stage.

The days and months went by faster once they started school. Catherine started and then finished elementary school in what seemed like mere weeks. But still, I didn't beg for time to slow down. The kids were just growing up . . . that's what they were supposed to do.

But that has changed this summer. My girl is pulling away, and there is no going back. I feel like she's punched a speed train ticket to adulthood and I'm along for the ride. This is supposed to happen. I know this. I just wasn't expecting it to start so soon.

My daughter is eleven years old and will enter middle school in a couple of weeks (because school starts on August 1 and the world is nuts). She is looking more like a young woman and less like a little girl. Spending time with her friends takes precedence over being with her family. She is starting to be concerned with how she looks and what she wears. I embarrass her on a regular basis.

The time that she has left under my roof is less than the time she already has been in my care (my calculations show that we are about 62% of the way to move out time). For the first time, I want to hold up my hands and say, "Slow down just a little bit! Give me a few more of these days! Or make a few more of those special evenings last longer!"

Even though she is likely to pick her friends (or listening to music in her room or watching You Tube videos about slime) over her family, we still have fun together when those opportunities occur. Just today, the two of us developed a fantastic front flip, back flip, cartwheel, final jump flourish synchronized swimming routine at the neighborhood swimming pool. (And side note - my 42-year-old underwater back flip is still on point . . . other than the one time I scraped my face on the bottom of the pool.) She still asks for family movie nights on the couch and marathon board games sessions. She wants to talk to me every night at bedtime (well, when she's home) about whatever is on her mind. I am thankful for all of these things.

And besides, this growth is exactly what I want for her! Isn't one of our primary jobs as parents to raise kids who are independent and incrementally don't need us anymore? We seem to be proceeding down that "cut the apron strings" road just fine. It's the same road I remember walking from her perspective about thirty years ago (to the beat of Debbie Gibson and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam).

Still, I can't help but ask myself some of the big questions this summer when it comes to my preteen girl.

Have I spent enough time with her? Does she feel like I've been available in the big moments and the small? Does she have the confidence to make her way through the tough waters of middle school and high school? What will she remember of her childhood? Does she KNOW how much I love her? What do I need to tell her and teach her in the next seven years? Does she want me to ask her to spend more time together? How does she feel about growing up? Have I created a home that she will look forward to visiting for comfort once she is an adult?

Are there other moms of preteens out there experiencing these same feelings? Or moms who are further down this road who can offer some advice?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

This American's Confession

For as long as I can remember, I've had the tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July. This morning, I read it before having my first cup of coffee and I likely will read it again tonight. In the last several years, I've added watching America: The Story of Us to my annual activities. While I don't usually get to sit and watch it all day, I make sure the program is on my television screen. I'm looking at it right now. The documentary series is one of my favorite shows ever made. It has sparked dozens of great conversations with my kids.

So, here is my admission. For the first time in my life, this holiday has me feeling a bit sad. I'm concerned about where we are as a country. It's hard for me to be excited about the United States right now. I hate this feeling, because to be American is to be optimistic. So shame on me.

And, it's not just because of who is sitting in the Oval Office. Sure, that's a large part of it, because while I disagreed often with both President Bush and President Obama, and shared as much in many blog posts, this is the first time that I'm actually embarrassed by our president.

But it's more than that.

Our nation was built on the ideas of freedom and bold actions and risks. It was further crafted by debates that lasted for hours over the questions of who we wanted to be as Americans and families who took steps through the western wilderness and brilliant minds that developed railroads and dams and steel production and electricity. It was refined by the contributions of immigrants whose invitation to our shores is carved into the Statue of Liberty and orators who spoke out about injustices in our land and a compassion that offers care to those within our borders and beyond.

Do we still have people who would walk ten miles a day for six months, like those men, women, and children who settled the land that would become our western states? Would I do that with my kids? Institutionally or in our own families, do we encourage the hard work that is needed to build roads and bridges and farm our produce? Do we respect ideas and constructive debate and being thoughtful?

I know the answers to all these questions is "yes" on a micro level. I can point to plenty of individuals and groups who embody the work ethic and the perseverance and the embracing of diversity and new ideas that, to me, symbolize America.

But what about on a macro level? Collectively as Americans, can we still answer "yes" to these questions in 2017? Or, have we shifted to a nation that has become complacent in our successes and that is quick to attack instead of understand?

And when did we become OK with the campaigns from both major parties being built on anger and fear?

We are better than all of that. I know we are. Anger and fear and division run counter to the bravery and the boldness and the collective strength of all our parts that make this nation so amazing.    

I'm not foolish or ungrateful. I know that I have rights and opportunities that many people around the world cannot even imagine. I am a woman who was allowed to go to school and work and marry (and then divorce) the person I wanted. My children go to sleep at night without bombs going off around them or on the cold floor of a refugee's tent. There is an entire aisle at each of the multiple grocery stores near me dedicated to cereal. I get to vote for my president and my members of Congress and my school board and judges. I get to write and speak unkind words when I do not like what these elected officials are doing without fear of persecution by my government (despite what the current head of the executive branch thinks he can do). I am forever humbled that the sheer luck of my birthplace has afforded me so much that I deserve no more than women born in Syria or Haiti.

And maybe I'm not supposed to be sharing these thoughts on Independence Day. You only should think good things about people and countries on their birthdays. On the other hand, perhaps this is the exact right day to share how I feel. Why? Because I love America and her founding ideals so much. I have a physical ache for how much I love this country. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Kennedy's inaugural address . . . I could go on and on. They all give me chills. So, it's in America's defense and using my awesome First Amendment freedoms that I share how I'm feeling today. I live in a country in which I can type these words and not be sent to jail or be killed. I do not take that for granted. But I also KNOW we are better than how we treat each other and how we are perceived around the world today. And I'm still rooting for a return to the principles that make us so proud when we see that flag flying.

Today I celebrate our history. I celebrate our amazing founding documents and the ideals contained in them that we eventually saw fit to extend to all of our citizens. I celebrate the stories of entrepreneurship and artistry. I celebrate the men and women who keep us free through their sacrifices on the battlefield and their advocacy in the halls of our legislatures and on our streets. I celebrate the amazing people in our past, both heralded in textbooks and whose stories should be known but aren't, who have shaped our nation. I celebrate my freedom, and your freedom, to succeed and fail. And I celebrate that I know that the way I feel today will motivate me to do better where I can and to start those conversations and those ignitions of change right where I am.

Happy 241st birthday, America. May our best days always be ahead of us.