Tuesday, September 30, 2014

To Peace and Quiet

Dear Elusive Silence,

No, I'm not talking to those creepy Doctor Who villains.  (And since you forget them when you look away, could one actually write a letter to them?  Discuss.)

I'm talking to you, Peace and Quiet.  Silence.  A still room, the ticking of a cuckoo clock, the whoosh of an air conditioner.  Outside sounds trickling in: someone mowing, a car cruising by, or a far-off bird warble.  The sounds I hear when I sit in my living room and just. stop. going. for. one. second.

I am (obviously) not talking about the excited chatter of a new Kindergartener, the intriguing commentary of a spouse, the phone call from a good friend, or even the happy babble of a two month-old. These are all beautiful and enriching--but ultimately distracting--sounds.

I am certainly not talking about the drone of my favorite television shows, the chime of text messages, or even the clatter of my typing on the keyboard.  I'm not even talking about the mostly noiseless things--interesting websites, good books, a tasty meal, a precious middle-of-the-night infant feeding session--that occupy the spaces in my life.

I am talking to the Quiet that comes when I cease my strivings, seek the Lord, and just exist.  You scare me, Silence.  Even as an introvert, I do not want to completely enter in, Solitude.  You are where God does deep work, where souls are laid bare, where one must learn to surrender completely.  You are far more terrifying than any science-fiction creature could ever be.

Even Bible readings and structured prayer can be turned into a distraction or a defense mechanism; but you, Silence, you strip away places to hide.  So with the encouragement of passages like 1 Kings 19 and Mark 1, with the guidance of books such as Ruth Haley Barton's An Invitation to Solitude and Silence and Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, with the support of family & friends and a multitude of saints who have gone before me, I will enter in.  I will embrace you, Silence, and trust that God is going to meet me.

With hopeful trepidation,
A Quiet Pilgrim

Thursday, February 13, 2014

To A Fellow Bibliophile

Dear Carmen,  
In the middle of your very poignant piece about the grace and power of the Lord as shown through water, another thought captured my attention.  When surveying your flooded office—but thankfully dry bookshelves, you “reflected on the truth that had the ruptured pipe ruined them all, the only volumes that would have survived would have been the ones I’ve given away over the years.”  Wow.  I had to stop and let that sink in for a minute.
It’s such a clear statement about the nature of stewardship, of community, and of faith.  Because I’m also such a bibliophile, I find myself constantly in the middle of two extremes: hoarding books, and giving them away.  I collect books like my preschooler collects shiny things: with indiscriminate delight and no concern for the space requirements.  Yet I have also been known to give away copies of Ruth Haley Barton’s An Invitation to Solitude and Silence like they’re candy.   In my office are two shelves- one for my growing collection, and one for those meant to be given away. 
            I share your shudder at the thought of all my books being ruined.  Yet I realize that in some ways, it is not the tangible book itself (though I love the heft of a good book) but rather, the ideas, experiences and knowledge that the book represents and contains.  It is indeed the rampant highlighting in grad school textbooks (my husband sardonically suggests just highlighting the entire page) and the various notes and symbols scribbled in the margins.  It is the warm thought of the friend who first recommended or gave the book to me.  It is the connection I feel with the authors, both in our similarities and in our differences.  And it is the (sometimes) invisible community built around that particular book, a community of readers that I have the privilege to help expand.  I have let some precious volumes go to new homes because I felt that book was just right for that person in their current experiences.  I once accidentally gave away a copy of a treasured book with very personal notes in the margins, only to discover a friendship strengthened by my unwitting vulnerability.  I also loan out books with the faith that they will either be returned eventually, or be better loved by someone else.  Your article has helped me to realize how the principle of stewardship plays out through my library: I collect books to be able to give them away, so as to further community and to advance ideas and the Kingdom of God. 
            Given my career in campus ministry, the majority of my office books are specifically addressing Christian faith and practice.  Yet it is not merely the theological concepts in those books that inspire me, it is the lives lived as shown in their pages.  It is Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Mike Schutt’s heart for Redeeming Law, and Tom Lin’s journey of Losing Face and Finding Grace.  It is that Invitation to Solitude and Silence of Ruth Haley Barton’s, and the Unshakable Foundations upon which Norman Geisler and Pete Bocchino stand.  It is learning to share the joy of Sundee Tucker Frazier and boldly Check All That Apply.  And as your article has helped me to see, it is those books that are no longer upon my shelf—those of which I have been willing to let go—that perhaps bless me the most.  In my bookshelves, I see a microcosm of the community with which God has blessed me over the years.  No matter what powerful provision of water may come to my bookshelves, the legacy and power of those books (and those friends) lives on.  And despite the fact that friends move away, or pass on, or just borrow books never to be returned, that community continues.  Praise be to God for that. 

Chandra ("Hello, my name is Chandra, and I'm addicted to books." "Hello, Chandra")

Friday, January 31, 2014

To Children, Some of Whom Are Mine

Dear Baby Noodle,

     I've heard some people call babies in the womb "noodle," which is cute.  However, this is not our cutesy nickname for you while we wait to find out your gender.  It's your nickname in a different culture, in a different way.  It's strange trying to explain to the people that we ask to pray for you about your nickname, as strange as the prayer request itself.  Some reading this might think I'm writing to the wee person who is currently in my belly, but I'm not.  I'm writing to you, seven months old and a world away.  And no-doubt precious.  To you, small person, who we so desperately wanted to be our baby, but God had different, better, harder plans than we did.
     I'm writing this with tears drying on my face, partially because crying is apparently what pregnant women do all day, and partially because I've been reading about human trafficking, and partially because I'm learning to let myself be sad about losing you.  You see, what you don't know, and probably never will, is that we wanted to adopt you.  To bring you into our family.  To make you ours.
     And that would have meant taking you from your birth family, which no one ever really wants to do.  From the family that you share genetics with, from the mama that had you at one time in her own belly, from those that have nicknamed you Noodle.  I don't put the Thai word here, because I feel I want to protect your privacy, and also because I'm not entirely certain how to pronounce it.  Annabel and I are trying to remedy that, so that maybe future adoptive babies who come to our home can keep some of their birth language, and so that I can rediscover one of my own.  It's funny to think that we are learning at the same time.  You would probably laugh if you heard us--though I imagine you laugh at a lot of things at your age.  I hope you do.
     I am struggling to grieve our loss of you, yet rejoice that you are with your birth family.  I don't even know how to refer to you in my thoughts (and how much less in my words).  When I think of the Little Bit that we miscarried years ago, before Annabel, I know what to think.  He or she is our tiny baby who was with us for an even tinier while.  Annabel knows that she has an older sibling, and I think even grieves that baby in her own four year-old way.  And I am, years later, still learning to praise God for that short little life.  That precious life that was ours, for the shortest of whiles.  And that's where you get complicated.
     We knew that your birth family might change their mind.  As the months went on, it became less and less likely.  Even as our adoption paperwork began to slowly build, hope that you would soon be ours began to lessen.  Finding out that one might adopt soon is like being told, "Congrats, you're pregnant!  At about 8 months along!  So good luck getting ready for that!" And then having the process drag out (as it seems it does for most) is like watching a few days past the due date turn into weeks past, turn into months past.  And then when your family gave the final "no," it hurt like a miscarriage… but was more like being told, "Sorry!  You weren't pregnant, after all.  You just ate too much.  Sorry about that." And there's the sadness of a loss, but (blessedly) without the grief of a death.  And there's the trying to figure out how best to keep praying for you and your family.  And the weirdness of what to tell people.  And there's the (also apparently often) strangeness of "You really are pregnant!  Congratulations!  So please move past this hard foray into adoption, because we've got a really-actually-gonna-be-yours baby to think about.  (If he or she is okay, and it doesn't actually turn into a miscarriage.)"
    And I wonder why I've cried so much over the past 3 months.
    Part of this letter is for me, to process what happened, and re-enter the grieving process, to acknowledge that there's been a loss here.  And part of it is for others, to whom I've not had the heart, or the time, or the plain-ole oomph to explain what happened.  I guess it's a bit false to write this letter to you, since you'll never read it.  But aside from the fact that it's how this blog is set up, there also is something cathartic and precious about writing you.  To tell you we do love you, just not like we thought we'd get to.  To say we are praying for you, but not over you, in person, like we'd hoped.  To ask God in typed-out words to show favor to you and your family, to care for you and draw you close to himself.
     Tiny person, we wish the best for you.  And we trust that God knows that best, and will bring it to pass.  Even though we grieve.  Even though it hurts.  Even though we're sad.  Be well, and grow strong, and know that even by some random people a world away, you are loved.

With love,
Auntie & Uncle

Dear Baby,

     No nicknames for you, I guess.  Just "baby."  I'm sorry I've not been more excited about you.  I'm sorry I've let morning-all-day-dear-lord-somebody-take-out-that-trash-NOW-sickness distract me from the joy of you.  I'm sorry I didn't grieve properly for your almost-sibling before we learned of you.  Please forgive me for letting guilt and confusion and frustration and grief get in the way of caring for you.  Wait, that pretty much sums up parenting.  Well, forgive me for past, present and future, and we'll call it even, I guess.
     Your older sister is SO EXCITED about you.  She has no idea what is coming, and perhaps that's why she can be so excited.  It's sunshine and rainbows for her.  And I'm glad for that.  Your daddy is so proud that you are growing big and strong and that we'll get to meet you soon.  And your momma, though tired and cranky and achy, is excited, too.  Sweet small person.  We love love love you.

Your Family

p.s. please keep off the ribs in a few months, okay?  Your sister sure loved to play the xylophone on my ribs.

Dear Annabel,

     Congrats! You are going to be an amazing big sister.  You are already an amazing little person, and I think having to share the spotlight will only grow you better and sweeter.  We love love love you.

Mommy, Daddy, and Baby

p.s. please keep off the ribs, okay?  I love your snuggles, but we're gonna have to reconfigure hugs as this baby gets bigger!

Dear Other Children, Some of Whom May Someday Be Ours,

I guess it really does take a village, eh?  You precious, small people.  Lord have mercy on our tender parenting hearts.

Adults Everywhere.