holy stillness

photo (38)"Be still and know that I am God." --Psalms 46:10  

When I was 14 years old, I received a personalized blessing from our church's patriarch--a man specifically set apart to commune with God on my behalf. On that Easter morning, the patriarch laid his hands on my head and channeled God's heavenly message from the celestial ethers into my young heart. He repeated a warning throughout the blessing: I am to be prayerful in all things. Before I surge ahead toward any endeavor--big or small--I must first be still. This inspired caution has served me throughout my life. I have come to better understand the nature of God and my relationship to Him in my own moments of measured repose.

 

This year, someone very dear to me came out as transgender. As she unraveled feelings that had been tightly coiled within her for more than a decade, I felt the Spirit whisper to me, as it had so many times before, “Be still.” For those of us who have had close friends or family members come out as transgender, gay, asexual, or any other form of queerness, our first instinct may not be stillness but instead anxiety and agitation. If, in such unexpected moments, we can quiet the din of our own agendas and creates spaces of empathy and non-expectation, we can better hear what He would have us do, and our stillness is sanctified.

 

I am grateful for the LGBTQIA pioneers in my life who have shown me the different forms that holy stillness can take. My friend Kendall Wilcox has spent years creating opportunities for LGBTQIA Mormons and their allies to share their stories of heartbreak and restoration. In his documentary film Far Between, Kendall asks the question, "Can you be gay and Mormon?" and in so doing invites us to occupy the liminal space where questions and answers float unmatched and hopeful. In my experience, God is profoundly present in such liminal spheres because they are spaces of unknowing, humility, faith, and patience. They are spaces of waiting. They are spaces of holy stillness.

 

I hope to always honor the power of stillness, especially as I carefully consider questions regarding who we are and how we love. If I reverence my patriarch's inspired request to make stillness a central practice in my life, I must slow down, be inert, sit upon my bed, and seek God. I must acknowledge His presence in my unknowingness, and I must believe that He will carve into my heart a still and holy space for His answers.

 

the birth of our baby fig

IMG_2327-2 And so began the birth of our baby fig...

 

2.30 am: Fast asleep, my eyes popped open to the sensation of little stabs in my lower abdomen. I had been experiencing period-like cramps all week, so I thought that maybe this was more of the same. I laid in bed for an hour, monitoring each twinge and tweak and realized that they were coming at regular intervals. I woke Jacob up.

 

"I think I'm in labor!"

 

"What should we do?"

 

"Go back to sleep!"

 

3.30 am: Jacob slept while I moved in and out of sleep and tackled strange dreams. My contractions were gentle enough at this point that they were a simple humming in my belly.

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7.00 am: The contractions were intensifying--a mallet beating on a drum--and I woke Jacob up for support. Still groggy eyed, he helped me time the length of each wave, brought me cool water, and rubbed my back. Drum beats in my abdomen. Six minutes apart. With each swell of pressure, I knelt on the ground and put my head on the floor. I tried to release tension in every muscle while silently repeating the word "surrender."  Between contractions the world was clear and calm. I sat up and talked with Jacob about the spirit that was en route to our family. I felt hopeful and strong and capable.

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10.00 am: After a few more hours of laboring, I knew it was time to gather our support team. We called our doula and Jacob's mom. I also sent a text to my dear friend KaRyn who then informed a close group of girlfriends that baby fig was on his way. Jacob and each of my girlfriends lit a candle in honor of my labor and upcoming delivery. I felt so loved by this powerful symbol of support and solidarity.

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10.00 am-3.00 pm: For the next five hours I labored in our basement with Jacob, our doula, and my mother-in-law. With each contraction, I knelt down and rested my head on the ground or in Jacob's lap. No other position would do. With his hand on my back, Jacob spoke affirmations that we had learned in our Hypnobabies course. The sound of his voice helped me focus through each pressure wave, and I was able to release any fears lingering in my body. With each wave, Jacob placed a warm rice bag on my back while the doula used the strength of her body to put pressure on my lower back and hips. It was a heavenly release from the pain. I was vaguely aware of my mother-in-law's hands on my shoulders. A feeling both familiar and comforting. Those five hours of laboring were marked by a godly stillness and an undercurrent of love.

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3.00 pm: When my contractions were about 3 minutes apart, I decided it was time to head to the hospital. Seeing as it's only a few blocks from our house, it only took us 2 minutes to drive there...a monumental mercy for a laboring mother. When we got to the hospital I had several contractions on my way up to the labor and delivery floor--one at the entrance to the hospital, one in front of the elevator, and one at the check-in desk. I could feel the force of each pressure wave surge through my body--this time a cacophony of gongs and cymbals.

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3.00 pm-6.30 pm: Once in the triage room, I asked the nurse not to tell me how many centimeters I was dilated. I didn't want to feel anxious about how much further I had to go. (I later found out that I was already dilated to 8 cm!). After monitoring my contractions, the nurses led me into the labor and delivery room.

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My doula started a bath while my mother-in-law hung my affirmations on the wall. My midwife arrived and waited quietly while I labored in the tub for an hour.

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The tub was too small to get very comfortable, so I ended up doing the rest of my laboring on the bed. Jacob held me while I collapsed into his body with each contraction.

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6:30 pm-7.25 pm: I was dilated to 10 cm but I wasn't feeling any urges to push. My water still hadn't broken, so I asked my midwife to break my water at which point my contractions became a grand symphony. I moaned out with each wave, my voice just one small part of the music that was flowing through me. With each contraction I bore down with every bone, muscle, and cell in my body. It was the most exhausting thing I had ever experienced, requiring me to dig deep, deep, deep into my core for some untapped well of fortitude. After each contraction I would fall back onto the bed and ask, "Are we almost there?"

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Finally, Ezra's head emerged; the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around his neck. The midwife quickly and carefully pulled the cord off and invited Jacob to bring Ezra into the world. Jacob pulled Ezra's slippery fish body out of mine.

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Neither Jacob nor I could believe it. Our baby fig had made his earthly arrival.

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7.25 pm-later that evening: The medical staff were concerned about Ezra's coloring and breathing, so I was only able to hold him skin-to-skin for about 60 seconds before they ran him down to the nursery to assist him with his breathing. Jacob followed Ezra and the nurses while I stayed behind to finish my laboring. My mother-in-law and I awed over the placenta and talked about the miracle that had just occurred. In that moment I felt so profoundly aware of my place in things, so clearly cognizant of my role as a woman in this divine life circle.

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After they stitched me up, the nurse wheeled me down to the nursery to join Jacob and our baby. Jacob and I sat next to Ezra and held his fragile fingers while he took in life-giving breaths with the help of the CPAP machine. We watched the flush return to his body.  We sat together silently. A family. Feeling as if God had taken up a permanent residence in our hearts.

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*All photos courtesy of Liminal Spaces

you who are unseen

photo (31) In one of my favorite passages from the Book of Mormon, a missionary named Alma begins preaching among a community of people called the Zoramites. At the time of Alma's visit, the Zoramites had reached a state of such self-delusion and fear that they had banned certain segments of the community from entering their holy spaces. "[The poor class of people] were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel--therefore, they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross." (Alma 32:2-3).

 

One afternoon, Alma sits down with several of these marginalized folks and one of them comes to Alma seeking guidance. The poor man says,

 

"What do we do? We have been cast out from the synagogues that we built with our own hands. We are despised by and invisible to our people. Where are we supposed to worship our God? Where do we find spiritual community and refuge?"

 

Alma hears this man's plea for connection to God and to his people, and in a moment of pure grace Alma "turned [the man] about, his face immediately towards him." (Alma 32:6).

 

This one simple gesture is, I believe, the beating heart of the entire chapter. For in this gesture--one man compassionately looking into the face of another--lies a profound and empathetic message: You, who are unseen? I see you.

 

 

For a group routinely rejected by their spiritual community, indeed literally hidden outside of their synagogues lest their appearance offend the wealthy, to be seen--really seen--would cause revolution in their souls. I can think of nothing more Christlike that Alma could have done than to look into this man's eyes when no one else would.

 

***

 

My mom shared a story with me recently. My grandma is a widow and sits with a young man at church almost every Sunday--I think they have a found a friend in each other. This man is probably in his late 20s/early 30s, unmarried, and incidentally never takes the sacrament. My grandma is a guileless soul and makes room in her heart for all stripes. A few weeks ago, the young man handed my grandma a letter during sacrament meeting and asked her to read it after church.

 

As she read the letter later that afternoon, my grandma learned that this young man was gay (which she had already suspected) and that because of this he felt unseen and cast out by his spiritual community. He felt, as the poor among the Zoramites felt, that he was "esteemed as filthiness." He went on to express his gratitude to my grandma. He thanked her for never judging him because he didn't take the sacrament. He thanked her for sitting with him and being his friend. He thanked her for acknowledging him as a fellow saint who was worthy of love and belonging.

 

After reading the letter, my grandma started to cry. I don't think she realized how transformative her simple gesture was. I don't think she realized that by sitting quietly with this man every Sunday and creating a space of non-judgement, she was communicating that profound and empathetic message expressed by Alma: You, who are unseen? I see you.

 

My grandma, Alma, Jesus Christ: each remind me (in my more cynical moments) that there are those who deal in a currency of love so pure and so all-encompassing that to stand before them is to be truly seen. To be in their presence is to be truly known. I have found nothing in this world more comforting nor more transcendent than that.

 

 

an exercise in empowerment

photo(17)18 weeks vs. 30 weeks!  

I am convinced that the size of my growing belly is directly related to the number of women who enthusiastically offer up their labor and delivery horror stories. One more inch gained, one more scary story shared.

 

After such exchanges, I am always left wondering, "Why, as women, do we share the most frightening parts of our birth experience? Why do we hover over the moments of greatest pain and uncertainty?" Perhaps healing is found in the retelling. Perhaps these stories are meant as a compassionate forewarning. Perhaps it's the sheer thrill we get from sharing the shock and the awe.

 

But, you see, when you're pregnant, you're vulnerable. Your emotions are taut and bubbling over. Your belly is taut and bubbling over. In this state of vulnerability you want to hear about women's strength in childbirth. You want to drink in their wisdom. You want to internalize their courage and triumph and acknowledge, with them, the guiding hand of God. You don't want to bathe in their fear.

 

I've been reading a book called Birthing From Within that honors the innate capability of women's bodies to give birth. The author suggests that moms-to-be talk with other mothers about the profound elements of their birth experiences and provides a list of possible questions to ask:

 

*What helped you most when you gave birth?

 

*What was your spiritual experience of giving birth?

 

*If you could do it over again, what would you do the same?

 

*Is there anything you would do differently?

 

*What do you wish you had known before hand?

 

From one mother to another, would you mind sharing your thoughts on one or more of these questions? (If your answer is too personal, feel free to send me a private email). I would love to be buoyed by your wisdom (and not burdened by your fears) as I step across the threshold into motherhood. Baby fig and I thank you.

 

a season of stillness, a year of hushed and humbled splendor

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Image: The Salt Lake Temple in all of its hushed and humbled splendor

 

One of the gifts of pregnancy is forced resignation. It requires a stepping down, a letting go, and a spilling out. My body is wholly intent on creating this little human and entirely uninterested in whatever other visions I may have had for myself. From what I hear, this act of surrender is the prelude to parenthood.

 

During this growing season, I have no choice but to lay dormant while my body engages in her divine errand. I am compelled to tether my pace and succumb to the slow passing of time. My energy wanes, and so I rest.

 

My physical body is not the only part of me that has ebbed. When it came time to create new year's resolutions, I drew a blank. I had no lists of books to read or miles to run or meals to cook. No zealous spreadsheets with goals divided into categories and subcategories as I have in the past (not sure I should have admitted that). I decided that what I really wanted for 2014 was to just be present. It seemed obvious in that moment of year-end reflection that life, in her inevitable way, would refine me. I didn't need spreadsheets and lists and goals to be exfoliated; I would evolve through the simple act of being.

 

I sat with a friend the other night and told her how delicious it feels to lack aspiration. I surprised myself. It almost seems blasphemous to admit that aloud, but it's true. This is not my season of striving, it is my season of stillness. I love the way it feels so much that it bears repeating:

 

It is so fantastically freeing to bury the anvil of ambition for a time and just float quietly through life's muted and mundane moments.

 

So here's to you, 2014. I look forward to your year of hushed and humbled splendor.

this, our cold and quiet winter

photo (29) "I love your body in transformation." --Husband

 

Winter is a brutal beauty.

 

It is a season of respite and release. Nature strips down to the absolute essentials. Branch. Ice. Frozen turf. There is a solitude in this simplicity that is requisite for reflection. With the onset of these stark months, the earth and my body shift inward.

 

I think about slumbering bears and ground squirrels buried in their dens. I think about this baby sleeping in my womb. Each animal body preparing in the darkness to emerge anew in the spring.

 

I think about my spirit growing quiet and my heart more observant. Hormones ensure that I feel everything more deeply. It is a more painful and purposeful existence. My primal body aches as it forms a new life and in so doing fosters a new self. This is the brutal beauty of pregnancy.

 

I think about transformation. Of the earth, of my body, of my soul. This trinity in transition is merely an echo of eternity. What is God but a heavenly alchemist who transforms dark to light?

 

To hear my husband tell me that he loves my body in transformation is to see a man who understands the necessity, the brutality, and the beauty of this, our cold and quiet winter.

on the precipice: five things i love

photo (28) Pregnancy fills the space in my days just as this little fig fills the space in my belly. It is so all consuming, so constant and ballooning.

 

Below is a list of five things I love about being pregnant (because heaven knows there are a fair share of things I don't love. The sneeze-pee, anyone?) I love...

 

1. My changing body. I look in the mirror before I get into the shower and awe at how alien it looks. So weird and wonderful in its earthy, curvy presentation. There is no expectation to look any way but this way, and that is freedom.

 

2. Feeling little fig kicks. This morning he kicked so fierce I saw my belly bounce.

 

3. How pregnancy stirs up the sediment. All those emotional fragments that have rested, unaddressed, float to the surface. It seems to be the body's way of purging the dross. For baby's sake. And mine, too.

 

4. Being part of something primal and feeling so utterly elemental. My body knows, as only a woman's body does, how to create new life. I feel as foundational as stone and fire.

 

5. Becoming part of a community of women who have traversed this trail before me--my mother, my grandmother, my girlfriends--and learning from them how to navigate these maternal dips and peaks.

 

If you are a mother or on the precipice of becoming one, what do you love about your experience?

 

 

 

 

 

 

divine physicality

photo(1)Pam Bowman, Becoming, 2013  

I was recently asked to contribute an essay to an exhibition catalog the museum is publishing this fall. The exhibition is called Work To Do and explores the fluid and dynamic ways we define "women's work." I wrote my essay  about women's bodies and the various ways those bodies engage in physical, spiritual, and artistic endeavors.

 

My favorite piece in the show is a giant mountain of knotted rope created by local artist Pam Bowman. Below is an excerpt from my essay addressing Pam's piece and the divine physicality of motherhood and domestic life:

 

In Pam Bowman's piece, Becoming, the daily movements of a woman's body are elevated into the realm of the sacred. Each action a woman takes becomes a ritual--the sway and hum or her torso as she rocks a baby to sleep, the arch of her lower back as she stretches upon awakening, her calloused and clenched fists caked with soil, the turn of her wrist while stirring a pot of soup. Bowman uses thousands of single white threads to represent these daily rituals--the tending, soothing, putting away, taking down, folding, and embracing. They are at first ordered and regimented until they eventually loosen and slack into a rugged and knotted dome. Through this piece we see that every woman weaves the threads of her mundane movements into a holy mountain--one that is complex, textured, and undulating. We can imagine, then, each woman as a prophetess climbing atop the mountain she has fashioned and calling out to God to seek her becoming.

 

the art of surrender

photo(14) I am learning that to bring a new life into the world is an act of surrender.

 

Beginning with the moment of conception, you must surrender to a vulnerability that is unmatched by anything else you've known. You accept that such intimacy sews the seeds of baptism--that with conception comes the death of your old life and the birth of a new.

 

You must surrender control of your known body and inhabit a changing self with curves and aches and bulges where there once were none.You must bend to foreign appetites and desires and emotions as they roll through your days.

 

You must surrender to discomfort and pain from those first moments of tilting sea sickness to the tidal wave of labor to the exhaustive crash of care taking. You learn that to sit with pain is the secret to soothing it.

 

You must surrender control of expectations about who this baby will be. He will come into this world with his own imprint and mission, and you must know that you are his lighthouse, not his architect. You must know to guide him, not fashion him in your image.

 

You must surrender to time and make friends with patience, recognizing that in those quiet hours of contemplation when you wonder how you will survive this, God speaks to you about how you

 

were created,

 

deliberately,

 

to survive this.

 

This life within me--this tiny fig of a boy--he is my tutor in the art of surrender.

in reverence, in meditation, in holy faith

photo(13) Last week I spent an afternoon in downtown Santa Fe--the city of 'Holy Faith'--with CHB's family. After a long day of shopping and eating and poking in and out of backroads, we welcomed ourselves into the foyer of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi and listened to the priest's haunting and dissonant chants, each 'amen' vibrating off the nostrils of a gold leafed Mary and her Byzantine Jesus. 

 

Outside of the Cathedral, embedded into the church grounds, I found a large and  sinuous labyrinth; its curves and folds inviting all to enter. Unlike mazes, labyrinths are composed of one continuous path from the outside edge to the center. There is no riddle to solve or trick to outwit. A labyrinth is presented as a metaphor for the strait and narrow path disciples of Christ are asked to follow. The disciple walks along the path in reverence and meditation until she reaches the heart of God. At points in the journey she may be mere inches from the center until an unexpected twist takes her further towards the margins. If she commits to the journey, though, the disciple will eventually reach her divine conclusion.

 

As I walked the curvilinear path--inching closer and then further from the center at every turn--I thought about our personal relationships to God. I'm certain that each of us have had moments in our lives where we felt so close to God that we could almost taste His light on our tongues and feel His full and heady weight resting in our limbs. And I'm certain that each of us have had moments where we've felt so far away that we couldn't ascertain anything of His presence but the smallest of pricks, a mere pinch on the elbow. Regardless of how close or far we are from the heart of God at any point in time, I believe that all will be well as long as we continue to move forward on the labyrinthine path. It only matters that we continue to move forward with reverence and meditation. It only matters that we continue to move forward with holy faith.

 

And so I have some questions for those of us who have chosen to walk this path of discipleship--a path that will take each of us through vistas and valleys, sunlight and shadows. Can we be kind to each other as we journey along? Can we give our fellow travelers enough room to walk in reverence and meditation and holy faith without stepping on their heels in frustration or looking over their shoulders in judgement--even if our pace or stride may differ from their's? Can we help a fellow traveler along who is stuck, questioning, and can't figure out how to move forward, even if we ourselves are weary? Can we widen the path a bit, opening up space for humanness and fragility without feeling threatened by others' differences or struggles? Can we recognize that although some of us are closer to the heart of God and others are further away, we are all still traveling the path and that, in and of itself, is a victory?

 

I hope we can do these things, as we are all in need of charity, understanding, and camaraderie as we commit to the arduous labyrinth that is Christianity. The journey is so much harder--perhaps near impossible--if we are not buoyed up by those who have chosen to walk with us. In reverence. In meditation. In holy faith. I hope we can do these things.

 

 

truth eternal tells me i've a mother there

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Mary Cassatt, Mother's Kiss, 1891

 

Now that I have this little fig in my belly, I've been thinking about motherhood a lot. A lot a lot. I've been thinking about the grand emphasis my Mormon  people place on motherhood. "Motherhood is divine! It is inherent. It is eternal!" we exclaim in our pews and Sunday schools and scripture studies. And those exclamations feel right to me. Motherhood is divine--I can think of few things more otherworldly than the spontaneous combustion of this little human within me. It does feel inherent--like this baby was someone that was meant to happen in my body at this time. And it is eternal--I'm engaging in some process bigger than me, bigger than my marriage, bigger than the universe. As big as God, even.

 

I've been wondering--with all of our church talk of motherhood and the godliness therein, why is there so much discomfort in talking about our Heavenly Mother--the female half of what Mormons believe is a duel gendered God? If motherhood is, in fact, divine, why do we shy away from talking about the divine Mother?

 

I recently read this article: Review of Paulsen and Pulido's 'A Mother There'

 

And this blog post: What I First Learned About Heavenly Mother 

 

And in reading both, electric jolts shot through my body, and the Spirit said, "Yes."

 

I cried.

 

Other women I know who read these posts cried.

 

I think many of us are longing for Her or at least longing to know that we can speak respectfully of Her as we would speak respectfully of God the Father or of Jesus Christ without judgement or a sideways glance from our church friends.

 

And the thing is, there is no sanction in  talking about Her. The concept of a feminine divine is a clear and undeniable element of Mormon doctrine. The Family: A Proclamation to the World--one of the most mainstream, contemporary LDS documents and one considered by many Mormons to be comparable to scripture--refers to our 'Heavenly Parents.' This idea that she is too sacred to speak of and must be protected originated with a well meaning seminary teacher. Such a speculation was never perpetuated by any formal church leaders but simply festered within the culture. (For the record, I think this speculation is utterly ridiculous. She is a Goddess  of the Universe for Pete's sakes.) Prophets and apostles, conversely, have said quite a lot about Her:

 

Elder Melvin J. Ballard said of Heavenly Mother, "No matter to what heights God has attained or may attain, He does not stand alone; for side by side with Him, in all Her glory, a glory like unto His, stands a companion. The Mother of His children. For as we have a Father in Heaven, so also we have a Mother there."*

 

Prophet Spencer W. Kimball said when speaking to a group of young women, "You women are daughters of God. You are precious. You are made in the image of our Heavenly Mother."*

 

Recent apostle Neil A. Maxwell said that the knowledge of our Heavenly Mother is one of the "truths that [is] most relevant and most needed in the times in which [we] live."*

 

And it's not just the women who need Her, it's the men, too. When I sent these posts to my husband, he said, "I think it can be a powerful thing for men [to know Heavenly Mother] as well. Developing a relationship with Heavenly Mother could be a huge thing for men and women alike."

 

I believe it is time for us--men and women--to honor the duality of the Divine. We need embrace the Yang and the Yin. Eastern philosophy recognizes that an imbalance in feminine and masculine energies results in a sick and dis-eased world. Is it possible that in bringing Heavenly Mother back into our consciousness and conversations, some of the sexism and oppression that plagues our world community will be ameliorated and the hurting in our hearts will be soothed?

 

When I think on it, electric jolts shoot through my body, and the Spirit tells me the answer to this questions is, "Yes."

 

*Quote origin can be found in What I First Learned About Heavenly Mother

she is mine, she is ours, she is yours

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The twinkle in my eye that is now the babe in my belly

 

My baby is the size of a fig. *She has translucent skin and  tiny starfish hands. She is a water acrobat, kicking and stretching like a mermaid in a fish bowl. I still can't feel a thing but I like knowing that she's there. That little fig in my belly.

 

I heard her heartbeat for the first time on Tuesday. All of the nausea and fatigue and bad moodiness that has hung on me like a foggy stench dissipated and what remained was vivid and bright. It was the most primal and otherworldly of sounds, her heart--a rhythm that seemed to come from here but also from beyond here. The

beat

beat

beat

beat

beat

of her heart in my belly was the stuff of jazz and prayer and bursting supernovas.

 

I can't stop crying:

 

"Oh God in heaven, she is mine. She is ours. She is yours."

 

*We don't know the sex of the baby yet. I just chose the pronoun 'she' :)

thank you, god, for my little garden

photo (23) Can we talk about the joy that comes from growing something in the earth for the very first time? I am newly inducted. This is the first time I have ever planted something, cared for it, and watched it grow. From what I hear, joy over this perennial miracle never wanes.

 

I was not feeling well tonight. I have not been feeling physically well for a long time now, and sometimes that not feeling well tethers itself to emotional pain. CHB is usually the one to tickle me or joke me out of my funk so that I am happy and sick instead of sad and sick. He is away on business tonight, so I couldn't rely on his good nature and comic relief.

 

I stood by the kitchen sink at 6:30pm and looked out the window, trying to push my dark feelings through the glass. "I don't feel like I can make it through the night alone," I thought. Then I felt the Spirit say to me, "Go outside. Look at your garden. Just for a minute." I have not been out in my garden for weeks because I have been too tired. I wasn't in an emotional space to argue with the Spirit, so I unlocked the back door and walked through the grass.

 

When I got to my garden, I knelt on the earth. I pulled up a weed. I dug up the potatoes. I plucked the red tomatoes. "Just for a minute" turned into two hours of kneeling in the dirt, grooming, harvesting, and pruning. Watching the beetles and spiders scatter and the worms flip from side to side. During those two hours I felt light and peace fill my whole self. The darkness I had been struggling against all afternoon was no more than a tiny shadow, a memory.

 

I think there is some truth in this experience, something important to say aloud. Our bodies are made to be in the earth, digging around with the worms and the beetles. My family knows this. My ancestors knew this. I am knowing this now. We are made of earth stuff, and we will return to earth stuff. It only makes sense that submersing our bodies in the work of the earth--soil, water, air, rock--will bring a peace greater than most anything else.

 

So, thank you, God, for birthing me from the earth. Thank you for the miracle of toil. Thank you, God, for my little garden.

if geography is anything like the human heart

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I woke up on Wednesday morning at 6:00 am, just when the sky whistled a tune of pink and blue, and pulled on my walking shoes. In an effort to love this place more--this home that doesn't feel quite like home--I am seeking to know its backroads and blooming shrubs. If geography is anything like the human heart, then I need only to press my hand to the ground to feel its perennial beat and trace out its pericardial boundaries with my feet. Then I will love it.

 

And so I walked, listening closely for the thump thump of this desert topology.

 

I mapped the northeast section of my neighborhood--the mitral valve--and found pastures hosting white bellied goats, blind horses chewing on flaxen grass, and obdurate copper donkeys.

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I mapped the northwest section of my neighborhood--the superior vena cava--and found an old Mormon chapel that looked an awful lot like the beach house where my friend Brent and I swung my barbies from the slivered A frame beams, their tattered blonde hair floating like a gauzy halo beneath their vapid, waxy heads.

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I mapped the north north section of my neighborhood--the aorta--and found the Mt. Timpanogos Temple with its milky, eggshell steeples and sea-sand windows. The geography of that particular place thumped out a glassy, beryl string of intimate and mysterious notes.

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Tiredness met me, and I walked home, the contours of this neighborhood's heart traced in blue, veiny lines on the back of my eyelids. It feels all around right to know and then love this place a little bit more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

the post in which my normally optimistic self turns dour but then remembers to cling

photo (17)  

Warning: This post contains one swear word and much sadness. If you are uncomfortable with either swears or sadness, you may want to sit down and drink a glass of water before proceeding.

 

Three stories out of six that broke my heart this week:

 

Yesterday afternoon as I was walking through our local market, I caught two teenage boys snickering at a little girl with Down's Syndrome. They were embarrassed. They didn't know how to accept anomaly, and so they laughed. I understood them--their youth, their discomfort--and yet I hated them in that moment.  I wanted to push them into a pool of puke and dog shit and say without a trace of irony, "Who's laughing now?!"

 

On the Fourth of July, as I was driving home from Provo, I turned on my ipod and listened to the story of an Iraqi man who had worked as an ally for US forces during the war, only to be left behind in the Middle East, unprotected from those who might target him as a traitor. For one year he sent letters to the U.S. government pleading for help, begging for refuge for his family. The only responses he received came from an automated email system. After a year of desperate attempts to seek asylum, Al-Qaeda caught up with this man, took him behind his home, and decapitated him while his family waited within.  I cried for hours afterwards, heaving at the thought that my celebrated America would use a man and then leave him to die.

 

Daily, I read about women the world over who are routinely raped by strangers, employers, boyfriends, and even husbands. Women who are shamed and sexualized. Women who are sold into slavery and others who are brutally sliced in the name of tradition. It is impossible for me not to internalize these stories as I am a woman. I am each of these women. We all are.

 

I know every moment offers up breath and beauty to those who are attune, but there are times when the smog is thick and the celestial is obscured from my view. Sometimes I feel like every cell  in my body will explode from the pressure of ballooning and monstrous toxins--literal and spiritual. How does anyone even half awake to injustice keep from shattering into a million jagged shards? If this is an agony so intense that God himself bled from every pore, how do we mere mortals even stand a chance?

 

The only thing I know to do is cling.

 

I cling to opposition, believing that this life's dense and viscous evil is mercifully counterbalanced with an equal measure of pure and giddy Spirit.

 

I cling to prayer, believing that the energy I send into God's heart will find its way into the homes and coat pockets and memories and conversations of those who need it most.

 

I cling to my own power, believing that God gave me gifts and a voice and hands that are to be used for healing both the fresh and old wounds I encounter.

 

I cling to others' power, believing that God gave them gifts and voices and hands that heal both the fresh and the old wounds they encounter.

 

I cling to the atonement, believing that its golden thread will mend the torn pieces and all will be restored, justified, and sanctified in the final chapter of this earthly narrative.

 

Perhaps this is the design. Darkness compels us to cling. To each other. To our families, our friends. To those who suffer. To God. To everything we believe to be good and true. What else can we do but hold to each other with such ferocity and passion that we become bound through the eternities? What else can we do but grasp at love in all of its articulations?

 

This is all I know to do right now. Just this. To cling.

let's read stories until the sky is black as ink

photo (16) Thirty pages into My Name is Asher Lev, and I am still. Everything has stopped. My worries. My list making. My neither here nor there anxieties. This is what a powerful book does to me. The space in my body normally occupied by sticky, fibrous irritations (why aren't my tomatoes growing, for one) is eclipsed by feelings so haunting and melancholy that my thoughts turn silky and blue.

 

This community of words, birthed years ago by Chaim Potok, are alive still, taking up residence somewhere in my cerebral cortex and elsewhere in my heart's left ventricle. A handful are living under my tongue. His words settle into my whole body, and I am buzzing for a time with Rebbe's  and grief and drawings as ruminations.

 

Now I want to read everything. I want to lay under our Sycamore at dusk for the rest of the summer, feet scratching at the bark, and consume stories until the sky is black as ink.

 

Please. Tell me about a book that has changed you. There is nothing I love more than hearing others talk about the stories that animate their limbs and pulse in their wrists. I will read the books you list and by summer's end will know a little more of magic and a little more of you.

god as sandstorm and rattlesnake: a father's day tribute

photo (2)My dad is the best giver of gifts. I have yet to find someone more nuanced and thoughtful in his offerings. One of the most meaning filled gifts he's given me is a profound reverence for the natural world. He knows, on some metaphysical level, about the divine breath that animates the maple leaves and centipedes and birds of prey. He is like John in the Wilderness, foreseeing and proclaiming God's presence with every step. photo (3)When I was little more than waist high, he walked me up the green and slippery mountains of the Columbia Gorge. He packed peanut butter and honey sandwiches and bruised bananas and plastic bags full of sweet, stale raisins. With each mountain walk, he shared a bit of new knowledge about the earth's flora and fauna including the satisfying tang of sorrel on your tongue and how to identify a sword fern by its zig zag leaves.

photo (5)We hiked through Fairy Falls and Horsetail Falls and threw cream colored pebbles into Eagle Creek. For years we wandered those mountains, and by the time we came down to the dusty lot I was a young woman, ready to show the world the mysteries he had unveiled. Because of him, my entire childhood was saturated in God. God as waterfall. God as crawdad. God as oak tree and water ouzel.

photo (4)

My adulthood is still saturated in God. This time God as grasshopper. God as cacti. God as sandstorm and rattlesnake. Just as the Pacific Northwest peppered my past with pine needles and moss, the Southwestern desert coats my present with sagebrush and red rock.

photo (6)My dad is a man who honors nature and thought to bring me to her sanctuary. Because of him, I feel a deep and immediate connection with the outside world, my prayers always floating down to the core of the earth to be cleansed before reaching heaven. I am grateful to him--everlasting--for teaching me to worship at this crude and sublime altar.

 

 

 

 

charged with lighting the earth on fire

photo (1) copy "In the beginning God created." --Genesis 1:1

 

Before we learn anything of God, we learn that He creates. In the first line of scripture we're made privy to this essential fact of His character.

 

I envision His breath like a tornado, swirling through the cosmos, peppered with bits of grass and dirt and emeralds and coral reef. And like a tornado, it animates the inanimate and moves what once was still.

 

In the beginning, the ocean rested, frozen like glass. Then God's breath whooshed, with hurricane force, through the water's mossy depths. Waves were born and the once sleeping sea awoke to a sensual body both violent and playful.

 

In the beginning, an elephant's crinkled skin stretched across the earth like a deflated gray balloon. Then God's breath whooshed, with hurricane force, through her trunk and into her body, forming a creature who used her newfound mass to dance with abandon, joyfully felling everything in her path.

 

In the beginning, Adam and Eve were two flesh colored pancakes melting in the grass, their hair, bones, and toenails made of earth dust and brown leaves. Then God's breath whooshed, with hurricane force, through their noses and into their bodies. They jumped up and  twirled, delighted by their muscles and the sound of their hearty laughter.

 

Since the beginning, the earth and her parts (e.g. you, me, the zebras, and the angry wasps) have relied on that divine breath for physical sustenance and creative power. If God's breath can make the world come to life--and if that very breath resides within our bodies--it only goes to reason that we, too, can animate the world with this heavenly endowment and claim creativity as our birthright.

 

Surely this is so.

 

For we breath out stories and songs and sweet bellied babies. We breath out inventions like electricity and the jet engined aeroplane. We breath out vulnerabilities and testimonies and confessions of love. We breath out revelations because such divine exhalations cannot be stemmed. We breath out because we understand on some primal level that we are like God, and like God, we are creators to our core.

 

If it is true that in the beginning God lent us His breath then we must use that breath now, forever lighting His cold and shadowy earth on fire.