The internet has been all a flutter recently over the arrival of the new royal baby. You would be hard pressed to visit any news website or social media outlet and not see something about the big news.
And for each media outlet post, there has been every manner of remark about Kate herself, and the timing and fashion in which she left the hospital. I have seen everything from undying devotion and awe to downright hatefulness. She went home too soon, too fast, she was dressed too nice, and on and on.
April was C-Section Awareness Month and for every article I saw float across my Facebook feed, I saw hundreds of hateful, argumentative and judgmental comments from all sides of the C-Section “debate.” Even an article I wrote about my own experiences with my third baby received some of the most spiteful and downright vicious comments I’ve ever heard in my life.
How is it that we who nurture sweet babes at our breast, who lovingly tuck notes into lunch boxes and blankets under chins long after the lights go out, can be so destructive to one another? How can we who love, hug, cry and defend; we who care for and nurture because it’s in our nature suddenly become divisive, angry and hateful to the very ones with whom we should declare unity – all because of the way in which our children came into this world; or how soon we came home from the hospital; or how we choose to educate; or immunize; or, or, or…
I truly believe that all women mother someone, whether or not that’s what we call it. LisaJo Baker just wrote a stunningly beautiful article on this very idea. As she says so beautifully:
We mother because we can’t not. Because there are friends in the cubicle next to us who have been hurt and need a soft, safe place to come undone. We mother because we’ve watched our grandmas make slow, determined soup for the sick. We mother because the next door neighbor can’t change her tire in the blistering March wind and of course we call AAA for her and wait and shuffle feet and rub cold hands because she asked for help. Because, of course. This is what we women do. We give ourselves away — little bits and pieces of who we are, of our courage, of our deep faith even on the nights we’re the most afraid. We bear down and we find ways to bring life to people desperate for air.
Every decision we make is a global decision.
Like the dropping of tiny pebbles into a pond, every word and deed splashes deep in this world and then ripples out unto the farthest reaches of the shore. One standing on the other side might see the tiny motion of a minuscule wave and not realize the point from which it began, so small and insignificant it seems, but it reached that shore none the less.
It is the same with us, dear sisters. Each harsh word, every divisive comment, every hateful and smug action against one of our sisters ripples round the world and shakes deep the core of our humanity.
Likewise, every act of kindness, each word of compassion, every hand extended in peace changes the landscape of this world. Though they may not seem to splash as loudly, I believe they reverberate far deeper and reach far wider than any act of hate could ever hope to.
What if it started with me, plopping a pebble of grace here, a stone of kindness there, as I walk alongside you, my sisters? Then, what if you joined me? And then your neighbor? My teacher? What if one by one we made our mark? What if the ripples of grace and compassion surged and spread until the whole good earth resonated with the weight of it until one day, pulsed to action by the rhythm of grace, we moved together so that our grandchildren awoke to find this world a very different place?
What if they found themselves raising children alongside one another with support and love regardless of homeschool, public school, un-school, under-the-sea-school? Whether home birth or VBAC or in-the-car-on-the-way birth, each woman discovered herself and her story truly valuable? Truly beautiful?
So, sisters, on this Mother’s Day – and every day after – let’s give one another the gift of grace…and maybe a piece of cake that we don’t have to eat hiding in the bathroom…and together let’s start a ripple effect that will change this world.
I love people. I always have. My nickname in elementary school was Hug-a-bunch. Yeah.
For me, the more people I’m around the better (within reason…huge, massive crowds like those found in Times Square on NYE freak me out), but in general give me people and I’m a happy camper.
I enjoy doing workout videos in the comfort of my own home (Jessica Smith is a fave), but give me a jam-packed Zumba class full of other women rockin’ out and just trying not to catch a glimpse of our own reflection in the mirror, and I’m in seventh heaven. I love it!
However, after living in a large, urban city for just over a year now, I’ve noticed my extroverted tendencies are changing. And, just so we are on the same page, when I talk about an extrovert, I don’t mean someone who likes to talk to anyone and everyone, super outgoing. While I can be that way (just ask my introverted husband), I’m equally happy to just be in a group of people and observe and listen. So, I’m operating from the definition that an extrovert is someone who draws energy from being around people; and conversely when required to spend extended amounts of time alone, find themselves feeling drained of energy.
1. I now prefer smaller, more intimate groups where I feel known, rather than just any gaggle of humans. One of my favorite ways to relax and spend a “me day” was to go to the mall and walk around. I used to love going to the mall at Christmas time. The crowds very rarely bothered me, because it gave me prime people-watching opportunities, and I would feed off of their energy. I would come home feeling refreshed, energized and excited.
These days, I find trips to the mall or window shopping on the local shop street draining and stressful rather than energizing. I’m sure is has something to do with the fact that it’s all in another language and I can never fully “shut down” mentally and just enjoy the experience. But now, give me three or four good friends with whom I feel safe, some coffee and a sweet or two and time to just hang out, talk, laugh, whatever.
2. I need more down time between large social gatherings. I used to be able to go from church, out to eat, to the mall, to an evening hangout and thrive on the energy I got. Now, after church, a school play or a day at the mall, I need time alone in the quiet to recover. This is totally new for me, and it took me awhile to recognize and respect that need. Now, I’m careful not to overextend myself socially – something I never thought I’d have to worry about. Small gatherings with close friends still energize me, and actually help strengthen me for the “bigger” social experiences. For that, I am so extremely grateful. It makes my Tuesday morning coffee and prayer times with my friends here that much more special and meaningful.
3. I need more true alone and quiet time than ever before. I’m finding I need to be very diligent about building in time where I’m truly alone and in the quiet – no music, no media. This is a struggle for me. For one, I have 3 kids and we live in an apartment. I’m trying to get up earlier to get a few minutes of quiet to pray, and energize my soul before the craziness of the day. However, I”m also not a morning person. Like, at all. So this is proving to be a challenge; but I’m learning just how beneficial it is for me and how in the long run it bolsters my energy level even more than an extra half hour of sleep does. Did I just write that? Who am I? Also, did I mention I’m struggling with this one?? Right now, I’m in the “knowing is half the battle” phase. :)
4. Self-care is proving more important than ever. I suppose this goes hand in hand with number 3, but it’s a bit different. I’m learning I need to make time to make my own health a priority. I need to plan – and stick to – times to exercise. If I go more than a couple of days without it, my stress level rises and my ability to handle the noise and chaos being around people nearly 24/7 brings plummets. So, I’m working at making time 5-6 days a week for exercise, and to make the time and energy to prepare healthy, real food for me and my family. Simple, but healthy. Because energy is a scarce commodity for me these days, and spending all day preparing every last thing from scratch leaves me grumpy and bitter, and completely defeats the purpose for which I would be doing it. This is another work-in-progress for me, but the more I work at it, the better I feel…and the happier my family is, I’m sure.
I’m still an extrovert at the core. If I spend too much time alone I start to go crazy and feel like a lead blanket has been laid upon me. But in this phase of our lives, I’m learning that extrovert is a trait with many facets, and I’m enjoying learning more about myself and how I fit into those facets.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How does your current lifestyle affect how those tendencies come out? Have those things changed over the years along with your living situation?
I’m standing in the heart of the city, trains whirring past. Dogs barking. A hundred languages mingle in the chilled, pre-spring air. I’m in the middle of a vibrant, metropolitan city but my heart is a million miles away. It roams far green fields, sits on rock walls and watches the fog roll in from the ocean. It’s in a pub with lilting music, pungent air and a steaming cup of tea cozied elbow to elbow with friends. I’m standing in Vienna, but my heart longs for Ireland – for home.
I was standing on a hill, wind whipping my hair, sheep bleating in defiance of the rain that incessantly pelted their coats. I was in the middle of one of the most beautiful countries known to man, but my heart was a million miles away. It was lying poolside gazing up at a forever-blue sky, roasting in the summer heat. It was in the desert with cacti stretched tall in the orange-red-violet glow of a Sonoran sunset. It was in the living room with kin, drinking the memories in deep. I was standing on a hill in Ireland, but my heart was longing for Arizona – for home.
I was sitting on a beach, staring at a coast I never dreamed I would see. Incredible food filled my belly, and friends who had gone years unseen sat on either side. I was sitting on the Portuguese coast, but my heart was a million miles away. It was in my top-floor flat overlooking a city that never sleeps. It was wandering the streets filled with Mozart and Beethoven where the Sacher Torte is fresh and the coffee flows. It was in my own bed with the window that looks to the east and wakes up with the sun. I was sitting on a beach in Portugal, but my heart was longing for Vienna – for home.
I’m sitting in a pew, surrounded by people with hands lifted, hearts swollen – perhaps broken – with music swirling and words of praise and honor lifting high. I’m sitting among people I love worshipping the God I love, but my heart is a million miles away. It’s bowed low on golden streets, too awed to lift it’s gaze to His face. It’s strolling, weightless and carefree for the first time, hand in hand with the most beautiful Man it’s ever seen. It’s finally at rest, finally full, perfectly whole without an ounce of doubt or pain, not wondering if it’s good enough. I’m sitting in a sanctuary in a beautiful church, but my heart longs for Heaven – for home.
Do you ever feel homesick? Out of place? Like something just isn’t quite right? The longer I live this nomadic expat life, the more I realize that I truly do not have a home here on this earth. Home is so many different places, with so many different people. And it’s pangs run deep and come with a vengeance at the most unexpected – and often most inopportune – times. And the less at home I feel wherever I am now, the more keenly aware I am that I have a permanent Home ready and waiting for me. And it spurs me on to want more – to not settle for just getting by – on this spinning rock we call The World. It makes me want to love more deeply, laugh more heartily, work more diligently, and care more freely, because in the blink of an eye this home will for me be no more, and I will be finally face to face with the One for whom I loved, laughed, worked and cared. I will finally…be home.
So, when you feel the pangs of sadness, and you feel alone. When home just doesn’t seem to feel like home anymore, when you just can’t seem to find your place here, find your place in Him. He loves without demand, and will provide this forever Home to anyone who asks – anyone who dares to love Him in return. And you know what? It’s amazing how knowing where Home truly is, gives purpose and drive and reason to the season spent in the foreign land.
Someone once said that Paris is a woman, London is a man, and New York City is a transvestite.
Granted, I haven’t been to New York outside the airport, but after my visits to Paris and London, I must say I find that statement to be shockingly true.
It always amazes – and delights – me how each major European city has a distinct and unique personality.
Paris is the haute cotoure model that intimidates everyone; strong and beautiful inside and out, but with a hidden daintiness that surprises even the model herself at times.
London is the slightly stuffy businessman. He’s all propriety and decorum with a hint of conceit. During business hours, anyway. There’s a wild/unkempt streak running through him that he tries hard to conceal, but it is there nonetheless.
Athens is the vibrant, eclectic woman that lives across the street. The one with the amazing energy, infectious laugh and zeal for life everyone else secretly wishes they possessed.
Dublin is the angst-ridden teenager trying desperately to find his place in the world, not sure if he loathes or loves himself. His convictions and culture run deep and strong, but at times he longs to be anyone but himself.
But Vienna…Vienna is somewhat of an enigma. Some might call her a melting pot of cultures, languages and ideas, but I see her with starker dividing lines than that.
Vienna is like the Johnny Depp of cities. Vienna is the city that is cool beyond reckoning – without even trying or meaning to be, and I’m not sure she cares. She can be both stunningly beautiful and breathtakingly disturbing.
She is full of art, music, and culture; vibrant and alive, brimming with life, love and creativity. Sometimes you feel as if your very breath might be stolen away by the sheer weight and magnitude of the beauty displayed in the most mundane of places and around unlikely corners.
Other times, she scares the crap out of you with her dark secrets and mysterious ideas that are more terrifying than intriguing.
Vienna is a city loved and revered by young and old alike. The elder folk loving the tradition, the stability, the classical nature of architecture and music that runs deep in her life’s history. The young come for her vibrant night life, new ideas in art, science, language and more.
But when I love Vienna the most – when I most relate to her and feel I most belong – is in the morning. Early. This city never stops, it is always teeming with people. Streetcars. Subways. Taxis. Buses. All the time. Day and night.
The morning commute is somewhat of an anomaly that resonates deep within my own heart. The trams are full, subway cars packed to the brim. Sidewalks and stations full of people, of shuffling feet. And yet, all is near silent. Words are only spoken when absolutely necessary, and eye after eye is bleary and groggy.
In one way, Vienna is quite the morning city. Schools and businesses open early, and people are on the move before the sun many days. And yet…she is also like the jazz-playing-actor who spent too many hours the night before wailing a tune or spinning a tale for friends over a drink. She functions in the morning because she must – but she’s not happy about it.
I love the morning in Vienna. It feels like a collective protest against rising early and getting things done. We’ll do it, but we don’t have to like it, the city declares in silent unity. This, too, is how I feel about mornings.
By midmorning, and certainly by the lunch hour, the delicious coffee has been had and the city is truly awake and interacting with one another. Conversations in a hundred different languages heard on every street all the live long day.
Yes, Vienna to me in many ways is a very strange city; one that I will likely not ever fully understand. We have had our ups and downs, not always having started off on the right foot. But Vienna and I? We’ll always have the mornings.
I see her sitting there everyday. Rain, shine, snow, wind, she’s there.
Her skin is dark, weathered, worn. Wisps of black-grey hair peek out from underneath her near thread-bare scarf, her long skirts gathered around her legs as she sits criss cross on the sidewalk under the tree. That big tree that leafs large in the summer, rains gold in the fall and stands tall and threatening in the winter. Some days she has no shoes; today she does.
She sits and rocks gently back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, one hand clutched to her chest. Eyes distant and empty and I wonder if she wishes she was anywhere but here? What is this city to her? Home? Hell?
When someone extends enough mercy to make some semblance of eye-contact with her, she begins her plea…I’ve never been able to discern what language she speaks. Is it German? Gypsy? Romanian? I really can’t tell.
With one leathery hand she reaches out to anyone who will look; with the other she gestures to her mouth. Her eyes telling a story most of us don’t even want to imagine.
Often times I make sure I carry something extra in my purse – an apple, a granola bar, something – so I can hand it to her. I don’t like to give money. You never know what they will do with it.
Day after day I walk past her…multiple times a day I see her face, hear her garbled speech. And sometimes… I just get angry.
I wonder is she homeless? Where does she go at night? She’s never there at night. Is she embroiled in some kind of panhandling scheme? And will her handlers beat her if she doesn’t gather enough today?
Maybe she’s just unable to get a job. Or maybe she’s just too lazy to work, I think to myself on my worst days; and I hate who I am in those moments.
One day I walked past her and smiled gently, but shook my head no. Not today, I try to say with my eyes.
Later I came by again, bringing lunch home for my husband and myself. It’s our little ritual once a week on a day all the kids are in school: we treat ourselves to a tasty lunch.
I heard her mumblings before I saw her, and something stirred in my soul.
But I kept walking.
I didn’t even look at her.
After I got home, I let myself admit what I was trying to ignore down on the street: I should have given her my meal.
Even later, I needed to go to the grocery store and I told myself that if she was still there, I would buy her some food.
She was still there. This time, she didn’t look at me. She was reclining comfortably on one elbow and smoking a cigarette.
A righteous wrath burned within me. Are you kidding me?? I knew it. I knew it was all a scam. I’m sure she has enough food at home and this is just something she does for the money. How dare she!
However, while in the store I couldn’t shake that stirring from before, so I bought a bag of whole-wheat mini-baguettes.
As I neared her place, I found myself wishing I knew what to say to her. But I didn’t. We don’t speak the same language. So I just smiled sheepishly, and handed her the bread. Not knowing if she truly needed it; not knowing if she really was wanting money instead; just not knowing.
She took it and bowed her head. And then she looked at the bread as if it were gold. She looked at it the same way I looked at my first baby the moment she was born. She sighed a sigh of relief and neither one of us needed words.
I struggle sometimes balancing the mantel of being a “responsible Christian” and not perpetuating an already broken system, and having compassion and extending grace I’m sure I would hope someone would extend to me were our places exchanged.
I still have my suspicions about the legitimacy of her plight, but the truth is I have no way of knowing. And so I smile, and any time I can, I give.
And now I know her name and I can’t help but wonder…what if God is using me to call her by name?
I tried to have a conversation with her yesterday, but we speak nothing close to the same language. However, the smile on her face when she sees me coming tells me that Love rarely needs words and Grace is a universal dialect. So I will continue to operate upon the advice given to me by a friend: when in doubt, give grace.
And I will walk even more humbly with my God because what He is showing me about Himself through this woman on the corner.