40 Days and 40 Nights, Twenty Lefts and Twenty Rights (She’s Having a Baby)
For Sally and Patty:
Ab amando ductum est amicitiae nomen (From loving derives the word friendship.)
‘Forty days and forty nights
Twenty lefts and twenty rights
Fifteen songs and fifteen flowers
Ten more ways to say that I love you.’
-Band of Heathens
When I was home at Christmas I had one of those moments where your memory is so fresh that you feel as if time has reversed itself. I was immersed in my parent’s bath tub having let the water fill my ears so that no sound was present and the only noise the beating of my heart.
I used to do this frequently in the tub when I was a kid and then later as a teen I would do the same thing and think about my life (love life, usually) as I held my breath. The trick (in my mind) was that when I could hold my breath no longer I would inevitably come to the conclusion I needed to about the situation I was in. It’s kind of like going with your gut but without oxygen.
During my lack of air, I thought of the last time I’d made a big relationship decision in that tub (“that tub” being the old white 1970’s era porcelain tub that is about the size of a very narrow coffin with the aged gold faucet and knobs with the verdigris of a long and well worn life). I’m pretty sure it was whether or not to marry David and I definitely did not listen to my gut on that one. But that’s not really the point. The point is the tub.
I still at forty-six use my tub as a think tank. It is there I do my entire heavy spiritual, relational and emotional lifting. Of course now it involves candles, Epsom salts, various kinds of oils, herbs, an assortment of fine music (the type utterly dependent on my mood at the moment) and wine.
Interestingly, I read an article today that scientists have found that soaking in a bath of very hot water is equal to about a thirty minute run. Now my sister and my children can cease-and-desist in their needling me about the temperature of my baths. I figure with the addition of red wine (which scientists also say provide benefits that mimic working out) I’m all set.
I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions. Those closest to me know this- but this year I promised myself really only one thing: let go of things not meant for me. (I did not have this thought first, the Buddha did.) I’ll admit it seems a broad statement on the surface but what I was really telling myself internally was, ‘Stop messing around with the Cajun’. I mean I can still Google ‘the difference between Cajun and Creole’ and I can still watch ‘Wallace and Grommet’ and laugh but other than that, I gotta give it a rest. Further still, I need to stop fooling around with people and things that do not bring me joy.
I never did the whole ‘tidy up’ thing with the lady who instructed you to hold something for ten seconds (or whatever) and if it doesn’t bring you joy- toss it. For one thing, my OCD demands I do that anyway and secondly and most importantly, if I did that with my children or the pets on any given day at a random moment I might have to toss them.
[Author’s note: Someone got on to me the other day about using the term OCD- let me assure you that I have heightened awareness about not using a disorder as a “funny example” of some casual clutter problem. I have been treated for OCD and I am not being casual in use of the term, I promise.]
Today it is 72 degrees after a few days of rain. It is a day filled with warm sunshine and cool breezes and if I had any sense at all I would suddenly develop a major “allergy attack” and go home and leash up the dogs, pack up a couple of beers (or six), grab the White Album or The Band of Heathen’s Live at Momo’s and head to the campground.
I’m thinking about this as I drive home for lunch and I’m pondering who I would like there with me basking in the gentle rays of light and the truth of the matter is, I can’t think of anyone other than God. (Dogs and boys the exception, although…see paragraph 7 above.)
Last night as I laid in the bath I talked to God. The conversation went something like this:
Me: “How irreverent is too irreverent where you are concerned?”
God: “I’m not sure I understand…” (This causes me to laugh out loud. I mean really. ) “I am all that is– so, I am those thoughts whether you share them or not. You cannot hide from me. That goes all the way back to the Garden, right?”
Right. I talk a lot about God and the closeness I feel to him. I don’t mind telling you it’s passionate. I feel my very best self when we are alone and the intimacy I feel satisfies every area of my life. If I am being truthful, I am in love with God in a very corporeal and yet ethereal way and the way he makes me feel is a joy I will never fully be able to describe. (Again, how irreverent is too irreverent?)
He gets my jokes and he sings me to sleep, he holds my hand and he cares for me. He delights in me. He delights in ME. I carry the mark of God in my own image. Wow. Best of all and most importantly, he created me just to love– out of love so that he could love me and then share the meaning of that love with me so that I may share it with others.
Last Wednesday we had a Lenten series event at church and it was presented by the Mission and Outreach Commission. I used to proudly serve on this board until my life grew too busy to accommodate all my activities and I was forced to give it up. This commission is the one that allows our parish to “put our money where our mouth is”- it allows us to be Christ’s true presence around our little town and her surrounding areas. It’s a really good thing.
The talk was about physical hunger and the imperative of the group and the newly formed Burnet County Hunger Alliance to end hunger in Burnet County. One of the questions posited by the group was to remember a time you missed a meal and what that felt like. Lots of people spoke about being ‘hangry’ and most admitted they had never experienced real hunger or missed a meal that wasn’t intentional.
I don’t really ever get ‘uncomfortable’ but I felt a little apprehension when deciding whether or not to share that I have in fact, gone without food. It hasn’t been any time in recent years, well maybe one or two (thanks for the pizza Auntie Sloane) but once it has happened to you and your children you never quite forget it.
I’d like to blame it on David or the muffin man or whoever, but maybe the truth is I didn’t manage our money well. Perhaps I was not really judicious with any kind of savings. It could be the fact that I was never very good with any kind of money at all and it just got amplified by being a single mother with three gigantic humans to feed and clothe and care for in all ways always. Whatever the culprit, there were moments I had no money. No money means no cash, no bank account and no credit cards. It still means this to me and so I am heightenedly aware of the import and significance.
What I neglected to mention (and should have) was that at no point did I ever feel abandoned, alone or afraid- I never really even felt truly hungry. God’s sacred and constant presence in my life allowed me to sustain myself and my family without worry or despair. This is what I consider an everyday extraordinary miracle and why I believe as I do.
My sister is on a constant search for love and commitment. (I’m not sharing anything she would not tell you herself. I mean, she might not write it down and publish it, but hopefully she will understand my need to share a little of herself with you. ) She believes the right life partner will give her own life purpose and meaning. Sunday morning we were chatting about this and other things and the discussion inevitably turned to my own love life, or lack thereof.
I told her like I always do that until I stop being in love with the Cajun there can never really be any love life; but further, that in my life, God is and will always be my significant other. I tell her that once you have experienced a moment in time (or out of time, or beyond time…)when you are certain of God- when you know without doubt or expectation that God is with you, really with you…it’s enough. Once you understand, however simplistic the understanding may be, that you are in relationship with him forever, well… everything else kind of pales in comparison.
She tells me I have found a depth and intimacy to my faith not privy to many. I bristle at this because in truth, it is available to all of us if we are open to it. I’m not saying it is easy- that would be a lie. Sometimes he asks things of me that I’d rather not consider; sometimes he presents me with hard truths and consequences of my own lackadaisical behavior and sometimes, well sometimes I abuse the privilege and sometimes I am no better than any of the disciples who could not stay awake in the garden even though it is all he asks of me.
There is a real humanness to our relationship: cussing, humor, hurt, healing, and discussions about the world and beyond. We share significant amounts of time in prayer, in thanksgiving for the earth and her inhabitants- all of them. There is love and there is romance. Of course, as with any union, there can be discord and anger, injury and upset. There are also moments so bare when the pain of this mortal coil becomes more than I can stand…and it is in the quiet desperation of these times that he holds me so tight and whispers his devotion to me in my willing ears.
Sunday I received the news that my ex-husband and his wife are expecting a child- a little girl. I’d love to tell you that I handled this piece of information with grace and kindness and joy for their good news. That too, would be a lie. (At least a little tiny white one anyway.)
My initial reaction was thought for the child; I had been dreaming and talking and thinking about babies for the last two or three months. I had quite honestly almost completely convinced myself that I should entertain the idea of adopting a baby. (Sometimes I still do not know how to read my empathic intuition. Obviously.) You cannot be angry at a baby. It’s a baby for Pete’s sake.
Soon enough however, my thoughts turned to the other stuff- all the other stuff. I don’t really want to list my thoughts here. I mean, if you search your noggin long enough you can, I’m sure, come up with some scenarios that might fit the bill.
Needless to say, this announcement has caused a bit of a stir within our immediate family (read: the boys and me). We are all processing this with care and thought (and sighing and cussing and crying and more sighing), but each of us has our own way and timeline frankly, of dealing with this news.
I tell you all this because here is where the devotion comes into play. Sunday afternoon is my reserved nap time. There is little else that I can be persuaded to engage in on this day, the day of rest. I spend it first at church, and then at lunch and then barring any interference I slip on my lounge clothes and read until sleep finds me.
Well of course, Sunday my nap got all shot to hell. I mean Jack calling and announcing, “Mom… Dad and Lucia are having a baby,” will tend to do it. I laid there a good long while. My stomach began to churn and my brain began to take flight. Very suddenly, wet hot tears stained my face and I just let the enormity of it all well to the surface and overflow.
There was really nothing left to do but draw the shades, light a candle that smells like rain and hydrangea and run the bath. I let the scalding hot water fill the tub over the drain and I felt my skin goose as I eased into the tub and all the way under the water. I was aware of the pressure as my ears popped and then I held my breath.
I waited for clarity to come as the salt from my tears mingled with the bath water and pondered what this meant for all of us moving forward and why I was crying tears for which I seemed to have no remedy. Suddenly, I heard his voice.
“Tough afternoon, eh?”
“You’re not going to find what you’re seeking in this tub. Not this time.”
“When then? When is it ever going to be my turn? When is the good news ever going to be mine?” I felt like a petulant child as I spat the words at him but said them anyway.
Later that night (after margaritas and machinations with Sally) I tied my hair in a loose braid and slipped into my favorite Razorback tee. I nestled in the covers as exhaustion finally overwhelmed me. At that moment I became enveloped in an embrace I can only describe as pure love and though in darkness I became keenly aware of God’s presence- his light and warmth filling every space in my body and singeing my soul. I wept openly- yet this time, the tears were filled with understanding and peace. “I love you, my dear Ashley and I am not going anywhere. Cross my heart.” Cross my heart.
He stayed there with me in the still darkness holding me through the night. The next morning, I confess I still didn’t have the answers I sought, but I did think about the guf and the soul God picked for my sons’ little sister. I thought about the mystery of the universe and the miracle of new life. I thought about Jesus as an infant lying swathed in a trough while the angels sang him to sleep. I thought about Holy Week and his death too and the sequence of events that led to the miracle in my own life that I am able to not only know God but feel his unending love and living presence within me.
I’m still not sure what the take-away is, or even if I am really sure how I feel. I can tell you this though with absolute certainty, whatever the answers may be I won’t find them on my own. As C.S. Lewis so aptly said, “God can’t give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing.”
‘And I wish her insight to battle love’s blindness
Strength from the milk of human kindness
A safe place for all the pieces that scatter and
Learn to pretend there’s more than love that matters.’ –E. Sayers
I look forward to meeting you, little one. You will be loved.