Thursday, March 17, 2016

Night Driving Synchroblog: Is This Even Faith Anymore?

I was on fire once too. My faith burned bright and hot, full of certainty and passion, as electrifying as all of the other emotions and experiences of adolescence. Then there were the eye-opening college days, the shock at learning there were other ways of being a Christian, the wonder of a God who was bigger than I had imagined, the freedom in discovering how to be wrong. I married a man newly graduated from seminary. We set out to be missionaries and nearly lost our faith and each other on a bike path next to the Rhine River. Then came the angry years of my mid-twenties, three years of grad school and drinking too much and pretending I was too busy for the church where my husband pastored. I found my way back to that church shortly before we started to lose our babies, miscarriages over and over and over again, and I felt held there. The God of grief met me during all those early infertile years. It was sweet and intimate and quiet, even if it looked not very much like I was taught that it should. And then there was the morning in the coffeeshop in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, one final culture war battle lost, where I renounced the label evangelical in what is becoming a rite of passage for so many of us who were once on fire.

As I feel my way forward, away from an evangelical Christianity I can no longer claim as my own, a pastor-friend recommends I read John Shelby Spong. I pick up the book and wear out a yellow highlighter on it and when he writes that he can no longer think of God as a being "up there" or "out there" who could and would intervene, answer prayers and reward and punish according to the divine will, I set the book in my lap and look up.

And nothing breaks. Nothing shatters, or cracks. I feel nothing give way beneath me. There is very little angst. There is just me and the growing realization that I may have already let go.

It's spring here. The redbuds and the dogwoods are in lush, ecstatic bloom. I wake in the middle of the night to a symphony of birdsong outside my open window and I report to my balcony faithfully for the sunset on the progressively later evenings. I stare and I admire, I marvel at it all with a sort of detachment I am not used to. I am not moved by it, not animated by it or by whatever force is supposed to animate us both.

The husband and I escaped to a hillside winery a few days ago in the middle of the afternoon. Good books, cold white wine, a canvas bag full of sharp Irish cheddar and salt & pepper Triscuits. It looked perfect. It Instagrammed perfect. I pretended yes, this is exactly what we needed. But all I really took with me from that perfect afternoon was a sunburn on my left arm. It got hot and we drank the wine too quickly and I had to keep shifting his head from my lap so I could go pee again. I feel like I cannot even show up for my own perfect moments.

Wise people tell me not to fear this detached, darkening place. That I am not staring into an abyss, I'm on the precipice of my own becoming. That the God I'm certain I have lost is as close as my breath, sitting with me now even as I recount this emptiness, here in this cliched Nashville loneliness: lit candles, Eagle Rare whiskey on the rocks, the Liturgists album on repeat. I don't know that anymore. But I see that God was there in the heady, passionate days and there when I nearly set my whole life ablaze just to watch it burn to the ground. God found me in the angry years and the grieving years, I can see it now, trace a merciful hand through all that pain. Is God even here, when I am not certain of anything except that I seem to have misplaced God somewhere along the way? Find us, Addie writes in Night Driving. Find me. I starred that line in blue pen in my book today, as much of a prayer as I can manage: find me.

A Synchroblog with Addie Zierman to celebrate the release of her fantastic new book Night Driving (read this! It was so honest). Read the rest of the synchroblogs here

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Ash Wednesday

It was on or about this time five years ago that we stood in a parking lot in Fairfax, Virginia, staring at an ultrasound photo of an 8 week old embryo. We had already had a scare that took us to the emergency room in the middle of the night, but today the doctor told us that everything looked fine, that we didn’t have any reason to be afraid. I will never ever forget standing next to Todd’s car in that parking lot with my arms around him and asking him are we really having a baby and how he held me and said, yeah, I think we really are and we giggled. Just burst out laughing for the joy of it all.

I’ve been thinking about those kids in that parking lot for a few weeks now, how young they seem in my memory, how naïve and scared and hopeful, how simple it was then, how clueless they were to what was ahead. How here we are, 5 years later, and still no babies. How old I feel now, both more mature and tired.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. We lost that first baby on Ash Wednesday, 2011. Stood again in that same parking lot, gaping at each other in complete confusion, bewildered as to how to cope with the sudden loss. Clueless again, having not yet learned to love each other while grieving. My first real taste of hope turned to ash in my mouth.

It’s unfair to say we’ve been trying for babies for 5 years. We took a healthy break for a while. Then we took a longer, unhealthy break. The times we’ve tried I’ve only been 1% braver than I was afraid and there were lots of times I was 800% more afraid so we put it off. But we’ve been trying again for half a year, maybe finally no longer completely paralyzed with fear, and I was certain for a few reasons that this was going to be the month.

It wasn’t. Obviously. And the finding out we weren’t pregnant was brutal, drawn-out, inconclusive for far too long to be fair. Todd said it wasn’t personal; it felt personal.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Our pastor opened the sanctuary for most of the day for people to come and receive ashes. Todd and I were the only people there at 5:15 yesterday evening. The reading provided for our meditation was Joel 2:

But there’s also this, it’s not too late—
    GOD’s personal Message!—
“Come back to me and really mean it!
    Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!”
Change your life, not just your clothes.
    Come back to GOD, your God.
And here’s why: God is kind and merciful.
    He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot,
This most patient God, extravagant in love,
    always ready to cancel catastrophe.
Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now,
    maybe he’ll turn around and show pity.
Maybe, when all’s said and done,
    there’ll be blessings full and robust for your GOD!

I bowed my head and tried for a minute to conjure up the properly contrite spirit for Lent. But you know what I really wanted to say? You’ve put up with a lot from me?! I’ve put up with a lot from you! Kind and merciful? Sure, if I tilt my head and squint real hard I can see your kindness. Where is the kindness that blows the doors off the place, the mercy that is more than me just being grateful for crumbs?

I promise I’m more scandalized by the contents of my heart than you are. I read through some of my old blog posts recently, back when we were actively losing babies all the time. I was in all kinds of agony back then, but damn if I didn’t also really believe in the mercy of God. There was a song back then that saved me, played on repeat for an entire few years, with one line that I loved for its honesty but I realize now that I didn’t fully understand: if this waiting lasts forever, I’m afraid I might let go. I get it now.

And yet. I say I’m all out of hope, but there is a voice in the back of my head that says, this is it. This is when the miracle happens, when hope is completely run dry and five seconds before you let go.

Ah hope, you sneaky bastard.

My Lenten reading this morning was from Habakkuk 3:

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom
    and the strawberries don’t ripen,
Though the apples are worm-eaten
    and the wheat fields stunted,
Though the sheep pens are sheepless
    and the cattle barns empty,
I’m singing joyful praise to GOD.
    I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.

I want that kind of faith. I don’t have it today. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Last week I stood at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, with my toes in the cold wet sand, a crystal clear sky ablaze over my head, my best friend next to me, and I felt...anxious. Yep, there's me, in my happy place, stressed out. Why oh why, Kimberly, are you anything but grateful, here surrounded by this beauty?

Here it is [This has taken me 31 years to learn about myself]: I was afraid I wasn't taking it all in deeply enough. What if I'm not enjoying this to the fullest extent? I knew my time with such beauty was limited and I just wanted to be big enough to fill all the way up, to remember it all exactly, so I could carry it home with me. There's a Mary Oliver line about this (there's always a Mary Oliver line about this):

Have I lived enough? /  Have I loved enough? / Have I considered Right Action enough, have I / come to any conclusion? / Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude? (The Gardener)

It's been a long, suffocatingly dark winter and I needed the beach. I needed to stand in front of something bigger than myself and feel small. So I searched out a cheap hotel deal, I persuaded Todd into "just one more vacation," I talked the Wakefields into coming along and splitting costs, I bought a plastic bucket and a shovel for Eli, I willed the snow in northern Alabama to give way, I loaded us all in the car for a seven hour trip, I checked us into the hotel, and then I bolted for that shoreline.

It's easy to imagine that I chased this beauty and after all of this effort, I needed to make sure I didn't waste it. And so I felt anxious.

The next morning I woke up early and made for that same spot and I got an image in my head of me, standing there in front of all of that water, with my hands cupped open in front of me, full and running over. Along with this image, a little nudge: I don't have to make myself big enough to contain it all. I just have to cup my hands and accept what I can hold.

Saturday morning, a week later, my toes in my slippers and not in the cold wet sand, I read this:

Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. (Psalm 23, The Message version)

And there it is. I don't have to chase. I don't have to find room inside and fill up before it's gone. I am not chasing beauty and love. I am being chased. Maybe I didn't find that beach or orchestrate that moment of beauty. Maybe it found me.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I stood at my sink, doing dishes but mostly just avoiding the eyes of the people I cannot fool. I put all the cheer I could in my voice as I waved them out into the night with wet hands. Then I called Becca, and I laughed and I cried so hard it made a weird sound from somewhere deep while she said "fuck" into the phone.

I had just found out that both my darling sister-in-law and my beautiful best friend were pregnant again. In the space of two hours, we got a phone call from Todd's happy family and then I heard Heather shriek my name from the bathroom of our apartment, where she was finding out she was having another baby, thanks to a leftover pregnancy test in the back of my medicine cabinet. Miracle #2 of this strange day (Miracle #1 was the babies themselves, of course): My initial reaction, my gut reaction, to both moments was joy. More babies! I am Aunt Kim to Nola and Eli and it is one of the deepest pleasures of my life. The grace that has been given to Tonya and Heather - it's beautiful, it's a gift, it's my gift. There are new baby clothes to buy and more books to add to the Niece/Nephew Amazon wishlist I keep and this summer there will be two new babies and I will get to hold them in my arms and whisper love over the tops of their sweet-smelling heads. I am so grateful.

But infertility doesn't allow for uncomplicated emotions. This damn thing takes and takes and as the evening progressed and the shock started to wear off Wes and Heather's faces, I felt my grief rising. Which is how I found myself standing at the kitchen sink, scrubbing plates, willing the tears to wait just a little while longer, telling God through clinched teeth: show me where you are. Tell me something. Show me. 

I cried to Becca for a while. I said out loud all the darkness, admitted the guilt, raged against the unfairness, marveled at how a woman who can't decide on any given day if she still wants children could be so grieved. Becca, as she has always done, graciously made space for my anger. Embodied it in her holy "fuck," giving me permission to feel all of it. I crawled into bed out of words and whispered Walter Brueggemann's in the dark: "You are God of our impossibilities. You have and will preside over those parts of our lives that we imagine to be closed. What we want is a gift and the open graciousness to receive it."

I woke up on Sunday and was surprised how tender the spot still was, like a bruise. I went to a new Sunday school class at the church where Todd works, trying to be good at this pastor's wife thing and nearly all of you know how naturally that comes to me. (It doesn't, if you didn't know.) But I put on my biggest, woolliest scarf, as armor more than warmth, and I sat, shoulder-to-shoulder with 12 strangers in a tiny room and we read together this: "he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" All things? ALL? Really? How can I have all things when I don't have this one thing, this thing that matters so much? Here's Miracle #4 (Miracle #3 was Becca. Always Becca.): I believed it. I don't know why. But I believed it. I will be graciously given all things, even if I never receive this thing. It's both impossible and true. And then I cried in front of 12 strangers.

I went to the late service at the hip, progressive church and instead of a sermon, it was just space to pray. They'd been beautifully creative with stations and candles and all the ancient words I love, but I couldn't move from my chair. I was invited to let the real me meet the real God. But the first surprise wasn't the real God - it was the real me, hidden until that moment from even myself. Real wounds as yet unacknowledged. Real questions unasked. So I started offering up my truths, whispering them into my knees, pulling them up from my gut and holding them in my open hands.  And in a mystical, transcendent moment that I still only half believe was real, I felt Love take my hesitant but honest offering and replace it with Truth, beautiful, illuminating, too-good-to-be-true Truth.

Then there was Wes, come to find me in the dark sanctuary, his arm around my back. Once again proving himself big enough to hold both pain and joy, once again shoving back against my fear that I was somehow failing them. In yet another room full of strangers, with my face covered in snot and mascara, I was brave enough to lift my head and let myself be seen.

Tonya's having another baby girl. Heather is waiting to be surprised. These babies still have a few months before their much-anticipated debut. But both of them have already been miraculous in my life, both for the sheer delight of their existence and for the role they've played in a weekend of profound healing I didn't know I still needed. If this were a good story, it would end there and I could postscript this and tell you that it's all joy and shopping for baby girl tutus and highlighted baby name books now. It is all of those things but it was also a dark Christmas and a long conversation about my anxiety in the face of Heather's peace and learning to manage my resentment when it rears its ugly but understandable head.

Cheryl Strayed writes, "The place of true healing is a fierce place. It's a giant place. It's a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there." Glennon Melton says that "the tender places are the learning places and the holy places." Even preparing to put this out before your eyes, I am tempted to snatch it back, embarrassed to admit my reaction was so dramatic and intense*, afraid Tonya or Heather might hear my pain louder than my joy. But this is my tender place - it may always be - and it is holy and I will learn what it has to teach me and be grateful.

*I had Todd, Heather, and Wes read this first and I asked if it was too melodramatic and Wes said, "it's Kim," which of course is yes.

Can you believe how big they are? And they're going to have baby siblings. My heart might burst.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

It is Not Enough but It is Not Nothing

Todd came home from work last night and in the middle of the "how was your day"'s and the last minute trying to keep the food from burning while getting it to our plates, he told me he had a podcast for me to listen to over dinner. (To be honest, I kind of hate it when he does this. It's usually something brilliant, something more than my post-work brain has room for, and it delays our watching of last night's Tonight Show.)

He put his phone on the table between us and played this story:

A man met a woman. They fell in love and got married. While they were still in the early years of young love, she was diagnosed with a particularly debilitating form of multiple sclerosis. She lost the ability to walk. She eventually became unable to breathe on her own. Most days she cannot remember their family members or her caretakers. But every day, now 30 years into their marriage, he takes her on a walk to get ice cream. On good days, she can eat a few bites. Then he pushes her wheelchair home and they enjoy the sun on their faces.

And you know what he says about all of this?

It's not enough. 

It's not enough, this sun and the few tentative bites of ice cream and her intermittent recognition of him. It's not right that they have not been able to enjoy full, vital, healthy lives. They have not been able to live the life they wanted and it's not enough.

It is not enough, but it's not nothing either, he says, and they will not despise it.

It's not enough, but it's not nothing.

And I sat there at our table, with my fork of root vegetable puree stopped midway to my mouth, tears pooling and spilling down my face.

It's not enough but it's not nothing.

This life that Todd and I are building, it's not enough. It's not. This life without children and a full table and seeing my husband as a daddy. It's not enough.

I never felt permission to say that before. I think maybe that ingratitude is the worst possible sin. I'm not even sure you can be a Christian and feel ungrateful. And I have so much for which to give thanks. I'm married to the best man I've ever met and he's in love with me. He does the laundry and sings me songs on my work voicemail and stays in the room when we fight even as everything in him tells him to flee this conflict. My toes still curl when he kisses me. We have jobs that pay us more money than 99% of the world will ever see. We have friends we love like family and family we enjoy as if they were friends. 

But it's true. I will say it now. It's not enough.

It's not enough but it's not nothing. 

It is not nothing, this life we are building. It is not as we had planned it, not as we want it, but it is rich, more full of sweetness than I can begin to hold. And I will not despise it.

I think sometimes that I will spend a lifetime learning to hold these two things: the gratitude and the ache.

It is not enough, but it is not nothing.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sharks and Cemeteries. Or Kim Goes on Vacation

Todd and I have this terribly unhealthy thing we say to each other (okay, it's almost always to me) when one of us (again, me) is tempted to make a decision based on how we feel at any given moment:  feelings are stupid. And of course, they're not. Feelings should be honored and heard, but what we're trying to say is that feelings aren't the whole story.

If you've met me in the last six months or so, you know that we're going on vacation soon. One of the stops on our trip is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, MA (vacationing with us is a hoot, people!). On a hill in the cemetery is  "Author's Ridge" - a spot where several famous 19th century American authors are buried. I've been doing a bit of reading of these authors' works in preparation and I keep coming back to one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's famous quotes: "Always do what you are afraid to do."

I'm afraid. There are a few situations in my life right now that have me pretty well scared shitless. Fear speaks one thing to me on repeat:  you don't have what it takes. This fear that I don't have what it takes, that I'm too much or not enough, that I'm going to fail and take the people I love down with me makes me ashamed. But here's where Fear overplays its hand. I may quake in the presence of Fear, but Shame just pisses me off. If I know anything about this Jesus story, I know that shame has no place in it. And anger gives me the perspective I need to put fear in its place.

Am I terrified by kids, jobs, ministry, relationships, vulnerability, commitment? Yes times eleven. But so what? Fear is stupid. It's not the whole story. I can do the things I'm afraid to do.

I am afraid of flying, so I travel.

I am afraid of telling the truth, so I find one person and I say it with my voice shaking.

I am afraid of being vulnerable, so I tell the Internet about my hurt.

I am afraid of trying again, so I give myself a break and then I do it anyway.

I am afraid of calling some place home, so I plant a garden and paint some walls.

I am afraid of rejection, so I invite.

I am afraid of being eaten by a Great White Shark while kayaking (thanks to this picture my helpful friend Wesley showed me), so I'm packing my water shoes and hopping in that kayak every morning on our vacation.

Fear can bite me (as long as the sharks don't).

"Always do the thing you are afraid to do." See you Friday, Ralph.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Losing Faith

I’m afraid my faith is slipping through my fingers. Once solid like a brick and now it feels like it’ll dissolve into water and flow right through my hands, no matter how tightly I try to hold it. Some days it’s a gradual losing, a fading, the old answers becoming less convincing one question at a time. Other days it abandons me in a rush so quick, so emptying, I struggle to breathe around the vacuum it leaves behind.

This beloved faith, worn thin with love and smelling like home, is ripping at the seams, full of holes I’ve tried to patch. Every time I try to put it on, it crumbles a little more in my hands.

This faith of mine has been so dear to me. I love its clarity, its certainty, the sense of belonging it gave me. This faith fit well for a long time and I will always be grateful. But it hasn't fit for a while now.

I need a faith sturdy enough to hold up when the cold lasts too long. A faith made for perpetual summertime, full of easy answers and breezy clichés, won’t last me through these winter seasons when I’m tempted to forget that there is life even here.

I need a faith welcoming and safe even when I’m tired, especially when I’m tired. A faith that allows me to admit that sometimes it’s too much and hope feels like a cruel joke and the only right answer is to lie down in the face of it all. A faith that will let me mourn with those who mourn because it is unfair and the pain is real and silence is better than bullshit.

I need a faith woven through with my questions and my doubts, so integral to the way I encounter God. I’m a wrestler, they say, and I need a faith that will let me examine it, stretch it, pull at it, take it apart to see how it works. I need a faith smarter, stronger, braver than I. I need a faith that doesn’t make me feel like I am a danger to it.

I need a faith that is unafraid of what will happen if we let people in on the news that grace is free and you couldn’t earn it even if you wanted to. I need a faith more concerned about people made in the image of God than about the rules, a faith where shame is banished and we are free.

I need a faith with room enough for the God I have faith in, more generous than I can imagine, compassionate on all He has made, beckoning the tired and spiritually bankrupt, closer than my breath.

I need a faith that isn’t worried about slipping through my fingers because it knows that I was never really holding on to it. It’s a faith in the God who has always been holding on to me.