Tag Archives: Anne Lamott

Easter’s coming.

One of my professors just suffered the loss of a dear friend, right here before Easter. The next time our class met she told us about it, and even in the middle of that pain, she repeated, “Easter’s coming. There’s sadness now, but Easter’s coming.”

I think that’s one of the reasons the gospel of John calls Jesus “the Light.” John 1:5 says, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” We who have Jesus aren’t limited to the dark scope of our pain; we have the Light to see past it into the future. Easter’s coming. Regardless of how deep the darkness of our pain can be – and most of us have known profoundly dark pain – it can’t extinguish the Light, who is our hope. We can see more than the hearts not lit up yet. It may be in the distance, but we can see it: Easter’s coming.

As we know from John 1, Jesus is more than the Light; he’s also the Word. Because John 1 is so familiar to me, I decided to read it tonight from my French Bible. It’s absolutely beautiful: La Bible en français courant calls Jesus the Parole. As is the case with most French words, this is a great one. Parole does mean “word,” as we’re used to in John 1:1, but it also means “promise,” as in, “I give you my word [parole].” So in John 1, Jesus is our promise that Easter’s coming. He’s our promise that we never have to live without the Light. He’s our promise that “God’s got it,” as my hero Anne Lamott says, no matter how big “it” is. He’s our promise that it will all be okay in the end – the paroles of Revelation confirm it.

But parole has another meaning in French. It’s tucked away in English too. If I ask whether you know “the words” of a song, you know I’m referring to the lyrics. Same in French. If Jesus is the Parole, he is our promise, but he’s also our lyrics. And his song doesn’t end with heartbreak, so ours won’t either. His lyrics are the substance of that crazy hope lodged so far in our hearts that the worst pain we’ve ever known hasn’t extinguished it. He’s the reason we believe that the song isn’t over, even though some of the verses feel interminable. He’s our lyrics, our music, our joy.

I’ve known pain in the last eight years. But Jesus is my Light, so I can see past the mess to the hope that lies beyond it. Jesus is my Promise that it isn’t over until he comes back for me. Jesus is my Song that keeps my heart vibrant. And in fact, I wouldn’t trade the pain because it’s shown me where my idols were. As I dealt with years of infertility, I realized I had made an idol of the motherhood dream. I wanted a son or daughter more than I wanted to learn how to serve the Lord without children. As I dealt with a failing marriage, I realized I had made an idol of wifehood, wanting to be in a romance with a man more than with my Savior. No epiphany minimizes the pain of infertility or divorce or anything else, of course, but it can remind me to keep in check where my worship is going and whether I’m trusting my Promise and my Light to guide me. Jesus is the Promise that even the pain has meaning, and it won’t last forever.

However heavy your pain might be, you have a Light. You have a Promise. You have a Song. And I can promise: Easter’s coming.

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Filed under Broken Beauty, Jesus Loves Me, Ooh Là Là!

Meltdowns

This pregnancy has a dark side: it’s churning up the noxious stuff, the stuff that reminds me what a train wreck I am. You can work around it for years, and then this teeny person, who doesn’t even have a voice, starts conjuring things in your mind. Apparently, I am carrying an intuitive little girl. Or maybe it’s the hormones.

When I went through addiction counseling, I made – and kept – all sorts of promises that allowed me to live in freedom for the first time ever. The promises gradually became habits, my modus operandi, and everything improved. My health, my appearance, and my confidence soared. No longer did my brain resort to the addiction cycle to cope with everyday life. I was in charge of my behavior, no diet necessary, and Jesus bolstered my strength to live in his provision. I felt and looked so wonderful that I attracted a very hot man who married me a year after we met.

Then I got pregnant. Of course, joy flooded me: it was impossible! A miracle! And of course, I still know that to be undeniably true. But there was a singsong voice in the back of my mind too, like Clare Dunphy on Modern Family, that said, “You’re gonna get fat.” I pictured my former marshmallow-esque body. I pictured my very hot man not wanting me anymore. I pictured myself buying huge clothes. And, to make matters worse, I realized as the weeks went on that my neat and helpful counseling promises weren’t working. When four or more hours spaced out my meals, my blood sugar dropped, and I became weak and dizzy. Twice I fainted. When I didn’t eat ample carbohydrates, massive headaches hit without warning and were followed by crippling nausea and fatigue. The baby was simultaneously breaking all the rules and producing purple stretch marks on my midsection to boot. I started saving for a Mommy Makeover.

One thing I’ve learned: my healing never comes until I dig into the ugliness and write about it. When I see it on paper, I can name it and deal with it. So I’ve spent hours recently writing about my addiction – how it looked, felt, sounded. I’ve gone back to journaling and letting my introspection explain myself to me. And it’s rough because somewhere underneath it all, I am still a train wreck. I am still all the things I once was if I’m not constantly vigilant.

I asked my man tonight, “Who in his or her right mind would give me a baby?”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Jesus.”

“Well, I am seriously doubting His lucidity,” I replied, quite seriously, before melting into tears again. Sometimes I am so excited for Anna’s yuletide arrival that I can barely breathe. Her pictures are so heartbreakingly perfect, and her butterfly-wing movements feel so delightful. Other times I think, “What the heck am I going to do with a baby?” My man assures me that no one is ever ready; they just grow into it as time demands.

My consolation in moments like tonight is thinking about my last decade of life. I have experienced too much, enough to break a person, but Jesus has brought me through it all. I shouldn’t be singing this way, shouldn’t be joyful or in love or blessed. After addiction, sexual dysfunction, miscarriage, divorce, lost friendships, and more, I should’ve been crushed. But Jesus didn’t allow that.

I also think of my personal constellation, my stars that point me home and draw grace for me. My mom teaches me sacrifice, my dad teaches me trust, and my sister teaches me how to be a friend. My friend A.K. teaches me how to listen, my friend K.S. teaches me patience and faith in Jesus, and my best friend teaches me unconditional acceptance. My stepchildren teach me to play. My man teaches me to be both strong and kind. Anne Lamott would call these people my “tribe,” but they are also Anna’s. So when I hit the inevitable moments of not-enough, they will tap in for me, and so will many others. Anna does not have a perfect mother, but she will never lack love. God told me early on she exists to display his glory. And he will never not be enough for me, my husband, or our family. What can I say about such wonderful things as these? If our God is for us, who can ever be against us (Romans 8:31, NLT)?

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Filed under It's a Girl!, Jesus Loves Me

The Baby That Came

“[Agape love] is a profound concern for the welfare of another without any desire to control that other, be thanked by that other, or enjoy the process.” — Edward Nason West

Two months ago my man and I heard Anne Lamott speak. Every word transfixed me, but one story in particular adhered to my brain. An Alaskan couple, friends of Anne’s, desperately wanted children. By the time they reached their tenth wedding anniversary, they’d tried fertility drugs, IVF, old wives’ tales, and mountains of prayer, all to no avail. Finally, they started the adoption process. With the pressure gone, as sometimes happens, the couple conceived. Joyfully they trekked to the city for numerous appointments due to the wife’s advanced maternal age. Unfortunately, the doctor soon had painful news: the baby was a hermaphrodite. Anne’s friends had three choices: 1) surgically remove the female organs, 2) surgically remove the male organs, or 3) raise the baby as a hermaphrodite. They spent the rest of the nine months in prayer and serious discussion with counselors, medical professionals, pastors, and each other. After the birth, the mother wrote on her blog, “We decided to love the baby that came.”

What a liberating decision. The baby that came to my mother 28 years ago is in turn compassionate and prideful, intelligent and ignorant, wise and foolish, devout and sinful, creative and dull. She has too-large thighs and crooked ring fingers. She’s an avid reader but a terrible athlete. She burns the rolls and still forgets to turn off the oven. But my parents love the baby that came. So do my man, my sister, my friends, my Savior. It’s downright incomprehensible when I think about it—being loved in this way—because I certainly don’t deserve it.

Not that anyone ever does. Last week in French III, I asked my students an unfair and impossible question: Define “love”. A beautiful discussion resulted, but my favorite answer was this one: “Love grows when the space between people is filled with acceptance.” How beautiful. In my experience, we’re all messy, and, screw-ups that we are, we don’t deserve anything, least of all acceptance. But we’re trying our best, however successful or faulty our attempts may be. We’re trying to find community, to breathe in peace, to be a little less lonely. We’re all hoping that someone will accept the—by all accounts, problematic—baby that came. So we accept each other as perfect and imperfect as we paradoxically are, stumbling toward something like love.

I’ll take it.

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No judgment.

My pastor says it’s pointless to judge people because 1) People have reasons—which you don’t know—for doing what they do, 2) You have plenty of your own crap to deal with, and 3) No one cares about your judgments anyway. I’ll be honest with you: judging others was something I struggled with for years because I was pretty sure I knew better than most people what they ought to be doing. It’s like Claire, the mom from Modern Family, said: “I know I can’t run [my daughter’s] life for her, but if she would let me, I’d be so good at it!” Into my early twenties, I had a judgment for everything, partly because being a Christian made me feel superior, partly because I was raised to have confidence in myself, and partly because I am human.

Last Friday would’ve been my fifth wedding anniversary, but now it’s a day that reminds me why I have no business judging others. When certain people heard of my separation and divorce, they became rigidly judgmental. Some wanted me to know that divorce is a sin. Others wanted me to know that it’s fine if my heart was so hardened I had to divorce, but that I could never remarry because that would be a sin. Once I was told that divorce wasn’t actually possible for a Christian. Someone else said that since we are attracted to the same type of person repeatedly, divorcing my first husband would only lead to divorcing second, third, and subsequent husbands. All I can say is thank God for my church and the grace I found in it. The leader of my Divorce Care group, a woman I deeply respect and love, was the first person to literally hold my hand as I cried and tell me she understood. As much as I appreciated the prayers and encouraging words of my friends and family, and I really did, the gift of being looked in the eye, understood, and shown grace was something that reached my soul.

It seems to me that God needs those of us who have been divorced, gone bankrupt, been hooked on this or that addiction, lost children, lost faith, lost dignity, and whatever else. He needs the women who got pregnant before they got married and the men who found someone else after they got married. He needs the ones who were bitter, lustful, abusive, brokenhearted. He needs people who can, like my Divorce Care leader, look his babies in the eye and say, “I get it. I lived that story too,” and comfort them in a way that mirrors his comforting of us. One of my favorite traits of my Divorce Care leader is that she is 100% shockproof. There is nothing you can say to this woman that raises her eyebrows in disgust or horror. You can tell her the worst things you’ve said and done, and she says things like, “Yeah, we tend to do that, don’t we?” The grace she has shown me, and so many others, is the very face of God. You can’t tell me God doesn’t use her story—the good, the bad, and the ugly in it—to reach his children.

I no longer assign blame for my divorce; it doesn’t matter. Anne Lamott says, “There are three things you can’t change: the past, the truth, and other people.” Divorce is a part of my past, and that’s that. Did I miss the will of God? Don’t know; don’t care. (Although I do not at all regret my first marriage.) Would things be different if I had done this or that instead? Don’t know; don’t care. This is what I do know and care about: nothing I have ever done, including divorce, has caused God not to love me anymore. Nothing I have ever done has changed God’s promise of protection, healing, and grace in my life. Nothing I have ever done has made God scrap his plans for me. I made mistakes in my marriage, and I live with the knowledge of having caused my ex-husband pain. But I do not have to live with guilt or shame. I am saved. I am a part of God’s plan for humanity. And he makes all things new. All things. New.

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“It’s Not Just Me.”

I spent last week on vacation in gorgeous Florida. In the hospital. The first thirty-six hours in Orlando were perfect, but after dinner on Tuesday night, I experienced the worst pain I have ever felt. For about an hour, every breath came out a moan. The pain built so fast and intensely that my parents took me to the ER; unfortunately, by the time I got there, I was hyperventilating and couldn’t talk due to an incapacity to breathe. When the attack finally subsided, I described symptoms to the parade of medical professionals that filed into my room, trying to solve the problem. Terminology like “acute pancreatitis” and “inflamed gallbladder” bounced around as I sat on the bed unsettled. One doctor was afraid my pancreas would quit working, while another said it was just gallstones. Since my background is as far away from medicine as one can get, I had no idea what to expect.

Sometime past midnight, Iris, a soft-spoken but matter-of-fact woman in her late fifties, knocked on my door and introduced herself as my ultrasound technician. One of the doctors had ordered a sonogram to determine whether surgery was necessary. She wheeled me to the dark ultrasound room and asked me to lie on the bed next to the computer while she began the questionnaire.

“Do you smoke?”

“No.”

“Drink?”

“A little wine three or four times a year.”

“Any surgeries?”

“One minor one, yes.”

“Site and purpose?”

“Vaginal: I had a scar tissue blockage.”

At this, her pen froze midair, and she slowly turned her head to look at me. “I’m sorry?” she asked incredulously. I repeated myself, and, having been told by a number of people how odd the procedure was, I added, “I know it’s weird. Anyone remotely related to medicine has told me how strange my case is.” I shrugged. The routine is old hat to me by now.

“No, no…” she trailed off and cleared her throat. Looking straight ahead, she said, “I have that.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Really?” I asked, with what could only be interpreted as excitement. I propped myself up on my elbows so I could make eye contact as I continued. “You’re kidding! I have never met anyone else who had it! Or, well, if I did, they didn’t tell me.”

Iris nodded. “Yeah…I had three children—naturally. And I enjoyed lots of great sex all the way up through my forties. Never any trouble there.” She chuckled a little and watched a memory briefly play out in the distance. “But…it’s been ten years…I just woke up one morning with the blockage. My doctor said there’s nothing he can do. Said if he removes it, I’ll be incontinent.” She shook her head. “I haven’t had sex in ten years, Amie. No intimacy at all…and a woman needs…” she trailed off. The tears welled, but she brushed them away before they fell.

“I know how hard it is. I truly know how you feel,” I assured her. Some time passed before she responded, but she held my gaze. “Yes, you do,” she said, still looking at me. A half-smile pulled at her lips, and she said, “It’s nice to know for once that it’s not just me.” I smiled. “I know what you mean, Iris.”

After she’d asked me some specific questions about my surgery and recovery, she went about her sonogram-performing business. As it turns out, I was housing somewhere between one and two hundred of the tiny devil-stones in my gallbladder. Luckily, this explained the pancreatitis, too. Although I’d have to go under the knife, Iris assured me it was a routine procedure. Before wheeling me back to my temporary room in the emergency wing, she rested her hand on my shoulder and said, “You have given me such hope. Thank you.”

~

Anyone who’s known me at least twenty minutes knows how much I love, love, love Anne Lamott. In her book Grace (Eventually)*, she recalls assisting in a ballet class for women with Down’s syndrome. After Anne’s visit, the teacher asked the class, “What did you think of my friend?” One of the women said, “I liked that lady! She was a helper, and she danced.” Anne says in her book, “These are the words I want on my gravestone: that I was a helper, and that I danced.” I think my few minutes with Iris were my ballet-class moment. If I am remembered for giving hope to at least one woman who has hurt silently the way I have, I will consider my life a success.

*Lamott, Anne. Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

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