What better way for God to tell me?

It’s the “family reunion feeling.”

It feels like Grandma’s house. And tastes like chocolate cake and sweet tea. It smells like fresh cut farm grass in the summer. It sounds like a house full of conversation, Yahtzee dice on a wooden kitchen table, Christmas music.

It’s the feeling of being present.

Of going two days and realizing you haven’t charged your phone. Of thinking of nothing or no-one but what is right there, right now. And it is bliss.

I think about this sometimes when my 8-year-old says, Mo-om. You’re not listening. Did you hear what I just said?

I didn’t, I reply honestly. Because I was — well, where I am too often —

Lost in a world of pre-occupation. Of to-do lists. Of what’s for dinner and did I respond to that text? And this house is a mess. And then suddenly, I miss the lizard that has captivated my first-born. It has scampered away, along with the opportunity to share a moment of magic with my boy.

So I have been trying to be more mindful. More intentional. More present.

But for me, it’s not totally a matter of the will. More-so, it is the recognition of the environment that makes being present most possible. Both the external and internal environment. The state of my home and the state of my mind.

The first case in which I find being present more possible is when I close all the windows. By that, I don’t mean the literal windows — I mean, the “screens” that feel like windows into an outside world that my mind so easily leaps to. When I am in the middle of text conversations all day, I find that my mind can be stuck there. When I am checking the internet too much — or blogs (hello!) — or news (never a great idea) — I find that a piece of me stays there. But when I shut them off, when I power off, I feel a very literal quiet come over me. An instant focus. For a piece of me that was there is now here. Scheduling time for screens of all kinds helps me be present the rest of the time.

I also find that unloading some thoughts onto a piece of paper with the scribble of an inky pen helps. It keeps me from having that “I need to do that” feeling on loop. It lets me take the thoughts of what I need to do and what I haven’t done and place them in a box for safe keeping. I can come back to that later. For now, I focus on now.

Other thoughts that can keep me from being present are needless human worries, the what if’s and what might’s of life. I love the advice of one of my favorite spiritual writers, Father Jacques Phillipe, who says:

“Things seldom happen as we expect. Most of our fears and apprehensions turn out to be completely imaginary. Difficulties we anticipated become very simple in reality; and the real difficulties are things that didn’t occur to us. It’s better to accept things as they come, one after another, trusting that we will have the grace to deal with them at the right time, than to invent a host of scenarios about what may happen — scenarios that normally turn out to be wrong. The best way to prepare for the future is to put our hearts into the present.”

And in throwing my heart into the present, I am trying to accept the interruptions of life. To see them, as perhaps, not interruptions — but interventions. Most of my plans are not urgent. Whether I wash the laundry now or later isn’t of great monumentality (though it is good to make sure everyone has clean undergarments). Whether I finish weeding all the garden beds this weekend or next, or mop the floor before company, and so on — really, who cares. What people care about is how they feel when I am with them. Fr. Phillipe continues,

“In every encounter with someone else, however long or short, we should make him feel we’re one hundred percent there for him at that moment, with nothing else to do except be with him and do whatever needs doing for him. Good manners, yes, but also real, heartfelt availability… A heart preoccupied by concerns and worries isn’t available to other people. Parents should remember this: children can get along happily without constantly demanding their parents’ attention, provided there are regular times when Dad or Mom have no concern except being with them.”

I am always asking God what his will is for me today — and then, when I am interrupted from what I am wanting to do, I am put off. Well, what better way for God to tell me what he wants me to do than to have my child ask me? Or my neighbor? Or my friend?

And so today, I take time for stillness. For observation. I give myself a moment (or many) to soak up this life like a cat does the sunshine.

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For seeds and soil and Saturdays

It hadn’t rained, but the plants were still drinking morning dew. The split-leaf philodendron in an oversized pot on my back patio had a large dew drop dangling from the end of its lime green leaf and I watched it catch the gaze of the morning sun as I walked by in bright blue garden shoes.

Good morning Rosemary. Good morning Thyme. G’day cilantro, I said to its neighbors.

Down the hill I tromped, an empty wire basket in one hand to collect the eggs — a stainless steel canister of chicken scraps in the other.

They saw me coming.

Like a pack of teenage girls when their favorite boy band arrives, they ran to the back door of the coop built by my husband’s hands, clucking and cackling and carrying on. There is something flattering about it, I suppose, even though I know they are most interested in that shiny object in my hand.

I creak open the wooden back gate, lift the “chicken” door that they’ve piled against and out they come, one by one: Mary Magda”hen,” Saint “Bird”adette, “Feather” Locklier… and the rest of the girls (and their rooster, Fluff. He’s beautiful. And he knows it.)

The scraps fall to the post-winter chicken yard with a thud. They eagerly inspect the goods — a mango core, toddler-rejected oatmeal and so on. Not an overly picky bunch, they scratch and peck with the purrs of contented poultry and off I go to the garden leaving them to their feast.

The potato bed needs weeding; the bib lettuce is ready to harvest. There is something so satisfying about perfectly-lined rows of edible green leaves that magically sprout from the warm, black earth. I love the smell of the garden, of soil, of morning, of the damp cedar wood around the raised garden beds.

The tall trees of the forest peek over to see: yes, the tomato plants are doing alright. The birds sing in echoing unison. The sun rises higher in the sky.

My shoulders turn pink as I pick the weeds and toss them into the canister to throw to the chickens. A panting 70-lb golden lab tries to sit in my lap while I pluck weeds from under strawberry leaves. Excuse me, I say. She doesn’t.

Excuse me, I say again — this time to the Welsummer hen who has settled herself into the egg box for laying. She gives me the eye: can I get some privacy? I quickly gather the turquoise and bright white and dark brown and wheat-colored eggs from the empty straw nests and place them carefully into my wire basket.

And back up the hill I go: with eggs in my basket and grass on my shoes; dirt under my nails and a prayer under my breath: Thank you. For these things to nurture that nourish us. For these things to love that give us peace.

For seeds and soil and Saturdays.

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How did you make your peace?

*I recently received an email from a reader that I have been in touch with since she received a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. Because I feel that other readers may relate to her sentiment, I asked her if I could share her question and my response here in hope that someone else might find encouragement. She graciously said yes. (I’ve changed her name for privacy.)

Dear Lauren,

Jacob has arrived. I love him but I’m still really not at peace with the diagnosis…at all. I was brought up in a very traditional Catholic home. At the moment I just feel very angry with religion/God. Why us? None of my friends have children with additional needs. How did you make your peace with everything?

Colleen

***

Colleen,

I’m so glad you wrote. I am reaching through the computer with a hug. Congratulations on the birth of sweet Jacob! I completely understand how you’re feeling — I had incredibly complicated emotions after Kate was born, as well. I absolutely loved her with every part of my heart, but I was sad, scared, and confused about her diagnosis. I get that. You are absolutely not alone.

If I can offer you any piece of advice to start with, I would simply say: be patient with yourself.

Your body just did an incredibly big thing and this season is tender and sensitive. It takes time to get to know any newborn, no matter what their ability. I’ve had a moment after each of my children, where I held them in the hospital, looked into their big blue eyes and thought: well, hello there, who are you?

It takes time to grow in relationship with each other and the best thing you can do now is not worry about Jacob’s diagnosis, but try and focus on doing what you would do with any baby: snuggle him, feed him, rock him, sing to him.

You don’t have to worry about what YOUR ENTIRE LIFE will be like raising a “child with special needs,” all you have to think about is what today holds. Be easy on yourself and just try and enjoy his soft skin, his new-baby scent.

And then, next week or next month or in a few months, you may need to see a specialist for something — and when that day comes, you will be ready for that. As he grows, you will grow. As his needs expand, you will be ready for them. It will be uncomfortable at times, you may feel frustrated or confused for a little longer than you think you should, but it will get better — day by day. The more you grow to know him, the more comfortable you’ll become.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of community, though. In those early days, I was surrounded by parents and a husband and friends who loved my baby girl and me and who encouraged me that everything would be OK (even if I didn’t believe them at first). If you don’t have any friends who have walked this journey, I encourage you to reach out to your local Down syndrome society. You’d be surprised at how many incredibly fun, loving, adventurous, thriving families there are with a child with Down syndrome — and not in spite of them, but quite the opposite!

So let yourself get there naturally. As Fr. Teilhard de Chardin says, don’t try to force yourself to be today what time will make of you tomorrow. We all have to go through one season to get to the next, that’s ok. Just know — you will get there.

I can honestly say today that having a child with Down syndrome is one of the most incredible gifts I have ever received. Kate is so smart, capable, funny, enjoyable. I love to just hang out with her and laugh and play. She brings out the best in everyone in our family — and they bring out the best in her. I wondered what God was doing when I first got her diagnosis as well — but now I know: he was giving me a gift.

So have patience with yourself. When tomorrow comes, you’ll be ready — when next week comes, you’ll be ready then. Day by day, you’ll have the grace you need. One of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Jacques Phillipe writes:
“Grace is not kept in reserve. It is humbly received day by day. It’s like the manna that fed the Hebrews in the desert: when you try to preserve it, it spoils. We must gather it up each day. This is not to say there’s no need to exercise virtue and grow, but we must not lean on ourselves and create false security in doing so. In the Our Father, when we confide our needs to God (who knows them better than we do!), we do not ask for a store of bread, we ask for the bread for each day — just what’s necessary for today, forgetting the past and not worrying about tomorrow.”
You ask me — how did you make your peace? And I can say, I didn’t make it. It slowly came to me like a butterfly in the Spring and landed on my shoulder and there it stayed. Had I chased it when it wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t have been able to catch it. But with time and grace and days fully lived with my beautiful daughter, it came to me. It will for you.

In the meantime, surround yourself with people who tell you all of this and more every day. I promise, you’ll get there.

Love,

Lauren

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Spring will come.

It froze last week.

The kind of hard freeze that smells like firewood and icicles.

We wrapped the pipes in old rags in the moonlight and covered the heavy-potted patio plants with a big sheet. But still, most of our green has turned yellow and then brown — and has wilted, shriveled, hardened.

I stood by my boy who stood by our sad-looking asparagus fern the next morning and told him: It’ll come back.

It always does.

The winter has her bite, but if the plants have strong roots and nourishing soil, they come back just as strong and pretty and full as before — even more so. They’re not gone forever.

God has a beautiful way of revealing truth to us through nature. His seasons of bare branches and budding leaves, dormancy and blossoming, remind us of the seasons of our own lives — the winters and the inevitable Springs.

Spring will come. It always does.

When I look at the winter seasons of my life — the ones that metaphorically rocked me, shocked me, left me feeling a bit bare — I recognize that it was in those times, that I grew back even stronger.

The times of testing, though hard, are purifying.

They are like a forest fire that rages through the underbrush, ridding the overgrown forest of decay, clearing way for more sunlight, encouraging the growth of wild flowers.

And so, as the fire does for the forest, God does for us.

He clears out our weeds to make room for his light. And in it, we blossom. It is in these times — and often only through retrospect that we realize: had we never felt the fire, we would have never been able to bloom like a golden field of daffodils.

In a month or so, we’ll cut off the dead foliage of our garden plants to the roots.

Day by day, we’ll watch the green grow fuller and thicker. We’ll watch the flowers peek with tiny petals. We’ll barely remember the dreary days of barren branches — for all we’ll see is the beauty of life made new. We’ll admire the Spring with a glass of iced tea. We’ll feel the warm sunlight on our skin.

If you are in a season of winter — so it is with you.

Spring will come. It always does.

“It is very often the case that just when the soul believes itself lost that it gains and profits the most.” — St. John of the Cross

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A story of two types of mothers

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She was an only child born on a summer afternoon. A shy sort, she stayed close under the wing of her persnickety mother — the “helicopter” type who constantly fluttered about over her young one.

If little one wandered, she quickly corralled her. Her body language said: it’s a dangerous world out there. Little one heard the message loud and clear. Little one didn’t stray.

Three months later, little one’s sister was born — a darling thing with the sweetest face you’ve seen. This was a half-sister, born to another mother, from the same father. Surprise twist, you see.

However, the little sister’s mother was another sort. She was a gypsy-soul with oil-black hair and an appetite for adventure. When her baby was born, she followed her cues and nudged her gently, saying: you can do this, go on, go on! 

Well, time has gone by — and the story is quite predictable.

The first only child, never allowed to stretch her wings — she still stays cooped up, most comfortable within the confines of the only world she knows to be safe.

The half-sister, though, she’s grown into her own. A self-confident girl ready for what life throws her way.

And where is their father, you may ask? I knew you’d ask about him. And all I can say is what anyone would say who knows him: he’s a cocky sort.

A loud-mouth, really.

Seems to think he has it all figured out.

But what else would you expect from a rooster?

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