lent sharing 2014

Since I started my doula work three years ago, my understanding of God has been blown wide open. I used to have a pretty clean idea of God – a sense of lots of edicts from on high and having his people keep out of trouble. Once I had spent a few nights in the labour and delivery ward with birthing mothers I had to reject that theory because it just doesn’t reflect the full truth of God.

My encounters with God had been mostly cognitive with a side of emotion: for example, the epiphany that Aslan represented Jesus when I was a child, or being bowled over by John Donne’s religious imagery in university. Those were amazing experiences.

But when I spent hours rubbing a labouring mother’s back while my own back ached to death, reminding her to slow down and breathe, when I was entrenched in the astounding miracle of new life while face to face with tears and sweat and blood and pain, then everything changed. God isn’t clean and thoughtful. Aslan is not a tame lion. Women are made in the image of God, and the work to bring babies into the world is holy, mystical work even while it’s smelly and gross and awful.

Before I became a doula, I didn’t understand the biblical references to God as mother. Even when Lucy was born, and I was smacked with the reality that I had birthed a living, breathing piece of my heart, I still didn’t understand. Holding the hand of a woman while she is in the grip of contractions so strong they feel like they will rip her in two, hearing her say “I can’t do this, it’s too hard, make it stop” while she does it, stares her pain and fear in the face and pushes through it, has shown me the power of the love of God. This isn’t the tender moment of rocking peacefully. This isn’t Silent Night. This is the love of God that roars like a lioness and lets herself be turned inside out to bring life to this world.

These women have given me the most awesome gift – while they pour their life into birthing their babies, they have shown me the wild, fierce, powerful mothering God.

wilderness

This is the piece I wrote for the Lent series at our church. They asked me to write a testimony based around the ideas of wilderness and coming home. 

 

For my English degree, I had to read a book called Descent into Hell. I almost couldn’t do it. The sentences dragged on for over a page apiece, there were several complex storylines, and it was bristling with theological allegory. I didn’t know it at the time, but the book that has made the strongest impression on me is one that I can’t bear to re-read.

The part that burned itself into my life was the theology of sharing burdens versus the soul-destroying power of isolation. One character is able to bear an impossible amount of suffering because another character has physically shouldered most of it, and for her, the weight is easy because it doesn’t belong to her. Meanwhile, a third character falls into a hell of his own making because he gradually cuts off all his relationships until he is completely alone.

When I was in the hospital for Lucy’s birth, I spent a whole night waiting for the induction to start working, but I couldn’t get much sleep. Instead I sat with my doula and listened to the other women on the high-risk ward having their babies. One in particular had come in at the same time as me; she was a diabetic single mother who had received no prenatal care. I never saw her face. I listened to her yell that she didn’t want to do this while the nurse tried to calm her down and prepare for her crowning baby. I was strapped to monitors and my IV but my heart was breaking for her. I wanted so badly to cross the hall and hold her hand.

Later, in the recovery ward, I saw a mother all alone staring at her baby crying in its bassinet. I don’t know if it was her, but I still wonder.

My experience of pregnancy and parenting has been far from amazing. In addition to the brilliant, shining moments and the everyday managing, I’ve never felt so isolated, anxious, and frustrated in my life. But I have a supportive husband, family, friend base, and church community. I may be too proud to ask for help, but at least there are people I can ask, and I know that I take this gift far too lightly.

Where is that mother now? Is she still alone? How much darker are her dark days than mine? I did my doula training because of her. I walk through pregnancy and birth and early infancy with other women because of her. I picked up a burden of emotional investment and sleeplessness because of a passion that was born just before my daughter.

Our culture does not celebrate weakness, or asking for help. We value pride and self-sufficiency to the point of condemning ourselves to crushing isolation. We refuse to acknowledge that by asking someone to share our burden, we are turning our back on hell. Even though I gladly stay up all night in a hospital room with mothers and fathers as I support them through childbirth, I don’t want to confess that my day-to-day life drags me down until I feel like shouting that I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to be stuck in an ordinary life anymore.

It stings to think that the theology that fuels my passion for doula work doesn’t extend to the rest of my life. It compounds my sense of inadequacy and guilt that I just don’t measure up, I’m not good enough, I’m not strong enough to live without help. I can pick up others’ burdens but it’s too scary to share mine, so I’m stuck between heaven and hell. The thing is, when I have let them out, the relief is mutual. My struggles aren’t unique.The weight of them is a lie.

I wish I could tell that labouring woman that she isn’t alone. I wish I could tell her how she changed me. I can’t. I can only move forward, awkward and clumsy, picking up the burdens around me while I try to learn how to share my own.

today i’m shrivin’

Today is Shrove Tuesday. Depending on your perspective, this can mean a few things:

1. Pancakes for dinner! Also possible: pancake dinner at church! (Double bonus of breakfast for dinner AND you don’t have to make it yourself.)

2. A giant party in which you can get all your carnal passions a great airing before you have to go into penitence mode for six weeks. You might as well make it worth your while, right?

3. The last day you can say hallelujah until Easter. (Seriously. Don’t do it.)

4. The day you have to decide what you’re giving up for Lent, i.e. chocolate. I used to give up chocolate for Lent. What a stupid idea. My birthday is always in the middle of lent, and it’s just not fair.

For the past several years, I’ve tried to add something, or make my Lenten discipline a proper spiritual discipline instead of just whining about not getting any chocolate. Lately I’ve had my alarm go off at 10pm to tell me to go to bed and at 6:30 in hopes that I wake up a minute before Rowan does. He’s a full-attention morning nurser, because if someone’s not paying attention, he will probably crawl over to Sam’s desk and pull his computer over. Why do small children have so much energy the second they wake up in the morning? It seems counter-evolutionary. Anyway, since I have more-or-less of a sleep schedule in place, I think I might try to read morning and evening prayer again. I stopped when Rowan was born for obvious reasons, and I really miss it. Nothing like starting the day by calling yourself a miserable sinner.

But I am going to take one day off of the ashes and sackcloth and penitence and grovelling to celebrate MY BIRTHDAY! WOOOO! I’m turning THIRTY in ONE MONTH and I am SO EXCITED. And three weeks after that, my littlest stinker turns ONE WHOLE YEAR OLD. I’m not really sure how these things happened, but there you are. Rowan is almost one and I am almost thirty.

I still won’t say hallelujah though.