holy stillness

photo (38)“Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalms 46:10

 

When I was 14 years old, I received a personalized blessing from our church’s patriarch–a man specifically set apart to commune with God on my behalf. On that Easter morning, the patriarch laid his hands on my head and channeled God’s heavenly message from the celestial ethers into my young heart. He repeated a warning throughout the blessing: I am to be prayerful in all things. Before I surge ahead toward any endeavor–big or small–I must first be still. This inspired caution has served me throughout my life. I have come to better understand the nature of God and my relationship to Him in my own moments of measured repose.

 

This year, someone very dear to me came out as transgender. As she unraveled feelings that had been tightly coiled within her for more than a decade, I felt the Spirit whisper to me, as it had so many times before, “Be still.” For those of us who have had close friends or family members come out as transgender, gay, asexual, or any other form of queerness, our first instinct may not be stillness but instead anxiety and agitation. If, in such unexpected moments, we can quiet the din of our own agendas and creates spaces of empathy and non-expectation, we can better hear what He would have us do, and our stillness is sanctified.

 

I am grateful for the LGBTQIA pioneers in my life who have shown me the different forms that holy stillness can take. My friend Kendall Wilcox has spent years creating opportunities for LGBTQIA Mormons and their allies to share their stories of heartbreak and restoration. In his documentary film Far Between, Kendall asks the question, “Can you be gay and Mormon?” and in so doing invites us to occupy the liminal space where questions and answers float unmatched and hopeful. In my experience, God is profoundly present in such liminal spheres because they are spaces of unknowing, humility, faith, and patience. They are spaces of waiting. They are spaces of holy stillness.

 

I hope to always honor the power of stillness, especially as I carefully consider questions regarding who we are and how we love. If I reverence my patriarch’s inspired request to make stillness a central practice in my life, I must slow down, be inert, sit upon my bed, and seek God. I must acknowledge His presence in my unknowingness, and I must believe that He will carve into my heart a still and holy space for His answers.

 

the birth of our baby fig

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And so began the birth of our baby fig…

 

2.30 am: Fast asleep, my eyes popped open to the sensation of little stabs in my lower abdomen. I had been experiencing period-like cramps all week, so I thought that maybe this was more of the same. I laid in bed for an hour, monitoring each twinge and tweak and realized that they were coming at regular intervals. I woke Jacob up.

 

“I think I’m in labor!”

 

“What should we do?”

 

“Go back to sleep!”

 

3.30 am: Jacob slept while I moved in and out of sleep and tackled strange dreams. My contractions were gentle enough at this point that they were a simple humming in my belly.

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7.00 am: The contractions were intensifying–a mallet beating on a drum–and I woke Jacob up for support. Still groggy eyed, he helped me time the length of each wave, brought me cool water, and rubbed my back. Drum beats in my abdomen. Six minutes apart. With each swell of pressure, I knelt on the ground and put my head on the floor. I tried to release tension in every muscle while silently repeating the word “surrender.”  Between contractions the world was clear and calm. I sat up and talked with Jacob about the spirit that was en route to our family. I felt hopeful and strong and capable.

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10.00 am: After a few more hours of laboring, I knew it was time to gather our support team. We called our doula and Jacob’s mom. I also sent a text to my dear friend KaRyn who then informed a close group of girlfriends that baby fig was on his way. Jacob and each of my girlfriends lit a candle in honor of my labor and upcoming delivery. I felt so loved by this powerful symbol of support and solidarity.

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10.00 am-3.00 pm: For the next five hours I labored in our basement with Jacob, our doula, and my mother-in-law. With each contraction, I knelt down and rested my head on the ground or in Jacob’s lap. No other position would do. With his hand on my back, Jacob spoke affirmations that we had learned in our Hypnobabies course. The sound of his voice helped me focus through each pressure wave, and I was able to release any fears lingering in my body. With each wave, Jacob placed a warm rice bag on my back while the doula used the strength of her body to put pressure on my lower back and hips. It was a heavenly release from the pain. I was vaguely aware of my mother-in-law’s hands on my shoulders. A feeling both familiar and comforting. Those five hours of laboring were marked by a godly stillness and an undercurrent of love.

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3.00 pm: When my contractions were about 3 minutes apart, I decided it was time to head to the hospital. Seeing as it’s only a few blocks from our house, it only took us 2 minutes to drive there…a monumental mercy for a laboring mother. When we got to the hospital I had several contractions on my way up to the labor and delivery floor–one at the entrance to the hospital, one in front of the elevator, and one at the check-in desk. I could feel the force of each pressure wave surge through my body–this time a cacophony of gongs and cymbals.

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3.00 pm-6.30 pm: Once in the triage room, I asked the nurse not to tell me how many centimeters I was dilated. I didn’t want to feel anxious about how much further I had to go. (I later found out that I was already dilated to 8 cm!). After monitoring my contractions, the nurses led me into the labor and delivery room.

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My doula started a bath while my mother-in-law hung my affirmations on the wall. My midwife arrived and waited quietly while I labored in the tub for an hour.

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The tub was too small to get very comfortable, so I ended up doing the rest of my laboring on the bed. Jacob held me while I collapsed into his body with each contraction.

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6:30 pm-7.25 pm: I was dilated to 10 cm but I wasn’t feeling any urges to push. My water still hadn’t broken, so I asked my midwife to break my water at which point my contractions became a grand symphony. I moaned out with each wave, my voice just one small part of the music that was flowing through me. With each contraction I bore down with every bone, muscle, and cell in my body. It was the most exhausting thing I had ever experienced, requiring me to dig deep, deep, deep into my core for some untapped well of fortitude. After each contraction I would fall back onto the bed and ask, “Are we almost there?”

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Finally, Ezra’s head emerged; the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around his neck. The midwife quickly and carefully pulled the cord off and invited Jacob to bring Ezra into the world. Jacob pulled Ezra’s slippery fish body out of mine.

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Neither Jacob nor I could believe it. Our baby fig had made his earthly arrival.

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7.25 pm-later that evening: The medical staff were concerned about Ezra’s coloring and breathing, so I was only able to hold him skin-to-skin for about 60 seconds before they ran him down to the nursery to assist him with his breathing. Jacob followed Ezra and the nurses while I stayed behind to finish my laboring. My mother-in-law and I awed over the placenta and talked about the miracle that had just occurred. In that moment I felt so profoundly aware of my place in things, so clearly cognizant of my role as a woman in this divine life circle.

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After they stitched me up, the nurse wheeled me down to the nursery to join Jacob and our baby. Jacob and I sat next to Ezra and held his fragile fingers while he took in life-giving breaths with the help of the CPAP machine. We watched the flush return to his body.  We sat together silently. A family. Feeling as if God had taken up a permanent residence in our hearts.

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*All photos courtesy of Liminal Spaces

you who are unseen

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In one of my favorite passages from the Book of Mormon, a missionary named Alma begins preaching among a community of people called the Zoramites. At the time of Alma’s visit, the Zoramites had reached a state of such self-delusion and fear that they had banned certain segments of the community from entering their holy spaces. “[The poor class of people] were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel–therefore, they were not permitted to enter into their synagogues to worship God, being esteemed as filthiness; therefore they were poor; yea, they were esteemed by their brethren as dross.” (Alma 32:2-3).

 

One afternoon, Alma sits down with several of these marginalized folks and one of them comes to Alma seeking guidance. The poor man says,

 

“What do we do? We have been cast out from the synagogues that we built with our own hands. We are despised by and invisible to our people. Where are we supposed to worship our God? Where do we find spiritual community and refuge?”

 

Alma hears this man’s plea for connection to God and to his people, and in a moment of pure grace Alma “turned [the man] about, his face immediately towards him.” (Alma 32:6).

 

This one simple gesture is, I believe, the beating heart of the entire chapter. For in this gesture–one man compassionately looking into the face of another–lies a profound and empathetic message: You, who are unseen? I see you.

 

 

For a group routinely rejected by their spiritual community, indeed literally hidden outside of their synagogues lest their appearance offend the wealthy, to be seen–really seen–would cause revolution in their souls. I can think of nothing more Christlike that Alma could have done than to look into this man’s eyes when no one else would.

 

***

 

My mom shared a story with me recently. My grandma is a widow and sits with a young man at church almost every Sunday–I think they have a found a friend in each other. This man is probably in his late 20s/early 30s, unmarried, and incidentally never takes the sacrament. My grandma is a guileless soul and makes room in her heart for all stripes. A few weeks ago, the young man handed my grandma a letter during sacrament meeting and asked her to read it after church.

 

As she read the letter later that afternoon, my grandma learned that this young man was gay (which she had already suspected) and that because of this he felt unseen and cast out by his spiritual community. He felt, as the poor among the Zoramites felt, that he was “esteemed as filthiness.” He went on to express his gratitude to my grandma. He thanked her for never judging him because he didn’t take the sacrament. He thanked her for sitting with him and being his friend. He thanked her for acknowledging him as a fellow saint who was worthy of love and belonging.

 

After reading the letter, my grandma started to cry. I don’t think she realized how transformative her simple gesture was. I don’t think she realized that by sitting quietly with this man every Sunday and creating a space of non-judgement, she was communicating that profound and empathetic message expressed by Alma: You, who are unseen? I see you.

 

My grandma, Alma, Jesus Christ: each remind me (in my more cynical moments) that there are those who deal in a currency of love so pure and so all-encompassing that to stand before them is to be truly seen. To be in their presence is to be truly known. I have found nothing in this world more comforting nor more transcendent than that.

 

 

an exercise in empowerment

photo(17)18 weeks vs. 30 weeks!

 

I am convinced that the size of my growing belly is directly related to the number of women who enthusiastically offer up their labor and delivery horror stories. One more inch gained, one more scary story shared.

 

After such exchanges, I am always left wondering, “Why, as women, do we share the most frightening parts of our birth experience? Why do we hover over the moments of greatest pain and uncertainty?” Perhaps healing is found in the retelling. Perhaps these stories are meant as a compassionate forewarning. Perhaps it’s the sheer thrill we get from sharing the shock and the awe.

 

But, you see, when you’re pregnant, you’re vulnerable. Your emotions are taut and bubbling over. Your belly is taut and bubbling over. In this state of vulnerability you want to hear about women’s strength in childbirth. You want to drink in their wisdom. You want to internalize their courage and triumph and acknowledge, with them, the guiding hand of God. You don’t want to bathe in their fear.

 

I’ve been reading a book called Birthing From Within that honors the innate capability of women’s bodies to give birth. The author suggests that moms-to-be talk with other mothers about the profound elements of their birth experiences and provides a list of possible questions to ask:

 

*What helped you most when you gave birth?

 

*What was your spiritual experience of giving birth?

 

*If you could do it over again, what would you do the same?

 

*Is there anything you would do differently?

 

*What do you wish you had known before hand?

 

From one mother to another, would you mind sharing your thoughts on one or more of these questions? (If your answer is too personal, feel free to send me a private email). I would love to be buoyed by your wisdom (and not burdened by your fears) as I step across the threshold into motherhood. Baby fig and I thank you.

 

a season of stillness, a year of hushed and humbled splendor

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Image: The Salt Lake Temple in all of its hushed and humbled splendor

 

One of the gifts of pregnancy is forced resignation. It requires a stepping down, a letting go, and a spilling out. My body is wholly intent on creating this little human and entirely uninterested in whatever other visions I may have had for myself. From what I hear, this act of surrender is the prelude to parenthood.

 

During this growing season, I have no choice but to lay dormant while my body engages in her divine errand. I am compelled to tether my pace and succumb to the slow passing of time. My energy wanes, and so I rest.

 

My physical body is not the only part of me that has ebbed. When it came time to create new year’s resolutions, I drew a blank. I had no lists of books to read or miles to run or meals to cook. No zealous spreadsheets with goals divided into categories and subcategories as I have in the past (not sure I should have admitted that). I decided that what I really wanted for 2014 was to just be present. It seemed obvious in that moment of year-end reflection that life, in her inevitable way, would refine me. I didn’t need spreadsheets and lists and goals to be exfoliated; I would evolve through the simple act of being.

 

I sat with a friend the other night and told her how delicious it feels to lack aspiration. I surprised myself. It almost seems blasphemous to admit that aloud, but it’s true. This is not my season of striving, it is my season of stillness. I love the way it feels so much that it bears repeating:

 

It is so fantastically freeing to bury the anvil of ambition for a time and just float quietly through life’s muted and mundane moments.

 

So here’s to you, 2014. I look forward to your year of hushed and humbled splendor.

this, our cold and quiet winter

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“I love your body in transformation.” –Husband

 

Winter is a brutal beauty.

 

It is a season of respite and release. Nature strips down to the absolute essentials. Branch. Ice. Frozen turf. There is a solitude in this simplicity that is requisite for reflection. With the onset of these stark months, the earth and my body shift inward.

 

I think about slumbering bears and ground squirrels buried in their dens. I think about this baby sleeping in my womb. Each animal body preparing in the darkness to emerge anew in the spring.

 

I think about my spirit growing quiet and my heart more observant. Hormones ensure that I feel everything more deeply. It is a more painful and purposeful existence. My primal body aches as it forms a new life and in so doing fosters a new self. This is the brutal beauty of pregnancy.

 

I think about transformation. Of the earth, of my body, of my soul. This trinity in transition is merely an echo of eternity. What is God but a heavenly alchemist who transforms dark to light?

 

To hear my husband tell me that he loves my body in transformation is to see a man who understands the necessity, the brutality, and the beauty of this, our cold and quiet winter.

on the precipice: five things i love

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Pregnancy fills the space in my days just as this little fig fills the space in my belly. It is so all consuming, so constant and ballooning.

 

Below is a list of five things I love about being pregnant (because heaven knows there are a fair share of things I don’t love. The sneeze-pee, anyone?) I love…

 

1. My changing body. I look in the mirror before I get into the shower and awe at how alien it looks. So weird and wonderful in its earthy, curvy presentation. There is no expectation to look any way but this way, and that is freedom.

 

2. Feeling little fig kicks. This morning he kicked so fierce I saw my belly bounce.

 

3. How pregnancy stirs up the sediment. All those emotional fragments that have rested, unaddressed, float to the surface. It seems to be the body’s way of purging the dross. For baby’s sake. And mine, too.

 

4. Being part of something primal and feeling so utterly elemental. My body knows, as only a woman’s body does, how to create new life. I feel as foundational as stone and fire.

 

5. Becoming part of a community of women who have traversed this trail before me–my mother, my grandmother, my girlfriends–and learning from them how to navigate these maternal dips and peaks.

 

If you are a mother or on the precipice of becoming one, what do you love about your experience?