the time I welcomed the storm

I almost did it, gave into the madness. Throughout the day it wiggles its way into my thoughts and what a victory it is to say I’ve told it, each and every time, no, just no. You can’t steal my joy. Because today, today the sun is shining. Birds are chirping their song through the trees’ whistling leaves. My girl is doing silly somersaults in my belly. I’ve no time for anything other that sitting and dwelling in each beautiful truth present here and now.

“The calm before the storm” he said slyly, with sultriness. We sat on the rooftop underneath said tree, the landlord’s puppy running about under our feet, resting from time to time in the shade under our chairs. My girl was still dancing when he said it, reminding me the storm is coming. But what a beautiful storm. I can see it rolling in, all thick and filled with wonder. I welcome it, prepare in prayer to embrace it. I could run, I’ve chosen that way before. I’ve never found a path, though that the storm did not reach. It is only safe inside and tucked away from all that’s beautiful and terrifying that I couldn’t hear it’s roar. And it’s not because of the strength of our legs that we won’t be knocked down. It’s because of the truth that reached up from the ground to root us in surrender.

The storm descended. It settled into us, warm and inviting. Yes, terrifying.

At 3 a.m. on March 21st Charlie told us she was ready to make her way into the world. Right on time, my darling girl, right on time. My body shuttered to wake at such a powerful surge. Later on, much later, I’d laugh at what I’d then thought was powerful. But wake I did. Sleep came in waves, ten minutes at a time only to be reminded again by the imminent arrival of the baby that had rested so soundly in my belly for nine months.

Cooper held me as I lay in wonder at what my body was beginning to do, what it was about to accomplish. In time, it would bring life into the world. New life all fresh and goopy and beautiful. That life would be mine but all its own. She would have her own dreams, her own preferences, her own desires. But she didn’t know it yet. All she knew then was that she was moving down, away from her cozy safe space. Was she scared? Such bouts of thought stole away any sleep I could have accomplished. But I didn’t mind. Through the morning I rode the waves of early, easy contractions. I let my breath move me through the tightening of my abdomen. I delighted in every moment, awaited every minute. I was present in a way I’ve never been.

It felt like it took forever for the sun to poke through the night. I had wanted this day to come for so long, built an entire list for how we would pass the time. In anticipation I’d posted up prayers and promises around the house. I’d built a playlist of thoughtful, prayerful, playful, peaceful music. I’d planned to bake a birthday cake, go for walks, watch movies, talk about the future, pray. I wasn’t afraid. Fear, for me, faded around month 6 or so. At that point I was just ready for it — excited, even. I was excited to see what I would endure, to do it with my God who made me to be able to do it. I was excited to feel something I’d never felt before, excited to labor and work to bring this girl into the world.

We decided around month 4 or 5 to have our baby in our home with the help of a midwife and, as far as possible, without any epidurals or interventions. I’m not the overly granola type, though. It wasn’t because I don’t believe in medicine or doctors because I do. I really do. But hearing about having a child naturally, in my home, was the first time that it didn’t seem like a terrifying, imminent trauma I had no way of escaping. It was the first time I felt empowered and capable. It made me feel all these excited things. Having the freedom to learn what I was about to do gave me the confidence that I could do it. The adrenaline started long before the contractions and I was ready to roll.

The day full of labor ensued much like I’d planned. I baked a vanilla cake with lemon buttercream frosting between contractions. I went for a long walk with my husband and ate fried chicken for lunch. I watched Guardians of the Galaxy with my birth team. However, the plot was confused by the building intensity of fits in my abdomen. I stopped being able concentrate and found myself on my elbows and knees, eyes closed, and taking long, deep breaths to make it through them.

The midwife came over and by the looks of things (i.e. me keeled over an exercise ball trying really really really hard to relax through the pain), I was progressing well. At about 7 p.m. she guessed I was 4 or 5 centimeters dilated. We kept on keeping on. The contractions got heavier, I even cried. Cooper rubbed my back while I rested my head on the couch. Right on track, apparently. But a 10 p.m. internal exam took all the confidence I had and laughed in its face.

16 hours into labor I was only 2 cm dilated and my spirit was absolutely crushed. All the hype, the encouragement had given me this false sense of confidence. Before that I felt great, lively, powerful, capable. I felt so proud at what I’d endured up until that point, like a rockstar. They said I was a rockstar. But now I was exhausted … ready to either have a baby or go to bed. I couldn’t fathom going through another 16 hours of this — harder than this — in the state I was in. Through a foggy inability to stay present and heavy eyelids I heard a conversation about what we would do.

The hospital is down the street.
We could get that shot to pause the contractions.
She could get some sleep.
We could wait another hour to see if she’s progressed.
She should just have a glass of wine and try to sleep.

Stop. Let’s pray. Why were we trying to do this on our own? If it was up to me and any ability I possessed I would have stopped then and there, got into a car and gone to the hospital for my epidural. I couldn’t do it on my own. While God may have made our bodies capable, he made our hearts to need Him. And need Him I did. I didn’t have the will, or the mental capacity at that time of night to make such a decision.

We prayed for the contractions to get more efficient. We prayed that I would move further along. We prayed for rest. We prayed for trust and endurance.

The decision came to do some sifting exercises and to just make our way through the next three hours. One step at a time, Taylor, God said.

3 hours, weird baby shaking exercises, and some shifty bouts of sleep later I was 4 cm dilated. Confidence and competence came pouring back in a weird, sort of hazy way. I was on autopilot. Sleep contracting, if you will. At one point I thought I’d be able to wash my face, start fresh and watch TV. Haha. The next 4 hrs I’d rapidly progressed to 8 cm. All I remember is the taste of vomitty banana and feeling really bad for having spewed it all over my midwife, feeling really cold when there wasn’t a contraction and really flushed when there was, trying so hard to relax my muscles when they did come, and crying out in all my weakness to Jesus.

Jesus, I need you. Jesus, I need you. Jesus, I need you. It was all I could utter.

Some stories I’d read before it started said not to call it pain. Call them waves. Call them intense. Call them experiences, they said. But for me, contractions were painful. They were the hardest things I’ve ever endured and I couldn’t, wouldn’t do it without divine strength. Perhaps God uses some people’s labors to show them their strength. He used mine to show me His. Because I had none. I leaned into the strength of my husband and into the strength of my maker. I wanted it all to be done much sooner than it was.

One step at a time, Taylor, God said

It felt like He wanted to take all that confidence I’d built up over the months, all that exhilaration and excitement and eagerness, and show me that it has no place other than at His feet. No matter how strong or capable I am, I am so much more at the feet of Jesus.

I breathed. I cried out. I slept. Breathe. Cry out. Sleep.

It was painful. But in a beautiful way. Like a storm. The thunder is loud but it’s majestic. The rain is heavy but there’s a calm in the way in dumps. The clouds are dark and thick but there’s comfort in their warmth, the way they close in and make the air so you can touch it. That’s how the pain was. Each time a contraction passed felt like a finish line. Every rest was savored. I even snored through a couple of them. But every contraction was a moment that I was able to cling to and sing to Jesus. Jesus.

I knew I’d need him. I knew I’d need a miracle. I knew I’d need what I didn’t know I’d need. He was so near I could have hugged him. In the most feeble of moments, the most painful contractions were when I felt Him nearest. So yes, bring on the pain. His nearness is sweet enough to endure the pain.

In 2 more wild, dizzy hours she came. Charlie. I didn’t see her goopiness or her purpleness. I didn’t realize how much blood I’d lost or that they were still pulling stuff out of me. I’d forgotten all about the past 29 hours. I had my girl and she had me. Now all I want to do is tell this story. I saw her tiny body and knew she’d endured every bit of discomfort I had. Now we just get to love her, be patient with her, get to know her. And I get to tell her this stories and all the others where I’d not done a single thing by any strength of my own. But by the strength of a God who made me, who loves me, who holds us through the storms.

She

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I don’t know her yet, but it’s like she knows me better than I’ve ever been known. She knows my insides. She rolls quite close to my heart that beats, my lungs that breathe. Inside and out, she’ll see her momma, all the good and all the bad. I was afraid at first before we knew to buy pink or blue. I was afraid, whatever she’d be I may not be enough. And that may be true. It may be true I won’t soothe her every ache, she won’t understand my every move. But knowing, just knowing that there beneath a belly button coming out from hiding is a living, breathing girl. A beautiful girl. A perfect girl made by perfect hands. She has all she needs, even now. Her heart is beating, her lungs are breathing. Thank you.

The time until her has been more than I could have ever dreamed. She has a way of doing that, doesn’t she? Reminding us of all the good and making us forget all the bad. The moments I didn’t know I’d make it are suddenly, in a whole new way, worth it. With every kick, the world I thought I knew turns its face and shows me a side I’ve never seen. It just keeps getting better. Even when it doesn’t.

Before we know it, our world will change. That’s what we’re made for, isn’t it? Whatever’s not in front of us, what’s always coming next. We’ll wipe our tired eyes, and agree it’s just like they always said it would be: hard. It will be hard. It’ll be life. It’ll be sweet, too. Like the smile she’ll smile and the coos she’ll coo. She’ll win us over, she already has. We’ll know deep down we were made for this, this very moment.

We’re telling a story, each and every one of us. It’s the same story, really. We’re all searching, some of us are finding, some of us are fine with always searching. This story of infinite love unfolds a little more before me. Like the day I said “I do”, I saw the cracks in the sky as heaven broke through. And now, her. She’s telling this story, too. She’s here, but she’s not. She’s now and not yet. She’s the tension. Reminding us to brace ourselves, but to look around and find it now, this life we all crave.

 

Dirty Dishes

“This is one of those things,” he said. I wasn’t sure what he meant but I cocked my head to the side, inclining an ear, offering him to explain why the piles and piles of dishes in the kitchen were one “one of those things”. “Whenever I see this,” he continued, “I think, man that was a good night.”

I shared his enthusiasm, in a way. Because of his remark though, I didn’t hesitate to pass over the sponge and soap. “If you’re so jazzed about it, you do it,” I laughed. But truly, I do know what you meant, darling. These stacked plants and balancing cups were filled with food, with coffee, with wine — food that we made here in this kitchen with our own hands. There was probably jazz music floating through the house. I’m sure I pushed the cat off the counter a dozen times while I attempted to make hummus *hopefully she didn’t get a taste … no one wants cat tongue to have been in their snack*. And these things, this coffee, this food, sat in the bellies, on the laps, and in the hands of people, people who we love. It’s possible that before they arrived I was a bit in a frenzy, wondering what they’d think of the paw prints on the walls, the stain on the couch, or the dust in the corner. I may have distracted myself at first with stirring, pouring, or wiping something. I usually give myself just barely enough time to pull myself together as they walk through the door. To pray a silent plea that I would be able to put aside my self-centeredness. Sometimes God answers and by the time the early-comer (whoever they are) pops into the kitchen for a “hi,hello,howareyou?” I’m unaware of the mess I’m making or the things I haven’t done yet. Unaware enough to be completely present, utterly at ease.

We’re introverts, it’s true. The test … it said so. I do know that we never regret the days when we draw the curtains, put on a faux fire, and seldom move from the couch or utter a word. But I also know I LOVE people. Everyone, really … even the ones I don’t. I love that they’re all so different. I love that some connect while others don’t. I love that some like brussel sprouts and others are repulsed at the thought — how very intricate a God would create such intricate beings. I love what we all say about the God who created us. I even love awkward silences … you know the ones: that person has never been to your house before and neither of you particularly enjoys small talk. So you wait a while with a silly smirk and hope some topic interesting enough to last the night comes through the initial fret of disconnect. By the end of the night, you’ll probably be belly laughing and perhaps you won’t even remember what you were afraid of.

So thank you enneagram, Meyers Briggs, and all you other aptitude tests for the information … but don’t put me in your box.

And sometimes the fact that we deeply enjoy people gets in the way of our introvertedness, our desire for solitude and quietness. But who cares? There’s just no better feeling than being around people who make you feel at home and who feel at home around you. The tiredness afterward is even some sort of bliss. And I guess the dirty dishes aren’t so bad either. When we lock the doors after the lingering conversationist has put their shoes back on and wandered on to the rest of their evening, I grunt and grumble at the mess we’ve made. Leave it to my husband, the pessimism to my optimism and the liveliness to my tiredness, to show me it’s just another lens with which we can look at the beautiful life we live.

Eating With My Hands

Last night, eating daal and bhat on the ground and with my hands, because really it’s better that way, I noticed the subtlety of God. His presence sometimes slips in without being noticed and sets around your shoulders like a shawl. I was lucky enough to catch it’s glimmer, to pause in that moment and notice. Moments, where you find you’re completely at ease without having to try, are hard to come by.

I think so much. Especially in contexts like these: unplanned events, people I don’t know very well, expectations looming. I picture my brain as pacing around in my skull, not ever landing on certainty but always dancing with possibility. I’ve fallen victim to a fickle soul too many times. How sweet are the moments when I’m alert enough to realize that though I would normally be, I’m not at all worried or anxious? There, in a kitchen in Boudha, I tapped into a sense of belonging that I wasn’t trying to earn.

I poked into the kitchen, shyly and with my arms crossed. I’m always afraid I’ll try too hard, to be seen and to be liked. It can be especially hard to tell when you’re unable to take part in the casual banter that takes place. That’s ok … I was never good at banter or chit chat in my own language, let alone one I’ve barely begun learning. I offered my help, like a good American. And like a good Nepali, she looked at me at giggled — I assumed that meant no. But it smelled perfect, the concoction of ginger and garlic she was pressing into the mortar and pestle. “Seasoning for the chicken,” she responded to my inquiring stare. We were having chicken and saag and, of course, as no Nepali meal would be complete without it, daal and bhat (or as we Americans like to call it, lentils and rice). A little red stool invited me to take a seat and I listened to the chatter, picking out a few words here and there, resisting the urge to chime in. Because I knew it would be less so I could participate and more so I could feel I had something to say. But I really didn’t, so I settled into the contentment of listening — smiling when they smiled, laughing when they laughed.

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While the lentils softened in their pot, and the conversation dimmed, I wandered into the other room and sat on the floor. I fanned out the pages of familiar chords and lyrics above my crossed knees. Unsure of what to do, and ignoring the yearning noises the smell from the kitchen was inspiring in my stomach, I closed my eyes and started to sing. I’d sung these songs a million times, at church back home, on a stage with lights, following the direction of the band leader. Here, in such a new context, cross-legged on the ground, in a room instead of a building, daal bhat cooking in the room next door, the song was the same. I went there that night to prepare worship for the next morning. I had no idea what to do. I was only a vocalist, not a musician. “Who cares,” a powerful and quiet voice reminded me all evening, “I’m the one you’re singing to.” And here, thousands and thousands of miles away from home, He is still the one I sing to. One friend came and sat down next to me. She picked up a guitar and hummed a harmony along with my melody. Two people, worlds away and yet so near, singing to the sweet Savior of all.

We took to the kitchen, the three new friends and I. A little more at ease and a little less awkward, I tested my Nepali and made simple conversation. More giggles. When they offered me a spoon with my plate of food I declined, to their surprise. “It’s just better with your hands,” we all agreed. So we sat and kind of talked and mostly giggled. Offering to eat with my hands, taking away that difference, was like breaking down a barrier between us. They were even more thrilled when I asked for a pepper, I wanted spicier. With my right hand, I formed small handfuls of perfect ratios of lentils, rice, and chicken. And with my left, I held a pepper to nibble between bites (call me American one more time, I dare you). Suddenly I found myself sitting, eating, and laughing without worry of what I had to say or do to belong. I just did. 

For months I’d been asking God for this, to feel exactly this way. Our community from home was rich and full, warm and normal. I wanted that here, in this new place. I never intended it to happen that night, I didn’t even mean to be there. It was only by chance and odd circumstances that I ended up in this room with these women. To my sweet surprise, I found myself in the midst of an answer to a very earnestly prayed prayer. Comfort settled about the room and right into my weary, longing bones. We need this, these moments where ease and belonging materialize without force, where we rest limp and heavy expecting nothing and utterly at ease.

Distance & Thankfulness

This year, I’ll celebrate Thanksgiving in a country that doesn’t recognize it as anything but an ordinary day. But that’s no reason not to be thankful. This year, we’ll continue the tradition of Thanksgiving breakfast but it will just be us and our cat. Maybe in the years to come, it will grow to include more. But for tomorrow, I’m thankful for our little family to be around the table. The solemness of not being with family builds in my heart an even greater thankfulness for them. Memories of last Thanksgiving, when I knew I’d be far away the next year, play around in my mind. I remember being thankful for so much:


I’m thankful for my mother-in-law’s eagerness to please a household, for her kind, honest smile that says, “It’s not perfect, but it will do.” I’m thankful for rambunctious children and the shameless opportunity to dance and play alongside them. I’m thankful for my sister-in-law, that she proudly walks out of the door the same woman she walked in as. I am thankful for her confidence. I’m thankful for my grandparents-in-law, the way they smile adoringly at their family, the way they perfectly arrange the fruit basket year after year. I’m thankful for my little brother’s long hugs, for the grown-up air he’s suddenly got around him. I’m thankful for my mother’s charm, that she highlights even the dullest of moments. I’m thankful for my grandmother’s charisma, that she is instant friends with whoever she sits next to. I’m thankful for my aunt’s quiet desire to serve, for my uncle’s exploding kindness. I’m thankful for my sister’s inclusiveness, she always makes me feel at home. I’m thankful for my stepdad’s encouraging words, the way he’ll always share a good thought about another. I’m thankful for my grandfather’s smile, for his deep, compassionate heart. I’m thankful always for my husband’s impossibly constant grace toward me, his insane love, and his awesome hugs.

 

 

A Normal Morning

Mom has always been a morning person. I’ll remember forever that big white robe she wore in the mornings when I was a kid. It showed her smallness, the bulky baggy thing that it was. I always knew the time to wake up was coming when I heard her shower shut off. The light from her room across the hall would drift into my bed and bring my sleepy eyes to open. It was a warm light, deep and orange with traces of steam coming from the open bathroom door. She’d slip on her robe. She wore it when she’d get me out of bed. She wore it while she read the Bible under a lamp on the couch. She wore it while she put on her makeup and blew her hair dry. She wore it while I stood next to her, borrowing her hairbrush and doing it like she did. She wore it while she made us breakfast.

There is something so pure, so preciously normal about the start of a new day. These days I like to wake up slowly, next to my husband and steal up all the time I possibly can close to his warmth. After a few tosses and a few turns, I know the time to wake up is coming when I start to think about the coffee.

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I’m thankful for the coffee, for the rhythm of setting the kettle on the stove and grinding beans while it comes to a boil. Sleepy fog slips away while the water settles into and the grounds and drip into the mug. I watch while I pour, smell it while its steam invades the morning crisp.

When coffee brews the day begins. After coffee–well during rather–there’s a conversation, a chat with God. Sometimes I tell him about the day I left behind, other times about the dreams I woke up from. If I’m feeling particularly bold, maybe I’ll ask something of him…like for him to show me his realness, his bigness, his trueness in the day that waits for me. He usually answers and tells me to enjoy him now, in the morning, in the normal, in the pureness. Cooper saunters into the living room usually around the time he’s hungry, which is usually when I realize I am too.

When breakfast ensues his day begins. I’m usually caught off guard and realize I’m hungry only when I’m starving. Deciding what to cook is usually a scramble. Scramble. Oh yes, eggs. There’s usually bacon, too. There should always be bacon. And then I find myself quiet again while beaten eggs bubble in their place and bursts of bacon grease threaten me when I get too close. I’m thankful for breakfast, for the rhythm of whipping eggs while the bacon cooks. I’m peculiar about my eggs and my timing’s been perfected with practice. I chew on cooling bacon while the rest of it cooks.23659793_1965735213436945_1727589657_o

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In moments like these, I’ve noticed, when I’m going about my breaking the fast of sleeping, do the thoughts bouncing around in my mind take a rest. For just a moment, I nestle into the present promise of a new day, and the simpleness of making food and coffee for it.

I join him on the couch, what’s cooked in my hands. And we eat. We talk about our talks with God, or about our dreams, or about the day that waits. We smile because we know it can always wait a little longer. And I think it doesn’t mind a bit if we stay here a moment longer to enjoy the cozy predictability before we venture into the inevitable unpredictableness of the rest of the day.

 

Rooftop Perspective

Two months ago I swung on a porch swing in the 70 degree, crispy California morning air. I took deep, sultry breaths. I smiled toward the busy hummingbird, who smiled back in his own way. I breathed a certain goodbye. Not that I’d never be back, but never back to that particular town as it was in that particular moment. All that had grown familiar… normal… to us, would soon be different. Southern California glimmered in a way I’d never seen in those last few days, as though it too was uttered to us its own, “until next time.”

Now I anywhere I sit I find myself engulfed in new, foreign, unfamiliar, and abnormal. Where I am now is much, much different than where I was then. Here, dust doesn’t seem to settle, rain hits pavement at unbelievable speeds, and birds chirp in strange octaves. Everything is different and when I open my eyes each day, I’m greeted with odd minglings of confusion and contentment, certainty and fear. My heart and mind are trying to process, I think, as if they’re their own entities with their own agendas. Their hardwiring is a touch out of whack and they don’t know what to feel, what to think.

In my grappling for words to match these paradoxical emotions, I often find myself tripping over unevenly cobbled pavement and falling onto the realization of the enormity of this world. Here on the other side there are people who live, think, eat, breathe, speak, and relate completely contrary to me. Sometimes, as the bigness of it all caves in and towers over me, I find I’m overwhelmed and claustrophobically gasping for air.

So I come up for air. Most housing complexes here have rooftop access, ours included. I go there often when I need a breath, or a chance to see it all from above it all without being in the midst of it all. I rest against the rail and get back to that breathing space. Up here from this perspective, I can see glory instead of confusion, purpose instead of chaos.  I see a beautyworthy of wow and wonder.  I see the vastness of the earth in wild shades of green. I see vibrant color sprinkled along soaring mountains and rolling hills, where people walk and work and love and seek. And I’m just one among the millions. With newfound breath I can sing over this place, take it all in and rest into those unfound words and unkempt emotions, trusting that the dust does and will settle.