Monthly Archives: December 2011

Three

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Dear Luke and Lane,

We just celebrated your third birthday. An orange and pink party—as you requested—because Brother’s favorite color is orange and Sissy’s favorite color is pink.

I took a moment last night to just look at each of you for some time. To gaze. To capture you at this moment in your life. Not just a photograph, but to take you into my memory and carry that image with me.

Here’s what I saw . . .

Luke, to me, you are this unique combination between your dad and my dad. I love that about you. Your wide, Fred Flinstone feet, your big hands and big head, your fair skin, your beautiful light green eyes, and your dad’s face in most ways. When the doctor held you up over the blue surgical curtain on the day you were born, I didn’t recognize you. I didn’t know your face. And your infancy was about the two of us getting acquainted, and I have fallen in love with you. Now, it’s as if you are the most familiar thing in the world to me.

You have a purity about you that catches me off guard almost every day. Very, very clear on your preferences. And yet, also very deferent to those you love. Like your father, you don’t miss a detail in the world around you, always pointing out a lone hawk, the moon, an ant in the grass. You keep me aware of beauty. You keep me present. “Her needs her mommy,” you say if a little girl is crying at the playground. Tuned in to everyone and everything.

I like the way you debrief your day with me right before you fall asleep at night, often rehearsing the things that didn’t go quite right, that puzzled you, that worried you. I feel like I could break in two listening to such significant things come out of such a little man. I love you.

Lane, you are dark, which is different from me, and yet you have so many of the other traits of the girls in my family. When the doctor held you up to show me your face for the first time, one minute after I saw Luke, I knew you immediately. Your face was exactly as I expected. And yet, since then, you have developed this little twinkle that always keeps me guessing, makes me wonder what you’re up to, and most of all—who you are becoming. You are beguiling, and you are beautiful.

I can’t wait to see you with Baby Sister. When I found out we were having a girl, my first thought was you. How thrilled you would be to have a little sister and what amazing companions you two will be.

I love that you’d rather we sing you “Cat and Mouse” and “Rye Whiskey”—drinking songs—before you go to sleep instead of any kind of sweet lullaby. This is so quintessentially you. Spirited, creative, clever, brazen.

At least once every day, you grab my hand and say, “Mommy, can you come sit with me?” and you just want me to be by you. You have always needed a lot of close, physical attention. And it soothes me and calms me to be near you. In many ways, I feel as though I have always known you. Since you slept most of your entire infancy, we have spent a lot of time just cuddled up together. I hope we always do. I love you.

My greatest joy, Luke and Lane, has been to watch the incredible bond that you two share. You are so distinct from each other, and yet you are so connected. It’s an amazing thing to witness.

Raising twins presents challenges, and I have often wondered if we have been able to give you what you have each needed to begin your journey of becoming in this world. But when I see you two together and the great love you have for each other—this unexplainable knowing—I see that something profound has happened right before my eyes over these last three years.

We watched you snuggle up to each other in the womb, and the miracle of two separate lives interconnected in such a unique way continues to unfold each and every day. I am so profoundly grateful to have been a part of this miracle.

My very favorite picture of the two you remains the one that the nurses took in the hospital with you swaddled together into one big blanket, in daddy’s arms. He has a surgical mask over his nose and mouth, but you can tell by his eyes that he’s smiling the most full-tilt smile.

It was like we just got handed the most absolutely-no-words-for gift. Three years later, I’m still speechless in so many ways. Shocked that we’ve all survived these early, intense days. And also silenced by the unspeakable gift that is you two.

Happy Birthday, Luke and Lane.

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Reflections on My Birthday

I turned 36 on the 16th. More than anything today, I feel thankful. Not in the cute or glib way that you might use the word thankful because you don’t want to share what’s really going on. Thankful sums it up for me because it’s been a hard year—culminating in a really hard late summer and early fall—and I’m so thankful to be in a calmer, quieter space in my own soul at this moment.

I look back on this year and think about a beautiful one-day retreat I did in March with the women of Menlo Park Pres church at the reverent grounds of the Mercy Center. We spent the day talking about the soul’s journey of Exile to Belonging. I was just six weeks pregnant at the time with little knowledge of what was ahead. Little knowledge of the journey I would be taking later that year, a journey that has been, yet again, about the passage from exile to belonging, as life so often is.

We were still hanging in the balance, wondering if we’d be able to come to Bahrain with Steve or if our family would be living apart for a year.

Soon after that retreat, I miscarried, and we still waited and waited and waited to find out if we would be moving or not. Looking back, I remember a blur of exhaustion and sadness. A feeling of helplessness. As I wrote then, the feeling that something inside me had been silenced.

In very early May, just five weeks after the miscarriage, I spoke at a weekend retreat in the Seattle area. I spoke about the recent loss, and how badly I was upside down, grieving and not knowing if we’d be able to go with Steve or not. I have never been so raw in front of such a large group of people. The women there shared their own pain with each other and with me—one particular story of a young woman who lost a baby at 28 weeks that I will never forget—and somehow the solidarity started a tiny spark of healing in me.

Steve got his orders with such little lead-time and we packed him up and got him on a plane and I remember standing outside our rental house in Mission Hills, holding Luke while Lane still slept inside, putting Steve in an orange cab as he sped off to the airport. Not exactly sure when we would see each other again.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, I got pregnant again. Still not sure how that happened. I remember trying to get in touch with Steve to tell him I was pregnant, and having to hold onto that news for three days before I could finally get in touch with him on skype to let him know. And I remember his shock. Mine too.

Shortly after, we found out that we’d be moving, too, adventuring—yet again—to the Middle East. But this time with toddlers and a brand new little baby budding. And all the sickness that follows.

Commence one million details necessary to move across the world and the tireless help of my mom and Steve’s mom during those demanding days.

Next, I remember hazy goodbyes to my closest friends, feeling as though I was underwater about half the time. Overwhelmed. Hormonal. In such incredible shock I could barely cry.

We stopped off in South FL to see my siblings and their families—a circus of 7 kids and all the accompanying adults under one roof—making the most of swampy summer weather. And then Jamie joined us and we got on the plane to make the long trip to Bahrain.

I remember the first few months here like a scald. A hot boil that left me raw. Steve traveling. Our stuff somehow mistakenly put in long-term storage back in San Diego and the news that it was going to take so much longer to get our belongings and get settled. Steve traveling. The realization that you can’t just take your two toddlers out to the park when it’s a 120+ degrees outside. Ramadan. Plagued by mothering guilt and those howling monkeys in my head. Losing Steve’s grandfather. Steve traveling.

Never wondering if we made a mistake coming. Just wondering when I would feel better, settled, at ease again. Cue the self-contempt. Wishing I could be one of those women who could just do it all better.

Late fall, the heat evaporated and it all cooled off. I mean that in every way. And now, as I think back on this year, I am so thankful, grateful, hopeful, in awe. That we have come through it all and we are together. What more could I possibly ask for on my birthday or ever? That I get to wake up next to my husband. That I get to love these two precious maniacs, Luke and Lane. That I get the profound gift of growing another baby. That I get to put life into words and give that to others. That Christ remains with me. Even on the far side of the sea. Even here his hand guides me and holds me fast.

As I opened gifts and emails and texts and read all sorts of messages on Friday, I was undone by the great enveloping love of my tribe. And the words that kept coming to me were Thank You (breathed in the direction of countless vigil-keepers, including Christ himself). Thank You that we survived this year, and that despite its desolation at times, I have always received the gift of consolation.

As I have said before, and I believe more than ever, there is great beauty in foreign places. Discovering this beauty is never convenient and is hard-won. Such difficult news for me, as I’m too often tempted to stop at glamour when my soul really longs for beauty.

Yet, I’m seeing right before my eyes, an unfolding. That life rarely stays in the scald forever.

Thank you. And thank you again. For coming near. For delivering me. For your great love. I am held so entirely.

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Bacon Soap

We are a bit short on glamour this year.

All four of our birthdays are in December—the Pirate’s is today!—and that means a level of general feverishness descends on my psyche that I try to keep from turning into total hysteria.

Currently, my holiday is epitomized by the following: I find myself tearing up while singing “Tender Tennessee Christmas” as loudly as possible while the fake fireplace DVD crackles from the television. Pine scented candles. Plastic tree. Toddler trenches.

Today, I gifted my husband with “Bacon Soap.” That probably sums things up for you.

This is not the first year the glamour-meter has been low.

At this very time three years ago, I was finishing my Christmas shopping at the Mission Valley Target in San Diego, and I was GREAT with child(ren). So great, in fact, that when I came back out to my car with my purchases, and a car had pulled into the spot next to mine, I could not—no matter how many different directions I maneuvered—squeeze my substantial self into the gap between my car and theirs.

A few weeks previously the same situation had happened, and I was able to open the back of the car and crawl through the entire length of our vehicle into the driver’s seat. But those days were long gone.

My only option was to wait until a seemingly kindhearted stranger crossed my path and ask her if she would be willing to help me out of a tight spot, literally. Such a woman presented herself, and I handed over my keys to someone I had not known 5 seconds earlier, and asked her if she would pull out my car. “Well isn’t this what Christmas is all about?” she said to me through such deeply empathetic eyes, I knew I must have actually looked even more rotund than the world’s fattest Santa stuffed with two oversized elves.

A couple of weeks later, on December 23, the elves arrived. All 7 lbs 7oz (Luke) and 7 lbs 9oz (Lane) of them. Full of all kinds of life.

Sometimes—and I am learning this slowly and painstakingly—beauty outshines glamour.

A few nights ago, we attended a Christmas tree lighting event on base, complete with live nativity featuring an authentic Middle Eastern camel. All Lane wanted from this evening was to get to touch baby Jesus. So we made our way over to the nativity and she was pushing her way into the scene, wanting to get a better look at baby Jesus’ face.

Mary was played by a young pre-teen girl with braces, and she held a white gym towel all wadded up in her lap with no real sign of a baby inside the bundle. Joseph stood over them, looking like he could be Mary’s father. The camel swatted excretion from his tail onto bystanders.

Lane kept pulling Steve’s hand, wanting to actually enter the nativity so she could touch the baby. Mary laughed uncomfortably not really knowing what to do. But Joseph bent down on one knee and motioned to Lane to come toward them. “You can touch Jesus,” he told Lane. And she reached out and patted the white towel like it was the most beautiful baby she had ever seen.

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Wild Rides

IMG_0030We’ve been utterly resuscitated by Steve’s parents’ nearly month-long visit. We were in need of extra hands, energy, company, familiarity. And they showed up with all of that in large and generous doses.

Showing them around our lives here has been meaningful to me. Joanie had visited in 2004, when we lived here previously, but Bill had never been. Taking them to the Souq, the Grand Mosque, our favorite carpet store, our favorite restaurants (Café Lilou, Monsoon, Copper Chimney, CoCo’s), and also showing them the everyday—the base, the kids’ school, the mall, the grocery store—all of it added up to a feeling of being seen here.

Something important happens when you are far away from “home” and familiar faces show up to witness you in your new life. Like you are visible once again.

We also struck out on a little adventure together and spent three days in Dubai. Just a quick one-hour flight—which is about all I can handle at this point in my pregnancy—and we were in another country. We sat on the beach and played in the sand, floated in the pool, ordered room service, and went to the aquarium. I even braved the “torrents” and “rapids” at the water park. Seven months pregnant, bouncing around in an innertube. Not spectacular. But very, very fun. Luke saying to me the whole time, “This is a wild ride, Mommy. A wild ride.”

I still can’t believe they let very pregnant women and small children, almost babies, on that wild ride, but we all made it out. Whooping and woo-hooing like only Americans can do.

As adventurous as I felt on the rapids, the highlight of the last month, for me, was visiting the Grand Mosque with Steve’s parents and seeing “Fatima” again after 8 years. She was the young woman—just 19 then—that took me on the tour of the Grand Mosque that I later wrote about in chapter 16 (“dying”) ofFound Art. Something in our interaction back then forced me to look at the whole concept of desire as it related to my spiritual life.

When I walked into the mosque all these years later, I recognized her practically immediately even with everything covered except her eyes. Still so petite and such big brown eyes. The tour hadn’t changed much at all in eight years, but I listened to her as if I had never heard any of it before. I couldn’t believe I was back in that beautiful place, with her, after what feels like a lifetime later.

We stood in the upper level, the woman’s prayer hall, overlooking the main prayer hall, as the Muezzin offered the call to prayer. The first time I had ever been inside a mosque during the call to prayer. Standing there in a black abaya and head scarf, it was like we were in another world.

My mother-in-law told Fatima about my book, and Fatima gave me her email address. I’ll have to take her a copy someday soon and tell her what she has meant to me. Maybe we will go to coffee and talk spirituality. Maybe we’ll talk marriage as she is considering a proposal right now. Maybe we’ll just talk about what it means to be a woman in this world. I’d like to think I will see her again.

When we left the mosque, she kissed me on each cheek and asked me to pray for her. In Islam, it is believed that a pregnant woman’s prayers are twice as likely to be heard by Allah. I said I would pray, and she padded off—in her black socks—back into the Mosque. I tucked away the neon green sticky note with her email address on it. I say a prayer for her when I see it. And I smile to myself at the wild, winding ride that is life.

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