amypretending

"All mortals tend to turn into the things they are pretending to be."

Working With What Is Left

“Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.”
Winston Churchill

 

There is something about being pregnant that enlarges your world, at least in my experience. In a mind like mine, prone to abstraction, the state breeds almost painfully exciting fantasies about the future. Another may feel her world shrinking at the sight of those double red lines and I understand that we are all different, but me – I see a new soul growing whose presence on this earth has the power to change and affect everything it touches, a thing of incalculable value capable of causing me more joy, or more pain, than anything else on earth. I see a new world sprouting. Lewis says,  “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” This is why, to me, as a carrier of one of these priceless, as of yet, blank slates, a pregnant woman is perhaps the most sacred thing on earth. To experience that privilege makes everything sort of recede into remoteness. The rest of it is all important still – but this – this gift – is all important.

And this is what I lost. And all the people around me, though most will never know, lost something too, with this single life that would have changed everything in ways no one will ever be able to say.

After I lost the baby, I gradually experienced everything coming back into focus, but it has taken effort and time. This life I meant to nurture till the end of my life, indeed would have been willing to give up my life for, was taking from my care and put in infinitely capable Hands. But what to do with these empty ones? Well, reach for what is left. And there is so, so much. The first thing of course was to fill my arms with my precious husband and son, to hold them ever more tightly. The second was to look at what has been left still to my care which will always be way, way more than enough. One of the most therapeutic things for me since the miscarriage was beginning to teach myself to sew and design. That was also a sprout inside me. It’s a part of me that God has always meant to nurture if only I would allow it. My earliest memories are of sketching clothing designs, an occupation that I could work at tirelessly and only be more and more energized by. In recent years, though, this inherent passion of mine been left pretty much in the dark without much water or sunlight. I get some kicks from putting together inventive outfits, piecing bits costumes together on Halloween when I can manage it, but nothing like the creative satisfaction of actually sewing something entirely new. I poured my emptiness and loss into this then. And I’d like to think that in their own way, my new calluses and scrapes from trying to learn this tricky and irritatingly precise art are a testament of love to this child I’ve yet to meet, and a testament of my faith in the purpose and beauty that will remain eternal — a small but significant reminder that death and loss will one day die… and we will be left with nothing less than everything.

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Just the Big Scary Unknown

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People don’t want their lives fixed. Nobody wants their problems solved. Their dramas. Their distractions. Their stories resolved. Their messed cleaned up. Because what would they have left? Just the big scary unknown.
Chuck Palahniuk

“You’ve been through a lot in your young life,” the doctor remarked with a slightly surprised frown.

 “More than it says in that chart,” I wanted to reply.

 The teary stains on my face kept refusing to dry as more hot tears glided down, silent and unbidden. I knew I had lost the baby, but being here in the doctor’s with the quietly empathetic nurse at my side and the somber doctor efficiently clicking through my medical history on the computer, it was all so horribly hard and cold and real. I felt the loss all over again, and perhaps even more acutely than when I’d first been told the “bad news” as the ER doctor had called it, with a small smile that I suppose was meant to be encouraging but at actually given me a horrible jolt of hope before he’d opened his mouth to speak.

 It’s been several weeks now. I lost my second child, only three months in the womb, on the fourth of July. I remember that fireworks that evening but in my mind they seem strangely silent and blurred, as if I were seeing them underwater, or as if someone had turned the sound off. In these weeks, I’ve grown to accept the strangely disconnected, infuriating, grasping feeling of losing a child that I won’t see in this life. It’s a strange way to mourn, having not a single memento but a snapshot of a positive pregnancy test. I accepted that perhaps I won’t feel the whole horrible sting of grief until the day I actually see my child, when all the pain of the loss will in the same instant mingle and explode with the joy of recovery. I’ll understand fully what was taken away, only when I also have it back.

 I’ve read the books, and according to them this grieving of mine is going fine. In fact, since I’m able to be around pregnant women and hold newborn babies without dissolving into an emotional wreck, I should, the books say, be emotionally ready to try again. And will we try again in November, a month that now fills me with excitement and a wringing feeling in my heart.

 I should have plenty on my plate then, right? Recovering from a miscarriage and caring for a very mischievous, high-maintenance, highly-lovable toddler, struggling a little every week to get my novel in a place where I feel I can show it to an agent… and yet I often feel that I’m not living up to… something. What is this something? Is it my “potential”? God’s will? My peers? I don’t know what it is but it haunts me, even in my happiness, even with all the joy in my life and all that I’m so grateful for. I saw this quotation this morning and it got me thinking: Do I really, really want these distractions removed so I can somehow get on with my life? Or do I embrace them as excuses for not trying all that I dream of trying?

 I continued college classes and working as a freelance copywriter into my eight month of pregnancy with my now three-year-old son. My belly was so huge it wouldn’t even fit under my desk, but I waddled through it. I thought perhaps I’d take a short time off after he was born, just till he was sleeping through the night, till life had slowed down a little, as I always imagine it will. At eight weeks after birth, lo and behold, my little Ransom was sleeping through the night. And I was diagnosed with cancer. It was rare and shocking, and I still have to endure the incredulity and the questioning – “Can this be right, but you’re young and healthy!” –every time I see a new doctor. And yet it was real, and a real, real big distraction. I continued the part time job until my contract was finished, but I haven’t yet returned to school or work.

 So here I am, now cancer free and with the all clear to start trying to conceive another child after October if we want to, with fairly legitimate excuses for not being where I thought I would be. But I’m starting to wonder, am I getting too comfortable with all these oh-so-understandable excuses? I don’t want to be listing all the reasons I wanted to try this or that but couldn’t to my grandchildren someday. I want to be making them laugh at all the things I tried and failed, or sharing with them the things God gave me the strength to do in spite of … fill-in-the-blank. I want to do this, however, without forcing it. I don’t want to gain new ground at the expense of what I already have, what is most important in my life. But also want to take steps to outdistance the things I will later regret if I didn’t at least try.

 In only the last year, I’ve had a brand new recurring dream. I’m in my favorite place in the world – Monterey California. The problem is, I can never seem to get to the ocean. It surrounds me on all sides, and yet I’m somehow blocked from seeing the shore. Then I discover that my flight to go back home leaves in an hour. I try frantically to get one single glimpse of the ocean, to at least dip my toe in that wet, cold sand and breath in the kelpy, salty air till I have no choice but to close my eyes and smile for a second. But I can’t get there. I wonder why, why, why did I let myself be so distracted as to have not experienced the most important thing, and now the trip is over.

 I explained the dream to my Dad last weekend over a meeting for breakfast and he put it so simply, and perhaps summed up all my interior turmoil in recent years.

 “Sounds like a dream about fearing missed opportunities.”

 Of course, of course that’s what it is. And understanding that changes everything. So even if I have to fight my way inch by tiny inch through this endless muddle of oh-so-legitimate distractions to that big scary ocean of the unknown—the vulnerability of carrying another child, of getting my novel rejected, of returning to college after such a long hiatus— all of it which I desperately want yet half dread, I’m going to do it. Because it’s glimpsing that shore is going to be worth it all.

“I Love, Therefore I Am Vulnerable”

That’s from Madeline L’Engle’s Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. I picked up that little look on a whim at Barnes and Noble years ago, thinking in all honestly that it would be fairly lightweight, and yet it has fascinated and inspired me to no end. L’Engle talks a lot about in the book about things I like to ponder but still don’t have the clearest answers for, such as what makes true art, true faith, and what are our true names – who are we, really?

One of the most interesting parts of having a child (and I’m seven weeks into my second pregnancy, if you somehow missed me shouting it from the rooftops) is naming her. You’ll never get so much unsolicited advice, or so many comically dramatic reactions, as when you discuss with others that seemingly harmless question a belly bump inevitably calls forth: “Sooo, what are you going to name the baby?”

One of the things that makes me feel heavy during pregnancy, besides the sheer weight of my growing belly and that third dessert at 4am, is the incredibly vulnerability of this person I chose to help bring into the world, this person who has absolutely no choice in the matter. What I eat, what I drink, the medicines I take and physical activities I choose, even the emotions I feel, are passively received but this most innocent of creatures. I recently got to witness the infant baptism of the first child of some good friends, and the pastor pointed out that babies have an amazing ability to trust.  I found those words both beautiful and tragic. Indeed, babies must trust, and even as adults we are obligated to practice all kinds of trust every day if we choose to get out of the house at all, even if it is a wary trust. But as we’ve grown, we’ve realized we can’t fully trust even the best of human creatures. We can’t even fully trust ourselves.

I think parents try to develop all kinds of strategies to protect their children from the incredibly vulnerability of simply being alive. Some of these strategies are just plain sensible, too: teaching them that the stovetop will burn, that they can’t wander distractedly into the street without looking, choosing a reasonably safe neighborhood, choosing a school situation in which he will thrive based on his learning style and temperment and receive proper attention. But in what ways might be we handicapping our kids by eliminating potential conflicts? What’s the right kind of vulnerability – the kind that may bring pain but also makes life worth living?

I think to be oneself—the utterly unique person God created one to be—makes one incredibly vulnerable. So much safer simply to adopt an accepted persona, and run with others that share the same costume. Safer, yes – but over time it deadens one’s sense of one’s true self. And to be our true selves also means to love with our true selves, deeply… and to hurt deeply when that since love is reject, or that sincere trust is abused. I’ve been thinking about this because of the whole issue of naming. I hear it said a lot that we choose “safe” names for our children because it’s better for their self esteem – I’m assuming that’s considered  so because they won’t be noticed for having and unusual moniker, and possibly be hassled, for being different? But if we name a child for the sake of keeping their uniqueness to a limit, or not allow them to dress themselves for that reason, or not homeschool them because homeschoolers are considered weird, what message are we sending? Is it not, “Keep your head down, bury your true self, lose that self in the tide of the accepted and acceptable, and life will be much easier that way”?

I’m not suggesting that classic or simple names are bad, or that we should all name our little ones after exotic fruits. It seems to me like just as much of a mistake to simply infuse our own ego into our child’s name, thinking only, “What name will make me look like the coolest parent?” I think what’s actually important is that choosing a name be a prayerful process, letting love of the child and love of the name we give be our driving force, and not niggling concerns of how it might make the child different. Because like it or not, your child is different, and if they show it they will pay a price – but that price will be far worth the joy of living authentically. And because love, though it makes us vulnerable, is a far better driving force than fear.

A recent pic of my son, Ransom Miles, whose name means “Warrior’s Shield”, “Deliverance” and “Merciful Soldier”:

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He has already saved my life, by the way, so his name is fitting, but that’s for another blog post. 🙂

The Product of Strange Activities in the Human Mind….

I was thinking about how things are made. Ran is going to be three this Sunday, and I look at him now – this strong, interesting, funny, sometimes mysterious little boy and I think… He came from me? He grew in my belly? Hah! Yeah right.

I also get this feeling when I reread one of my stories that I haven’t dared look at in a while because, well, I was afraid it was gonna be just depressingly bad. I read it, I have to admit to myself that it’s okay, even kind of good in some places, and again I think, This came from me?

I think this might be why I love gardening. It’s so strange that so many beautiful, healing, or even dangerous things can sprout from a single seed or tiny bulb, out of earth that we might be tempted to think is just dirt, dead, in open air that can seem so unfriendly. And then I think how so many beautiful and interesting things happen in unlikely ways, messy ways, ways we never would have guessed. And I wonder, based on my own observations, why it’s so hard to believe in God. Because, reflecting on wombs and dirt and bland letters mixed together to form words that can change the world for good or bad, I don’t find it at all hard to believe.

I disliked most of my literature classes in college because most of them seemed to operate on the intentional fallacy. I.E., The writer carefully chose this character name, this location, this particular time in history, put these words in her character’s mouth to make some grand point. But that’s not how things happen, at least in my experience and as writer and as a human being. Things happen in the dark, fertile soil of the human mind… and often surprise the artist just as much as the reader. Sure, there are pieces of art created simply to make some kind of point, but I find these works static and stilted, almost veering toward propaganda.

I think the deep truths that come out of paintings and novels and poetry and all art forms were produced, or at least sparked, somewhere much deeper than the conscious mind. They are a reflection, partly, of the artist, just as a child is a reflection of its mother, but like a child and a mother, the work is always different from the artist, too – something entirely new.  That’s why I don’t understand worshipping someone who created art you love. That’s like trying to fall in love with your soul mate’s father or mother, which is not the same thing at all. It will leave you disappointed.

On that note, I’ll leave you with something from the earth. Here is the hedge of roses left to us by the people who formerly lived in our house:

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A rose is the visible result of an infinitude of complicated goings on in the bosom of the earth and in the air above, and similarly a work of art is the product of strange activities in the human mind.
Clive Bell

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A rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely promise won’t come true.
Ray Evans

 

Pretending Quotation of the Day

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-Being is like pretending.
Mira Sorvino

The Slyest Member of the Trinity

A friend who is studying to be a pastor sometimes has to ask survey questions of people for assignments. Recently I got the question, and it was “How does the Holy Spirit work in your life?”

Here’s what I wrote:

The Holy Spirit is ever-present in my life, even when I want, in my sinful nature, to shut Him out. He’s persistently correcting, encouraging, and grieving for and with me when I am hurting or lost in some sin. He fills me with His joy at the most unexpected times, and always insists that He gives me the strength to obey Him, that I have no excuse because He is all I need, even when it would be easier not to believe that – to let myself off the hook. He’s been there in all my darkest times, quietly nagging me to hope in hope in Christ even when it seemed “logical” that I should give up.

How does the Holy Spirit work in your life? If not the Holy Spirit, what gives you hope?

Past Carping and Complaining About Living in Northwest Arkansas

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I’m very much past carping and complaining about living in Northwest Arkansas. What an ingrate I’ve been at times! Yes, Walmart may not entirely have the most appealing associations for me, but it’s undeniable that the company’s presence in our area has opened avenues for all kinds of culture – the Walton Arts Center, The (truly world-class) Crystal Bridges Museum… they’re even opening up an elite Art Hotel of some sort down in the Bentonville public square.  I’m pretty sure everyone reading this knows Sam Walton opened his first store here in Bentonville – the museum of the old Five and Dime is actually about three minutes walking distance from me as I type this, sitting outside the adorable Bentonville Public Library.

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Right at this moment I’m also in easy walking distance from several fantastic restaurants, coffee shops, and the gorgeous Compton Gardens. So yes, though I still dream about making my millions (God only knows how) and settling down in Carmel California with Vu, Ranny, and the eventually rest of our brood, flying my beloved sisters, parents, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws and friends out to see me several times a year on my private jet, I have to admit that God has planted me in some pretty rich soil right here, within closer to jetting-distance of that list of favorite people, and so I’d better get on cultivating my life in the pretty dang awesome space He’s given me, where right now the air happens to smell of honeysuckle, instead of wishing for other things.

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So what does my little spot of earth here in NWA have for me to sow? How can I pretend right here and right now at becoming who I’m supposed to be? For starters, I don’t want to waste a single moment that I could be using to introduce Ransom to all the beauty this area has to offer – the creeks, the botanical gardens, the amazing variety of birds, trees, and plants… And in that spirit, Vu and I are going to take this darling, utterly mischievous, constantly curious 3-year-old of ours camping. Yes. Overnight. Go ahead and say a prayer for us if you’re inclined. We plan to set up early and be prepared if he refuses to settle down and sleep in the tent. Plan for the best, prepare for the worst, right?

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I also look at all the little businesses cropping up out here, and I think, Wow, wouldn’t this be a perfect place to start one of my own, with the cultural development continuing to boom and all the obvious appreciation for that kind of small-business charm? Well, yes, I answer myself, If I knew what I was doing. I’d love to open up a resale shop/art gallery. I know more than my share of amazing artists whose work I’d love to share with this community. I think it would suit me so well, though I won’t know until I try it. Do I dare? I recently went to a talk by Amy Stewart, the author of the funny and informative book Wicked Plants (such a clever idea, and a book actually discovered by my sister Julie at the art museum gift store) when she spoke at the Fayetteville Library–another completely fantastic library in our area–and Amy mentioned that, in addition to writing and publishing her quirky and readable books on the botanical world, she and her husband own a book shop in their hometown in Eureka California. I really can’t imagine a more lovely life. So there you have it. The plan is, publish the books, then make enough money to open a shop just for fun and not to support my livelihood. Oh, yeah. And those books I publish have to sell.

I had a bunch of beautiful pictures from recent excursions to the Crystal Bridges grounds that I had planned to share in this posting, but being my somewhat computer-illiterate self, I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to access them out here at the library, without being connected to my hard drive. Here’s what I have, though, mostly stolen from Facebook or my phone.

Love to you all, and thanks for reading. And I’ll come up with a snappier way to sign off soon.

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My Mom and my beautiful niece at a recent picnic outside the art museum.Image

Our back garden has become a bird sanctuary. Here are two of our baby bluejays hanging out on one of Max’s water dishes. I rescued one of the babies from the clutches of a little terrier and got pecked on the head by its parents for my troubles, but I understood.

“It just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”

 

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It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!  ~Mark Twain

I love this quotation from Twain because I know this longing – I know it when I smell and hear the ocean just before I can see it, when I marvel at Ransom sleeping peacefully in his crib at night, seeming so perfect and untouched by the world – a beauty so powerful and yet so fragile you feel it might just burst if you touch it, and you’ll wake from the dream. Spring does this to me because of its frank newness. I think it reminds me, somewhere deep inside, of the newness that Christ offers me through His resurrection, if only I’m brave enough to reach out and touch it. But that much hope is powerful, and fragile, and almost frightening.

Some things that have filled me with the joy of springtime.ImageImage

My sister Wendy threw a firepit party with a bunch of her friends. It was a perfect evening, and Wendy brought the indoors outside with happy abandon — there were lamps on tables and rugs on the grass. Even the key table was enchanting, with a yellow candlelit lantern and peonies. These peonies make me think of Ransom’s birth, because she brought me the same ones from her garden when I was in the hospital. I think they’re insanely gorgeous, and as part of pretending to be a “real gardener” I vow to plant some in my own garden.

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I picked these for one of the newest and most precious members of my little world – two of our best friends had a baby girl. She is their first. There is something magical about every birth, but the first child has her own kind of magic. It’s equally amazing to see the baby and how her parents become instantly transformed. There’s this new, crazy-powerful love stamped on them from the instant they hear the first cry, and new dimension to their existence that will continue to deepen for the rest of their lives. It’s beautiful.

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Here is Vu with the baby. He’s lovely with babies.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading… I know you’re out there!

Ransom Pretending

Compulsive Lewis Quotation of the Week

“All mortals tend to turn into the things they are pretending to be.” – C.S. Lewis

sharkaloo slide

My husband is insanely gifted, determined despite being busy, and totally in love with his toddler, who happens to love sharks, (i.e. “Sharkaloos”). This is just one example of the results. He built a wooden playset for a fraction of what buying one would cost, and customized it with a shark slide.