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Should we have a third child?

I have two beautiful, spunky, precocious, ferocious and ferociously-loved children.

Much as I love them, I hated pregnancy and childbirth. I'm not really a big fan of infants, either.  Give me a kid who can walk and talk, please.

And so for the (nearly) four years since Owen was born, I’ve been convinced that Jack and I were done having children. Our two were lovely and sufficient and there was no way I was going through THAT again.

Then (oh the pregnant then!) I went to China, and something about being away from the snuggles of my no-longer-baby-babies for two weeks left me thinking:  maybe I wanted another baby. Mine were getting too big!  And, when I came home from China, there was this commercial on tv that basically made me ovulate every time I watched it.

What I am trying to say is: I began to wonder if I actually wanted a third child. Or else what was this spring-flung desire I was flirting with?

I began to interrogate the want.  Did I want cuddles?  Did I want diapers?  Did I want sleeplessness?  Did I want Christmases?

 

Turns out, it was mostly about the Christmases.

 

I am the oldest of five children.  My mother is the oldest of five children.  I’ve always known Christmases loud and full, with too many places squeezed around the table and every seat in the car filled, the entire pew at church taken up.  

The more I interrogated my desires, the more I realized that I was afraid. I was afraid of quiet Christmases. I was afraid of losing one child and only having one left -- one wouldn’t feel like a family. Too, I was afraid of the hypothetical future Christmas when both would be married and with their in-laws, and Jack and I would be alone, cooking something un-festive like steak salads and eating them in front of the tv. I wanted another child to shore up my chances, to guard against that possibility of someday being alone.

Nevermind that Jack and I love quiet and solitude, absolutely adore it. Nevermind the fact that we love steak salads and black and white movies. I am one of five. How can I be the mother of only two? How can I bear even the possibility of a quiet Christmas?

Because I know, maybe your hopes are up, dear reader (ahem: mom), let me pause to say: I am not pregnant.  But I’ve decided to pray about expanding our family.

Just not in that way. I should not have another child out of fear, or as a way to protect against loneliness.

But what if I let my fears open me up to those who are alone? What if I were willing to consider expanding my family in another way? What if I remembered that the family of God has always been “non-traditional”: that Moses was adopted by a princess, that Jesus was adopted by Joseph, that on the cross he asked his mother and his beloved disciple to be family to each other? That David and Jonathan had a friendship that lasted; that Ruth and Naomi took each other as forever family, bonded by the same God?

Maybe we don’t need another child. But maybe there’s a lifelong single friend we need to adopt as family. Maybe there’s a widow, or a widower. Maybe there is a child who will need us for now or for forever. Maybe there is an international student who needs a family away from family. I at least need to pray about that.

Adding a child to the family is exhausting: sleepless nights, incessant needs, utter dependence. I shouldn’t expect real friendships to be free of those kinds of demands. Friendship, too, requires sacrifices, a willingness to give up some of my own desires for freedom and quiet and privacy to grow my family in a creative way.  

What might the family of God look like, if all of us prayed about expanding our hearts in non-traditional ways as much as we prayed about whether or not to have another kid? I think it might just look like too many places squeezed around the table, and every seat in the car filled, the entire pew at church taken up. It might just look like love.  

 

 

Note: In these musings, I am indebted to Wesley Hill and Kelley Nikondeha. Read what Wesley has to say about friendship and his new book here.  Read what Kelley says about adoption here.

Why I believe #blacklivesmatter

A few weeks ago I got together with a few friends to talk about the recent events in Ferguson.  We ordered coffee and crowded into a booth, discussing why most of the college students we know remain oblivious to the social movements and protests occurring nationwide in response to events in Ferguson and the non-indictment of Darren Wilson.

We talked about how best to educate (our mostly white and privileged) students.  I confess that some part of me wanted to bring a little unrest to our campus, which is currently a hotbed of social rest. I wanted them to be engaged with what was happening nationwide and to share the sorrow and anger that many black communities feel.

“What I want most,” my black friend said, and of course I’m paraphrasing, “is for them to understand that people of color have had different experiences in this world than they have. Right now they have a hard time believing that anyone has had a different experience with law enforcement or racism than they have.  And that’s normal - most people their age haven’t had anything happen that would cause them to see the world from a different perspective yet.   

I don’t know what led you all to where you are now…”

She trailed off, and the conversation went on.  How could we help students see beyond their own perspectives? How could we help them believe in the validity of other experiences?

But I kept thinking about her last statement.  What was it that opened me up to the possibility that my perspective might not be the only true perspective?  

As important as it had been, it wasn’t the racial reconciliation rally I had participated in as a teenager in Little Rock at the 40th anniversary of integration. At that time, I believed that racial reconciliation was important, sure, but the idea had no emotional heft for me -- it remained largely theoretical. I sang in the choir and got a t-shirt.

The moment that I remember first understanding that racism still existed, and not only in members of my grandparents’ generation, happened later, while I was a grad student at Wheaton. Two things combined to open my eyes.

First, one of my professors told us a story.  A colleague of his, an African American professor at Wheaton, was regularly pulled over by the police while driving around the very small, very white, very Christian town. No one else was regularly pulled over - just this guy. And the problem wasn’t just one cop, either.  I felt angry and embarrassed.

Second - and this was what primed me to hear that story - I had just returned back from a year teaching English as a Second Language at a university in Southeast Asia. While living in a small farming town near the coast, I’d also been completing coursework for a degree in intercultural studies. And through my relationships with southeast asian friends and the reading for the degree, I understood that sometimes, the very truths that seemed so self-evident to me were clear falsehoods to others.

Let me give an example.  In America, I was taught to always say thank you when given a gift.  This was polite, but it was also a spiritual discipline (“In everything give thanks”). However, to say thank you in the country where I worked was rude and insulting to the giver of the gift.  In that culture, saying thank you was the equivalent of saying, “We’re not really friends; we have a formal and stilted relationship.”  Rather than saying thank you, the appropriate way to show gratitude was to continue the reciprocal relationship by, at some later point, giving that friend a gift in return.

Saying thank you was not polite: it was rude. My understanding of what was right was upended.

Over and over again, I learned that my way of understanding the world was limited by my specific experiences growing up in the culture I grew up in.  It wasn’t that my perspective was wrong; it was incomplete, partial, constrained.

It was those experiences overseas that taught me to listen.  That taught me to withhold judgement.  That taught me to question my own understanding of a situation. That taught me to challenge my own assumptions.

The student I had coffee with that morning organized a group of students to make a statement of solidarity at our most publicized annual event. I was there, wearing black, to be the photographer.

 

When I say #blacklivesmatter, I'm not saying that other lives don't matter.  I'm saying it in the same way that pro-life advocates say that fetuses are people: of course they are, but whole segments of our population don't treat them as people.  I'm saying #blacklivesmatter because our culture repeatedly acts as if they don't, or as if they somehow matter differently than other lives. Of course black lives matter, but how awful is it that we have to say that?

And this is my prayer for our students, and for all of us in the Body of Christ: that we would listen.  That we would connect relationally with people from different cultures and different worldviews.  That we would develop humility, recognizing that our perspectives are limited, and that we would develop compassion.

Cross-cultural relationships are key to reconciliation in the Body of Christ. I'm thankful for the Asian friends and the authors and theorists who helped me to begin to understand that, and to feel the weight of it, so many years ago.  

when your mother (probably) has cancer

When I was seventeen, my best friend called me on the telephone. 

“What was your Family Meeting about today?” I asked her.   

“My mom has breast cancer,” she said. “I’m fine.  I don’t really want to talk about it.”


What was there to say, after all?  She didn’t like emotional displays and dreaded melodramatic responses from people who barely knew her.  Her mom started chemo, and we went on with our senior year of high school. 

I spent most Saturday nights that spring at her house.  It was Lent, and we’d given things up; we broke our fasts every Sunday, though, and we liked to be at her house, especially on chemo weeks.  Her refrigerator would be full of food that church people had brought. We’d wait until midnight and then make sandwiches, spoon ice cream from the carton, inhale the infamous Caldwell cookies.  (What wild high school stories we’ll have to tell our kids some day!)

seventeen

seventeen




I’ve been thinking about those midnight breakfasts because in August, doctors found a mass in my mother’s brain, and I’ve been trying to remember what you do when your mother has (or probably has) cancer.


I haven’t said anything here because - what is there to say, after all?  I didn’t want to be melodramatic about something that could turn out to be nothing. I didn’t know how to feel about it.  All I knew was that she would have surgery, and surgery is always dangerous, and I wanted to see her before the surgery.  I packed the van and drove straight south.

and we bought pajamas for the hospital stay

and we bought pajamas for the hospital stay

 

 

 

On Wednesday, I spent four hours in the cafeteria at UCSF while the head of neurosurgery, using a fairly new technique called brain mapping, successfully removed the tumor from my mother’s brain.

By Thursday she had a v-shaped bandage on her head and was cracking jokes, walking stairs, and playing words with friends. When Dad, Katie, and I came to her room after the procedure, she said, “Well, if I had known you all were coming, I would have baked a cake!”

 

But there is still little to say.  There is still much we do not know. We do not know if it was cancerous.  We do not know where it came from. We do not know if there is any more of it. We do not know what more treatment she may need. (The latest report is encouraging, though.)

 

And part of me still wants to wait to talk about it - to wait until we know more, or to wait for something beautiful or profound to say.  But it’s too fresh for me to be profound: ask me in ten years, maybe.  

breakfast at the mill

breakfast at the mill

mom being a post-op babe

mom being a post-op babe

 

For now, there’s just gratitude: for all of you who prayed, for in-laws who took off work and spoiled my children, for good health insurance, for a successful surgery, for uber taxis, for fresh-baked bread, for a nurse wearing a cross, for a pastor who took time to pray with us, for real butter in the hospital cafeteria, for a friend who brought Chinese dumplings, for the fresh bright flavors in the carne asada tacos and the not-too-sweet margarita, for the peace that settled into my parents’ hearts some time ago and hasn’t yet left.  For fasts broken; for the body of Christ, broken; for the body of Christ when we are broken, the way they bake and get take-out, and stock the kitchen and pray through the night and into the morning.

 

For the light across the bay, the pastel-painted houses densely lining the hills of the city, like a hundred cities I’ve seen before, like Cinqueterra and Port au Prince and Ho Chi Minh city. For the light that suffuses them all, for the hope that anchors our prone-to-wander souls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Writing Process: the round-robin blog tour

Last month my friend and colleague Aaron Householder tagged me in a sort of chain letter for bloggers wherein we answer a few questions and tag two more of our favorite writers to answer the same questions.  I'm several weeks late in my response, but the evil chain letter spirits have not descended yet, so I guess it's all good.

Before you read my answers to these questions, you can check out Aaron's blog Being Still, or this beautiful guest post he wrote for Cara Strickland about hospital waiting rooms.


1. What are you working on?

I'm working on the courage to tell people what I'm working on.  I'm working on saying it out loud without laughing hysterically.

I laugh every time.

I'm working on a book, a memoir about two years I spent in Southeast Asia a decade ago.

The world needs another memoir written by a privileged white woman in her early thirties, right?

 

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

Of course every work is unique because of the voice of its author. Allowing my voice to develop as honestly and authentically as possible might be my biggest task.

As it's shaping up, I see my memoir as a cross between two kinds of books.  It's part bildungsroman: a story of evangelical faith coming-of-age. And it's part missionary memoir (although I would never have called myself a missionary). It's both a celebration and a critique of the evangelical zeal I grew up infected with.  It's a way of turning the "missionary biography" conventions on their head, and examining the kinds of religious rhetoric that led me overseas in the first place.

It's also a love story, and I would be lying if I said that the CIA and spies didn't play into it too.

 

3. Why do you write what you do?

When I write for Christ and Pop Culture, I write about the things that inspire me, frustrate me, confuse me, and entertain me.  I write as a way of understanding my reaction and helping readers think through their cultural engagement more carefully.

When I write essays, like one I just finished about my chickens, or the one I wrote about traveling to Paris at sixteen, I usually write because an idea has been marinating inside me for a while, and I feel compelled to get it on paper.

With this book, there are a few reasons to write.  First, this year was the ten year anniversary of my moving overseas.  I found myself remembering some things, and unable to remember others.  I began to wonder what exactly I had learned from my experiences back then, and if the lessons had stuck.  I began to wonder if I had ever emerged from the dark night of the soul.  Had my faith matured, or shriveled up? So I began to write, in the beginning, as a way of making sure my experience wasn't wasted by reminding myself of what God had taught me.

I'm also writing this story as a way of showing what happens when a child reads books that tell her that the most exceptional, adventurous life she can have is the life overseas. I want to interrogate the idea that there is a distinction between a "normal" Christian life and an exceptional, radical Christian life.

4. How does your writing process work?

For smaller things, I have an idea that I turn over in my head for a while - a day, a week, a month, returning to it while I wash the dishes and cut the grass and try to fall asleep at night - until it's ready. Then I sit and write.

For longer pieces- well, that's something I'm still figuring out. Right now it looks like three documents.  One has notes, outlines, random thoughts that might fit somewhere someday.  One has quotes (and citations!) that I think I might use.  A third has my manuscript, just a story I'm writing from beginning to end.  Then on my desk there are four old journals I'm referring to, letters and photos to jog my memory, and stacks of books I want to read for research and for sharpening my craft. I tried to create a big outline on butcher paper, but my kids came in and colored all over it, so... now my outline is just a bunch of hearts and scribbles.  Which, actually, seems fairly appropriate.

One thing that's invaluable to my writing process is my writing group, five women spread out across the globe who bounce ideas back and forth with me over voxer and read and edit my work on a regular basis.  Maybe most of all, they believe in me.  Writers, find yourself a group like that.

 

I'm tagging two of my favorite writers who have been too busy to blog much lately.  This will give them a reason to get back online, at least for half a second.

Christiana Peterson writes fiction, poetry, songs, and essays, and lives in intentional community on a farm in Illinois.  On her blog The Beauty of This Hour, she talks about finding joy in art, farm life, community, and family.

This year Jessica Goudeau finished her PhD at a big university in Texas AND adopted a third daughter from China.  When she should probably be sleeping, she writes about refugees, adoption, and active verbs like hilltribering.