Why Do Babies Die?

No. I'm asking the question. I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA why babies die. I feel like in the last several years, Tim and I have been in relationship with so many people whose babies have died. Not necessarily best friends, but people we know. We had a neighbor who lost TWO babies to two different diseases. I'm so angry. It's just not supposed to happen. 

And I feel like that's all we should say. I am not going to be that person that tries to tie an atom bomb with a glittery bow. It's just a shit show. I'm sorry. Maybe that's not comforting? I have no idea. I've never lost a baby. I know some people really cling to religious ideas and that brings them comfort. That's awesome. And I would never suggest taking that from them or dashing their hopes. But I personally don't think there's anything that's worth losing a baby. There's no cause where that cost is appropriate, no purpose that makes babies dying okay. 

I find myself praying when a baby's life is hanging in the balance. And that's weird for me because I don't pray often anymore. But there's nothing quite like knowing a baby is struggling to live somewhere and there's nothing anyone can do about it (except sometimes medical professionals, but even they are restricted in their control). It's awful. I hate it. And I want all the babies to stop dying. 

I think they need to stay here in the arms of their often post-labor mothers who need to smell their skin and hold their soft bodies and nurse them and just be with them. They don't need to be in the ground. Stop asking us to put them in the ground. Stop asking women to go home from a hospital bloody and dehydrated, leaking milk from painfully sore breasts with NO FUCKING BABY. It's hard to do that when your baby is healthy and with you. But to go through that without the reward of 9-10 months of pregnancy? Without the dreams fulfilled and the life-long hopes and plans? No. Just no. 

I know I'm not God and I don't have a say. And I'm not sure God has a say. I have a hard time talking to him in these instances if he does have a say. Because what the hell? There are not enough wrong things in the world for someone to deserve this. And if they didn't do anything wrong, again, what the hell? You just arbitrarily take babies from unsuspecting post-partum women? Why?

What. The. Fuck. 

And what about all of us who didn't lose babies? Who've never been in that bathroom looking down at the toilet in horror and shock? Who've never given birth and gone home empty-handed? What about us? Why do we get to hold our children FOR A LIFETIME and they don't? I don't want to be blessed above others and I don't want to be cursed below others. I just want it to be right.

And babies dying is never right.

I'm sorry.

Just Because You're Human Doesn't Excuse You Being An Asshole

I've found two major theories in how people accept humanity. Based on the way these ideas are implemented, the repercussions are drastically different. The first theology of humanity is, "oopsie, we're all human" therefore we should basically excuse all shitty behavior. The subtext is that we're pieces of shit so we can't set boundaries, defend ourselves or condemn abusive behavior. Anything goes because we're forgiven! I saw this reaction when Josh Duggar was forced to admit he was a terrible hypocrite (my words of course!) who advocated for women not showing their knees and then repeatedly lied to his virginal wife so he could go play with women who wore jeans (not allowed for his wife) and loved sex toys. That's not an "oopsie, we're all human" moment. That's a "you're a terrible abuser who deserves to lose his livelihood and the family you've built on total, deliberate deception" kind of moment. Sometimes the conservative Christian idea of redemption invites abuse and this is a good example. Because many Christians level the playing field of sin and make everything evil the same, we can see someone like "Poor Josh" and excuse his behavior with no evidence of remorse or life change. If he says the right words, he's good to go. And guess what? His wife is pregnant again. 

Another good example is any time Trump has ever claimed Christianity and then shown zero evidence of faith in any action in his life. But I don't want to talk about him. 

The result of this theology of humanity and "sin" is enabling abusers, silencing victims and not giving perpetrators the opportunity to experience real, life-changing consequences for their choices. It's always someone else's fault (in this case, the Devil, according to Josh). The perpetrator is actually the victim! We fail everyone involved and shame anyone who doesn't forgive the person who isn't remorseful. When someone is remorseful, their ways change. Until that happens, they're playing you. Sorry. (Again, TRUMP, TRUMP, TRUMP...damn, didn't I say I didn't want to talk about him?!)

The second theology of humanity is, "I embrace my humanity, have compassion on myself and then extend that towards others." For me, embracing my humanity, giving myself grace and learning to really feel compassion for myself, my limitations and my human-ness has made me a much more gracious, understanding person. Do you see the difference? In the first scenario, we poo-poo Josh Duggar. In the second, we feel grief for the shitty theology that taught Josh that the subjugation of women was okay and hold sorrow for his wife and children, who will be stuck with him forever. It's not about judging them. It's about being sad for what they're living in and outraged at the perpetuation of his behavior. 

It's in embracing my humanity that I cannot tolerate letting abusers roam free. It's in seeing Josh's wife suffer humiliation and a total lack of options and freedom that takes the conversation off Josh's "sin" and onto her as a human deserving of dignity and respect. It's in seeing myself in refugees, Muslims, people of color and the LGBTQI community that propels me forward against bigotry. The first approach continues blindly following bigotry while the second unveils it and fights back. We must see our own humanity and the humanity of others in order to make our society a more tolerant and safe place for everyone. Somehow the "we're all human" thing only extends to other fellow conservative Christians. How does that apply to the "illegals?" It doesn't. They should have known they'd be threatened with deportation while going through a miscarriage in custody. What about all those POC getting arrested and killed? They should just behave. Like I do in my ivory tower. Where is the "we're all human" in those cases? It doesn't apply. Somehow it never does. 

Claim the Good No Matter What

There was a little voice in the back of my head when I wrote my blog post on May 31st, Dreams Really Do Come True. It was a quiet one and it was ignored. But the voice tried to make me feel afraid of claiming the family milestone we had when we first went bowling. We've now been going twice a week with great success. But on that first day, we did a new activity as a family of 4 and it was actually fun the whole time. All 4 of us enjoyed it and Tim and I did not feel stressed or depleted afterwards. That was a really big deal. But publicly claiming that victory gave me a moment’s pause. Here’s why:

Sometimes we live in a headspace of scarcity. Like, if you claim something good and enjoy it, you will find punishment around the corner. The good stuff is scarce but if you’re quiet about it, maybe no one will notice and the hammer won’t drop. Does anyone else fear this? I’ve worked really hard on my scarcity mentality. If you don’t recognize how evil this kind of headspace can be, just look at what we’re doing in this country to “Make America Great Again.” The entire idea of deporting Muslims and building a wall centers on scarcity. This kind of nationalism lives in a place of throwing elbows and seeing people as “other” first and a drain on resources. As we know, some critical resources are finite, so any generosity or space created for diversity and acceptance threatens the amount left over for the majority.

I run my own business. And business is another arena where scarcity thrives. Everyone is trying to beat the competition and make the most money. Sometimes even at the loss of the customer either with quality or service. I cannot tolerate this. For me to represent something personally to people I care about, it has to be legit or I’m not doing it. Thankfully, I’m working with a company that lives the antithesis of a scarcity mindset, focusing on helping ourselves by helping others first. We work in teams and those teams do not compete or withhold resources from each other. It’s lovely. It’s the only way I could comfortably do business in the long-term. I literally cannot increase my business unless I’m actively coaching a teammate in achieving their goals or helping a customer improve their health. What a way to make a living! When I’m living in scarcity and fear, I understand the cutthroat mentality that a lot of businesses thrive on. And if it’s between my family or my community, I’m willing to admit, I choose my family. But I’m grateful to be in a business where I can have both. I know how rare that is.

These are some more obvious examples of scarcity thinking. But is the fear of bad following good a part of that in a distant way as well? I believe it is. I think we believe that only so much good can come to any one person in a given amount of time. And if we claim it, bad could come sooner and more intensely. Maybe it stems from my religious upbringing. There is a lot of theology that supports this either by claiming that marking a victory comes from a place of pride and “pride comes before a fall.” Or, that if you are experiencing good, that the “enemy” (Satan) will attack you and your family. Even admitting that I don’t live in that headspace anymore feels like a dumb thing to publicly claim. Not dumb because it’s obvious and no one believes that but because that fear is still there. Who would want to entice the devil?

Perhaps that is where the fear of pleasure comes from. A lot of conservative Christians fear pleasure. No one has ever said that to me outright. But we are really sexually repressed and anything that feels really good, must be sinful. That’s why we work so hard to find joy in God, because that’s the only safe place to find it. We mock “hippie liberals” for their love of nature and the environment. We judge those who imbibe for being addicts or weak. We call women who want to have sex but don’t want to be mothers whores and “baby killers.” Pleasure scares us. And maybe claiming a family victory is a form of that, enjoying a win and taking pleasure in the moment. Or maybe it’s okay, but only if we go on and on about giving God the glory.

No matter. My life has taken a few hits since that post. My tooth drama came full circle when it was extracted but not without extreme pain. Turns out, the nerve that was giving me so much pain ran THROUGH the tooth. Who knew? So, no matter how many needles my periodontist jammed into my gums and cheek, I could still feel it when he tried to extract the tooth. You know what they have to do in that case? They have to drill into the tooth and stick a needle directly into the nerve to numb it. Thankfully, after a shocking jolt and subsequent involuntary sobbing, the pain stopped for good and that shitter was removed from my mouth forever. Apparently the whole implant process takes 6 months, but day one sucked.

A few days after that, on Father’s Day, our house flooded. One of the kids left the toilet running and apparently it was also clogged. So for an hour during quiet time, 2 of the 3 of us were snoozing, the water just ran and ran. From our upstairs toilet to the carpeted hallway, through the floor to the kitchen ceiling below to the kitchen floor. The only thing we’ve really upgraded in our house we’ve had 12 years is that flooring. It’s gone now. Don’t worry, it’ll be replaced. And I’ve been saving so we can easily pay our deductible. But it’s a pain in the ass and there are strangers ripping out things I love and a lot of dehumidifiers and fans making the house almost intolerably hot.

Here are the positives. They’re always there if you’re looking. One, I had 3 dear friends help me on tooth divorce day. 2 of them drove me while I was high (though not nearly high enough). The other watched Penny while I was high. THANK YOU. It’s so beautiful to have people who, on a moment’s notice, are willing to get you your meds and make sure you get home safely. Many friends have listened to the insane tooth drama with compassion and humor. I feel so loved. Two, nothing of sentimental value was lost in the flood and we had the funds set aside to where the deductible doesn’t hurt. That’s a really big deal and I’m grateful to my business for providing us with the cushion we need to do things that really improve our happiness. Things like vacations and savings and not accruing dental debt when I feel I may have bought my surgeon a car at this point.

All in all, I will claim the good. It’s all we’ve got. And it’s enough.

The Courage of Commitment

I did something really brave on Sunday. I joined my church community as a member. It took me 2 and a half years to be willing to do that. At my church (it's so fun to say that, like using the word "fiance" right after a proposal), the membership responsibilities are not intensely binding or rigid but I feel serious about making a verbal commitment to a community of people. I waited until I was truly ready. Sunday, I felt ready to be vulnerable, open and shaped by other people in the area of my faith. That is a really big deal. My faith process has been something I have guarded viscerally since we left the churches of Christ. I have fended off many influences over the years and have treated my soul as the precious thing it is. I wanted to tighten that circle of influence and church was left out. To allow it to be shaped by a church community felt threatening for a long time. When you feel threatened about something precious, you circle the wagons. You've got to. If you're not in church for this reason, I commend you. 

After we left full-time ministry, we participated in a local church plant with safe friends. That season (about 1 and a half years) was all about unpacking our pain and we were surrounded with support during that time. It was so special to have church friends our age who weren't threatened by our grief or who felt compelled to defend against it. We were angry. We were confused. We were in shock. It was a painful, but precious time and we hold dear all those friends who held us up and loved us through that.

Then we went through my difficult pregnancy with Penny (where I couldn't sit in the church chairs) and Tim was ready for space when it came to long sermons and regular church attendance. That began a 2 year period where we did not really attend church at all. There were logistical challenges with my pregnancy and afterwards, the mental health stuff did not foster enough flexibility in us to try to be in church with young kids (it can be incredibly stressful). Sometimes attending church is just too hard. 

Once things stabilized at home, (about 2 and a half years ago), I visited my current church on my own. It's called Bridgeport United Church of Christ. One of my dearest friends, Danna, had been inviting me for about a year. She and I have similar back stories with our church of Christ history and professional ministry experiences (read: trauma) and she had found a home there. So right after Christmas, in 2014, I climbed the steps of Bridgeport alone. I was nervous. I can't begin to tell you how scary it can be to walk through the doors of a church. For me, it was the act of not knowing the rhythms of a strange community coupled with the triggers of talking about and engaging in faith activities in a group setting. If you judge people who don't want to keep visiting around, you are out of touch with what that process is like. And if church trauma is involved, forget it. 

So it was scary. But it was also shockingly lovely. I had spent the previous few years charting my own course. I was trusting my instincts, reading a lot, bouncing ideas and experiences off trusted friends and "practicing" my faith. My Reverend talks about the concept of faith as a practice a lot and I love it. I had started my first blog, Mutterings from a Perfectionist, and was actively unpacking my perfectionism and sifting through my values. Let's face it: faith isn't something you hold with full knowledge and certainty. For me, faith has become potentially making an ass of myself and learning a lot by listening. It's a practice. This idea also emphasizes that perfection is actually a barrier to faith versus the goal. Very healthy for me indeed!

I found myself in a room with people who were practicing their faith with activism and community engagement that left my new life in the dust. Not in an invalidating way, but in the way that I knew I could learn from these people and actually grow in the practice of my faith. Before, I was having to tune out church messages to pursue what I felt was right, in particular, obsessive focus on my behavior and qualifying it as sinful or not sinful. I wanted to learn how to love myself and love others. I wanted to be relevant in the world, not separate from it. I wanted my faith to be fused with my passion for activism, not as an act of rebellion from it. I found myself coming to terms with the fact that I could pursue this path on my own as I had been, or I could join a community that spurred me on in this process, that filled me with encouragement, that affirmed my grief about our culture and gave me opportunities to do something about it. Wow!

I didn't know there was such thing as a progressive Christian faith. I had already decided to keep Jesus and leave behind conservatism. But I assumed that meant I could not have church. And I was okay with that. Hell, avoiding church allowed me to leave that painful baggage in the past. Confronting it on top of everything else I was facing in my life, was just too hard. And then I walked into Bridgeport. And it was beautiful. It really moved me. I found my home. I knew it that very first week. And, like a lover who'd been burned, it just took me a really long time to be ready to live in full community with my friends at church. I needed to do church completely on my terms. And I still often recoil when anything is asked of me there. It's a gut reaction. I'm afraid of being used. I'm afraid of saying yes when I should say no. I'm afraid that sometimes yes will be the right thing. I don't want to give. I don't want to serve. I don't want to be obligated. And I really, really don't want to be betrayed again. But I've decided to knowingly look that fear in the eyes and try. And I have stumbled through it even as a visitor all this time. I'm choosing community knowing that for me, it is a bit of a minefield. But I believe the benefit outweighs the risks and that is a huge deal. I am so, so grateful to have found Bridgeport and to have been able to salvage faith community in my life. It was so unexpected and unnecessary. What a gift!

Here are the things I affirmed during the ceremony:

That I profess Jesus as the center of my faith

That I will be faithful to this community

That I will challenge this community to be the best version of itself and to live up to the things we say we believe

That I will allow myself to be changed, shaped and transformed by this community as I live into my called identity as a beloved child of God

Because it was Pentecost Sunday, there was a big focus on the Holy Spirit and it was also our church's 19th anniversary, so many questions were asked of the community and many stories were told about how participation in our church life had made a difference in everyone's lives. It was beautiful. We found that so many of us were transplants from other church movements. We were sojourners who'd found our way home. We ended church with a picnic. There were dogs and children running around and it was a good reminder that community doesn't have to be restrictive or homogeneous. It just has to be honest.

During that 5 year period between our firing and now (it'll be 6 years in a few weeks), Tim and I as individuals kind of went in different directions. And I don't mean opposite directions, just living into the fact that we have different needs spiritually. I don't know what that looks like in the long-term (which caused me great anxiety initially) but at this point, it has looks like me attending Bridgeport and him staying home. As a introvert and moderate, Tim just doesn't feel like church is home anymore. He doesn't really fit in conservative or progressive Christianity and sadly, that doesn't leave a lot of options. He hasn't found a place that really fits and he feels fine without that weekly rhythm. He's not uninterested, but he's not pursuing it either.

It is a tricky thing to "let" your former minister spouse not attend church. I use quotations because it is his decision. If I truly respect my husband and his faith process (as he does mine) then those are his choices to make. And it is a total judgment to assume that he's not a Christian or a person of faith just because he doesn't sit in a pew every week. How many people sit in a pew and then live like assholes? Sorry, but it's true. I can be an encouragement by checking in with him, engaging him in spiritual conversation and just being there for him as a friend. But it is not my job to lead him spiritually and neither is it his job to lead me. We were raised to believe that men are the spiritual leaders of the home. I've even heard people say that it's your job to get your spouse to heaven. I choose not to live in the fear of hell for myself or for my family. I choose to respect my husband's faith process, holding the truth that we are very different in approach, spiritual need and giftedness. And here's the thing - we always were. We're living more honestly now. He's not pushing himself to lead others. He's taking better care of himself. And I'm staying true to my love for him and the family we've made. I have so many friends who've wrestled with this. I know so many women who attend church alone with their children. They receive glances of pity every single week. Guess what? We're not spiritual widows. People change. Things happen. Life hurts and we process that differently. And we love our husbands! When faced with a change of direction for a spouse, we can hold on for dear life, nag until all love is gone or we can release control and live in respect and love. I am not afraid.

The other thing that's fun in a challenging way about this is it forces the church-going spouse to be accountable to him or herself. There's a certain shoulders-back grit that comes from making a spiritual commitment for yourself and your children as an individual. I'm in charge of my faith process. I collaborate with my fellow church members, but my soul is my own garden to tend and that is a beautiful thing. May the flowers grow in your garden. May the fruit rise up to nourish you and your children. May you pursue and work out your faith with freedom and grace. May you find a safety net under you that you never knew was there. That net is big enough for me, my children and for my non-church-going husband. It's big enough for you too.

The Restoration of All Things, Starting with You and Me

I'm in the stage of life where Disney movies are on our screens. A LOT. One of our current favorites is Moana. As you may know, the music is gorgeous, penned by none other than Lin Manuel Miranda of Hamilton. If you haven't seen the film, you should, especially because you will have no idea what I want to talk about in this post!

At the end of the film, Moana gives Te Fiti her heart back. It takes her a minute to realize that the fire monster chasing after her and Maui is none other than the goddess she's crossed an ocean to find. She's looking for a magical being and instead, comes face to face with a formidable, frightening creature. There is no life in her. Bent on destruction. She is horrifying. She is a beast, ugly, representing all decay and death, the end of all fruitfulness, life and beauty. 

How can the one who created the beautiful, bountiful, lush world around them become her own opposite? Where has she gone and what transformed her from life to death? If you've seen the film, you know that Maui stole her heart and used her powers for himself and tried to share them with mankind as a benefactor. He's a trickster, irreverent and full of himself (though charmingly played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). He knows not what he's done. And the ramifications of his decision change the course of his life and the lives of mankind from there on out. The earth begins to die. The coconuts are black. The lush gardens are wilting. The fish traps come up empty. Who knows how long it would have taken for Moana's people to reach their ultimate demise? The trajectory had been set.

Moana is supposed to stay on her small island, following her chief father's lead. The number one rule of her people is "no one leaves." But the ocean is calling her. Supported by her "crazy" grandmother and the ocean itself, she is drawn to go past the reef, which is forbidden. Through many twists and turns, she meets Maui, helps him off his island exile, retrieves his magical hook and convinces him to help her give back Te Fiti's heart.

In the climax of the film, Moana sees Te Fiti as the fire beast. She holds her shining green heart in the air and tells the ocean "Let her come to me." The ocean makes a path. Te Fiti, the creature of death crawls on the ground towards her menacingly. Bravely, Moana starts walking confidently towards her singing,  

"I have crossed the horizon to find you.

I know your name.

They have stolen the heart from inside you.

But this does not define you.

This is not who you are.

You know who you are.

Who you truly are."

Then she brings the space between her eyes to the space between Te Fiti's eyes, a place of affection, equality and reconciliation. 

As Moana places Te Fiti's heart back in her chest, the ash and fire crumble and are replaced with lush greenery, flowers, LIFE! It spreads from her chest through her whole body, to all the land, even far away on Moana's home island. Life is restored. And it is beautiful. The old is swept away. All is made new. Maui reconciles himself to her and she forgives him. She is gorgeous. She is luscious. She is nature incarnate.

Every time I see this scene unfold, tears spring to my eyes, goosebumps cover my body and my breath catches in my chest. Why? This is eternity. I was raised to believe that if you didn't do and believe certain things about God while on earth, you would spend eternity suffering in hell. I no longer believe that. I don't know what happens when we die. It's ridiculous to presume any of us do. But I believe that the reason my spirit leaps during this scene is because our hearts long for reconciliation. Reconciliation with our creator, our purpose, our souls. And I believe that will happen to all people at the end of time. That wrongs will be made right. Not through retribution and punishment but through restitution and restoration. That ash will turn to flowers. That peace will reign. And it will be glorious, gorgeous, perfect. We will be fully restored. Anything that has died, deteriorated, degenerated, atrophied will flourish, rise again, breathe anew. I long for that. Maybe we all do.

The words Moana speaks to Te Fiti apply to all of us. When we live in a way that steals peoples hearts from their chest, we are not being who we are, who we truly are. We were made for more. When we denigrate ourselves by believing we live in a world of scarcity, we fight for power and control over things that are meant to be shared. Te Fiti was doing her job, providing life for all when Maui decided he needed her powers for himself. And everyone suffered. Te Fiti suffered. She became a monster, out of touch with her divine nature. She became decaying flesh and her actions reflected that. We don't have to be defined by our traumas, by the things stripped from us. We know who we are. Our name is known. And we are made for more.  

I don't want to live my life in fear. I don't want to obey in order to avoid punishment. I want to live in the land of Te Fiti, with my heart restored, creating beauty and life within and around me. I don't want to spend my time assigning blame, pointing fingers and trying to climb to the top for salvation. I want to pull up a chair at an endless banquet table, laden with enough food and drink for all. All races, all religions, all people. I want us to be a family. A diverse, somewhat crazy, beautiful human race. Don't spend your time taking hearts out of peoples chests. Be one to restore hearts. Not because we're mini saviors running around trying to bale out the sinking ship of humanity but because we must. Because we're all Te Fiti and we're all Maui. We are one. And restoration is coming for us all. If you have to cross the horizon to be found, do it. It is everything. Claim the beauty that is waiting for you.