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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Heartbreak and Radiance in Story

After recently picking up _The Shack_ by William P. Young, I've begun to contemplate this notion: a story is only as uplifting as it is heartbreaking. That is to say that the more a narrative drags us through gut wrenching pain, the more power it has to heal us. Or as my professor once said after making us watch "Breaking the Waves," "[That movie] drags us through two hours of Hell to give us two minutes of Heaven." And truly those two minutes at the end of the film are exultant, but the two hours leading up to it are barely watchable - they are so painful.

_The Shack_ begins about a man, Mack, with five children. The youngest of which, Missy, is kidnapped and brutally murdered. The crux of the book details the experience Mack has thereafter, when he revisits the shack where his daughter was killed.

I have never really gotten into Christian fiction or "Christian" literature of any kind, but so far I've been able to hang with this book. Partly because Mack is ordinary, and the details of his daughter's kidnapping are believable. I'm sticking with this book too because Missy is neither too sweet, nor too precocious but exactly innocent. The way I feel my own daughter to be. The scenes in which Mack searches for his daughter are something straight from an Amber alert. It seems ordinary and so unthinkable all at once.

For this reason the scene where Mack finds Missy's torn and bloodied dress looms dark and unbearable in the first quarter of the book. It isn't overwrought and melodramatic. It makes me worry for my own daughter. It makes me shudder.

I asked Dwayne about the book yesterday, since he finished reading it while we were on vacation.

"You should finish it," Dwayne said to me.

"It's too sad," I said.

"But you feel really good at the end," he replied.

Seems like this has always been my trouble with Story, especially in the form of movies. People will rave about movies and how brilliant they are, for example "Crash" or "Babel," and even though I know these people are right, I avoid those movies. I understand that in order to really get to the radiance I'll first have to face the inhumanity wide eyed. Call me a light weight. A sissy.

Meanwhile, I'm left contemplating this question: why is it that I must first peer into the depths of darkness before I am able to wholly embrace the breadth of radiance?

If I can ever find it, I think the answer will show me my heart.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Today I actually found myself putting my sweet baby girl down onto the floor of a public bathroom while I used the toilet. I was alone, and running errands with no one to help. Before I had her I don't think I ever would have imagined laying a baby down in a dirty public restroom. But sometimes you find yourself doing things the hard way, or the long way, or the dirty way, just to make sure your baby is taken care of.

Here are the quandaries I would have never imagined getting into before having Noelle:

1) Regularly nursing my baby in the car before or after church because there is no "nursing room" in the building, and because service is at that awkward hour between naps and playtime. Would be a breeze, except friends from church regularly stream by the windows smiling and waving. How should they guess what I'm doing?

2) Leaving Noelle locked in the apartment while I run down to get laundry or run back to the parking lot to pull the car up. If we had chosen to live in suburbia with our own washer and drier, or our own garage neither of these scenarios would happen. Actually, leaving Noelle alone in the apartment while she was sleeping or sitting in the car seat never bothered me until I ran into a neighbor one day who asked me cheerily, "Is Noelle with her Daddy?"

"No," I said. "She's in the apartment." The neighbor balked and looked at me as if I was the worst mother on the block. The next time she saw me without the baby, she made a point to ask, "Noelle's not alone is she?"

3) And here's the kicker - the predicament that takes the cake: expressing my milk while driving in rush hour traffic. This is how one ends up in such a pickle. I teach a class every Tuesday and Thursday night. Because of the horrendous traffic in LA it takes me nearly two hours to drive to work. In order to keep the milk supply up, I must pump when I miss a feeding. But what happens if you're running late, or if traffic is particularly slow? You whip out the Medela Pump in Style, and discretely pump while creeping along at 10 miles an hour.

I can't tell you how many times I've panicked over getting in an accident while pumping. In addition to other undesirable consequences, I imagined newspaper headlines - "Mother caught pumping breasts in LA traffic." It's exactly the kind of story that turns up on NPR's news quiz, "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Missing My Parents

My mom and dad moved back to Indiana last week. A kind friend asked me on Thursday, "How are you doing?"

And I replied, "I'm fine, surprisingly." Well, I'm not fine, or I haven't been fine. Although it's taken me until this very moment to realize it.

I would say the sadness started on Sunday. I began to think of every friendship I have or have ever had, and began restlessly reaching out to them. I called a friend from High School. I wrote an "I'm Thinking of You" e-mail to a couple friends. I made a new resolution to send weekly e-mails to certain friends telling them that I've been praying for them. A resolution I make regularly and hardly manage to keep past the first round of e-mails. That's as far as I've gotten this time.

Today, the sadness has followed me. I went to visit another friend, who showered me with gifts from her refrigerator and cupboards, and I could hardly put two words together to say "thank you." I've had as much spark as a slug.

I came home, put Noelle down for a nap, and talked to Dwayne on the phone. In the moments following the phone call I sat absolutely still on the couch, pressing the dead phone to my ear. The gloom was palpable. I could have been Eyore.

"I'm going to lay down on the couch," I told myself, because somehow I needed permission to not grade papers, or cook Noelle's peas, or put away the laundry. So I laid on the couch and named the cloud hovering over me: loneliness.

I guess it stands to reason that when you're feeling lonely you'll assume it's because you need more friends, or more interaction with the friends you've got. And this is what I assumed, that I needed more time with friends. But as I laid there, I suddenly remembered a lunchtime date with a friend who absolutely shines. Just after that I remembered a sweet note another friend had left me on facebook. Need I mention all the gifts that had been showered on me this morning by a friend? No, I wasn't lonely for friends. It was something else.

I was - I am - lonely for my mom and dad. I don't think I expected this because after all, I'm twenty-eight, a wife, and a mother.

My aunt and uncle flew through LA from New Zealand this weekend. They sat on my couch - the very one I was moping on - and we discussed living far away from our families. Their oldest son lives in DC, their second oldest in Indiana.

"We can tell that N. misses us," my Uncle said referring to their oldest. He and my aunt sighed and looked at each other. They missed him too.

"We can tell our kids need us," my aunt added. "Not everyday anymore. But they still need us." It was clear to all of us that my aunt and uncle need their kids too.

I'm surprised to feel how much I still need my mom and dad. I think especially my mom. I need her in a way I never imagined needing her when I was in High School and Junior High.

I need her the way a woman needs someone else to wordlessly understand what it's like to be a caregiver, and a nurturer. I need her the way a woman needs another woman to know her, the way she has come to know her own child. I need her the way a woman needs another woman to show her that it's possible to keep giving beyond your limits. In short, I need her the way a mom needs her own mother.

I miss my parents, but there's no shaking this loneliness. So what do you do with a gloomy heart? I think you stay on the couch for a little while. You let the emotion sweep over you. You let it rise to the top of your head and then sink away, until your spirit has worked a sort of alchemy and the sadness has turned to gold.