Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Depth of Faith

When we were at the beach this fall, with no prompting, Sadie laid down in the sand and proclaimed that she was making "sand angels" instead of snow angels. I remember again thinking that God has touched my daughter in a very real and special way, and a way that as an adult, I am lucky to witness this.

There have been a over-flowing handful of moments in my life where I have felt God's presence in a dramatic and tangible way. Without exception, all of those times were times of joy and celebration. For those friends from Mt. Vernon days, there was Youth Encounter in high school, and so very many youth group events at Good Shepherd where we all felt physically touched (or "zonked by the Holy Spirit" as my mother used to say).

In adulthood, those times continued. The moment Mark asked me to marry him was certainly memorable, but even more poignant for me was about an hour after that as we walked across a field from the restaurant where we got engaged over dinner, I remember looking up in the dark sky of Irvington, Virginia and thanking God, feeling His presence. 

When Mark and I were married, as we stood on the black and white tiled floor of the altar at St. James's, I remember an instant where I felt like God was sitting right there with me, in a very real and tangible way. While the moment of Sadie's birth was incredibly special, there was another moment when Mark and I were putting her to bed in the bassinet that my mother used for all of us, and she must have been only a month or so old, when I looked down at Sadie's face and I just felt God there, right there, and I just wept from the magnitude of that feeling. 

Last Sunday Mark and Sadie hung all of our colored Christmas lights in the back yard. Mark agreed that he would do a "test run" for Sadie to see them lit, but this would be the only time they are turned on until December 1st. We warmed up some apple cider and the three of us sat on our back porch's steps, drinking from our mugs and looking out over our tree-lit back yard. He was there. It was tangible. Big tears rolled down my cheeks as I thanked God again for my family. Our next door neighbor called and said we looked like a post card sitting out there.

So, I feel like I have my whole Faith-thing down in moments of joy.

But not so much in moments of darkness.

And yet, that is, by the essence of the term, that is when Faith is what it is. It is pretty easy to Believe when there is proof everywhere around you. I have no problem Believing in God and Jesus and the fundamentals of Christianity when I look at my daughter and it is clear to me, proven to me, that she is not of only me. That something higher than me created her, blessed her, blessed me by giving her to me. Those moments when I felt touched, it was easy to feel like God was there. Whenever two ore more are gathered in my name, yes, I agree!

But it is the times of just one, of only one gathered, of one walking alone on the beach, it is less clear then. Notwithstanding the poem Footprints, it is really hard to accept that it is then, we are carried.

We are not in a period of complete darkness right now. We are not undergoing any health scares. All of our parents, Sadie's grandparents, are all still alive. We are entering Mark's and my favorite time of the year, Christmas carols are already being played, the manger is set up (well, one manger of the ten plus that we have). Tangible signs of our practiced Faith are abundant.

But we continue to have changes. We continue to find something lacking in our lives. So many things are easy, but the ones that are hard, that aren't perfect, those seem to cloud the others. The days fly by. Days of working in an office, planning travels, conference calls. Dinner is upon us and I nuke some broccoli and put in a Trader Joe's pizza.  "I hate this food" someone says (and here's a clue, it wasn't Sadie who said it!) and I think to myself "Why can't I get this right?". Why are most moments still rushed, hurried, alone, not blessed? Snarky comments. A computer locking up. Not having time to learn something. Being rushed in a bed time routine. I hear myself saying "Sadie, I am counting to three right now..." so many times, she has started begging me "Please no more counting!!".  Last night I was exasperated and said "Sadie, why are you acting like this???"  Because I am three. Because this is what I do. Because I need to test you every few days to make sure indeed your love is unconditional. "Do you still love me?" she has said a few times. Of course I do, I tell her a million times. I hate that she asks though. Then again, she has asked me many times why there are lane dividers on highways. I guess the questions just keep coming and I shouldn't make too much of any of them.

So back to Faith. Faith in times of change. Faith in times of happiness, but in times of frustration too.Still learning.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Head and Body

I love to color. I would not say that I am artistic, though I have attempted my share of pottery and painting classes over the years thinking that there must be some creativity in me yet unleashed, but they never revealed anything great. In fact, as much as I have some incredibly creative friends (my best friend in college is an art teacher now, yet none of her skills rubbed off on me), I have never found the patience to "practice" art enough to actually have a hope at getting better at it. I practice running and other forms of exercise; I practice reading; I attempt to practice cooking; and oh yea, I do practice law. But art... it is one of those things that I would sit in various art classes over the years and just not have the patience to enjoy it. I was just bad enough to want to improve, but too bad to think it was possible. And this didn't really bother me actually, I just figured it wasn't my shtick and moved on to something that I showed tangible improvement with, such as running.

But oh, I love to color, with Sadie.

Being the third of four children growing up in the 1970s, we didn't have much in the way of "art supplies". I remember my father's old dress shirts being used as smocks, so we must have painted. And I remember a roll of newsprint that my mother kept in the basement and we would tear off long sheets of paper to do something artistic with, but I don't really remember what. As much as my parents relished in creating time consuming (and pricey) fourth of July projects every year of my late teens and 20s, this was not a childhood memory of mine.  The packet of construction paper that my mother kept in her closet had permanent fade lines (the packet must have sat in the sun on our kitchen table or something, so one side of a piece of red paper was more like a tannish brown from fading).

Today I told Sadie the story that I never had new crayons as a child. I thought this story was timely and important since Sadie loves taking the paper off of her crayons and sharpening and resharpening until they are nubs, and now we probably only have 45 or so crayons from the packet of 64.  All of my crayons growing up were hand-me-downs (or communally owned) from Lisette and Scott. In fact, I remember one day seeing my mother come home with a brand new box of 64 crayons when I was 6, and I remember the feeling of excitement. She had bought them (plus 20+ spiral notebooks and the like) during a Sunday afternoon trip to a drug store called Dart Drug, presumably for school supplies. I was thrilled, my first set of new crayons. And I laugh as I remember my older sister telling me in the nicest way possible that they weren't for me, or for her or Scott, as Lisette had somehow discovered that my mother was pregnant with who was to be my younger sister, and the crayons would be for the new baby!  This is not a sad memory or a 'woe is me' memory at all, for it must have been later that night that we did confront my parents and they did share the wonderful news of our expanding family, and I didn't bring up the crayons. But I honestly don't ever remember getting them to use. I really do think that my mother bought them for Carolyn. My mother still has a crazy habit of buying things to use YEARS in advance if the price is right at the time (thus the construction paper, probably decades old by the time I used it).  She is one of those people that never is without a box of spaghetti noodles, but the 12 that she has in her cupboard are probably more than 5 years old.

But back to Sadie... I love to color with Sadie. And she is just really beginning to love art. In fact, just over the past couple weeks, she turned the corner on her own and started putting bodies on people as she drew them. Last March, the pediatrician asked Sadie to draw a happy person on, of all things, the top of the tongue depressor with a ball point pen. I was so proud to see Sadie's perfectly shaped happy face. And then from the sides, right next to the ears sprung arms and then below the chin, sprang legs. The pediatrician laughed and said that while a child knows his or her body parts, the cleared vision is of the face so that is what is drawn.

And so, just recently, Sadie has started drawing the body. So instead of asking me to do the outline of it so she can put on shoes, arms, and plenty of rings and bracelets, she does it now. And the grass is often green, and the sun yellow. The letters are written in a cute vertical fashion. And while the "E" usually has 4+ horizontal lines, the "S" is now front facing. And she can draw petals on flowers. I used to do the petals, and she did the nectar. We were a team that way.

So long longer am I hearing, as much, "you draw it Mommy."  Or even worse "I am not good at writing."  Sure there are times she isn't in the mood or would rather peel the crayon paper off. But more often than not, my role now is to tape the finished product up on the door.

I love how she is growing up. I loved every minute of today with her. No tantrums, no sullenness.

She saw a statue on Monument that had an angel figure on it (Jefferson Davis, for you Richmondites) and she asked me what the angel was doing. I said I wasn't sure, and a few minutes later she said "I think she is pointing to heaven, so others will know the way, and maybe she is doing that so Lily will know the way back and she can come back to us on earth."  She is deep.

I am glad to be at the head and body stage, even if it means that I am not as needed to color. Because she has a lot bigger questions going on with which I can help.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

"Do you [ever] work?" she asked...

The "ever" was implied, not actually said. But definitely implied.

This comment was said to me this morning. As I was taking Sadie to school. By someone who probably meant well, but it just didn't come across that way.

As a working mother, I have often felt like I needed to justify why I do what I do. Its a complicated decision, not one that either Mark or I took lightly. And one that we seem to revisit endlessly, especially during the last year. Do I need to work? There is not an easy answer to that question. In this economy, giving up a very well paying job is something that we can't take lightly.  We bought our house on Monument at the height of the real estate market and then renovated it from four apartments to the great single family home that it is. There are several houses that have been foreclosed upon in the block just east of us, and countless houses that have been for sale for the last 6-12 months, and remain unsold. Public schools in our area have certain drawbacks (and benefits, I agree) and the private schools are not inexpensive. And job security isn't something that is abounding in our community, let alone our field.  It is not easy to turn down a well-paying job at 41, especially in a field that is notorious about its obstacles to re-entry. I don't judge the women who have decided to stay home -- and I am jealous of them. But for us, this just isn't a smart option, right now.

When I went part-time this summer, it was after a lot of hand-wringing. I was giving up the goodwill, friendships and working relationships, client relations, and a multitude of other things at one place to start fresh at another firm, to make less money, but be guaranteed less hours. Again, a decision that we didn't make lightly. And one that the transition to hasn't been easy. I come to work, do my work, and go home. I don't hang out and socialize like I did at my old firm -- in fact, I pretty much don't talk to anyone. Am I happy there? Well yes, I am happy what being there does for my life. I get far more Sadie-time. Less money, but less stress.

I am an attorney. I have been an associate and a partner at a large firm. Long hours, endless deals... these are not unknowns to me. I have billed dozens of 18 hour days. I have missed family holidays. I have cried and slept in the office many times. I know what all of this means. I am glad I did it, but am more glad that I am not doing it now.

But just like some people "work from home", there are times that I spend now "homing from work" and I am not ashamed of this. There are times that I linger longer than maybe is necessary with Sadie in the morning, or I run home at lunch. I schedule an appointment during the work hours. I feel like these balance out, though. Because before I give Sadie her bath, I am notoriously on the blackberry at 7 pm at night. And before I go to sleep myself, I am sending more emails and tying up loose ends. Gone (for now at least) are the days where I am tackling substantive work projects for hours on end at night, but in the world of 24-7 accessibility, there is not a night that goes by that I am not responsive, and responding!

So maybe yes, I do work. My hours aren't necessarily set, or maybe they aren't conventional. But they are meaningful. 

I won't lie -- I see women getting promoted to senior executive positions in companies and part of me is jealous. I used to think that was a path that I would be on. Having my first child at 37 effectively means that most of my friends my same age, at 41, have teenagers. Teenagers that need guidance and attention, certainly, but not the same as Sadie commands. Those moms, in my opinion, have more time. And sometimes I feel like they have more drive. It wasn't long ago that I had that drive. Today I took a shower before work and got here before 9:30 -- that's about the most drive I could muster. My daughter will be a teenager and maybe at that point, I will also free up. But gosh, at that point, I will be dealing with osteoporosis, among other things I am sure.

My life is what it is, and with it, I am happy. Content? Well rested? Stimulated intellectually? Hmmmm. But non-judgmental, yes. Most definitely.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Advent, Lent and Ordinary Time

Growing up Catholic, I knew the the "seasons" of the Church calendar at one time. Now, not so much. But I do know the Big Three, and for different reasons, I love each of them.

Advent, of course, is the season anticipating Christ's birth. I am not ashamed to admit that I have taken the Christmas season (which technically follows Christmas) and super-imposed it onto Advent. I love the carols, I love all of the decorations. While we read Sadie her favorite book "Fancy Nancy's Splendiforous Christmas" almost every night, I can't fathom waiting until Christmas Eve to put up and decorate your tree. We will be lucky if we wait until the day after Thanksgiving to do ours. I just love everything about the anticipatory feeling of waiting for Christ's birth. And I love the whole manger concept, that it was the pure souls of the animals who received Him first. Sadie has another book called "Room for Little One" that has the most beautiful illustrations of the animals who invite the Tired Donkey (and Mary and Joseph) into the stable "There's always room for a little one here." after they invite all the other animals needing shelter and safe care. It is like the first time we turn on the radiator heat in our tall drafty house... there is just instant warmth. We love Advent.

And the last few years, we have loved Lent too. In the past for me, Lent was always a time of suffering and doing-without. I remember the rainy season in college in Williamsburg, and to me, that epitomized Lent. Duck boots, eyes cast downward, sprinting from class to class. Waiting for Spring. More anticipation, but not like the happy anticipation of Advent.  Until, that is, my third tri-mester with Sadie.

Lent with Sadie was not a season of doing-without.  It was indulgent, and not just in terms of food. Everything in my life was full in the most marvelous way. I truly felt like Jesus rose for us a few months early and I had him all to myself. Never before in my life did I feel that I embodied a Blessing in my belly like I did with Sadie those last few months of pregnancy.  Lent has always meant something more to me since then. It doesn't mean suffering, it means contemplation. It means making yourself ready.

And there is a lot to be said for Ordinary Time. In fact, we could use a few more weeks of it honestly in our house. Just some stillness. The weekends fly by with such rapid speed now that I blink, and they are over. And yet my nights of insomnia or restlessness and worry, those seem to drag on. Sadie calls me at work and begs me "when are you going to come home Mama?" and my heart breaks for her. And yet I get there sometimes, and she chooses a silly television show over our time together and I realize that she is growing up and really doesn't need me the way that she used to.  And then, hours later, I lay in her bed with her and she holds my hand as she falls asleep and I pray inside my head "stay like this forever little girl, know that I adore you."  The moments pass though, there is too much to be done, to get ready for this or that, to clean up from that or this.

I want the next two weeks to fly by, and yet, I want some moments to last forever. 

Saturday we took Sadie apple picking at Carter's Mountain Orchard. Sadie was so excited about going to the mountains, she had been asking about it all week. We turned off the main road to take the road up the mountain and she was gleeful in the back seat. "I love it here!!" she called out. Just from the beauty of seeing it. Just from the elevation lifting her upward in a car. She was gleeful!  She is such a celebratory child. And there I am, teary with emotion "remember this moment remember this moment remember this moment" I told myself as I watched her see the Purple Mountains Majesty for the first time in her life.

I found this picture today... it was a picture my parents took at their house the day Mark and I announced to them that we were pregnant. This picture is all seasons, Lent, Advent and Ordinary Time. Nothing guaranteed that this pregnancy would last... I think this picture was probably taken within a week of a positive test. We didn't know what exactly we were anticipating by this point. And honestly, things felt  pretty darn ordinary here.  We were just enjoying it. We were hopeful.

That's what I want for right now. I just want a few weeks of being hopeful. Not worrying about the consequences. Not wondering if I have made a good or bad decision in the past.  I want just a mini-season of Hope.  Maybe after all, that's what Advent is.