Friday, June 1, 2012

Because I have to post one pregnancy blog

Is God the kind of God who wants the best for us, personally, and therefore teaches us the lessons we need most, sometimes by painful methods?

Or is it our own survival instinct - this drive to thrive and live well - that compels us to find what we need in difficult situations?

These are not mutually exclusive ideas, but the point is to wonder: is there some explanation - other than that there is no explanation, and that life is largely arbitrary - for pain?

 For the last three weeks, I have been waking up every hour with burning, shooting, throbbing pain in my fingers, hands and arms. By 4 am, the accumulated inflammation is so intense that I can’t really get to sleep again until the afternoon, when the swelling subsides enough to take an uncomfortable nap. Apparently, carpel tunnel syndrome is very common during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The swelling that notoriously puffs up your ankles during the day, spreads out to your upper half when you get horizontal at night. The extra fluid compresses the nerves in your wrist, causing pain.

If you watched me get up at night, you would think I had multiple personalities. Some nights, I get angry at Bryce for sleeping. I rearrange my pillows with my elbows (hands are too weak), move from the bed to the recliner and back again, loudly fumbling and sighing, waiting for him to ask me if I am alright. When he does, I answer with a sullen “no.” Other nights, I go into the living room like a zombie and watch old episodes of Monk on Hulu. Recently, I discovered that there are four kittens living underneath our porch. They come up with Mama cat to nurse and play all night long. Some nights, I turn on the porch light and watch them, feeling good for being so mindful and grateful for the new life all around and inside me. Some nights, I just breathe as I lie there in bed. Others, I throw a full-on hiccuping temper tantrum. These past couple nights, I’ve been eating cold pre-cut watermelon slices from the fridge and walking around the house like a woman in a movie. Usually, each night is some combination of these.

So far, nothing has made the pain go away. In the light of the day, it’s funny to me that I’ve had the subconscious assumption that something would.

The lessons I choose to take from this experience are: 1) Motherhood does not guarantee a good night’s sleep. Get used to carrying around a hefty sleep debt. 2) When you wake in the middle of the night, whether from pain or to soothe a crying babe, it’s better to stay calm. 3) This is how to breathe through pain. Use this to prepare for labor, delivery...and motherhood. 4) I must believe there is a relational reason for pain, since I am willing to bring it on by writing this blog 5) Your ego will fight ugly when it is threatened.

How is my ego threatened by pregnancy related carpel tunnel syndrome? I like to feel strong. I want to be that woman for whom pregnancy is a breeze. The woman who always says with a genuine smile, “I feel like hell, but it’s worth it!” I want to be the farmer who harvests turnips in the fields until she goes into labor, and then straps the baby back on two days later to dig potatoes, already having bonded appropriately and developed a rhythmic nursing schedule. I DO NOT want to be the woman who constantly needs reassurance, sips of ice water, back rubs and inordinate amounts of compassion through the temper tantrums. I don’t want to be the woman for whom the necessary sacrifices of adult life - of marriage, career, and family - elicit resentment and self-pity. I don’t want to need to cry to my husband, friends and family, over and over again, for the same things that get us all.

But I am that woman. I do wake up in the middle of the night feeling very, very sorry for myself. Often, I want other people to feel sorry for me. I wish I were stronger or better than that, but I’m not.

So back to the original question. Is it God or is it me whose compelling me to look underneath my desire to be strong. What’s down there? What does the tender spot reveal about who I really am, that my friends and family already know? How can I use carpel tunnel syndrome to wake up - in the spiritual sense, not just the one where I wander around the house eating watermelon - to life? To motherhood?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

As Bart Simpson likes to say, "Eat my dust."

The other day I posted a request on my sister, Katie’s facebook wall for a “baby bump” picture. Our sister, Hilary and cousin, Jean immediately endorsed the cause. Katie answered with characteristic sparkle that she would post a picture as soon as I posted a blog. So Jean, Hilary, Katie, and Baby Pat, this one is for you...

(Katie also supplied the topic, “fall foods.”)

I ate a baked sweet potato yesterday at Logan’s Steakhouse in Richmond. It was gigantic, dry, anemic and sweet-ish. Bryce got one, too, and our combined leftovers probably weighed 3 pounds. No exaggeration.

We’d been running errands all day and were hungry! Outside it was drizzly, 50 degrees cooler than it had been five days before. I had a fall feeling. Books, blankets, chuck roasts with vegetables, sweet potatoes, leaves, jogging through the woods, hot coffee and cold pumpkin pie for breakfast, etc. Everyone has a fall list. Anyway, I had the fall feeling, so instead of being anxious that we weren’t working on the farm, I enjoyed the cozy two hours we spent in JC Penny, buying clothes for Bryce. The fitting room attendant observed that he was “worst than most women.” To be fair, he needed new clothes, and he wouldn’t settle for less than what he’ll wear until it’s threadbare.

After lunch and grocery shopping, I spent the ride home pondering two seemingly unrelated experiences of this fall feeling; 1) An idealized yet ultimately unfulfilling sweet potato, and 2) A recent flux in the number of conversations with people who believe that the end times are near. “What do these two things have in common” was the name of the game.

My answer? Hunger. We are hungry for what we are hungry at this time of year - for the fruits harvested before the vines die in the first freeze, and for that very killing chill. For death, for a dying back and dying down. If I sound overly morbid, then I probably am. But that’s the point! There is no denying that we have an appetite for destruction, bad news, even apocalyptic forecasts. Next time you find yourself or an acquaintance making grim predictions about the economy, the environment, the neighbor’s marriage, etc. - even if the predictions carry a certain grief about the suffering that will ensue - take note of the predictor’s satisfaction. It’s as if we double-dog-dare mother nature, father god, shiva, karma, or some myth-less natural force, to tear it all down.

I do not say all this to condemn us. I think it’s pretty natural to be hungry for death. We can find fun, rest, perspective, gratitude etc. in little deaths - in Halloween, corpse pose and songs/prayers like, “I’ll Fly Away.” It’s when we don’t know or name our hunger, when we call it something else, that death consumes us. Instead of allowing the decaying crops and and the shorter days to give us our temporary fill, we wish for more destruction, still.

Same with that sweet potato. I might have eaten myself into a stomach ache in search of the quintessential bite - the sweet, melty bite that would have completed my fall feeling - if I had not known that that’s what I was hungry for; if I had not known that I was not going to find it, not at Logan’s, not at a farm-to-table joint with local, hand-cut, organic sweet potato fries, not ever, not anywhere. Not perhaps until I am hungry no more.

So this is what I say to all the death-eaters out there, including myself when I become one: people have been predicting the “end of times” for as long as people have been people. People have secretly wished for the storm, the quake, the judgement, the fire, the end, and knowingly or unknowingly disguised the wish as a premonition, for just as long. Let’s call a spade a spade.

Katie and Pierce Hale are about to have a baby. In some ways it’s the blessed “beginning of times.” Katie, I promise my next blog will actually have more to do with fall foods.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Back to Georgia

I visited home this past weekend for my sister's baby shower. Georgia still feels like home, even though I’ve been married to Bryce and living in Kentucky for almost four months now. (My mom always said it takes four seasons for a place to become home). I’d been looking forward to the trip for a while...ready to connect with the people I know, who know me. Just your average, plain old case of homesickness.

There’s this expectation when you go home - or on vacation, or take the day off - that you will feel good. You will feel rested and cheerful. Homesickness will give way to comfort. Mind, body, and soul will find peace. But I always forget that my experience can be quite the opposite. When I go on vacation, I become anxious. When I retreat to the mountains with girlfriends, I worry about the things I say and do. When I sit to pray or to meditate, panicky restlessness comes into my chest.

I don’t mean that slowing down is categorically a difficult, burdensome thing. There is an easing, a spaciousness and some perspective. All this can be true at the same time, right? It’s just like sleeping. You fall asleep, your body and mind relax, and strange, horrible, wonderful dreams crop up. Talking snakes, invisible pants, lethargic tornadoes...

This weekend, as I found myself relaxing and reveling in the company of dear friends and family, I also found myself in the throws of insecurity. On my drive to Rome Sunday morning - for church at St. Peter’s and visits with friends - I “told myself stories” about why I am less than the people I love. Praise to the Spirit for that morning’s New Testament reading (below). It reminded me of the instruction to be glad for rather than jealous of people in their giftedness. In the body of Christ, there is no competition, only complement!

Romans 12:1-8
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last Blog Maybe

I've been negligent, but no more. Today I will manage to completely fulfill my commitment: one last blog. I've been bad about them anyway...

Yesterday was amazing. I woke up as the deciding states reported their votes. When I turned on my computer at 5:45 Durban time, there were around 230 electoral votes for Obama. As I drank my tea--english breakfast with milk and honey--I refreshed the New York Times page over and over and over, tapping anxiously until the scales tipped and Barack Obama became our president. My South African roommate, Karina stood by, and when it happened we first double and then triple checked the confirmation (we were waiting for someone to say, "America's new president is Barack Obama" before we let go all that self-preserving doubt we've been carrying for a while) and then gave each other a huge hug.

A couple minutes later--alone again--I said a prayer for Obama and his family. I don't know if people back home are talking about Obama's safety. I don't know if it's an inappropriate subject. But honestly, I am concerned. We all keep referring to Dr. Martin Luther King's dream--we see it's fruition in this day--and yet we know the dream is not fully realized. Ignorance, fear, and hatred turn into exclusion and violence all around us. Not just at home but everywhere. Immigrants in South Africa this year have been tortured, made homeless, and killed for their difference. Ethnic warfare rages on in Congo.

I remember the day when Dad took our family to "paradise valley." We played at the foot of an awesome waterfall in a valley of the Great Smoky Mountains for hours. The creekbed and beach were made of a million broken pieces of mica, and shined like diamonds. If I'm remembering correctly, we even had tuna-fish sandwiches and cokes (my mom makes the best tuna-fish!). On our walk back to the car, we met an old man, and he and Dad struck up a pleasant conversation. ...Until he told us to be careful out there in those woods....'there's niggers out there'. My Dad asked him not to talk like that, but it was too late, Katie and I had already heard. For Katie, it was the first time she had heard someone actually verbalize such meanness. She cried and cried.

I suppose things have changed even since then, but deep in my heart, I fear those backwoods. I fear the backwoods of the human heart where ignorance and fear still so often reside. I don't know if it's uncool to voice my fear--my excuse is that I'm out of the country--but I'll go ahead and say it: I'm worried that people will try to kill our beloved new president. So I pray with gratitude for this day, and I petition God--I petition the capacity for love in all of us--to transform ignorance into understanding. Although ignorance does persist in all of us to some extent, Dr. King was a man of heavenly vision; he saw a paradise where lion and lamb lay together. It is our privilege and responsibility as human beings to always be working toward such a world. But as we work, we can also revel in the beauty of the Kingdom as it we can rest and soak in the sun!

I have two weeks left in South Africa. Today, I'm making last stops to St. Martin's Diocesan Home for Children, the Department of Vehicular Registration, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Rotary Club of Durban North. Half those people are getting the peanut-butter, oatmeal cranberry, and chocolate chip cookies I spent Tuesday afternoon baking (busy work to keep my mind off the election). Mom sent me reeses pieces, giardelli morsels, and tollhouse butterscotch chips so that I could make a real American show of gratitude for all the people who have made Durban home for me this year.

When I return homehome, it's off to Tim's wedding, then back to Atlanta for Wilson's. The holidays will culminate with the largest celebration EVER: my little sis is gettin hitched! Then, I'll be working on my thesis, looking for a job, and eating lots of lentils so that I can pay off my credit card. My last big purchase in South Africa: my upstairs roommate is a fashion designer and he is making me a silk little black dress to wear to all these wedding!!! Maybe I'll look so good I'll find my own honey to squeeze on...

Signing off, yours truly,

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

I've known it all along

I will never ever claim to be a good matchmaker. I, myself, fall in love easily, frivolously, intensely, with most people I know. Needless to say, when I get "a feeling" about other people's relationships, I am usually wrong. I can only make up for being wrong so often by being a compassionate listener and willing bad-mouther.

But I swear, when Pierce Hale came down the escalator at LAX airport with Katie and Jean just over a year ago, I knew within a couple minutes. I mean I just knew it. I wanted this guy to be my brother in law. And then we all went back to da 'hood and he played Angel from Montgomery on the piano.

Katie and Pierce, too bad you will have to listen to me retell this story again and again for the rest of your wedded lives. It's not even really a story, it's just me trying to figure out how things like this the universe aligns and people come together and sisters' souls speak to each other without words or understanding.

I can't wait to get drunk at your wedding so that I can tell this story in front of lots of people, cry a helluva lot, fall in love with everyone in the room, and make some really poor matchmaking efforts, either for myself or Greg Muse.

Congratulations, my beautiful Katrinkle. Congratulations, my handsome brother-to-be Pierce. South Africa sends you a big fat virtual diamond (ooh, bad joke)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Journeys big and small

T.S. Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" has been one of my favorite poems since 12th grade when my Dad read it to me at the dinner table one night, recommending I use it for a project in my literature class. I did, and I have returned to it over and over again...the magi come to me in Advent, during Lent, in dark times and in moments of light when I am converted all over again. Tonight, the lights came on. It was a little conversion, a little reminder of why I have faith in all I do.

I was reading--just 5 minutes ago--for an assignment. My task is to choose a poverty-reduction strategy, come up with an impact evaluation and make a solid case for both. I have chosen land transfers to poor black farmers, and will frame my essay with a discussion of post-apartheid inequality. I've read many articles on the subject, but the one in particular just happened to use a phrase Eliot uses in his poem--the old dispensation--to describe the system of unjust land distribution that continues to plague South Africa. The landed rich minority and the un-landed poor majority are stratified across an uneven landscape.

At the end of their treacherous journey, the magi find the baby Jesus. They witness the miracle of birth, a birth of Eternal Life Proportions. But there is a death, also, their own death, death to former ways of being. The old dispensation has no place in this little baby's kingdom. Justice and peace require us to die to our old ways of being, and it ain't easy. But damn it's good. Even if we just practice a little bit, it's good.

That's all I'm gonna say about that. I hope the little connection speaks to you, too. If not, then connect with me. It's easy, just close your eyes and imagine me sitting in my desk, glasses on, bare feet, broccoli in my teeth, thinking of you. Thanks for reading my blog and praying with me.

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The was deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires gong out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty, and charging high prices.:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we lead all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Immigrant Killings

This is a strange blog, and forgive me Jean for posting an email exchange, but as I sent it to you, it occurred to me that if I have anything to say about the immigrant killings in Johannesburg right now, then this is it. I figure a few people might log on to check in on me, so ....

> Date: Mon, 19 May 2008 09:03:39 -0400
> From:
> To:
> Subject: all ok?
> Hey Anna,
> I owe you a real email, but I just wanted to check that all is alright with you and that you're safe. I know the violence has been in Johannesburg, but GOD is that terrifying. What are people around you saying/thinking/feeling? What about you? What is with the world!??
> I love you,
> Jean

my reply:

...Yes, I am ok. I am fine and safe. The violence is terrifying though. One of the most terrifying things is: I am fine, all is well here in Durban, things keep going just as they usually do, as if nothing had happened. In fact, people are hardly talking about the killings. (I don't watch the local news).

I had this thought during class today..."what the hell, in the past few weeks, a cyclone has killed thousands, an earthquake has killed thousands, hunger has killed thousands, and yet we just keep going." It doesn't make any sense. Shouldnt things just stop? But they dont. I am bewildered by this world, honestly.

But I am happy, cheerful, have been doing just fine. Going to do a Rotary presentation tonight. (see what I mean!?)

I love you,