The hammock

When the sun shines on Ivy’s golden hair,
I catch a piece of the meaning of life.
Here on the hammock,
we read a poem and watch a bee crawling on the grass,
moving to the slight motion of a July breeze
and the weight of our bodies close,
leaning to the woven centre.

She rests her arm on my leg,
declares,
“Well, isn’t this a beautiful day,”
and I do believe no truer words were spoken.
Her praise is an ordination I never expected,
a mantle passed from young to old,
as only a child can confirm this calling.
Perhaps the only one who can tell you who you are
is the one that passes through your body
and pulls you out of yourself
into long, slow love
and simple nearness.

A lawnmower drones in the distance,
a handful of sparrows dart and sing,
and we swing,
suspended in the knowing,
knowing our place,
our peace.

~

Lindsey Gallant

S.D.G.

Living Water: How God Finds You at Your Lowest

I’ve been playing in the mud this spring. Partly because spring is always mud season on Prince Edward Island, and partly because it’s good therapy.

At the end of January I was in a car accident with my daughter. We hit black ice driving home one afternoon, and flew off the road. Thankfully, a huge snowbank cushioned our rear end impact, and we walked away unhurt. Or so I thought.

A few days later, strange things started happening in my body – headaches, severe nausea, strange pains, and fatigue. Almost three weeks after the accident I was diagnosed with a concussion and whiplash, and told to expect a couple more weeks before I was feeling back to normal.

But the normal never came. My symptoms got worse. My visual system started shutting down, and I felt increased pressure in my head. I couldn’t look at a screen without pain in my eyes. I couldn’t read to my kids. I couldn’t drive. I could barely get up to feed myself, let alone my family. I was spending day after day laid low in bed. Finally I called my doctor in tears, asking when I was supposed to start getting better.

That desperate phone call started off a process of therapy with a concussion and neuro treatment specialist. Now a few months down the path I’ve made major progress, but it’s been an up and down journey. Some days I feel almost normal. Other days I’m knocked back with an unexpected setback that feels like a punch in the gut. I’ve had to be ok with receiving help from others. I’ve had to let go of many of my ideals and plans for this season. To be ok with “failure.” My family has been an amazing support, but it hurts my heart not to be physically able to be the mom I want to be for my kids all the time. The brain is a fascinating and fragile creation. I’ve got a new appreciation for both the complexity and the limitations of the human body.

And so, I’ve been playing in the mud.

When the weather warmed up, getting outside for a few minutes was an absolute sanity saver. I needed the movement and fresh air, and walking didn’t aggravate my symptoms. I didn’t always go far. Sometimes I didn’t have the energy. But one of my favourite places to go is a patch of scraggly woods at the edge of our property. There’s a clearing there, part of an old roadway, which has always been particularly damp. Back in the fall, I hand dug a ditch to try and help the water drain properly. When spring came, the area once again became a soggy mess of mud and stagnant puddles.

The other day, I took our trusty spade down to the clearing to see if I could rearrange those clumps of thick red clay for better drainage. Leaves and other forest debris have clogged the channel, and in one place it is caved in altogether. The mud is unbelievably heavy, and I work slowly so I don’t strain my neck. Patches of green moss and ferns are popping up. The birds keep me company, mostly sparrows and chickadees, darting overhead and puzzling at my not-so-graceful activity.

Out here, my brain seems to relax, and I enjoy this grown-up version of making mud pies. I shove the spade under the clods of clay, shifting and scooping, turning and tamping. My boots are soon coated with a thick layer of oozy mud. Finally, the channel is freed, and I watch the water rush and swirl, shaping its stream around the sticks and small rocks, looking for the lowest point.

My mind meanders along with the ripples of water. What is it about moving water that is so satisfying to watch? It’s like it was made to be in motion, catching the light, creating music, drawing us into its liquid dance. When it moves, it’s alive.

“Living water.”

My thoughts turn to the story in the gospel of John where Jesus meets a woman at a well in the heat of the day. The woman is a Samaritan, and the Jews and Samaritans have been at odds with each other for generations. When Jesus asks her for a drink, since He doesn’t have anything to draw from the deep well with, she is surprised, suspicious even. What is this Jewish man thinking? Doesn’t he know better than to talk to a Samaritan, and a woman at that?

But Jesus’ question starts a conversation, in which He reveals both the thirst of her own soul and His identity as the Source of all she is seeking. He has a gift – “living water” – a type of water that doesn’t just fill temporarily, but overflows, and opens up a spring to eternal realities. Jesus later reveals that this water is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself, God’s very presence which would be given to those who believe in Him (John 7:38-39).

What low point was the Samaritan woman at, that hot afternoon at the well? Did she feel jaded? Powerless? Taken advantage of? An outsider? A failure? Cracked with shame? Cut off from promise? Desperate?

How many times do we find ourselves laid low by these very things? And we think our lowliness somehow disqualifies us from the abundant life we’ve heard of.

Not so.

I lean on the spade and watch the little dancing stream find its way to the low ground. And the truth strikes me breathless, here in the ditch – water always finds the lowest point. Living water always finds you at your lowest point.

There’s no such thing as too low. Jesus’ words to the outcast woman broke something open within her parched heart, and she was one of the first to recognize Jesus for who He was as Messiah, one of the first to get a taste of His renewing life.

This living water is for all of us. Our lows may look different – a physical ailment, family crisis, a trauma we never expected, or maybe just the steady drain of life’s demands, day after day, year after year. We all find ourselves in places that we can’t seem to lift ourselves out of.

But the good news is for just such places. The Holy Spirit can soak and settle into all those cracks of need, brokenness, and desire. He can quench the thirst we are too afraid to even acknowledge. Jesus’ water can reach that place in your soul. The Holy Spirit is the living stream of life that Jesus promised – more than a pat answer, a product, or a painkiller – but a presence.

A presence, with you in the low. By nature, He seeks the low. He loves the low. He delights in throwing Himself down the muddy channel to fill the waiting ditch!

I take a deep breath, stretching my muscles and inhaling the forest air. I’ve done enough digging for the day, and should head back to the house for a rest. But I feel refreshed.

Before I leave, I bend and dip my fingers in the water. It feels alive. I can’t help but smile, here in the mud. And the joy wells up, from deep within. Living water.

~

If you’d like to experience more of the presence of the Holy Spirit this spring, perhaps you’d be interested in the new Pentecost Morning Time Plans I’ve created? These plans were dreamt up during my recovery time, and with the help of some of my amazing friends, they are ready just in time for Pentecost!

Enrich your family life or personal devotions with an exploration and celebration of Pentecost. Immerse yourself in the beauty of Scripture, music, art, poetry, and prayer. Think of it as a week-long renewal in the life-giving reality of the Holy Spirit. It is my hope that these plans will be a channel of blessing to you and your family!

(Pentecost Sunday is May 23rd this year. We’ll be using the plans the week after Pentecost Sunday, but feel free to use any time you’d like a week of Holy Spirit refreshment!)

~

Lindsey

S.D.G.

Patience for healing

Healing is hard work.

There are days the body goes on strike and says, nope, not gonna happen, not today.

All I can do is make friends with patience, though I often wish for other companions. We sit on the porch and I try to appreciate her gifts.

Like finding pain relief in tiny spring blooms, and joy in silence, and courage to let go of the day as I planned it. Patience doesn’t chatter.

Hers is a slow wisdom. She can take weeks to complete a thought.

But she is faithful. She doesn’t shun the hard work. Perhaps, indeed, she makes it holy.

~

Lindsey

S.D.G.

Waking Up to Motherhood: Doubt, Dance, and a Donut Shop

{This Mother’s Day, I am sharing the story of my eldest daughter’s birth, which is, in a way, the story of my own new birth. I think all moms know that motherhood looks very little like a Hallmark card. But as we share the truth of our experience, I believe we will be stronger, more connected, and more grateful for the power of motherhood, in all its pain and joy.}

Arden grabs the bag with her dance shoes, water bottle, and notebook, smiles a goodbye, then dashes out of the car. I smile back and say, “Have fun!” just before the door slams. The smile sticks on my face, matching hers, till I realize she’s missing something – her mask. I open my door to the cold and shout across the snowy parking lot, “Your mask!”

She races back, secures the burgundy cloth over her nose and mouth, and is off again. I watch her run up the steps to the glass double doors, open them wide, and walk confidently into the building. This my first time taking her to the College of Piping for step dance lessons. This is one of the biggest dance schools on the island, with a world class performance program. It’s almost an hour’s drive from our house, but she was just thrilled to get dancing again. It’s been nearly a year since lessons were cancelled at our local club.

My husband took her last week for her first lesson with the brand new instructor and head of the dance program, and another eleven year old girl she had never met before. It would be just the two dancers in the class, to allow for social distancing. Arden didn’t bat an eye when I told her I wouldn’t be the be the one coming with her to very first lesson, because of a book club I’d already committed to. That’s how I could tell she was really excited. She didn’t need me there.

Now, tonight, I watch her go into the College, tall in her dance leggings, wearing her new hair scrunchie (all the old fashions are new again), and looking so grown up. She just wants to dance, and her feet lead her, as if by instinct, down the halls to the mirrored practice room.

I’m proud of her confidence. And I feel a pang, as if something within me has stretched into a new shape.

I drive down the road to the Tim Horton’s to wait somewhere warm till the class is over. There are a few old men sitting in booths, shooting the breeze and sipping their double-doubles. I sanitize my hands, sign the contract tracing form, and order a lemon tea and an old fashioned sugar donut. They were my favourite when I was pregnant with Arden.

I settle myself at a booth in the corner. There are two women sitting not far from me, and I hear pieces of their conversation. They are talking about babies, and one tells the other how she knows she’s not ready for “all that.”

Are we ever ready? Suddenly I am taken back to over a decade ago. I remember what it was like when Arden came into the world. How un-confident I felt.

*

What had started as a normal labour after my water broke progressed overnight into a dangerous situation. The baby’s heart rate was too low, too weak. It all unfolded so quickly. One minute they were prepping me for a regular C-section. Micah changed into scrubs and we went somewhat nervously together down the hospital corridor to the OR room, him walking beside my bed-on-wheels. The next minute we were stopped outside the OR door.

“We’re sorry, your husband can’t come in with you,” a nurse told me gently. “We need to put you under so we can get the baby out right away.”

I turned to Micah and grabbed his hand frantically. “Make sure you hold the baby skin to skin!”

“You’ll need to give your him your glasses,” the nurse said.

I handed them over. “Call my parents and tell them what’s happening!” There was no more time. I was wheeled in, and the double doors shut behind me.

I went in alone, and half blind. I tried to breathe. I tried to pray. I had been instructed to lie flat on my back. A fetal heart monitor pressed into my abdomen, recording the troubling signs of fetal distress. Once I knew it was inevitable, I just wanted it to be over.

I waited and waited for the drugs to kick in and release my consciousness from the gripping pain of contractions. The doctor and nurse were only half paying attention to the labouring woman in their care as they discussed after-work plans and commented on the medical supply inventory. This was nothing new to them. It was all new to me. My first surgery. My first baby. “Hurry up, hurry up,” was all I could think.

Finally, the sleep came.

~

The first thing I notice when I wake up is how sore my throat is. My world is still dark, but I can hear noises nearby, among them the voice of a woman. A nurse? I can’t yet open my eyes.

“Water.” I try to speak the word, but my lips have forgotten the form, and my throat is too dry.

“Water,” I try again, this time between a whisper and a croak, but it’s enough to get the nurse’s attention.

“You’ve been out a long time.” Her voice sounds cheerful but distant. “How are you feeling?”

“Water.” I repeat. “My throat is sore.” I hear her bustling away to fulfill my request.

I wait, thinking only of water. Am I awake? Water. Why is my throat so sore? Water. Emergency. C-Section. The baby. The baby? Where was the baby?

“Is the baby ok?” I call out. I am still in darkness. I am so thirsty.

I hear her footsteps come closer. “Yes, the baby is just fine. You had a little girl. She’s been waiting for you.”

I open my eyes and reach for the paper cup she holds out. The water is cool relief down my throat. I begin to adjust to the light.

When I finally see my little girl, she is tucked into Micah’s scrub shirt, screaming her head off. His chest hair is a poor substitution for her hunger. He looks relieved to see me. “She needs you,” he says.

I get situated on the hospital bed, still groggy, but anxious to hold her, to meet her at last.

“Arden,” I whisper, taking her in my arms, for the first time feeling the exquisite weight of a newborn. My newborn. My daughter.

Her face is red from crying, but she soon soothes to my skin. I am half bewildered, half overjoyed, all in love. I hardly know how this happened. I am a mom.

~

I didn’t know how it happened. That’s the thing.

This thought didn’t come to me till a few weeks later, in the parking lot of a hardware store in Summerside. My mom had run in to pick something up that we needed at the new house. We got the keys eleven days after Arden was born, and it needed a lot of work before we could move in. Arden was sleeping tentatively in the car seat behind me. My body was still tender from the C-section. In the quiet of the car, the agony of the last few weeks burst over me afresh.

Seven days and nights in the hospital with a jaundiced baby who wasn’t growing fast enough and had a hard time eating, cracked and bleeding nipples, lactation consultants pushing and lifting and pumping, sleep interrupted by nurses and vitals checks and midnight weighings and the incessant neediness of a hungry baby. Then, the days at home nursing through undiagnosed thrush, nursing through the night, nursing through the pain that shot out my toes if I didn’t curl them tight enough. I wasn’t sure if I would ever feel awake again. I wasn’t sure I would ever feel like myself again. No one told me this is what it would like to become a mother. No one told me it would be so hard.

I felt the tears gush down my face and I sobbed silently, trying not wake the baby in the back seat. I wasn’t sure I could handle any more of her crying.

And that’s when it hit me. I wasn’t even there for her birth. How can I call myself a mother when I don’t even remember the moment I became one?

If I had been awake the moment she had separated from my body, would it have been easier to accept the nourishment she demanded from me? If I had pushed her through the birth canal myself, mind and body in cooperation with the labour, would the bonding have come more naturally? She was taken from me, to save her life quite possibly, but I felt I had lost something along the way. Her birth happened to me. I nodded my assent in twisted panic, but did I really give birth at all?

*

I take a long, slow sip of lemon tea and dust the sugar off my coat. These thoughts haunt me still on days I question my own motherhood. Some women seem born to be moms. They take to children like geese to water, while I have often felt more like the ugly duckling trying to herd cats. Still bewildered.

I look at the clock behind the counter. Ten more minutes till I need to pick her up. I miss the sound of tapping shoes while I wait. In her old class, I would sit in the lobby of the local Lions’ Club, listening to the rhythmic stomping. It always amazed me how they progressed from a scattered cacophony of missteps at the beginning of the term to a steady stream of feet in unison. And Arden had the rhythm in her bones. When she put her foot down, she meant it. Confident. Demanding. At times exhausting.

Who was this girl who was so unlike me?

Whoever she was, she was the one who made me into a mother through a mysterious and terrifying process of fear and joy, resistance and surrender, desperation and wild love, the constant reshaping around each other as we learned to live as connected yet wholly separate beings.

Are the contractions ever really over?

I am surprised at the heat that rises in my face, here in the coffee shop. I felt cheated out of her birth. I wanted to be there. There’s always been this voice that’s whispered – “You’re a fake. How can you call yourself a mother?” And the darkness of that birth-sleep maybe helped me believe it on days our connection seemed so frayed.

But then I remember other people who slept their way to new creation. Adam, when God reached into his side and formed Eve out of his bone. Jesus, who spent three days in the darkness of death to birth his own bride. Perhaps I’m in good company after all.

There’s a hiddenness to birth, even when the female body is opened wide and screaming at 10 cm dilation, or split surgically under the lights of an OR room. Do we ever really know how any of this happens? Don’t all mothers come to the place where the only thing left is to die to everything we know and can control and let ourselves be remade from the inside out? Let the life out and dance all over our expectations and identity till we find ourselves broken, baptized and resurrected?

I drive back to the College and pull up to the sidewalk. A minute later she bounds out of the doors and into the car. “Mom!” She rips off her mask and is beaming. Her toes are still tapping. “I learned two new steps tonight!” I give her a big smile. Her face is flushed from dancing, and I enjoy her back seat chatter on the long drive home.

Mom. All I can do is keep waking up to what this means. Keep my feet in the dance, even when I don’t know the steps. Keep embracing the shape-shifting reality, half mystifying, half marvel – all in love.

I am a mom.

~

Lindsey Gallant

S.D.G.