Sunday, February 20, 2011

Recent Reads

In less than two weeks I'm speaking at our district's women's retreat. So writing anything big on this blog will be postponed until my three-hours-of-speaking script is in its final draft. In the meantime, here's what I've been reading since finishing maternity leave:

First-Time Reads:
The Exile, by Pearl Buck
Fighting Angel, by Pearl Buck
A Time for Risking: Priorities for Women, by Miriam Adeney
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austin
Mystics in Spite of Themselves: Four Saints and the Worlds They Didn't Leave, by R.A. Herrera

The Exile and Fighting Angel are biographies written by Buck about her missionary parents (mother and father, respectively). I am still working these two stories over in my mind. The books were fascinating and terrifying at the same time. So much sacrifice, so much loss; so much faith and so much folly. The stories are told with the sympathy of a child for her parents, but without the sympathy of shared faith. That makes them interesting and it makes them puzzling. And that's all I'll say for now.

Adeney's A Time for Risking was excellent. A bit dated (many of the illustrations are 20 years old), but extremely practical and encouraging. Especially to women of faith like me who feel stretched in many directions (family, career, education, and faith), and want to honour God in the midst of that stretched-ness. I highly recommend this one.

Mansfield Park was wonderful. I read it twice and watched the old-school BBC movie as well because I just couldn't get enough of it. And I think it might now be my favourite of Austen's works.

Mystics in Spite of Themselves was not quite as good as I hoped it would be, but certainly gave me a better perspective on four brothers of the faith (Augustine, Gregory I, Anselm, and Ramon Llul). I especially liked the sections on Gregory and Anselm. I personally have a strong pull towards mysticism which has been prevented from becoming a full-on plunge by life: a husband, three boys, and pastoring. And that's normal (and probably just as well) if I read the book aright. God works anyhow.

Seasons of Prayer: Rediscovering Classic Prayers through the Christian Calendar, by Donna Fletcher Crow
Harry Potter: books 4-7, by J.K. Rowling
Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About, by Kevin Trudeau
Persuasion, by Jane Austen
Isaiah, by God and Isaiah.
Psalms, by God and King David.

Seasons of Prayer was great, a nice, basic review of the liturgical calendar and ways in which we can be more intentional about keeping it. Harry Potter was...Harry Potter. I terribly ignored my family for 36 hours while I read the last four books (it had been about four years since I read them last, and I went into a similar seclusion then). I still feel the same way now as I did then: I couldn't put the books down until I was finished. But once I was finished, nothing much stuck in my head. So it may be another four years until I read them again (Forgive me, all Harry Potter lovers out there!)

Natural Cures came across as both crazier and more normal in this read, several years after the first one. Kevin Trudeau's health statements are well within alternative medicine orthodoxy; I know that now. It's his general attitude, writing style, and frequent references to "inside" knowledge that come across as totally batty (not to mention his formatting and font size; that's the former editor in me speaking). But as I mentioned in this post, his book changed my food life for the better. So crazy or no I'm glad to have read him.

Persuasion, by Austen...I re-read it again with great optimism after my Mansfield Park love-in. And unfortunately, I was not impressed. It's probably my least favourite of her books (although Emma is right down there with it).

Isaiah and Psalms. Richness. Conviction. Encouragement. Courage. I have received all this and more re-reading these two books of the Bible. I don't know what standard blog etiquette is when it comes to informing the public on your Bible reading. But these are the two books I've been camped out in for the last many months, and they have, without fail, nourished my soul.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dates, Birthdays, Anniversaries, Grace

This morning I managed the miraculous feat of getting all three of my sons to their yearly check-ups. Miraculous because we were on time (I rarely manage the same punctual feat getting them school). Miraculous because, let's be honest, another year of life in this world is a bit of a miracle.

The check-ups come now because we have just finished the Smedley Super Season of Birthdays. All three of the boys were born at the same time of year, in the cold, dark days between Christmas and Valentine's Day. The birthdays, for me, are days of grace. Not just because of the season (it's a dark, gloomy time of year here in Vancouver) but because of their proximity to the loss of my other children. My miscarriages happened a year apart, on January 27 and January 28. The dates still take me by surprise. Each year they begin normally, with little emotion. All seems to be well. And all is well while the sun is up and I am going about my day.

And then the sun sets. The darkness comes, the weeping in the night, the memories unbidden. Matt and the boys are not in tune to the dates, per the strange mystery that unites only a mother and her unborn child. It bothers me, but I understand it. The date a baby is born is a remembered by all with cake and candles and celebration. A baby that does not make it to birth is forgotten quickly, the dates of death burned in the memory of the mother who carried them...but no one else.

No one, except The One. The One who saw and formed those children. The One who called them home in a time and circumstance known only to Him. The One who, I remember each year, saw those children in their earliest days of life and held them in their silent day of death. And because He sees...because He knows...because He held them when I could is to Him I turn for comfort and consolation.

My faith does not attribute anything to "lucky" dates and times, as other faiths do. But we are always on the lookout for grace, and grace has abounded in the small details of time and place. I lost my babies in the Season of Birthdays. I experienced the death of children in conjunction with the celebration of living ones. It is a strange comfort, but comfort it is. And one year in particular the consolation was deep and wide.

On January 30, 2009, I went into BC Women's Hospital here in Vancouver to have a D&C following a complicated miscarriage with one of my unborn babies. Keep that date in your mind--January 30. They admitted me into the general triage area, populated mostly by other pregnant women being admitted for labour. This when my miscarriage was a bygone fact, when I knew my baby was dead. As I was being checked and prepped for a D&C I was separated by only a sheet--literally, a sheet--from a woman in labour. A monitor attached to her belly filled both of our "rooms" with the thump of a little heartbeat. After a few minutes of that wonderful, terrible melody, a nurse came in and kindly asked if it would help if they turned the monitor volume down. Yes, I said through anguished tears, it would help.

She complied. The heartbeat died away. I was alone for most of my time in triage, and the only thing that kept me sane were the images of my living sons that kept coming to my mind, and the deep, incontrivable knowledge that God was with me in that terrible place. It was grace in the agony, light in a horrible darkness.

A few hours later, the D&C happened and I went home with an empty womb. Deeper darkness.

But not forever. Several months later I was pregnant again, and went on to have a full-term, healthy pregnancy. And on January 30, 2010, I gave birth to Ephraim at BC Women's Hospital here in Vancouver. I was triaged in the very same "room" I had been in that terrible year before, this time listening to my own baby's heartbeat. And early in the morning, just before the dawn, Ephraim was safely, miraculously born.

Grace. Extended by God in the larger history of the world, and bursting forth unexpectedly in small consolations. We can't always expect such comfort through the redemption of dates and rooms and places. So when it comes--as indeed it came--words like "luck" and "fortune" are rendered hollow. They are only gifts of grace: unearned, healing reminders of the God who sees and accompanies us in all our joys and sorrows.