When Valley Entered the Atmosphere

I want to document my labor and delivery experience so that I can have something to look back on to remember the details of that glorious and wild day.

– – – – – – January 25th – – – – – –

My due date arrived. A 40 week visit with my midwife, Valerie, revealed that I was already 4 cm dilated! I hadn’t felt a single contraction, so I started secretly hoping that meant my contractions were painless and maybe the rest of my labor would progress as easily. Hah. She suggested a combination of 3 things that almost always make labor begin naturally: walk, squat, and have sex. I got to work.

– – – – – – January 26th – – – – – –

I woke up feeling weird things around 5am. Kind of crampy, uncomfortable. I went to the restroom and noticed that I had released my mucus plug. I started getting excited that today could be the day, but didn’t want to get my hopes up. I asked Mondo not to go into work, just in case, and went back to sleep. We took a leisurely walk to Le Petite Marche (about a mile from our house) later that morning for breakfast and walked home.

1:00pm
As soon as we got home from brunch, I started doing squats while holding on to the back of a chair. And vuala, about 10 squats in, my water broke! It wasn’t a huge gush of fluid like I expected. It was a steady “leak” sort of feeling. It continued leaking for a few hours. My midwife suggested I not labor at home for too long since I had advanced dilation, so by 4pm we were checking in to the hospital. I didn’t have any contractions, so I was upbeat and excited- I remember leisurely talking to the woman checking me in about what it was like growing up in Miami.

5:00pm
We got situated in the labor and delivery room and Valerie was the midwife on call, I was glad. She suggested we wait until 10 or 11pm to see if my contractions would start naturally. I started busting out all of the items I had so carefully researched and packed to help me induce labor and manage the pain of contractions. I took a warm shower with essential oils mixing in with the steam. I bounced on the yoga ball. My playlist was playing through the portable speakers. Contractions started around 7pm, they were manageable. Mondo warmed the rice pack in the microwave and held it against my lower back, that gave me a lot of relief. We timed the contractions and they were about 4-5 minutes apart; they started getting more intense and painful.

11:00pm
Valerie returned to check me and 6 hours of contractions later, I was still at 4cm! Since it had already been 10 hours since my water broke, she recommended we start using Pitocin to induce labor artificially. I had been hoping to avoid that drug, but I trusted my midwife. So they hooked me up to all of the things- baby’s heart monitor, contraction monitor, fluids, and now Pitocin. That was the beginning of the end of unmedicated labor. Pitocin’s contractions came fast and furious. They were stronger than my natural contractions had ever gotten. They were quickly only 2 or 3 minutes apart. Because of all the cords, I couldn’t move around enough to utilize all of the different positions and birthing ball techniques for natural pain management, so I was stuck laying on the bed- sometimes fighting the pain, sometimes melting into it. I was yelling, I was throwing up between contractions. I had diarrhea, but walking to the bathroom was a huge inconvenience because I had to take all of these IVs and monitors with me (even though I got the portable monitors).

2:00am
I hit a breaking point; I was exhausted (it was 2 am!), tired of fighting with all of the cords and IVs, and couldn’t handle the pain any longer. I said our secret code to Mondo, the one that meant I seriously couldn’t handle the pain anymore (“lets play Battlestar Galactica”) and we requested an Epidural. The nurse put in the order, but it usually takes 1-2 hours before everything is in place and ready. I was really wishing I had asked for the Epidural sooner. Those 2 hours were very hard.

4:00am
The anesthesiologist and her crew arrived. My contractions had been so close together and so intense that I asked to be checked, I was pretty sure I had dilated several centimeters, and if I was close to 10, I felt like I could tough it out and finish without the epidural. Guess what, I was only at 4.5 cm. I had barely progressed. There was no way I could take this for another undetermined amount of hours, so they got everything ready. Sitting still while she put that needle in my spine was quite difficult. I was so grateful to have Mondo sitting on my feet, facing me. He helped keep me steady and focused. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I guess compared to the contractions of childbirth, nothing hurts that much. Glory hallelujah, praise the Lord for whoever created epidurals. I felt no more pain and fell into a deep sleep.

7:00am
I woke up to a nurse setting up the delivery table. “Does that mean I’m delivering soon?” I asked him. He said, “probably.” Mondo called my mom; her and Lydia rushed over. It turned out that no, that didn’t mean I was delivering soon. We just had to wait it out, watching my contractions on a screen. I tried to rest, but it was impossible with all the things I was connected to. On top of the baby’s heart monitor, IV fluids, and Pitocin, I now had an internal contraction monitor, catheter for my urine (I was so glad not to have to be going to the bathroom every 15 minutes anymore), and blood pressure cuff. Once you take the epidural route, you get all strapped down…but it was worth it. Around this point I was feeling my contracts again, a little bit of the epidural had worn off, so a new anesthesiologist came to administer more medicine. When she walked in, I was in pain and in a daze, but I recognized her from The Beehive (a boutique I work at twice a month). That was kind of funny. She was shocked I remembered her and especially at such a moment.

11:00am
I started feeling ready to push. Even with the epidural, I could feel an intense pressure. I had been feeling it for the past hour, but only during contractions. The midwife said to call her when I started feeling like I had to push consistently- not just during contractions. This was that time. The midwives had switched shifts and now Dixie was with me. She was the same midwife we had met with to go over our birthing plan a few weeks prior, so I was grateful about that. She warned me that this was probably going to take a full hour or two, and we got started. Holy crap. I guess because I had gotten an epidural and the pain had subsided, I thought the worst was behind me. Pushing was hard! And I had to push so many times! I felt like all the books and classes I took focused on pain management for the contracts, but barely prepared me for how hard the pushing phase of delivery would be. Imagine that you haven’t eaten a meal in 20 hours. Imagine that you haven’t slept in 28 hours. Imagine that you have been through the most physically draining experience of your life for the last 12 hours. Then you have to run a marathon. That’s what it felt like. I was exhausted, sleepy, hungry… I had nothing left to give, and now I had to give everything. This is the only time in my life that I’ve had an out of body experience. I wanted to quit, but that wasn’t an option. I remember just watching myself from the outside.  There was no way through it but through….my body just kept doing what it had to do, but I felt like I checked out and watched from above. My mom was holding one leg, Mondo was holding the other, and Lydia was taking photos. Dixie was patient and good at giving clear directions about when to start pushing, how long to push for, and when to relax. I was in a “sitting squat” position, since I had an epidural and couldn’t stand up, this was the next best thing.IMG_2280 (2) IMG_2298IMG_2299I remember a lot about that hour. Dixie squealing as she told my mom that she had tickets to see Justin Timberlake in concert, my mom exclaiming that they could see Valley’s head and it was full of dark hair, how Mondo kept dropping my leg every time I asked for water or something to throw up in, the smell of the alcohol on the little wipe that I kept smelling between pushes to help my nausea, the blood pounding in my head as I pushed with all of my might, how I kept asking if I had pooped (it was hard to tell!), the feeling of despair when I asked how much longer and Dixie said “about 15 more good pushes”. FIFTEEN!? I swear, the people in the movies only push for like 3 minutes. I was at it for just over an hour before her head finally popped out. I could hear all the excitement, everyone got to see her little face and I had to keep working. IMG_2304IMG_2306

12:29am
On the next contraction, I gave one more good push and the rest of her body made its way out. She arrived! Dixie immediately laid her on my chest and I was shocked at how soft she was. “Valley! Oh Valley. You are so soft. Valley, you are so soft.” I kept looking at Mondo and looking back at this quiet little girl on my chest. She was starting at me so intently. I could tell that she recognized my voice, so I kept talking. She started to grumble and cry. “Tell me your story, Valley. That must have been quite a journey for you. We did such a hard thing today, girl, but we did it. You are here. We did it.” Mondo didn’t leave my side for that hour. We were giddy with joy, staring at this little human that magically grew within me and was now breathing oxygen. This little soul that somehow lived inside of my body… she was real. There was actually a person in there and now she was with me. It was all so surreal, so special.

IMG_2309IMG_2312IMG_2327IMG_2332IMG_2343IMG_2348IMG_2358Dixie stitched me up (I had internal tearing) and it all felt really uncomfortable and kind of painful, but I had the greatest distraction laying on my chest. She kept putting her tiny hand in her tiny mouth and sucking. The nurses helped me to try to breastfeed her, I can’t really remember if it worked or not. I kept thinking back to all the moments I spent talking to her in my belly- at the Sigur Ros concert a few hours after I got a positive on my pregnancy test, in Norway as we hiked along a waterfall, in the shower, on my 30th birthday costume party, during Christmas in St. Louis, at night on my bed… all of those moments, this is who I had been talking to, waiting for. This little creature. She was beautiful. She was perfect. And she was finally here. After my hour of skin to skin, Mondo got his hour of skin-to-skin. I just closed my eyes and rested.

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She weighed 6 lbs and 11 ounces, she was 23 inches long.

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That next week was really hard, but that’s a whole different story.

 

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Welcome, Valley Juliana.

I look at her peaceful face as she sleeps in my arms, overcome with love for this little life. A soul that existed within me is now free to be loved…and hurt in this world. God breathed life into her, and I was the vessel that contained and grew her. I want to tell her to be grateful for this life, but my instinct is to feel guilty for being the one to have chosen to procreate and expose her to all these risks. I whisper to her on our hospital bed, “I’m sorry… and you’re welcome. But most of all, thank you.”
 
I’m sorry for bringing you into this world, Valley. You will feel pain and experience sorrow, fear, and anxiety. It’s a dangerous thing; being alive and wanting to avoid death. This place is full of evil people and tragic accidents and you will not escape that.
You’re welcome, though. Because life is a mysterious, deep, and rich experience. Along with the pain you will find an immense beauty. With God, pure Goodness can transcend this dark world and allow you to see the magic and marvel at all of the harmony. Even the tragedy and evil can be wrapped up into something good and beautiful, and that is the mystery of His unending Goodness.
But mostly, thank you. Your existence isn’t only yours to regret or cherish. Because of you, and I know this to be true even in the short 24 hours I have been privileged to spend with you, I get to experience a greater spectrum of living. It’s like the chasms of sorrow are suddenly deeper and darker, and the peaks of joy sprout miles higher than I have ever seen them. Months before your conception, God reassured me that you were a risk worth taking. I’m so glad to finally meet you.
Born January 27, 2018 at 12:29pm – 6lbs 14 oz and 18.5 inches long.

Valley 3

Ready and waiting.

There is a soul buried in my womb living a warm, dark, and peaceful life. This time of harboring her in my body has been physically draining, and as I near the end of this season my anticipation for meeting her face to face has grown to a point that I can’t contain. But today I felt selfish about wanting her to exit that comfortable home where she has everything she needs. This is a cold world. A video I watched made by National Geographic about a baby’s journey into the world said that they begin their exit from the uterus smiling, but once they reach our world they don’t smile again until they are about 4 months old. It’s a hard transition for them, having to learn to communicate to get what they need… feeling all of these new and unpleasant sensations. I suddenly want her to spend as much time as she needs in there, gathering up the strength and stamina to withstand that transition. I’m also trying to make the most of the waiting, these final days of resting and nesting; of spending time with Mondo in our final moments of being a married couple without children. Her transition into this world will be hard, and our transition into parenthood will be hard too. Yet, I feel extremely ready for it. God’s timing is truly perfect- in our marriage, along our journey through life. I’m swelling up with anticipation, and yet quite content to enjoy the waiting. IMG_0008

When the lion roars.

Want to know something? I’ve lived a miracle. This week. A real, true miracle. And it didn’t happen while elders were laying their hands on me and praying, it didn’t happen as I memorized parts of the Bible. It didn’t happen through medication or therapy. It happened in an empty living room, just me on the couch with the golden morning sun pouring through the blinds.

Fear is comfortable to me; it has been with my all my life. I can think back to nights I spent sweating profusely beneath my comforter because I was too scared to sleep with my head “exposed” to all of my phantom fears. There’s a long list of bazaar things I would do to make myself feel safe. Some of them have continued on through adulthood, just out of habit. But I learned how to manage that type of fear well by the time I reached my twenties. Then the year Mondo and I were engaged, something triggered that fear and unleashed it full force. It was a call in the middle of the night that woke me up and left me shaking and looking for my keys. I didn’t stop shaking for 4 hours. My roommate at the time had gotten in an accident on her bike ride home. Her friend called me to come pick her up, she was coherent- but blood was dripping down every part of her face from a gash in her head. She was saying weird things and repeating herself. In the end, she was perfectly fine- but that night brought out my fear. It’s kind of like the reason I stopped watching all movies at some point; no matter how beautiful a movie will tie up the story in the end, the tragedy and pain in the middle are what stick to me. No happy ending can make me feel okay about the feelings of pain I experienced throughout the movie. It was a similar feeling that night. Even though my roommate was okay, the shock and fear of that night stuck to me. So much that I couldn’t be alone in a room, I couldn’t sleep, or walk to my car in the dark. I was paralyzed by fear.

That was 4 years ago. My fear has morphed throughout that time, changing shape every few years. It’s gone from fearing fantastical, unrealistic things to waking up to listen for Mondo’s breathing in the middle of the night to make sure he is alive. Some weeks have been better than others, but it all finally culminated in an intense anxiety in the past several months. A heavy anxiety that I lugged around with me everywhere I went. Sitting in my small group, with the fear weighing heavy on my chest that I would have to walk to my car in the dark, a block away. Sometimes it felt completely spiritual; I couldn’t trust God, I didn’t believe He was actually good. Sometimes it felt completely physiological; my brain was stuck in some pattern. Experiencing the fear and the actual physical reaction to someone breaking into my house 25 times a day was making my body hurt. It was hard to breath, I felt a heavy weight on my chest all day and night. Assuming Mondo had gotten in a car accident several times a day, imagining my nephew’s heart stop beating, jumping at every sound outside my door – I had reached the climax of my paranoid fear and my body started reacting. I had severe abdominal pains that couldn’t really be explained. I’ve been staring at my different paths to healing, unsure of which one to choose. I’ve spent hours researching doctors and asking friends for suggestions, getting price quotes and talking to my health insurance. A psychiatrist, medication, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a spiritual counselor, a natural doctor…but I couldn’t pull the trigger on any. God wouldn’t say, “go”.

I went on a retreat last week where we studied a little bit about our personality according to the Enneagram. I had never heard of it before, so it was all new and interesting to me. I scored highest on “The Helper,” and we did some exercises to flush out patterns of struggle common to our personality and how it influenced what we idolized. I could easily detect my desire for attention as a child and the obvious ways I tried to attain that (typical middle child syndrome- running up to the video camera, blocking out the cute baby that my mom was actually trying to record, and waving “Hi!! Want to see my tap routine?!”) It wasn’t hard to see how that pattern continued on through middle and high school, scheming for attention from anyone, especially boys. I wore enormous butterfly wings to everyday events. The photo album of my family in Washington DC during my freshmen year is a great display of my attention seeking wardrobe- showcasing the clunky, plastic tiara I wore the day we visited a Smithsonian, the batman cape at the Lincoln memorial, and my pink, furry cat ears as we explored Williamsburg. I guess it was naive of me to think that that strong desire for attention had magically disappeared. God really revealed to me through this exercise that I had simply found more socially acceptable ways of idolizing attention.

The Monday morning after the retreat, I sat in my living room in silence. God’s revelation of my sin over the weekend was huge. My personality type isn’t called “The Helper” for nothing, I love to help and serve and do good. I thought through all of the different ways I serve and the good deeds I’ve done, and they were suddenly all lined in a filthy desire for approval, attention, recognition, or even worse- a  bargain with God. I thought I was a pretty good person, but God brought that idea crumbling down. Nothing I have done was good. Although it appeared good from the outside, it stemmed from a rotting motivation. For the first time in a VERY long time, I saw myself as a sinner. A big sinner. In desperate need of a savior. For the first time in a VERY long time, I saw God’s sacrifice on the cross as a big deal. I saw his consistent love towards me as something I didn’t deserve. No matter how often I had said that phrase before, I never actually believed that I didn’t deserve it. All this time I had been an entitled teenage brat, upset with God every time He didn’t give me what I wanted. But on this mundane Monday morning, I finally, truly believed that God was good and I didn’t deserve any of it.

I read Psalms of praise out loud in my living room and cried with joy. I was actually, really joining in with creation and praising God for his goodness. HIS GOODNESS! That’s when my second revelation came about. All the goodness I have known has been my own. A false goodness, lined in selfish motivation. This was the goodness I was projecting on to God. Expecting that His goodness towards me was the same. Sure, He might bless me- but it was all just for His glory. Those are actual words in the Bible that I’ve misconstrued according to my own experience, but God’s desire for glory isn’t anything like my tainted desire for attention. God is a form of goodness that I know nothing about. A form of goodness that doesn’t exist on this world, that I will never fully comprehend. I crumbled and wept; profoundly aware of my sin and profoundly aware of His goodness. Caught in the paradox of being so full of sadness and joy.

Resting in His goodness this week has freed me. My fears have nearly vanished. I’m afraid to say I have been healed, because if my fear comes back I’ll look like a failure… but this isn’t about me. I have been trying to heal myself for 4 years. I have memorized verses about God’s goodness. I have sat in counseling sessions discussing the cause of my fear and how I can manage it. I have read books about trusting God. I have prayed incessantly. I have done it all, but it wasn’t until God graciously allowed me to step out of the way and give Him space at just the right time that true healing came. I desperately want there to be a formula. I want to be able to tell you to study your personality, do this worksheet, pray this way and read this verse, and voila! But the truth is that God is mysterious and sovereign. He has chosen me. Now. I may have believe that I had chosen Him all of this time, but the moment He decided to break through and make Himself known, there could be no doubt.

 A man in the jungle at night may suppose a hyena’s growl to be a lion’s; but when he hears the lion’s growl, he knows damn well it’s a lion.
-S
heldon Vanauken

Fear and anxiety had become my identity. They not only clouded my identity, but they muffled my personality. I wasn’t able to be myself. God came through at just the right time and rescued me. He lifted my burden of fear and anxiety and I feel at peace. I feel like myself again; a version of myself that is more beautifully aware of my brokenness and His sovereignty.

Kind of like wrestling a divine being in the middle of the night.

Why doesn’t God stop the bad things that happen in the world? Why is he so silent? Why is he unfair? There is no rhyme or reason to having a safe, tragedy free life. I remember standing within the peeling walls of an Ecuadorian cathedral, mothers on their knees as their children ran around the pews. I watched as they prayed to their chosen saint and I understood the appeal of their religion at that moment. If you do your part, God (or his saints) will do their part. It was easy for me to look at that from the outside and judge it as an incorrect view of God. That is a religion, not a relationship, that makes you feel like you have control over the future, and if things go wrong, it is simply because you didn’t hold up your end of the deal. However, my “relationship” with God looks just like that most of the time. In the religion I’ve created for myself, I thought there were certain things I could do to stay on God’s good side. I wasn’t lighting candles or reciting a memorized prayer, but I was trying to earn God’s favor in my own way, for my own selfish benefit.  If I spend time reading the Bible, if I am generous and kind and help bring about His kingdom on earth…surely these would guarantee me God’s protection. I was doing these things to earn the benefits God says He provides, not for Him.

We all hold on to books we read in our youth, we accidentally invent our own versions of truth.
(10,000 Beautiful Angels- Besides Daniel)

But throughout the past few years, my religion has crumbled. I’ve watched good, generous, people dive into tragedy. I’ve watched as godly men die young, leaving behind a mass of grieving friends and family. My “system” has proved to be a failure. The last thing I thought I could do to control my future has been buried alongside John Michael, David Carr, Theresa, and the countless others I grieve daily. Not only in physical death, but also in watching many of my parent’s generation deal with the pain and grief of watching their children turn their back on God. After having dedicated their lives to serving Him and raising their family according to His guidelines, it seems they have been let down. I’ve been looking at the world through the lens of a silent, apathetic God, and I highlight every moment where He could have done something… but didn’t. I internalize those moments and have made a list against God. I’ve been trying to switch out my glasses. I’ve been wanting to put on the glasses of faith, and trusting God’s goodness, but I can’t seem to keep them on for long. I read news articles about mass shootings and civil wars and I switch my glasses back. How can a “good” God let this happen? Why isn’t he doing anything?

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Art by Natalie K. Nelson that depicts my feelings through this process.

I often wonder, why am I still holding on to my faith? After struggling with this point of view for nearly 4 years, this doubt has continued to creep in and shake up my faith. Why haven’t I given up on believing that there is some supreme being out there, who created life and has orchestrated a plan that spans all generations? I don’t know. I just… I know God is real. I have experienced him. In wanting to convince myself of His existence, I’ve made various lists of the ways I have seen God work. Sometimes I go back and cross things off because they are a little too uncertain – that could have been in my head, or that “miracle” could have just been he work of science and medicine.  My list started off long, and has gotten shorter, but there are still those moments that I know…I KNOW it was God. I had one this week. I laughed out loud in my living room on Monday morning, “OH MY GOD. And I’m not using your name in vain. Oh my God…” and continued laughing. Through a series of events, including a dream that felt so real, a “random” thought I couldn’t shake, a journal entry, and then a few hours of reading a book, I knew without a doubt that God orchestrated all of those events to speak to me. I heard him so loud and clear, that I couldn’t’ stop laughing. I keep chuckling when I think about it. Its so funny because it’s like God knew exactly what I needed. It’s like God knew the steady growth of my doubt, the faintness of my heart- and He gave me that gift on Monday morning. I laugh because OF COURSE God knows. This has been the pattern throughout my life. God stepping in when I’m near the edge. I simply can’t pretend that doesn’t exist.
Because of my faith that there is indeed a God out there, I’ve been struggling to reconcile the state of this world with the promise that He is pure and good. My fear is a symptom of this battle that has been going on in me. It’s a symptom of my doubt, not about God’s existence, but of His goodness. This week as I have freshly experienced the miracle of God’s unquestionable presence in my life, I am seeking answers to the question of God’s ultimate goodness, as I judge by the tragedy I see around me. I just know God is real, undoubtedly. At least for this week. But, I am Israel. I see God’s power and miracles and then slowly forget.
I am reading Disappointment with God by Philip Yancey and God is using it show me so much about Himself. I know that my mind is being renewed and transformed as I seek answers to the questions that are buried deep within me, threatening to replace my faith with disappointment and apathy. This book is really incredible. I’ve had it for a year or two, I’ve read half it of it before- but now is the right time for it. This week is when these thoughts are sinking in. They are revolutionizing my faith and making space for the Holy Spirit to produce faith and peace within me.
Throughout this week I want to keep record of different thoughts and stories that are helping answer my questions and fears. There is SO MUCH. And I want to talk about this. I would love to hear your experience with God’s goodness, with how you reconcile the state of this world with His promise that He is good.
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Here we go.

A Tribute to David Carr

During my 2nd year of living in Georgia and attending KSU, I joined their Business School. I was in the midst of the biggest transformation I’ve been through. Having been living outside of Miami for the first time, I had an overload of new experiences, resulting in an evolution of interests. I was hiking and canoeing and playing guitar. My music preferences were totally different. I was slowly wearing less makeup and hanging out with lots of people that were summer camp counselors and wore Chacos year round. I spent my days sitting on the grassy area of campus (referred to as The Green). I brought my bike in the back of my truck to campus every day and rode around with my “magic bag” in the basket of my beach cruiser.  My teal bag, a great thrift shop find with a white Paramount Pictures mountain logo, was always fully stocked with my good-time essentials; a few decks of cards, a sketchbook, a glow in the dark frisbee, and a hackey sack. Sometimes I brought my guitar and practiced the few Shins songs I knew in between classes. Most of the people in the business department were not camp counselors… they were more of your typical Georgia college students. They would have been part of Greek life if that had been a thing on campus. It seemed to me, based on most of the conversations, that they all partied hard and worshipped alcohol as the bearer of all good times. They wore polo shirts and had their sunglasses strapped on with some strange contraption that looked like the same thing my grandmother used to keep her reading glasses hanging around her neck. As I blossomed into this hippie wannabe, I began connecting less and less with the people in the business school (aside from all my beautiful Miami friends that also moved here with me). Whenever I met someone that knew who the Decembrists were, we became instant friends.

I spent all of that tragic day trying to remember when we first met. And like a beautiful gift from God, I remembered. It was coffee and indie music that brought us together, of course. During one of my regular visits to the Einstein Bros inside the business building. One of us was wearing a Mewithoutyou t-shirt, I believe? I’ve been trying to remember whether he approached me, or if I approached him. It wasn’t uncommon for either of us to approach a stranger and make a friend, so it’s hard to say. But that is where I met David Carr. Two complete strangers without any common friends bonding over Mewithoutyou and how no one else in the business department gets it. Within a few weeks, he was part of the hacky sack crew on The Green and I was hanging out with his friends on a regular basis.

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We threw a frisbee from the Dean’s office down across the green.

We bonded over being socially normal homeschoolers. He paid me the best compliment I’ve ever gotten, saying that I was the most “normal” homeschooler he’d met. We bonded over living with our parents and commuting to school, something I felt like most people at KSU looked down on. We also shared the bond of Christ. Being my first experience in the Bible Belt, I met a lot people in college claiming to be Christians, but not really living it out. David was a breath of fresh air, as a someone that actually held convictions that were strengthen by his relationship with God. Throughout the 2 years we were both in college together, we hung out a lot on campus and in our regular worlds. We were good friends; not only sharing fun experiences, but also talking about things that matter. I think at that age most people don’t really comprehend platonic relationships with someone of the opposite sex too well, so there were moments where I questioned my intentions, his intentions. Our friendship was sweet and comfortable and sometimes I wondered if that meant it had to be romantic. But we never talked about it (or crossed any of those vague “more than friends” lines) and I cherished that. Our friendship was never cut short because of some weird conversation or exposed, unrequited feelings. He hung out with my friends, I hung out with his. We went to Copeland concerts together, played quite a few late night ultimate frisbee games and card games, he gave me thoughtful gifts (like The Format’s “Dog Problems” CD for my Birthday one year, and a black rose, because I had mentioned once that I thought that would be cool). There were plenty of movie nights with his friends (Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I remember). Birthday parties at his house. We took several classes together, I remember being hushed by the professor a few times because we were whispering and laughing in the back of the room. As I recently threw out boxes full of college notes and papers, I remember laughing at a page in my notebook full of ridiculous drawings and hangman games. Once hushed by the teacher, we moved on to passing notes like the mature college students we were. We worked on group projects together. He would come to my evening church service and we’d all hang out afterwards. He was my first, close, “All American” friend and I learned a lot about American culture from him. When I think of David, I picture him holding up a glass of beer toasting to “‘Merica!” He was so relaxed and easy to be around. I can’t remember him ever talking bad about anyone around me. He treated all women with respect and care. I never felt judged for my cultural quirks. He made me feel important and valued and safe. I know it wasn’t just me, he made everyone around him feel like that. David was a friendly guy with various circles of friends, and they were all different. He made everyone feel comfortable and accepted, even people that didn’t live the way he did or like the things he liked. He was a humble and quiet spirit with a love for people. I would guess that 25 or 30% of my school friends were introduced to me by David. I am sure that this week, as so many people heard the shocking news and have struggled to come to grips with it, many of us can claim him as being our best friend at some point. That’s the kind of guy he was, everyones best friend.

Once he graduated and moved away (then back, then away again), we kept in touch. We called each other to catch up every few months. We usually got together when he was in town. It’s easy to feel bad about all the things I didn’t do, but what is the point? David is experiencing heavenly glory right now. He isn’t holding any grudges against me for not visiting him in Colorado or holding up my end of keeping in touch. Instead I am choosing to be grateful for the years we got to spend together and thank God for that. I have been reflecting on all of the qualities that made him so special and trying to live those out better. I want to be as kind as he was. I want to live life as much as he did. He has inspired me to seek peace and pursue it. I want to see the good in the people around me and love them the way David did. I want to enjoy the simple things in life and cherish friendships the way he did. I want to hold strongly to my convictions. David never gave in to the cultural pressures to live a stable life, get a “real” job, or of being married by a certain age. He enjoyed life the way that he wanted to, the way God wanted him to. He didn’t waste the precious hours of his life behind a desk or wishing he was somewhere else. He was out living. And now he is more alive than ever. It’s a big loss for those of us staying behind, but David’s impact on the people he encountered is now magnified and will continue to echo out throughout eternity.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” -Revelation 14:13

There will be many mountains summited, bon fires gathered by, songs sung, and beers toasted in his name. But more than that, his friends and family scattered throughout the earth will be continually inspired to pursue a genuine relationship with Jesus and pursue the things He created us to live out, to love each other more deeply, to restrain our anger and let the little things slide, and to cherish our friendships more because of David.

We are better, I am better, for having known him. We’ll miss you, man.

 

A Delicate Cycle and The Great Divorce

“The trouble is they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) by just imagining it. That’s why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another house. In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life.”

I just read The Great Divorce in one sitting. It is an amazing analogy of so many deep and complex human issues. I could see myself so sadly reflected in various characters. The characters! I have been mulling over each one. I highly recommend you read the book just for the characters. But the one thing that hit me hardest was the town.
IMG_1729In The Great Divorce (by CS Lewis), there is this gray, grumpy town. The town stretches out for miles and miles, although the inhabitants would only take up a few blocks if they all lived side by side. But no one can stand to be near another human, there are too many quarrels and inconveniences, so they all build their own home far enough away from the nearest person. They are able to get anything they want by just thinking it up, so they never have any NEED for each other. I thought of Amazon Prime. I thought of Aesop Rock and this song-> // I was twenty-six years old the first time I lived in a house with a washer and dryer in it and that’s the year I bottomed out. Maybe what was missing was the sense of community that comes from hauling your big old load out in public and airing your dirty laundry in the company of other people who also don’t have the amenities at their convenience in a home that’s so set up that they never have to leave.// I thought about what kinds of needs actually bring me together with other people. Grocery shopping? A visit to the doctor’s office? I thought about speeding through Trader Joes and how no one looks you in the eye, trying their best to pretend they are there alone. I went to the DMV this week and everyone sat a few chairs apart, playing on their phones or staring at the floor. I used to love talking to strangers, but as I’ve gotten older my fear of intruding in someone’s personal space by making small talk (I’m going to bother them) stops me from doing it. We’ve “advanced” so far that we are able to get toilet paper, birthday gifts, any book you’ve ever wanted, car parts, or your dinner delivered to your door. Most of the time, there is no need pushing you to create a community anywhere. And the few times there are, we stare at the magazine in the waiting room doing our best to pretend we didn’t have to be in such close proximity with other people we don’t know.

Seriously, think about that. Have you felt Need recently? Are there any physical needs that push you towards community?

As a Christian, I find so much life through church community. But it is easy for me to believe I am there to serve and give, not allowing myself to really feel my needs and allow my community to fill them.

Anything I want, I order online. Amazon Prime has eliminated the hunt through malls or stores to find a certain book or blender. I drive everywhere alone in my car. I take all kinds of art lessons on YouTube. I watch concerts online. Essentially, I’m eliminating all opportunities to rely on other people, taking away the beautiful space for others to be able to give and bless.

Once again, CS Lewis has challenged me to assess the way I’m living and make a change. I don’t know what it is going to be, but God is stirring something in my soul and I’m sure He won’t let it go till something is different.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the internet.

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Mondo inspired a love for futuristic books and stories in me. As I’ve added Vonnegut, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Orwell and Atwood to my repertoire, it’s begun to grown this part of my brain that processes information with a focus on the future. I mean, I’ve done my fair share of planning for the future (college counts, right?) and daydreaming about what life as a “grown up” would be like, but it’s not the type of thinking that is natural for me. It’s not part of my “personality type.” Sanguine, Type B, ESFJ…whatever, I always end up as the outgoing, popular, sensitive, compassionate, messy, LIVING IN THE MOMENT one. Which, on a side note, I don’t feel like any of those test ever really describe me. Can’t I be super social but love being alone, and be opinionated but not decisive, and generally organized but not very detailed? Because I am.

Moving along.

It’s been so fun to see down these contrived paths of the impending doom of earth and society. These movies and stories follow society’s current trends and actions through to their natural end. Most of us probably don’t think too much about what our addiction to instant information means for society in 1,000 years. Most people were not thinking about what the industrial revolution or commercialization would mean for humanity hundreds of years later, but Vonnegut did. And he painted a very enlightening picture of it. When advertisements first began manipulating people to feel like they NEEDED a product so that companies could make a profit off of people’s insecurities and laziness, Vonnegut carried that out to its completion. He created a world in the future where humans are completely useless because they have a product to do everything for them. These stories are labeled “Dystopian Literature” at the bookstore because they are always sad, dark, and frightening. But in that darkness there is enlightenment and inspiration for change. They scare me and make me want to quit the internet and join Ron Swanson or Christopher McCandless on their quest to live off the grid. But, they also motivate me to learn how to control my tendencies towards a meaningless addiction to social media.

“The habits of the home in one generation become the morals of society in the next.”

I read this on Facebook, and I have no idea who said it…but it scares me. It scares me because I’ve caught myself checking my Instagram feed instead of engaging with the people visiting in my living room. It scares me because I’ve spent time with highschoolers that cannot look at me in the eyes while we are talking because they are looking down at their phone. It scares me because I know the ease of wiggling my way out of a commitment that just isn’t convenient anymore with a simple last minute text message. It scares me because I have been content to wish my friends a generic Happy Birthday post on Facebook and actually felt like I did something good because of it. It scares me because I see my generation full of people that feel altruistic and political because they share articles and rant on Facebook instead of actually doing anything about the problems they are “generating conversation” about. You know what the best way to generate conversation is? Through your actions. Inspire people to live life to the fullest by actually living. Love the people near you. Be committed even when it hurts. Sit and be bored for a few minutes. Learn to be still. It’s kind of amazing the inspiration and motivation and depth and gratitude you can find in the silence. Create spaces that allow your needs to rise to the top, serving as a reminder of your thirst. Let the silence remind you to draw from The Well.

Mondo is constantly challenging me in this. I recently shared an article on Facebook and complained on the post about using tax payers’ money to fund free lung cancer tests for long time smokers. For two days I kept feeling insecure about posting that, hoping that I didn’t offend my smoker friends…because I really don’t judge them as an individual for that decision. I finally shared with Mondo that I hoped no one got offended. He asked me what the purpose of me sharing that article was and it felt silly to end up with “it feels good to vent about it!” as my only reasonable purpose. I have friends that I can have that debate with if I really want to. But posting that one idea, out of the context of who I am and my true heart, has the propensity to offend people I love, or even make my anti government friends feel more empowered to hate. That’s really not what I want to do at all. I quickly went and deleted my post.

I remember my loneliest year. It was my first time being single in a long time and I didn’t know how to be alone. That was the year I was most active online. I flaunted every exciting event on the internet to make myself feel like my life was actually exciting. I honestly did things, not because I wanted to do them, but because I wanted to be able to post a photo doing them. Some things just seem more exciting through pictures- like cooking a live lobster, for instance. Thankfully, God used Henri Nouwen to intervene and taught me how to turn my loneliness into solitude. It was the most transforming few years of my life, and it was the first time I was able to see the motivation behind my seemingly innocent cultivation of my online presence. But I’m part of the “in-between” generation. I experienced life before considering whether posting a picture of an activity would make my life seem cooler was a determine factor for doing things. I had a typical childhood full of climbing trees, imagining my bike was a horse, and of pretending to be an orphan in search of great adventure. Then the internet happened and I’ve faced the tension of wanting that private, true life but also loving the ability to share the things I love with the whole world. But there is a generation that won’t know life without Screen Time. They won’t know what it is to catch up with a friend over coffee because they’ve seen their whole life on Snap Chat. They already don’t even know what it means to wait 24 hrs to watch the next episode of something on TV. What kind of society would Vonnegut imagine if this addiction to artificial connection and shallow instant gratification continued snowballing this quickly?

I’m reading a story that was written in 1909 and it gives a pretty good idea of what that world can look like. The Machine Stops is blowing me away. E.M. Forster wrote this before electricity was widespread, before airplanes or NASA were a thing. The telephone had only been around for 25 years. Aside from the impressively accurate depiction of what technologies would be invented, he paints a frighteningly realistic picture of the isolation it can lead to. On a much less serious, but equally frightening level is the movie Idiocracy, where a guy hibernates for half a millennium and wakes up to a society that is controlled by capitalism and hasn’t had to think for themselves.

I am stuck fighting between the tension of the benefits of the internet (hello, YouTube is my best friend and teacher), and the limits that are necessary to keep it from leading to isolation and feeling like I am the center of the universe. I don’t need the internet fueling my pride, I can do enough of that on my own. We are all stuck in the tension. The decisions we make about our technological habits will become the morals of our children’s generation. That’s not something I want to take lightly.

At least we are all in this together.

Sufjan Greeting Cards

Been working on a little something.

There’s a group of men (plus Bjork) that I find fascinating. They all have this intangible quality…a creative mindset that permeates every aspect of their life. Because I admire them doesn’t mean I necessarily love all their work. It just means that I can sit and listen to their interviews for hours. Like Jack White, for example. I don’t really even listen to his music, but I love reading about his creative process. I love listening to interviews with him, because the way he talks about life and writing is bizarre and deep. I consider him one of my favorite musicians, although I don’t really love his music. Tom Waits is in that same category. Then there are guys like Vonnegut and Sufjan. They have that crazy deep creative process and are unbelievable story tellers, and I enjoy reading and listening to everything and anything they make. Vonnegut’s witty skepticism is easier for me to digest that Tom Wait’s grungy voice. My fondness of Abraham Lincoln is also because of this intangible “cool” factor.  He was bizarre, not afraid to think differently. I guess it’s just the weirdness inside of me that admires the way they flaunt it freely. They observe the details of the world around them. They offer new insight on seeing beauty in the ordinary. They move slow; finding majesty, irony, and humor in the darkness, and communicate so beautifully the redemption in pain.

I’ve found that I love drawing and painting people more than anything. Specifically, these guys- the contestants for my vote on the Most Interesting Man (plus Bjork) in the World. Since I’ve been obsessing over Sufjan’s new album, I’ve drawn him a few times this week. Here’s a sneak preview of a little greeting card series that is in the works. I’m still considering switching out the background for a watercolored version of the milky way, or something a little simpler. Any suggestions appreciated!

Sufjan Stevens Kind of Love