A Baby and the Cold Slush of Winter

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I slog my way through dirty, melting snow as I walk to work. The pristine fluffy white of one week ago is replaced by the dirt and grime of the city, coupled with slush caused by rising temperatures.

It is Thursday, my last day of the work week, and I am tired. In winter everything takes longer. It takes longer to get ready in the morning, longer to walk to the subway, longer for the subway to arrive, longer to get groceries.

Everything is longer. Everything is harder. It’s more difficult to see grace; more difficult to give grace.

Yesterday I visited a friend who has just had a baby girl. I held her little body in my arms, marveling at her perfection, struck by how this little miracle came to be.

In the midst of the cold slosh of winter, I got to hold this wonder in my arms. Outside may feel cold and heartless, but inside is warm with wonder and grace.

Outside the world is raging, unaware that inside is a six pound wonder. Outside people argue and push, morosely facing winter’s worst. Across the country fires and floods change people’s lives in moments.

But inside there is a baby, perfectly formed and known by a God who still believes that this world is worthy of being redeemed. She is entrusted to, and loved by, an imperfect family and friends; people who will hold her and teach her, love her and cry with her.

And as I hold her I am in awe – in awe of baby soft skin and six pounds of perfectly formed fingers and toes, in awe of the strength and fragility of life, in awe of my friend who waited so long and wanted this baby so very much. Mostly in awe that somehow God believes that we in our human frailty, born as helpless babes who grow to be imperfect children and adults, are worth redeeming.

It’s Thursday and I’m tired. But then I remember – there’s a baby and it’s all okay.

My Ramadan Baby

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The Islamabad sun, hot and bright, burned down on my mom and I as we walked to the hospital with my first-born – Annie – in a stroller.

It was May of 1987 and it was Ramadan, only a couple of days before the huge Eid celebration that would mark the end of this long month of fasting for Muslims around the world. We had been living and working in Islamabad since January and I was 9 months pregnant with our second child.

After a false start a couple of days earlier, my mom and I headed out to my  regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  After examining me, my doctor said “Sometimes we need to push the horse and cart!” Which was code for “I’m going to give you something to speed up this delivery.” I was more than willing to oblige.

It was a text book induction and just after midnight on May 25th I gave birth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed, fuzzy-headed baby boy. I was smitten.

I wrote about my Ramadan baby 6 years ago, when I was a new blogger. As I reread the piece I wrote, I realized it communicates the story exactly as I remember it, so I have reposted it below in honor of my Ramadan “baby’s” 30th birthday!

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was toward the end of Ramadan and this showed significantly in the absence of staff in the hospital. Earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry aloud that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a pregnant woman in transition (me) and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered, we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

As the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came (and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night) two babies made their way into the world.  The last azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast. At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains.

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a good hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toed, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff in by two’s to see “the white lady who had her husband in with her during the delivery,” something that was unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebis, barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras. This ensured a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. 

We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy which, from a cultural perspective, was a huge thing to acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes – and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.

Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.

To the One Who Got Pregnant too Soon

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I woke with a familiar pressure on my bladder. It was the middle of the night, and I needed to go to the bathroom. I came back to bed in tears.

“I think I’m pregnant.” I whispered to my sleepy husband as I shook his shoulder. “That’s ridiculous” he said as he turned over and fell back to sleep.

I, on the other hand, stayed awake. I knew I was pregnant. We had a toddler and a baby who was six months old. I was exclusively breast feeding and hadn’t yet gotten my period back after the pregnancy, so my husband’s response was completely reasonable.

But when you know your body, you know these things. Nine months later we had a beautiful baby boy, born two weeks earlier than his due date. He was 6 lbs and 10 oz of beauty and joy. But the inbetween time was not so much. People who saw me pregnant would look at me in astonishment and say “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” thinking it was the previous pregnancy gone on too long.

Yes – I actually had given birth to THAT baby. This one was a different one. This one was THIS baby. That one was THAT baby. Sheesh.

There were a few things that I discovered about myself and about other people during that time. I offer them here in this space, knowing that your situation may be different, but hoping that you will feel some nuggets of encouragement.

  1. You owe nobody, I mean nobody, an explanation. When people say things, when they comment about your pregnancy you don’t have to tell them anything that you don’t want to. When they ask if you were planning this, if it was a surprise, if you’re happy …. those are intimate questions, and you don’t have to let people know the answer.There will be people that you can share with and cry with, but the average bystander and acquaintance is not worthy of your explanations. Whether you used birth control or not – it’s none of their business. Whether you were planning this or not – none of their business. Don’t feel any pressure to give people a response.
  2. Your baby is not a mistake. Your baby may be unexpected; your baby may be a surprise — but your baby is absolutely NOT a mistake. Mistakes are supposed to be erased, they are supposed to be corrected. Surprises are unexpected and take some rethinking and adjusting, but ultimately you do adjust. There is a massive difference between a mistake and a surprise.
  3. You need safe people. You need people who will listen to you, judgment free as you rant and rave about your body, your mother-in-law, your oversexed husband, your life in ruins, all of it. You need to be able to say that you want to run away to safe people who know that these feelings will pass. Safe friends who will love you and protect you from a world that feels overwhelming are a gift.
  4. Be okay with asking for help. I made a vow that hurt me for years when I got pregnant unexpectedly. That vow was that no one would ever see me out of control. It was such a mistake. I carried such a heavy burden of having to keep it together. People who knew and loved me knew that I wasn’t keeping it together, but I tried to hide it under the vow that I had foolishly made. When I finally broke free of that, I cried and cried, ending the crying session with a soul-deep sigh.I was finally free to admit my need for others, my need for help. Don’t be like me. Ask for help.
  5. Routine could be your best friend. When you find yourself pregnant and you have a toddler in the house, routine is a wonderful gift. Routine means you can say “No, I’m sorry – I can’t do that. It’s nap time.” Routine builds security in you and your children. Routine gives you time to recharge and drink tea. Routine is not binding – it’s freeing.
  6. Be okay saying “No.” “No – I can’t make a dessert for the women’s brunch.” “No, I can’t chaperone the preschool field trip.” “No, I can’t baby sit your kids.” “No, I can’t work those extra hours.” “No, I can’t fill in for a sick nurse, or a sick Sunday school teacher, or a sick anyone anytime anywhere.” No. No. No. For some reason, I was an easy yes. I remember one time sitting at someone’s house helping her fold her clothes and make apple crisp. Suddenly I thought “This is ridiculous! I’m the one with five kids! I’m the one who needs to fold clothes and make apple crisp – AT HOME! I realized that I needed to put healthy boundaries around my time.
  7. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t need everything that western society says they do. They don’t need hundreds of outings, they don’t need a bunch of different play groups. They need you. They need Grandma if she’s around. They need security and safety. Self-actualization is way far away on Maslow’s hierarchy. Don’t worry about it. If play groups help you – well then, have at it. But if they don’t – then don’t worry about “socializing” your child. Believe me, there is a lot of socialization that your kid can do without.
  8. On days when you are so tired, and you just can’t do it anymore, there’s always tea and reading time. Put quiet music on in the background and read to your little ones. Then, put them in their happy places while you read yourself.
  9. One day you will get your body and your sleep back. It won’t be the same, it can never be the same. That’s the price we pay for having these little humanoids who grab our hearts with their vice-like grips and create a gap in our well-oiled shiny armor. But there will come a day when you put on a little-maybe-big(ger) black dress and go out with your true love again. There will come a day when you have a full night sleep. There will come a day when all of your children – even the surprise ones – are potty trained. There will come a time when you watch your own television shows and movies. There will come a time when you miss your kids. But it won’t be for awhile.
  10. Allow people to celebrate for you. You may think this is the worst thing ever, the timing is all wrong, you were going to go back to school to get a masters degree, you had finally lost all your baby weight, your husband is looking for a new job, you just started back to work — there may be all kinds of reasons that you have for not being able to celebrate. But others can celebrate for you. When I arrived in London, unexpectedly pregnant with my fifth child, no one in Cairo knew. I hadn’t told anyone. I arrived in London and my best friend met me at the airport. I hugged her and then burst into tears. “I’m pregnant!” “You’re so lucky!” she said. She had had a couple of miscarriages and she knew what it was to be gratefully pregnant. It was perfect. No – I didn’t feel lucky. No – I felt totally overwhelmed. But her reaction was so wonderfully spontaneous and lovely that I began to feel a measure of hope with her response.

You could still be wondering why you are pregnant when you are in labor and about to deliver the baby – but once you see that tiny, little person, you will be in utter awe and the heartburn will be gone.

So to you who got pregnant too soon – I hear you. I’m with you. You join the multitudes of us around the world in that special “I got pregnant too soon and I realize I can’t control my life club.” It’s a club that humbles you and grows you up quickly. No one intends to join the club, but once you’re in it, you realize that it’s a pretty great club after all.

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

The Urban Disadvantage – State of the World’s Mothers 2015

state of the worlds mothers 2Every year around Mother’s Day a report is released from Save the Children called the “State of the World’s Mothers.” And every year, I write about it.

Because it is so important to me. If I could spend all day every day with moms and babies, I would. There are so many reasons for this – but partly its because I have five of my own and I learned so much from those younger days. I know what helped and I definitely know what didn’t help. Healthy moms and babies are critical to a healthy world.

In the last 60 plus years, the number of city dwellers in the world has increased by over 20%, so that half the world’s population now lives in the city. While this creates incredible advantages for many of us, there are many others who live in extreme poverty where disease is prevalent, nutrition poor, and violence high. The World Health Organization (WHO)estimates that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges, or along the railroad tracks.” One of the worst places in the world for a mom and a baby to be is in a city slum. 

state of the worlds mothersThis year’s report is on mothers in urban settings and is appropriately called “The Urban Disadvantage.” Here are some summary findings, taken directly from the report:

“Every day, 17,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Increasingly, these preventable deaths are occurring in city slums, where overcrowding and poor sanitation exist alongside skyscrapers and shopping malls. Lifesaving health care may be only a stone’s throw away, but the poorest mothers and children often cannot get the care they need.”

  • The world, especially the developing world, is becoming urbanized at a breathtaking pace. Virtually all future population growth in developing countries is expected to happen in cities, resulting in a greater share of child deaths taking place in urban areas.
  • In developing countries, the urban poor are often as bad as, or worse off than, the average rural family, and for many rural families, moving to the city may result in more – rather than less – hardship
  • Few countries have invested sufficiently in the infrastructure and systems, including water and sanitation, which are critical to addressing the basic health needs of the urban poor. More countries need to adopt universal health care as a national policy to help address the unmet needs of the urban poor.
  • While great progress has been made in reducing urban under-5 mortality around the world, inequality is worsening in too many cities.
  • The poorest children in almost every city face alarmingly high risks of death.
  • High child death rates in slums are rooted in disadvantage, deprivation and discrimination.
  • Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of deaths of children under 5, leading to over 3 million deaths each year, 800,000 of which occur among newborn babies.
  • Among capital cities in high-income countries, Washington, DC has the highest infant death risk and great inequality. Save the Children examined infant mortality rates in 25 capital cities of wealthy countries and found that Washington, DC had the highest infant mortality rate at 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. While this rate is an all-time low for the District of Columbia, it is still 3 times the rates found in Tokyo and Stockholm.

Here’s the good news: We know what works! This is huge. Save the Children looked at six cities that, despite significant population growth, have made strides in saving children. Again, from the report:

The cities are: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Cairo (Egypt), Manila (Philippines), Kampala (Uganda), Guatemala City (Guatemala) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia). These cities have achieved success through a variety of strategies to extend access to high impact services, strengthen health systems, lower costs, increase health awareness and make care more accessible to the poorest urban residents.  1) Better care for mothers and babies before, during and after childbirth; 2) Increased use of modern contraception to prevent or postpone pregnancy; and 3) Effective strategies to provide free or subsidized quality health services for the poor. 

The yearly report always ends with recommendations, and this year is no exception. As a public health nurse, I am always encouraged and discouraged about this report. On the one hand, the statistics are depressing and overwhelming. On the same hand, its all well for a group like Save the Children to talk about what needs to be done, but it is completely different convincing country, state, and city governments that money needs to be given to these efforts.

So where’s the good news? The good news is in places like Heartline Ministries in Haiti. I’ve never been there, but feel like I know two of the midwives who work with Heartline – Beth and Tara – through our email and online interaction. They are two of my “sheros.” Heartline’s mission statement is “Intentionally walking alongside the impoverished men, women, and children of Haiti during their life journeys, meeting critical physical, emotional, financial, educational, and most importantly spiritual needs.” Their maternity center exists to provide prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care to women in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. If you want to know where your money is going to, and want to make a difference, I highly recommend this group. Connect with them on Facebook here.

And the other place I’ve written about before. Shikarpur Christian Hospital has met the needs of moms and babies for years with little recognition and a lot of perseverance. Pakistani and Western staff work hard to give great care to moms and babies in Shikarpur and surrounding areas.

In my public health heart, I know that for real and lasting change to happen, policies are needed at the highest levels. I know that some things are completely impossible without the support of local government. I know in my soul that for real and lasting change, hearts have to change. But while some may say these places are bandaids on a gushing wound, I would say that until we live in a perfect world, thank God for the people who are willing to put on bandaids.

Photo Credit – https://www.pinterest.com/pin/13370130120653125/

Dear New Mom

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Dear New Mom

I can tell this is new for you. You have that glow of joy and uncertainty as you readjust the blanket around your tiny baby. You protect with your arms against the crowds that are pushing around you in this crowded subway space, and you respond tentatively to the occasional smiles from strangers. For who doesn’t love a baby? 

I wish I was sitting closer to you so that I could strike up a conversation. So many things are going through my head. I’ve given birth to five babies on three continents – I like to think of it as a kind of record. I remember so well those beginning days where all the world was colored baby.

What would I say to you new mom? Right now you’re either basking in the glow of new motherhood or hating that everyone thinks you should be basking when all you want to do is sleep and cry. Sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s so hard to do but it’s so important. Don’t spend energy cleaning the house or going on social media or instagramming your life. Sleep.

Take advantage of the space people will give you for a short time. For a short time, the only time in your life, people will expect nothing from you other than to be with your baby. Don’t pass up this opportunity. I promise you will never get it again. If you have the chance to sleep until ten in the morning with your baby, do it. You will be so glad.

Your baby will cry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. Babies cry. They just do and it can be so hard. Don’t be afraid to remove yourself if it gets too hard. Put ear plugs in and separate yourself for awhile. Sanity is critical and there may be times when you think you are going insane. So step away for a time if you need.

A bit of sadness is normal in those first days, and periodically it may surface. But if it continues, go seek help. There’s postpartum sadness and then there’s postpartum depression. They are two very different things.

You are not weak for asking for help. The Western world does this baby thing all wrong. Away from moms. Away from friends and sisters. Isolated in suburbia or not knowing your city neighbors. New moms and babies are created for community, for help. Find yours.

That mom that asks you if your toddler is potty-trained yet? Best stay away from her. Because it will continue into higher stakes and bigger comparisons. And it will be beautifully, camouflaged passive-aggressive behavior. First it will be about potty training. Then it will be about talking. Then it will be about grades and sports. It will end with her daughter marrying a “good Christian boy” and you will have to confess that you want to kill her. It’s not worth it. Competition is never-ending and it will not help you. Break the madness. Live above and beyond competition.

When you have an uneasy feeling that your pediatrician is wrong – they probably are. So gently or forcefully push them. Same with that teacher who misjudged your child – don’t be afraid to speak up. The one that thinks your child is going nowhere? You’ll be sending them a copy of their college report with all A’s. Trust me on that one.

But also know that your kid is not perfect. And they probably did bite the other toddler in the church nursery. If you accept early on that your kids are not perfect, it will be easier when others let you know in clear language.

Know that the playing field levels when they are teens or young adults. That’s when parents with perfect children go into hiding, or at least get a little quieter. Because it’s hard to maintain a perfect image past those wonderful middle years.

Remember that well-oiled and shined armor that served you so well when you were single and newly married? It now has a soft, sweet-smelling crack in it. Arrows from others can find their way straight through the crack. Know your safe people and cry and laugh with them. Be kind to those who aren’t safe but don’t let them into your sanctuary.

Above all remember, there is so much grace needed in this journey of parenting. Grace for your kids. Grace for your husband. Grace toward in-laws. Grace toward the well-meaning and clueless. Grace to yourself.

That baby that you cuddle so close will one day be an adult. An adult who you drink coffee and laugh with, an adult who you cherish. And there is little sweeter than enjoying a relationship with your adult child.

It’s your subway stop now – but wait, you forgot your diaper bag. The first of many things you will forget. Goodbye new mom. I wish you joy and grace. 

Picture Credit:http://pixabay.com/en/baby-mother–arms-legs-mother-arms-164583/

On Protection in the New Year

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When I look back at parenting small children I sometimes take in a sharp breath. Not because anything tragic happened, but because tragedies could have happened, and many times over. From croup that sounded like a wounded puppy, in an isolated area with no medical help, to high fevers and salmonella, you cannot parent five children without several ‘catch your breath’ moments.

And I think about protection. And how much we want it and need it and pray for it. Protection. Preservation. Safety. Shelter. Refuge. Strength. So many words associated with protection. From the minute our babies are born we are endowed with a fierce need to protect. Our babies are the gap in our armor, the place where an enemy can send a sword and pierce us, sometimes fatally.

Protection. Protect — “[pruhtekt] to defend or guard from attack, invasion, loss, annoyance, insult, etc.;cover or shield from injury or danger.”

But babies grow up and as they grow, our ability to protect diminishes by thousands. No longer are we with them night and day. We share them with people, some worthy and others unworthy, and we let them out of our sight. We know that this is what makes a healthy adult, but it is not without fear that we release them.

If we are honest, we know that even when they are small a certain amount of danger in the form of germs is a good thing. A healthy immune system is not born of protection but of exposure.

What about us? What about me and my family in the new year? Is a certain amount of danger a good thing? Is a bit of risk necessary? Is protection from God born, not of isolation, but of exposure?

Just as we cannot protect our children from everything, we cannot protect ourselves as we go into the unknown of the year. We don’t know the paths where we will trip, the places where we will shudder under the weight of fear.

A year ago I wrote a piece on fear. In that piece I wrote this:

“While I don’t believe we are all called to go into war zones, and I believe we must exercise discernment and wisdom, particularly when we have others who we are responsible for, I do believe that no matter where we are and what we do, when we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth.When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.”

While thinking about protection, I picked up a Christmas present from my daughter, Annie. The book is a new one by Eula Biss titled On Immunity: An Innoculation. I loved Biss’s first book, No Man’s Land, and my daughter was quite sure I would love this one as well. Her most recent work comes from the personal experience of researching vaccinations when pregnant with her son. In the first few pages of the book, Biss recounts the familiar story of Achilles. So badly did Achilles mother, Thetis, want to protect him, that she took him by the heel and immersed his body into a river to make him invulnerable to injury. Achilles becomes a famous warrior, but as fate would have it, an arrow finds the one place where he is vulnerable and he is killed. Thus the famous story of Achilles heel.

The point is clear. There is no way we can shield ourselves from all the danger, sadness, hurt that comes our way in life; no way we can protect ourselves from the same in this new year.

The more I ponder this, the more comfort I feel. The picture I see in my mind is me, standing on the sand of a vast ocean, holding my arms forward in surrender, in humility. Like the tide of the ocean, the year will come with joy and with sorrow, it will hold things I will love and things I will hate. There will be times where I feel exposed but I will never be without his Presence.

As I was writing this, a memory came to mind of my son Joel. We had been in Cairo only 2 weeks when he slipped on the sharp edge of a bed and cut open an area right above his eye. He was two years old, screaming and bleeding profusely. Somehow we made our way to the emergency room in a hospital on the banks of the Nile, and a kind doctor took care of the wound, with tiny, precise stitches. And as I looked at those beautiful blue eyes of my son, his fear and pain so evident, I just kept on whispering “I’m here Joel. Mommy’s here.” I couldn’t protect him, but I could be present. Maybe my presence was enough. 

“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” Isaiah 66:13a