Heidi Barr and I are a few months into an adventure called 12 Tiny Things. We are taking one aspect of life and reflecting on it for a month in order to deepen and nurture our roots. Join us on Facebook and our website. This post came out of my month focusing on Spirituality. The topic was oddly frustrating for me. Working in a church has professionalized my spirituality, and having very small children requires (what I write about here) an entrenched, lived spirituality, intense and unexpected in brand new ways:
The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep
She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep
She filled my life with color, canceled plans, and trashed my car
But none of that was ever who we are
And they’ve still got their morning paper and their coffee and their time
And they still enjoy their evenings with the skeptics and the wine
Oh, but all the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time
From inside of the ages through your eyes
—Brandi Carlile “The Mother”
I experienced having one child and then another in a myriad of ways. One way I’d describe is as a spiritual awakening of sorts (or spiritual crisis, depending on the moment). Their precious breath, their utter dependency and vulnerability, their new smell wafting off their soft heads, all seemed to whisper to my bones in the stillness, “Your replacements are here!” The next generation had arrived accompanied by the most fierce, primal love I had ever experienced. I felt both the certainty of my death and a new, deep, guttural desire to not die, to hold them and be their momma forever. I became a mother, and how I experienced and viewed the universe shifted immensely. It was both unsettling and lovely.
Somehow, before having children, I assumed a miracle would hurt less, be cleaner, easier, more sterile. Cuter, with soothing background music and soft lighting. More photogenic. I couldn’t imagine one miracle, and then another, incorporating so much swelling and blood and constipation. I never imagined ‘holy’ would be accompanied by quite so much snot and spit up and nipple blisters. And laughter, too.
Sitting with my newborn miracles, time passed slowly and it dawned on me that all I have to do is love these little nuggets who absolutely belong to me, and also absolutely belong not to me but to the universe. No ruler that I used to use to measure my worth worked anymore. There was no room for achievement. There was no time for make up. A miniature human needed me in order to live. Nothing else seemed to matter. So does what used to matter, matter? Will it ever matter again?
I saw clearly all the ladders I used to climb. Off the ladders, I looked around for the things that used to keep me busy but all there was to do is love. And love. Sit in the love. Dwell in the love. Just love. And this pure loving, this stripped down sacredness can sometimes be excruciatingly, relentlessly boring. Depressing. Exhausting. I yearned for the things that used to keep me busy. I realized this tiny human was why I was round and flabby and why I wasn’t working and why my hair was falling out. And then the ones who are mine and not mine would call me back to a simple moment of bliss. The love I gave and gave would suddenly echo back to me, offering me dignity and grace, striking me to my core, to where my humanity resides and love abides. Tears streamed from that place. My eyes were constantly puffy and red and filled with gratitude.
When I became a mother, I could feel time passing moment by moment, and see it clearly right in front of me. As sitting became crawling became walking became talking you realize you will never get time back and — oh my gosh — am I living this right? It takes your breath away. There was deep, heartbreaking longing for the one who was right there in front of me. No cuddle was enough. Even in the midst of holding on tight I knew I would need to let go. Every decision, every movement goes through a brand new filter of love and responsibility. It is exhilarating and exhausting, this freedom for. I opened my heart up everyday. It was blissful and brutal. It was holy.
Although I am out of the trenches of infancy, the spiritual awakening continues to unfold. There is occasional quiet and yet no alone time. There is opportunity for mindfulness but so little energy left to process it. There is so little time for my former spiritual practices: meditation, running, yoga, prayer, reading. I strive to carve out time, but have to trust in good enough. I sink into my entrenched, living, on-the-carpet spirituality. Among the clutter and car seats, my children offer me a glimpse of heaven on earth. They invite me to be present to the essential and to hold on to the holiness lightly with both hands.
One day, totally spent, I went up to my bed with a book to take a break when my spouse got home from work. My three-year-old wanted to come with me. He followed me up the stairs in just his Batman undies. My spouse called after him, trying to protect me, but I sighed, “It’s okay. Come on my honey.” He climbed under the covers with me, wanting to be bears in a cave. I followed his lead, soaking in the hibernation nuzzles. At one point when play slowed, I opened my book to read. He took my paper bookmark and rolled it up into two circles. “It’s binoculars, momma,” he said. “Look.”
I put my book down. I looked through the holes of his makeshift binoculars and everything else fell away except his luminous, beautiful face.