I have a confession to make. I started Lent not in a wild wilderness wrought with twisted roots and temptations lurking in every shadow, but in paradise. Thanks to the generosity of Gaba and Papa, I spent four days at the beach with my husband, my children, my parents, and my brothers.
Each day I woke to find children brimming with excitement. We smelled of coconut, and our skin was dusted with sand.
Beneath a blue sky, I watched my children splash in clear water and search the sands for shells.
I watched them build a sand castle – and memories – with their favorite architect, Gaba.
Their delight became my own as sea turtles drifted toward us, looking weightless and oneiric in their watery world.
I saw my girls and the paradise surrounding us – not only through the lens of the camera – but with my undistracted eyes, and the blue breadth of the ocean and the beauty of my children heightened my sense for the numinous. How can anyone doubt God’s existence in the presence of nature and children? Children whose contentment comes from Him and hasn’t been muddied up by life and the pressure to search your soul when you should be cultivating it instead. Children who remind you of the presence of your soul and the goodness of it, too. It’s there. No need to gouge anything out. It’s your gift from God. Now stop looking for it and just make it beautiful.
My throat caught when my five-year-old placed her white linen napkin on her lap and ordered her dinner selection with grace and aplomb (don’t be too impressed: She asked for lemonade and plain pasta with butter and cheese). But, my, how old she suddenly seemed to me now that we were pulled from our everyday life and able to take on a slower pace. There was time to listen, to watch, to see, and to give thanks for these beautiful children of mine who are growing up so quickly.
There were the quiet nursing sessions on the beach. A cool breeze sweeping across me, my skin sticky against the baby’s, her chubby fingers reaching for my ridiculously big sunglasses.
Paradise found. What a gift.
This winter has been hard – not just for me, but for many people I know. In the late summer, my midwife diagnosed me with postpartum depression (I’ve hesitated writing about this, but I’ve decided to put it out there and plan to write more on depression down the road in the hopes that it may help others). I’d skipped my six-week postpartum visit, but my husband urged me to take care of myself and talk to my midwife. So I did, but I didn’t want to hear I was depressed or anxious. Although I’d suffered from situational sadness in the past and even anxiety, I’d never been faced with this kind of heaviness. There were many days where I felt as if I was dragging myself through thick mud. I was so tired and sad and angry sometimes, too.
Still, I didn’t really want “help.” I wanted to be able to fix it, or I wanted to believe my sadness was imagined, something I had complete control over. I learned it was and it wasn’t. There were certainly steps I could take to soothe my frayed edges, but it was also okay to admit I was hurting and that I didn’t have complete ownership of my pain – or the power to just snap my fingers, play the Pollyanna Glad Game, and make it go away.
After a few rough months, I began to feel much, much better (no inexplicable crying jags, no burning anger, and my appetite for food and living a full life had returned).
Then the rain and cold and darkness set in and the Haiti earthquake happened, and my healing seemed to deliquesce into a pool of my tears. My sense of powerlessness to just snap out of it was terrifying. I wanted to be happy. I should have been happy. I had stress in my life, but it was mostly good stress such as preparing for a move that would be good for our family. So why couldn’t I just make happiness happen?
Even worse, I felt abandoned and started wondering why my faith felt so shaky at a time when I needed it to be strong and to hold me up. I felt like God had been the one on vacation, and I had been left with a heavy workload and not a moment’s rest. I’ve started to consider whether it is the spiritual dryness that causes the despondency or the heavy heart that causes a rift in your relationship God and leads you to cry out, “God, where are you? I want you, need you and the belief in you and your love.”
As the sun waned, my world fell into winter. And it was tempting to shut myself out, to shut God out, to shut the door on people who were Christ-bearers in my life, people who offered glimpses of God’s goodness.
When Lent arrived, I was prepared for the wilderness. I’d been living in darkness, so what was a little more of it here and there?
But maybe what I needed was the sun.
During this idyll, I regained perspective. I realized I need the fresh air and must go outside every day even in the rain or sleet for at least a few minutes. I cannot contain myself or my children in our small townhouse. We need to stretch our limbs and be outdoors. Sunshine is good medicine – even when it’s hiding behind a thick veil of clouds.
I also must make sleep a priority. (I know, I know. I’ve said this before. Maybe I shouldn’t be giving anything up this Lent but instead taking on more sleep!). I cannot control how often my baby wakes or the nightmares that cause my fear-mongering toddler to seek solace in my arms in the middle of the night (my normally easy-going toddler is going through an anxious stage and is afraid of everything and needs more TLC from me than is typical). However, I can control what time I slip into bed.
During our vacation, the baby slept horribly, waking up nearly every hour (much worse than an average night); yet, I felt so much more rested, and it wasn’t simply because I had plenty of helping hands around and was lounging on the beach and sipping sweet, mellifluous Riesling at dinner (though I’m sure that helped just a little bit). I went to bed early. I was in bed by 9 p.m. with a book and asleep by 10 p.m. I wasn’t burning the midnight oil staring at a glaring computer screen or working on the latest domestic project to zap my energies. I realize that at home there is work to be done, but that work means nothing if my primary job – to be a loving wife and mom – falls by the wayside because I forgo sleep to do, do, do.
Likewise, our bedtime routines as of late (prior to finding ourselves in paradise) have been stressful. I am
incredibly jealous in awe of moms whose children roll over and drift off to the Land of Nod after being tucked in and granted just one quick kiss on the forehead. I like to tell myself their kids are just stupid simpletons and haven’t figured out that their bed doesn’t have an invisible wall around it while my progeny are prodigies – or in the very least, tenacious, little buggers who know that Mom has a lot of power, but one thing she cannot do is force them to go to sleep.
After lots and lots of stories, cuddles, and prayers, it’s always been my custom to rest with the girls for a few minutes before I make my escape. Only, recently, I hadn’t really been resting. I’d been planning the entire time. I’d been wishing they would just go to sleep. I’ve always loved our nightly story time, but as soon as the last book is closed, I often have the urge to to sprint off and get stuff done.
At the beach, I had nowhere to go and nothing to do, and our bedtime woes were non-existent. There were no tears, no “I’m thirsty-ies,” no “one more book please,” no “Where’s my elephant? Where’s my doggie?”, no “turn the night light on.” You get the idea (or maybe you don’t – lucky you). I realized some of my bedtime battles stemmed from me being in such a rush to get the kids to sleep. They sensed I was on edge, watching the clock tick time away. But at the beach I was content to relax beside them.
Kids know when we’re not fully present and they don’t like it one bit, so I’m going to work on being more relaxed at bedtime and to just enjoy being with my kids.
I’ve been doing well in the bedtime routine department, but sticking to a reasonable bedtime hour for me is a constant struggle. Within two days of returning from the trip I was back to my old habits. My husband found me up past midnight and gently reminded me that I should be sleeping, not working. “But I need some time for myself,” I
whined calmly said.
“You need to start thinking of sleep as time for yourself.”
What wise counsel I find in my husband.
Now that I’m home and back in the grind, I recognize it wasn’t just the sleep, the seamless bedtime routine, the dearth of to-do lists, or the fact that I was in paradise that lifted my spirits. It was the reminder that the darkness never lasts forever. Sometimes the darkness isn’t even really there when we think it is. We’re the ones hiding away. So I’ve resigned myself to let the sunshine in, to take a step outside and out of myself, to cling to the small seeds of faith within me, to indulge – yes, indulge – in quiet prayer time this Lent, and to find paradise even when it’s not so obvious. And to always, always be grateful for when it is.
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