Thursday, May 29, 2014

Realizing the Comforts of My Color {Thoughts on White Privilege}

She came from nowhere, it seemed, and slipped away in the same smooth and silent way.

We were at the donut shop's counter, being treated to coffee by one of the people we were visiting.  His wallet was out, and suddenly she was there, at his side, all creased chocolate skin and curls spiraling with gray and -- this is what has stayed with me -- dark and haunted eyes.

"Do you have a dollar?" she asked the one of our group who was paying.  "Could you get me a coffee?"

His reply was sharp, a matter of course.  He tossed it at her as if it was nothing, as if she was nothing -- which, of course, to him, she was.

"No," he said, jerking a hand her way as if he was flicking off a fly, dismissively, almost flippantly.  I don't think he even looked at her.  I don't think he saw her at all.

But I saw her.  My eyes met hers, those nearly-black depths, and we looked at each other.  My stomach twisted, and our souls met, perhaps, in that moment.  I can't say she felt that or anything other than non-surprise -- another white man with his white companions and their sure, unseeing caucasian eyes -- but I was rocked to the core of my core of my core.

I felt shocked.  Shocked at her boldness to come right into the store and ask for that coffee, shocked at the "no," shocked at how I winced in pain at that matter-of-fact reply and the woman did not.

I didn't buy her a coffee either.  I didn't have cash, but that's no excuse, and before I could think or fish for a credit card, she was gone, a breath of smoke wafting back out into the sea of urban humanity that churned passed the shop's windows.

But the churning in my gut did not leave with her.

* * *

Recently, we traveled to Philadelphia, a city close in culture and geography to where I grew up.  A month or so back, we went to Austin, Texas.  And on both trips, I was confronted with my whiteness.

I've forgotten, living in this mountainous city, how homogenous we are here.  How very white we are.  Yes, we have Native American folks, and poor folks, too, but the overall impression of the community is white white white.  

Then we leave home, and all of a sudden my child is meeting his first black person, his first brown person, his first not-white people.  And I can't stop wondering if such a racially homogenous town is the best place to raise him.  If it's the best place for us, for me, for anyone.

We've (I've) gotten so comfortable with sameness.

* * *

In Austin, I was delighted by our dip into racial diversity.  In Philadelphia, I was disturbed by it.

In Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, our hotel was located in the business district.  We arrived on a weekend day, and as we walked the area I was pleasantly surprised by how few white people there were out with us.  I relished cacophany of skin colors.  

But the morning, a workday, told a different story.  Suddenly, there were white people everywhere, striding in crisp suits and barking importantly on phones and sitting in meetings over lunch.  Not only white people, of course -- but the difference from the night before was unsettling.  

I noticed, too, that we did not meet a single white person employed in a service position.  Not one.  

I'd forgotten that.  I'd grown up in a culture where every McDonald's employee was black as a rule -- a rule that was never broken.  I'd forgotten how comfortable I was as a child and teen with this reality -- that white people were never, never, never taxi drivers or gas station attendants or fast food clerks or convenience store cashiers or custodians.

But now, after my sojourn in the Rocky Mountains, I found my skin crawling at this actuality.

* * *

My grandmother is an old, old woman.  We journeyed to Philadelphia to see her, probably for the last time in this life.  And while she is feisty and strong, she needs help now.  

When we visited her, we ended up visiting with her caregivers, too, because they are always with her.  They are a good match for my grandma, for they are just as fiery and fierce as she is, and so deliciously sassy to boot.  

They are also black.  

Every caregiver and custodian at my grandmother's facility was black.  And every resident was white.  Every one.  That we saw, anyway.  This makes me uncomfortable. 

My grandmother's caregivers call her "Miss Mary," and that makes me uncomfortable, too.  When they'd say it, the words would conjure up unbidden images of racial crimes in the South during the civil rights era, and of plantations and masters and cracking whips and the flesh of the other bought and sold as if the soul it spread over wasn't listening, loving, aching wondering.

* * *

That woman in the donut shop, she did not expect to be seen, to be given coffee or kindness.  She was accustomed to being invisible.

But I saw her.  I saw you, woman with the haunting eyes.  I don't know you or your story, I don't know why you were begging for coffee, for a single dollar.  I don't know how life has wounded you.  I don't know why you love, what makes you weep.  

But I saw you.  

I saw something in my self, too, something old and hard and small, and something new unfurling crimson wings toward the sun.  I saw something of our culture's illnesses.  

I can't unsee this, or you, woman with the haunting eyes.  I don't want to.

* * *

While we were in Philadelphia, I had a hard time finding the right words to define the growing discomfort and unsettled feelings in my heart in response to these racial observations. How do describe, to discuss my churning thoughts?

But at last, I landed on the phrase -- white privilege.

I have never been more aware of the fact that white privilege exists in our culture, in our world.  That it exists in my world.  That I enjoy it daily, hourly, with every pulsing shudder of my heart.  

And -- that with that privilege comes responsibility.  Responsibility to use the privilege of my skin color well.  I didn't ask for that privilege or do anything to earn it.  And yet I have it.  

But how to use it?  How to use that unasked for power and the financial and social privileges that I enjoy?  How do I wield my white privilege as an actually helpful (not a perceived-by-me, make-my-self-feel-better, offensive sort of "helpful") force?

Also, what does all this tell me about how to live in my homogenous home town -- because while we don't have a lot of non-white folks, there are certainly many homeless and underprivileged people that I largely have not seen and/or avoid seeing.

I don't have answers.  I don't know what to do.

But I have seen.  A layer of social blindness has fallen from my eyes, and I cannot call this anything but good.

Edited to add: Please know that I am not trying to say that only black/non-white people work in service or are poor and/or disadvantaged.  Nor am I saying that black/non-white people can only work in service types of positions.  I am also not trying to insinuate that white privilege is the only kind of privilege out there.  I am merely stating my observations during this one trip and pondering their potential meanings, both for society and for what it says about myself.  Thanks for your grace as we walk into this sensitive topic together.

Want to read more about white privilege?  Here are a few items I found helpful . . .
Over to you -- what are your thoughts on race and privilege?  What are we to do with our privilege, white or otherwise, to make things better for all people?  How do we all, of every color and status, work for needed change?  Or should we be "using" our privilege at all?  Do you have any recommended books/websites/etc.?  I want to learn. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Spread the Love [Blog Tour]
art by mary wangerin

The deliciously talented Mary of The Turquoise Paintbrush (that's one of her dreamcatchers above -- I'm in love) invited me to be part of this creativity blog tour.  So delighted to be asked!  Here's what she wanted to know . . .

What are you currently working on? 
Right now I'm hard at work editing The Light Between Us for its mid-June release date (eeeee!! don't forget to enter the giveaway for a free copy).  I'm also writing the first draft of a new (and completely unrelated) novel, based loosely on Celtic myth.  My artwork is mostly on hold right now as a result -- it seems that I am unable to create in two very different mediums (words and painted visuals) at the same time.  So the art is resting for a while.

How does your work differ from others of its genre?
It tells the truth -- which is nothing new, I suppose.  Except that it's my truth that I'm writing into these novels, and that's something the world's never seen before.   And also, I am trying to write female characters who stand in their own imperfectly perfect humanity, fraught with strengths and weaknesses and foibles and beauty. 

Why do you write/create what you do?
Because I love it.  Because I can't help it.  Because I was born with ink and words in my blood.  Because it is my calling.  Because it is crazy fun.  Because it is my dream, and dreams are worth living.

How does your writing/creating process work?
I take my son to childcare for a few hours every weekday morning.  Because I'm paying for said childcare, this helps me to overcome my resistance and fear much more efficiently.  So once he's happily playing with trucks with his toddler buddies, I'm off to a coffee shop to lay down some words.  

I sit.  I think.  I procrastinate.  And then, at last, I just get 'er done (whew).

Who should you visit next on the blog tour?
Check out my gorgeous and supremely brave and talented friends Jamie, Bethany, and Rachel on Monday, June 2, for their thoughts on the creative process.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Won't You Emerge, Lovely One?

This past week or so has been so mad that I forgot to share with you that Sprout Online Magazine's Emerge issue is out!   I have a poem in there, and there is just so, so, so much loveliness within.


For more inspiring words and amazing artwork, nab your copy of Sprout: Emerge here (aff. link).  Or join the Sprout community on Facebook.  Yum! 
What does it mean to you to emerge?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Finding Our Way Home Again For the First Time

from the Secret Message Society zine

There is a prevalently held notion, I think, about spiritual wanderers, and it is this: that when she is done with her ramblings and seekings and walking-abouts, the wanderer will slip quietly back into her old allotted space.  That she will return to the same church (or temple or synagogue or circle or . . .) and slip into her usual seat, worship and listen and nod in her usual way, and when the service is over her community will pat her shoulder and squeeze her hands and tuck her into an embrace and be glad that she's done with that whole wilderness business.

And maybe she will.  Maybe her wanderings will lead her back into the old ways. 

But here's the thing -- those "old ways" won't be the same, even if they look identical from an outward glance.  No, the wanderer will experience this old ways as entirely new ways, the difference between them as stark as the dichotomy between winter and spring. 

And here's another thing -- maybe her wanderings won't lead her back to the same spiritual stomping grounds.  Maybe she'll find her home in a new denomination, or a new faith entirely, or solo walks on the beach or along a trail winding its rocky way through the mountains or meditating upon the moon.

Because the wilderness won't return you unchanged.  If you cannot learn to bend out in the wild lands, well, there might not be any you to come back with. 

We cannot go back to the way we were before.  It is impossible.  It would be a soul death to do so.  Don't forget that there was a reason, a vital catalyst that launched us out from that old life into the desert places in the first place. 

And yet, it's tempting to return to the familiar.  We have loved ones there who miss us, who care, who are calling us back.  And there is something so comfortable, so inviting, so safe about the known.

But we did not come here to live safe.

Neither did you. 

(And know this -- that old way, whatever it is, is not necessarily wrong or bad at all, but may not be right for me, or you, or that gentleman over there, or that girl in back.  This soul-sense of not-right-ness matters.)  

* * *

I have been missing Jesus.

Not the old Jesus, though, the one I thought I knew (or thought I knew).  And not that god who is threatened by my unbelief, who claims that any stumble of mine will force his hand into some unconscionable action.  The one who demands a life bound to absolute literalism, and unkindness and even cruelty masquerading as righteousness. 

I cannot believe in a god that I have to take care of.  I cannot believe in a god who does not want me to use the brain and heart and emotions and intuition that s/he gave me.

But what else is there?

from the Secret Message Society zine

* * *

The ancient myths are beautiful and powerful not because they are translated from language to language with word-for-word precision.  They are not valuable because they offer one true way of living from classical times forevermore.  They are not important because of their rigidity, or lack of bias, or objectivity.

Myth is powerful because of overarching themes, underlying messages, and, most of all, the story.  I don't love the myth of Inanna's descent to the Underworld, for example, because it is unequivocally true, or an explicit map to my life, or because I think it's cosmically inerrant in its transmission. 

No, I love Inanna because I see myself and the Holy and the world in her story.  Because I can take larger truths from her tale.  Because it inspires me toward deep-rooting and growth.

I cannot help but wonder what would happen if I read the Bible in the same way that I read Inanna's story.

Because when I read the Bible as a direct download from the mouth of God, every syllable inerrant, I must turn away in sorrow.  I know too much of the Bible's history, of the manipulation and massaging that preceded its current incarnation, of the inaccuracies translation can bring.  

But . . . when the Bible becomes about the heart of its story rather than its word-for-word accuracy, I cannot turn away.  The very human story of the Israelites and the newborn church become fascinating -- in part precisely because they are human, flawed, messy.  But no less beautiful for those flaws.  

Perhaps the story becomes even more lovely as a result of its mortal chaos.

* * *

Lately I have been devouring the words, both spoken and written (aff. link), of Richard Rohr.  Rohr is a Franciscan priest and a Christian mystic (a.k.a. contemplative).  In his hands (and the hands of other scholars and mystics and Jesus-knowers similar to him), I meet a God of allowing, of both/and, a secure and glorious God who loves but does not need me -- not to believe in a certain way, or accept a certain thing with certain kinds of words, or sew my skin to one certain narrow way of living.

The Jesus of the mystics is not dismissive of the gray spaces.  He is their savior from the wilds.  Their absolutes are few.  

I didn't know this view of Jesus existed.  Or perhaps I forgot.  

Whatever it is, I am finding myself making a surprising home here with the contemplatives.

* * *

I said that the non-wanderers have a notion about the wanderers, that the sojourners will eventually "get it out of their systems" and return to the expected life.  

But it's not just them who thinks this way.  It's me, too.  I thought that, eventually, I'd have to shrug my shoulders and learn to be satisfied with that which did not satisfy me, that which felt jarring to my soul. 

How wrong I was.  I don't have to fit into a church, or any explicit faith or denomination or religion or [insert your favorite belief system].  And I certainly don't have to settle for a spirituality feels wrong for me, even if that's what others say is the only right way.

I look around me at the diversity of nature, and cannot believe the God who made such an exquisite planet could so lack a love of adventure and uniquity.  

* * *

I would like to tie all these threads into a tidy knot.  Perhaps you would like me to as well.  But, try as I might, that thread keeps wafting on a draft, and those few ends over there  are flying free on a springtime breeze, and all refuse to be captured.

This is the mystic way, maybe?  The way of the second half of life, to borrow Rohr's words.  An end without a conclusion is still a conclusion in itself, and yet in the same moment not a conclusion at all but a glorious beginning.  

I am coming home again for the first time.  It is terrifying, and exciting.  It is as if my soul is standing the door of some desert dwelling place, welcoming me in with a mug of my favorite tea and wearing a smile that tells me that she knew exactly when I would arrive. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Not-Praying

Just over seventy-two hours ago, I held my sweet toddler boy's body as a seizure rocked us all to the core. 

I thought he was dying.  I thought I was about to watch him die, there on a friend's porch that was too far away from any hospital, our sweet afternoon playdate cut horrifyingly short.

His body stopped seizing.  We couldn't keep him awake (I did not know at the time that this is normal).  His breathing was labored. 

I thought he was dying.

I looked up from his too-still form and blue lips, from my husband trying to keep our son's eyes open, from our friend and his toddler son standing close by, looked up from our helplessness.

I prayed.

I stopped praying.


while this held-scared text might say that the prayers of a righteous woman availeth much, I know that doesn't necessarily mean those prayers will be answered.  Not even the truest, most desperate, rasping, please-God-don't-take-another-of-my-children pleas.

The searing memory of my dead daughter's body nestled in my arms burned too near as we waited for the ambulance and EMTs that might save our son -- or not.

* * *

A much-loved one said to me, later, after that sweet toddler son of ours returned to himself as we loaded him into the ambulance and we rode without sirens and lights toward the reassurance of doctors and monitors and fever-reducers -- 

after that was over, and we had returned home and slept (well, some of us) and woken and acted as if all was normal, she said that she knew, she knew the Lord would take care of our boy, with his bright-shining soul.

And oh, how I wish I could believe that.

But I have birthed my prayed-for daughter's lifeless body.  I know too many other women who have done the same, or worse, too many parents who have wept abrupt good-byes.  I know too many stories of child abuse and animal abuse and domestic abuse and rape.  I know too many stories of third world injustices and hunger and diseases and unfairness.  I have read the story of Job.

I know too much about the unfairness that a walk on the earth may entail, the shocking cruelty with which catastrophe may fall. 

* * *

Perhaps you'd like this to be a story of salvation, of a heart turned from the dark.  Perhaps you'd like to read of how my son's seizure pushed me back into the church, into uncomplicated, comfortable belief.  Perhaps you'd even nod sagely as you read, knowing all along that I only needed a good, strong emergency to convince me of my spiritual tomfoolery. 

This is not that kind of story.


I must admit that I have missed Jesus.  Not the safe, caucasian savior I was taught to believe in, and not a god that would use my child as a pawn to manipulate me back into belief.  But the wild, mysterious, bleeding and wide-grinning god-man who loves the ones most everyone else says it is wrong to love.  The Jesus who, maybe, sent me out into the desert of unbelief, the Mother God who loves my tangles and snarls, who breastfeeds me a colostrum made of words and sky and a candle's flickering flame.

And I missed this, missed him, before the seizure.  

* * *

Would it disturb you to know that my experience of no-god during our son's seizure was, somehow, a truer, richer, deeper spiritual experience than I have had in a long while, or perhaps ever?

Maybe I am romanticizing it, now that we are safe.  Except

we are never safe.  The picket fence is never high enough, the savings account never plush enough, my waist never slim enough to stave off the disaster that a moment may hold.  We in America worship our illusion of safety and, trembling, clutch it close at the midnight hour, fearful that it will be torn away.

I have seen, felt, so much unsafety.  I sometimes wonder if I am destined to dwell in the gray space of pain, of unknowing, of surrender to the reality that is, the reality that is not what I thought to expect.  And yet I still claw for my supposedly deserved comfort.

I don't think this is a way to live.  My anxiety-pierced chest protests this scrabble for safety.


I don't know how to live with all this uncertainty.  

* * *

I don't know how to live when, in a single, terrible moment, some invisible, internal feverish force threw my son's body out of his control, into fear and rigidity and suffocation and a small body washed in his mother's tears. 

I don't know how to live when one moment I am pregnant with our soon-to-arrive daughter, and the next I am pregnant with death.

I don't know how to live when I am awash in a sea of depression, choking on the shock of waves, less and less able to keep afloat.

I don't know how to live when marriage is so damn hard that it's practically pointless, and we are losing all the ground we might have rebuilt on.

I don't know how to live when my years have been one long bid for my soul's survival.

I don't know how to live when I know that I am not exempt from a sick child, a diseased marriage, a cancer diagnosis, a decades-long fight for the joy that seems to come so easy to so many others.

* * *

This morning, I listened to Father Richard Rohr speak on suffering.  And during his homily, he shared the Welcoming Prayer, saying that if he prayed it daily, he would be a happy man.

I don't know if I am brave enough to pray to release my control, to welcome in any and all experiences the day might bring.  But I also know that I'm not very happy.

For so long, I believed, I was taught that prayer was an equation that went something like this:

(appropriate words + time) sufficient faith = desired result(s)

That's now how it works though, is it?   Because sometimes, the bad guys win.  Death visits.  Things are broken beyond repair. 

I think I see now why I was choking on my attempts at prayer following Eve's stillbirth.  Why I stopped praying almost as soon as I started as held my seizing son.  Because

prayer does not work like this.  

I have become convinced that the only thing prayer can truly change, if it can change anything at all, is the heart.  

And also, I think that prayer does not have to look like the typical hands folded, head bowed, whispers of Father God that are so prevalent in the church (a posture that is not at all bad in and of itself-- but any un-absolute good thing becomes less-good when it is treated as the Absolute).

Prayer might look like tears raging angry over the tiny box holding the ashes that were once your baby.

Prayer might look like running away from the church, from the Bible, from everything you were told you have to be or do or think.

Prayer might look like staring pleadingly, helplessly, prayerlessly into middle space as your boy has a seizure in your arms.

* * *

Do these words disturb you?  Do they make you uncomfortable?

You are in good company then, for they make me uncomfortable to write.  Because I fear that, in trying to synthesize my experiences and meditations into syllables, I inadvertently reduce these things into complete explanations, simple answers, that I make what is excruciating sound easy.  

I have no answers.
This is anything but easy.

But it is also vital, necessary.  So I press on, into Jesus, away from Jesus, into the Spirit that swells without and dwells within this sanctuary of skin and sinew and the firing of sacred synapses.  It is all holy ground.

As this luscious soul says: All is mystery.  All is grace.  I am most satisfied with the uncomfortable non-answers, for they are most representative of and relevant to life's wonders and woundings.

from Rilke's Book of Hours (affiliate link)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When We Rise Up From Our Bed of Tears

{download this graphic here -- right click the image & hit "save as"}

Sometimes it’s okay to walk away for a time, to leave the dark and allow the sun to slide warm and languid across your cheek. To climb a mountain, spread your arms to the cerulean sky, to howl fierce and glad and free at the filling moon.

We have been initiated in the worst of ways, and the price was the death of a baby, babies, a child, children, or perhaps of fertility and physical wholeness, and always of tenderly tended dreams. And we are not the same. We can never go back, as much as we might try to claw our way back into the shredded cocoon where hope was easy and babies never died.

Grief has made a friend, an enemy, an ally of the dark. The light becomes raw and blinding. We learn to walk blind, with bleeding hearts. Perhaps we even become comfortable, excruciatingly comfortable here.

But perhaps, one day the black will lose its luster, and you will find yourself enamored with the dawn.

And –

this is okay.
Today I'm writing  over at Still Standing Magazine.  

When We Try to Save the World, Together

I've been feeling increasingly unsettled. About our earth, our inequalities, our consumer culture, our broken political system (here in America, anyway).  It gnaws at me, this concern.  And it's not the kind of needless worry, born out of my worst fears.  No, it is the kind that is based in uncomfortable fact.  Even our rather heads-in-the-sand-ish leaders have recently acknowledged the dire state of our earth.

When it was just me, I could brush the concern away.  Sure, we might destroy ourselves, and I'd die.  End of story, no big deal (um, this is pretty telling about my self-perception, huh?).

But now . . . I'd have to watch this person suffer, for the sins of his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents:

And it's not just him.  Being a mama of this sweetest of boys, and of his sister, has awakened my heart and my mind to the hearts and minds of those around me, and those who live a world away from me.  I am responsible to him, to them.  To myself.  To the earth itself.

In this information age, I can't hide from it any longer.  I won't, I refuse to, I absolutely cannot stand to ignore that gnawing in my gut any longer.

So . . . I started a new blog, called Act Small, Think Big.  Its goal is to help us begin to make small and sustainable-for-us changes in our lifestyles that will, collectively [hopefully], yield large, impactful results on our world. 

I think that we here in the western, privileged world have a greater responsibility to pioneer these kinds of very needed changes, because we have the greater resources and opportunity to do so.  Also, due to our consumer culture, it's my opinion that we've had the largest hand in the damage done (oops), so it's our job to clean up at least some of our own mess.

Okay, now, the purpose of Act Small, Think Big is not to ignite guilt and "shoulds" within our souls, and certainly not to add an additional heavy burden to our already laden shoulders.  It's about progress, not perfection.  And -- bonus! -- many if not most of these sustainable-for-you changes are not only fairly easy and painless, but will also positively benefit your health and/or your wallet.  Win!

And!  I'm looking for guest posters.  If you have a simple tip on how to green up, kick inequality to the curb, re-enliven our political systems, address the factory farming industry, and whatever other change-the-world-ish topics are close to your heart, please check out the submission guidelines here, and then drop me an email.

Check out Act Small, Think Big here, and find us on Facebook here

Thursday, May 8, 2014

What to Say to a Bereaved, Infertile, or Otherwise Childless Mother on Mother's Day {2014 Edition}

image by CarlyMarie
I wrote this post in 2012, the first year I celebrated the day as a mother -- a bereaved mother.  It remains my most popular and searched-for post.  I reposted it again last year, and decided to do the same this year.  

Even though it's been two and some years since my baby girl died, and although I have reached a place of peace and beauty (for the moment, anyway), I am not looking forward to Sunday's holiday.  I'm kind of in denial about it, refusing to think about Mother's Day (aside from this post, of course).

I am thankful for my motherhood, and daily celebrate the children who made me one with exquisite, excruciating gratitude.  But -- I still miss my daughter.  I grieve the nurturing I should have received as a daughter, and the perpetuation of generational wounds.  These things make Mother's Day painful.  I wish to acknowledge and once more honor that pain on a day that tends to be white-washed by carnations and smiles and Hallmark well-wishing.

When I wrote this post, I was most addressing the pain of mothers who had lost a baby at any age or gestation.  But I think that much of the advice in this post can be applied to mothers of ill, disabled, murdered, and/or deceased children, including adult children.

It can also be applied to other, more hidden kinds of bereaved mothers -- those do not have and have never had any visible children.  These may be women who have suffered multiple miscarriages, or women struggling with infertility or similar issues, women who have been devastated by their inability to become or remain pregnant.  These may be women who desperately wish to become mothers, but have not found the right man, or who have passed out of their childbearing years, or for whom life has somehow conspired to render them painfully childless.  These may be women who have suffered one or multiple failed adoptions, perhaps at the eleventh hour.  And I am sure there are other kinds of bereaved mothers that I am not yet aware of.  

I urge you -- honor these women and their motherhood and their hurting maternal hearts, because most will not, and that almost hurts worse than the initial wounding.  And please also be sensitive of those who are the children of absent mothers or ill mothers or abusive mothers or dead mothers.  Perhaps you are one of the bereaved mothers, or the bereaved children.  I see you.  I honor your pain, and your healed and healing places. May Mother's Day be gentle on that sweet, fierce heart of yours.

* * *

Yesterday, after posting about International Bereaved Mother's Day on Facebook, a friend came back with a really excellent question.

She asked, "I'm just wondering what to SAY to a Bereaved Mother on her day?  Happy Mother's Day clearly doesn't apply. Do I say I'm sorry or I'm thinking about you? Can I ask how she's feeling? Does she want to talk about it?"

Great questions, right?  They really made me think.

Then I realized that there are probably a lot of friends and family of bereaved parents out there wondering the same thing.  And so this blog post was born.

Obviously I cannot speak for all bereaved mothers and how they would like to be approached on difficult days like Mother's Day.  But given my daughter's stillbirth and the fact that I have come to know many women in the babyloss community, I like to think that my insight on this matter is fairly keen.  So here are my do's and don't's on how to relate to your bereaved friend on Mother's Day or International Bereaved Mother's Day.

  • Recognize that your friend is a mother.  Just because her child is dead doesn't make her any less of a mother, nor does it erase her child's life.  Recognition of that is life-giving.
  • Acknowledge that Mother's Day is probably a strange or difficult day for her.  It is an especially upsetting day if she has no living children.
  • Say her child's name.  Every bereaved mother wants you to talk about her child.  Remembering her child in a loving and honoring way is an immense gift.  You cannot hurt a bereaved mother by bringing up her child in this manner.  It's not like she has forgotten her child.  Don't be afraid of reopening a wound, because the wound left by her child's death will never close.
  • Say, "I'm so sorry that your child isn't here with you today."  When in doubt of what to say to a bereaved mother, this always works.  It doesn't dismiss her pain or trivialize the loss, and it does give her and her grief that all-important recognition.
  • Give her a big hug, and don't be alarmed if she cries.  Personally, I love hugs from my loved ones, especially when I'm hurting.  But often hugs can trigger tears.  Don't be afraid of those tears, though.  It is a gift to be a able to mourn your child with your loved ones.  
  • Give her a card or a gift if you feel so inclined.  That would be very honoring of her motherhood and her child's life -- both of which are priceless gifts to the bereaved mother.
  • Respect that she might not want to go out on Mother's Day. Being out and about on Mother's Day, seeing other mothers celebrating with their living children, is likely to be intensely painful.  I know that for myself, I have not yet decided if I will attend church on Mother's Day.  Respect her wishes, and support her by dropping a note or card into her mailbox.  
  • Ask her how she's doing -- but only if you're prepared for an honest answer.  Our culture is afraid of pain.  When people say, "How are you?" they usually don't want to hear anything else but "good" or "okay."  But a bereaved mother is anything but "okay," especially on difficult days like Mother's Day.  So be sure that you want an honest reply when you ask -- otherwise, it's probably best to leave this one alone, so that the mother doesn't feel like she has to lie.
  • Ignore her on Mother's Day.  If she is anything like me, she is grappling with intense identity issues.  To ignore her (and her motherhood) on this painful day is likely to be immensely hurtful.
  • Dismiss her loss or her grief.  If a bereaved  mother chooses to say things like, "God needed my baby in Heaven," "Everything happens for a reason," or "It's God's will," that's up to her.  But it is not okay to say things like that to her.  These are flimsy explanations of her child's death -- and the harsh reality is that there is no explanation that will make her child's death okay.  Don't try to explain her pain away.  It won't work, because there is nothing logical about death and grief, and any such attempts are likely to be very hurtful.
  • Tell her that she'll be "over it" by next year's Mother's Day.  The sad truth about child loss, whether that loss occurred before or after birth or well into adulthood, is that the mother will never "get over it."  A significant part of her died along with her child, and grief has changed her forever.  
  • Assume that because she has living children, Mother's Day is not difficult.  As every parent knows, every child is unique and special in his or her own way.  As a result, no amount of living children can ever "make up" for a deceased child -- nor should they be expected to.  
  • Place blame.  It is NEVER okay to tell a bereaved mother that it is her fault her child died.  That is up to the mother's doctors, who will tell her the truth.  To try to blame a bereaved  mother for her child's death is inappropriate all of the time, especially on difficult days.  (And yes, incredibly, I have had someone blame me for Eve's death, although it was not on Mother's Day.)
In summary, on Mother's Day a bereaved mother is desperately in need of recognition.  She needs to be known as a mother.  She became pregnant, and loved and cherished and bore a child.  The child's death does not change her love for that child, nor does it negate her motherhood.  So the name of the game in interacting with your bereaved friend on Mother's Day is recognition.  Tell her that she is a mother, and that you wish her child could be here with here, and you are golden.

Don't be afraid to talk about your bereaved friend's dead child or grief -- ever.  I know that many people are afraid of making an already difficult situation worse.  But if you honor her motherhood and grief, and remember and mention her child, there is no hurt being done -- quite the opposite in fact!  Even if she cries, this honoring and remembering are gifts that are more precious to your bereaved friend than you can fathom.

How are you celebrating -- or not celebrating -- Mother's Day this year?  How are you feeling all this? 

* * *

Thank you so, so, so, so, so much for your congratulations on yesterday's news, and for the many ways you've been sharing The Light Between Us around.  Words cannot contain the full force of my gratitude.  If you wish to hashtag your social media shares, please use #thelightbetweenusbook.  Thank you and thank you and thank you!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

When I am Publishing a Book {Cover + Title Reveal, Plus a Giveaway!}

*Edited 6/10/2014 -- for the most up-to-date info on The Light Between Us, click here!*

I have been hard at work -- writing!  As I blogged about not very long ago, I wrote a novel (whoa).  And now I'm both getting that book ready for publication, and writing another novel. 

I know.  It's insane.  And it's so. much. fun.

And --

now it's time to share some juicy details about my soon-to-be-available book!

The Light Between Us is a luscious romance in the new adult genre, slated to release in mid-June 2014.  

The back-of-book blurb:

For twenty-something Boston school teacher Ruth, she's gotten by just fine on playing it safe, thank you very much. But now her risk-free life and nice-girl demeanor are leaving her increasingly heartsick. So when she meets bad boy Derek, she's willing to overlook her “no romance” rule and give him a chance to prove her fears wrong. Because he, also, is plagued by a sense of ennui and pointlessness, wanting to change his fast-and-loose living but not knowing how.

Neither can deny the inexplicable, illogical attraction drawing them together, and they are hard-pressed to resist it. But what will their unlikely relationship cost, and who will be caught in the crossfire?

The cover:

(I am seriously in love with this cover!  Art by the very talented Paper & Sage Design.)

Who should read this book:

The Light Between Us is an entertaining romantic romp of surprising depth.  This book is for anyone who enjoys well-written fiction with a pleasant weightiness and texture, but will also appeal to readers who are just out for some fun.  The Light Between Us is an ideal beach/summer read. 

Where to find it:

My novel will be available in mid-June 2014 (just a little over a month -- eeeee!!!!) on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions -- watch this blog as well as my Facebook page and my Amazon author page for updates.  You can also find me on Goodreads.

The giveaway:

Want to win a paperback copy of The Light Between Us?  Enter using the Rafflecopter gadget below -- entries close June 10, 2014! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway