This belly

My belly—this belly—has been through a lot over the last 12 years.

(Is it weird for a 38-year-old woman to call it a “belly”?)

I carried a very big baby in there—hence the belly button that is both an innie and an outie.

This belly got cut open so that big baby could arrive here safely.

In a few weeks, this belly will get three new scars—one right on the navel and two a little farther down. The scars will be small because science has allowed amazing things to be done through tiny incisions, but they’ll still be new. More marks on this belly that has carried a life, held so much pain and stress, so much worry.

I asked my husband to take a picture so I would remember what this belly looked like before more cuts were made—cuts for a different kind of delivery this time.

Delivery from pain, I hope.

I plan to mark the scars with tattoos one day. Stars, I think. They show you the way.

Thomas: also

What if one moment of your life determined how history framed—and even named—you?

By this point, I’d assuredly be “Weeping Val” or “ALL CAPS Catrow.” But while those things are true about me, they aren’t the only things that are true about me.

Most of us know Thomas (also called “Didymus” or “Twin”) from his appearance in the 20th chapter of John’s gospel.

It’s Easter, the day of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus shows himself first to Mary Magdalene, who didn’t recognize her Lord bodily but knew it was him when he spoke her name. (John 20:16) Later that evening, Jesus appears in the locked room where his disciples hid. He said, “Peace be with you,” showing them his hands and side and breathing the Holy Spirit upon them. (John 20:19-23)

For reasons that remain unknown to us, Thomas wasn’t with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them. When he hears the news, he says, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)

That’s it. That’s the moment we pin to Thomas, still to this day.

I wonder why we don’t also remember the Thomas in the 11th chapter of the book of John. Upon hearing news of his friend Lazarus’s illness and death, Jesus decides to return to his friend’s home in Judea, where the Jews were, as the disciples point out, seeking to stone Jesus—to kill him. (John 11:8). After a bit of back-and-forth between Jesus and the disciples, it’s Thomas that has the final word; interestingly, it’s the first time we hear from Thomas at all in the Bible.

“Let us also go, that we may die with him,” he says. (John 11:16)

What a thing to say.

True, that line can be read in many different ways. My 21st century sensibilities laced it with sarcasm when I first read it. Meanwhile, Eugene Peterson gives it a real Eeyore vibe in The Message: “Come along. We might as well die with him.”

But what if Thomas meant what (I think) is best communicated in the Easy-To-Read translation of the Bible?

“We will go too. We will die there with Jesus.”

When Jesus, Thomas’s leader and Lord, says it’s time to return to a town filled with people who want to kill him, Thomas agrees and rallies the troops, while also reminding them of their likely fate. He’s resolute and ready to go.

Why isn’t this the moment we remember about Thomas? Or what about the moment just after the famous interaction between Jesus and Thomas in that same locked room eight days after the resurrection?

Most of us know the story: Jesus appears again and says to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27)

Thomas responds—the last words attributed to him in the Bible—with what Charles Spurgeon called “a most plain and hearty confession of the true and proper Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“My Lord and my God!”

As Thomas says these words, we see something that can only be described as wonder —a holy wonder, when he “gets it,” when the truth (or Truth, as it were) takes root in his mind and heart, leaving him forever changed. Jesus was his Lord and his God. Both. And Thomas appears to be wonderfully undone by it.

It’s spectacularly human moment.

Yes, Thomas doubted; there’s no denying that. But that’s not the only true thing about him. He doubted, but he also believed. Both. Like all of us who follow Christ.

Let’s not forget that he was also:

Resolved Thomas.
Ready-and-Willing Thomas.
Wondering Thomas.
Confessing Thomas.
Believing Thomas.
Changed Thomas.

And let’s not forget the “alsos” that apply to us as well.

Loved and gone

We got her when I was 23; she was almost three months old.

We said goodbye when I was 38; she was almost 15.

I helped her grow and made her feel safe. She did the same for me.

She spent her last moments on her favorite spot: the loveseat facing the door to the screen porch.

I scratched her left ear as the sedative took hold. She pressed her head into mine, like she always did during a good scratch—hard, as if she couldn’t get close enough to me. And she kept it there until the vet was finished, and our sweet pup drifted off to sweet relief.

“You did such a good job being our dog,” I whispered to her, over and over.

I’m still whispering it to her, even though she’s gone.

I just really need her to know.

 

 

Being, changing the default

“Picture a human in your mind.”

His lanky frame—somehow just a couple inches shorter than mine—shuffles along the sidewalk.

“Why?” he mutters

“Because I asked you to.” That phrase still carries weight with him, thankfully.

“Ok,” he sighs, tilts his head back a bit.

“Is the human a man or a woman?” I ask.

“A man.”

“What color is the human?”

“…white,” he says finally.

“Why do you think that is?”

He gaze turns down to his shoes as he walks. He says nothing.

We continue forward for a few steps. I feel him lean into me, hear him sniff.

I stop and turn to him. I take his damp face in my hands.

“I do the same thing, baby. Lots of people do. It’s not your fault. Everything is set up to make us think that way.”

He peeks at me through the shock of blonde hair perpetually in his face.

“So, what do we do?” The words come out quivering.

“Better,” I say, wrapping my arm around his shoulder and steering us forward, towards home.

“We try to do better.”

 

Making

“This group of people in this room will never be together exactly like this again—we’re making something.”

Audrey Assad, the musician-in-residence for Walking on Water: The Madeleine L’Engle, shared this thought during a lunchtime chat.

We’d gathered in the sanctuary or All Angels’ Church on New York City’s Upper West Side where the conference was taking place. Audrey sat at the piano, sharing freely about her creative process, her faith story—pretty much everything.

I don’t remember what question or comment prompted this statement from her, but I immediately scrawled it down in my notebook.

What a thought. Imagine if we let it shape every church service, every shared meal, every everything we share with other people.

Imagine if we looked at our times together as precious times of making—as given spaces to co-create with our fellow co-creators, ones made to make with our Maker.

To husband ourselves

“We are all body, mind, and spirit, and we need to husband ourselves on those levels.”

Barbara Braver shared this thought at a writing retreat I attended last week as part of Walking on Water: The Madeleine L’Engle Conference.

(Braver is a poet and writer who for several years shared Madeleine’s Upper West Side apartment during the week as she did work for the Episcopal Church in New York City.)

I paused for a moment when she said this because I’d never heard the word husband used in that context before—as a verb, rather than a noun. My pen hovered over the page as I transcribed the sentence into my notebook…

“Maybe I misheard her,” I thought. “Did she say tend instead?”

But no. She said “husband.”

So, like any good student, I wrote down what I heard and looked it up later when I got home.

According to Merriam-Webster, husband means, of course, a male partner in a marriage. But as a verb, it means “to manage prudently and economically.”

To continue down the definition rabbit hole, prudently means “marked by wisdom” and economically suggests care and efficiency. Even further down the hole, efficiency points to something that produces the “desired effects.”

So, to rephrase Braver…

“We are all body, mind, and spirit, and we need to wisely manage ourselves with care on those levels to produce the desired effect.”

That sucks the poetry right out of Braver’s original statement, but staring at that dissected sentence hits me with a wallop.

My body, my mind, my spirt all need managing—a managing born from wisdom and care with the aim of helping each of those elements produce the desired effect, helping them do what they are supposed to do.

What they are Designed to do.

To neglect one of those levels is to neglect part of my Design.

I’m glad I didn’t convince myself she said tend.

Dave

In 2014, my friend Dave died in his house that was just a couple blocks from mine.

I only know about the location of his home from the invoices he’d submit sporadically to the online news magazine where I served as editor and he served as contributor—our most unreliable contributor when it came to deadlines but our most reliable when it came to page views. Whatever Dave wrote, people read—partly because he was the frontman for GWAR. And partly because (I think) everything he wrote was totally over-the-top nuts…and good.

I was Dave’s editor for a couple of years. We emailed and texted weekly, but we never met in person. He was the lead singer of a heavy metal band, and I was a work-from-home mother of a toddler. I read the pieces he’d composed on tour buses crossing Australia during my breaks from folding laundry and (re)reading of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Our lives didn’t exactly line up.

But he was my friend.

In between his apologies for missed deadlines, he would always ask how our son was doing. He’d sign-off on text exchanges with things like:

“Have a good day with the kid, lil mama!”

or

“I know I put you through a lot of shit! You’re the best! Thanks for putting up with me!”

(He rarely ended a sentence with anything other than an exclamation point.)

But I wasn’t putting up with him. I liked Dave a lot. To me, he was a this big, loud tornado of a person—and I only experienced him over the phone or through the screen of my laptop. I can’t imagine what he would’ve been like in person.

I wish I’d gotten the chance to find out.