Small But Not Insignificant

When this Butler and that Hutton got married, we became the Buttons. 

When we were pregnant, we called it Baby Button.

When you think about it, buttons are small but not insignificant. They’re actually pretty important for holding stuff together. 

Even though Baby Button is no longer with us, I believe we will be held together; without love, we are nothing. 

Today was a good day. 



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I Cried In Church Today

I cried in church today.

Not that I’ve never done that before. Anything can make me do that – a song, a prayer, a hug from an old friend.

Today I cried because I saw something I rarely see: community.

We gathered in a building behind the Tim Hortons – not just me and my people, but them and their people.

Multiple churches, multiple dialects of faith, all in one spot because it’s the end of the summer and this is what we do at least once. We pile in, we sing songs that we all know collectively, and someone chosen from the community speaks a message. We drink coffee together and we leave, feeling like real connection was made in that hour. Pastors, deacons, elders, middlers, young adults, teenagers, children, men and women – anyone who has a habit of going to the Church on a Sunday morning is there in equal measure.

Today, however, felt different.

The bodies were so close, the voices were so loud. I felt surrounded by a choir. My voice joined in, weakened by tears, strengthened by the words.

One pastor stands up, introduces the mayor and two female police officers. One of them is decked in the Mountie Red, another is on duty in black. They’re all asked to share why they are here today.

The mayor takes the microphone and smiles nervously: “I am here because I believe in the power of community. I am not a man of religion, by any means, but listening to you all sing just now – I felt the Spirit of God here. It’s undeniable. Smithers will benefit because of you.”

The woman in red takes the microphone. She’s young, new to town and new to the force. She’s a police officer, speaking publicly in a church building; she is practically a modern miracle. And why shouldn’t she be?

“I came here as a police officer because I want to help people. I know everyone says that, but it’s really true for me.”

The woman in black takes the mike from her. She starts to say something, but then she pauses, putting her finger to her ear. We sit in silence, wondering. After a moment, she says, “10-4, on my way” or something similar. Then she tells us, “I’m going to make this really quick.”

A laugh ripples across the crowd.

“I am here representing Cops for Cancer. We bike across the province every year to raise money for pediatric research. And if you don’t think pediatric research is relevant here – we all know of a little boy who is in Vancouver fighting for his life right now.”

We nod, and tears fill my eyes again. One of our own, a 10 year old boy who hadn’t been feeling well lately, had discovered his body was made more of cancer than blood and flesh and bone. Just a few days ago.

She tells us what we can do to help, and then she runs down the aisle of the sanctuary and disappears, because that’s her job. Any time, all the time.

We take up an offering. I pray that it goes directly where it is needed.

And then a man from the Salvation Army comes and speaks to us. He shows us a picture of this sculpture that is sitting in Toronto at this very moment.

 

 

It’s called “Jesus the Homeless.” He is lying on a bench in a shroud, and the only way to know that it’s him, is to see his nail-pierced feet peeking out. He speaks volumes.

We are led all over the Scripture, reading portions of passages where Jesus did nothing but reach out and spend his time with the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the unclean, the addicted, the outcast and the sinner – and the religious leaders did nothing but condemn him for it.

These passages are called The Gospel, or “Good News.”

Except it’s not news.

It’s not news that Jesus was a bit of a rebel, that he broke a lot of rules, made a lot of people angry with his all-surrounding compassion for just anyone.

It’s not news that Jesus would rather have dinner with a prostitute or a tax collector than a religious hypocrite.

It’s not news that Jesus never avoided anyone for the sake of his reputation.

It’s not news that he didn’t notice skin colour or background or age or gender.

So why do we act like it is?

I wept when I saw that homeless Jesus. I’ve seen him before.

I’ve also seen the poor Jesus, the aboriginal Jesus, the sick Jesus, the hungry Jesus, the black Jesus, the addicted Jesus, the gay Jesus, the mentally ill Jesus, the prostitute Jesus, the angry Jesus, the bitter Jesus, the strung-out Jesus, the imprisoned Jesus, the orphaned, abandoned, helpless, overlooked Jesus.

And I have not loved him.

I cried in church today, because we were all there. We all heard it, we all saw it. Even the mayor knows it now.

He’s right there, shrouded in the form of our community, just waiting to be picked up, dusted off, and taken in. It’s not too late.

Because once we’ve seen, we cannot unsee.
Because maybe, if we’re more like Jesus, then more people will want to become like us.
Because we all have a story, and we are all more than our labels, our backgrounds, our denominations or our mistakes. This is not news.

I cried in church today, and I think maybe God did too.

 

The Immortal Mermaid

jessica

This is Jessica.

She is Cayce’s older sister, who was one of my childhood friends & fellow classmates. She was 3 whole years older than me, but she didn’t seem to know that when it came to friendship.

She (and her glorious hair) became my object of worship. I loved that girl; she was second only to Ariel as the mermaid queen of my heart.

She was only 10 years old the day she died; I’m the only one who saw it happen.

August 18, 1995 — 19 years ago today. With Cayce’s permission, this is our story.*

—————–

Summer was drawing to a close in Whitefish, Montana. I was soaking up all the lake days with my friends that I could, but there was one particular, special, day that I was looking forward to.

Swimming Pool on the Mountain Day.

My mom was planning on attending a Big Adult Conference of some kind, along with Cayce & Jessica’s mom. The hotel (?) that was hosting the event was at the ski resort on Big Mountain, and had its own pool. It was one of the fanciest things I could think of, and Jessica was going to spend the whole afternoon swimming with me there. I don’t remember what Cayce’s plans were; I just remember being sad she couldn’t come.

The only thing I noticed when we entered the pool area: we were literally the only people there. No guests, no lifeguards. But we were strong swimmers, and having a whole pool AND hot tub to ourselves was the stuff of dreams.

We played and splashed and laughed for hours, alternating between the big pool and the hot tub. I never wanted the afternoon to end. I kept my eye on the clock, knowing how many minutes were cruelly creeping by until our moms picked us up.

Our skin was starting to wrinkle and I was getting cold.

“Let’s go in the hot tub one last time to warm up!” she said.

“Okay! Wanna play the hold-your-breath game?” I replied.

She smiled. It was a competition we’d been duelling at all afternoon. One turn at a time, dunking under, the other person watching the clock to count the seconds. We averaged between 30 and 40 seconds each time; one minute was the winner we’d never achieved.

She dunked, and then I did. She dunked again, and then I did. She was determined to beat me the third time. I counted the seconds on the clock. When she passed 35 seconds, I knew she would win. 40…45…was she going to seize the one-minute winner-takes-all goal?

People often say, when a life-changing trauma occurs, that “everything happened so fast.” For me, it was the exact opposite. The seconds crawled by like snails, and she was still under the bubbles. Despite a pit in my stomach that said something was wrong, I laughed and said, “Okay, okay, you win! You can come up now.”

Maybe she didn’t hear me. Almost two minutes. I reached into the water to tap on her head.

Nothing.

I grabbed her shoulder and started shaking her.

She was stuck.

“Jessica! JESSICA!” I started screaming and glancing around. As had been the case all afternoon, no one was there.

Suddenly, her body bobbed to the surface, but her head was still down in the water, and I couldn’t. pull. her. out.

I don’t understand. What is happening. Why won’t she come back?

I fled the hot tub, determined to find help. I reached the door, opened it and stopped in my tracks.

Carpet. Nice, clean, fancy carpet. And there I was dripping wet, remembering that someone had told me to never step on anyone’s carpet when I was wet. Mold would grow underneath, and the carpet would be ruined.

This thought kept me from running any further. So I stood at the doorway, calling out over and over, even though I could see no one.

In desperation, I ran back into the hot tub, and tried with all my strength to remove Jessica from it. Screams echoed off the tiles.

It felt like hours. It felt like being abandoned. It felt like all my fault. But there was a tiny part of me that was sure she was going to pop out of the water like a fish any second now with a smile on her face, declaring herself the winner of the game for all time.

SLAM! The door burst open, and a man ran in, like a guardian angel who’d gotten caught in traffic.

“What happened?” He had dark hair and a strong build, but even he strained to free her.

I froze, my words pouring out slowly. “We were playing…a game…she was holding her breath…and…she never came up.” Would this angel blame me?

“Okay, honey. I’m gonna go get some help. Are you okay here for a minute?”

I nodded. What was one more minute?

I never left her side. I had started to shake. I thought I was cold, but now I know it was probably something else.

The door opened again, this time with 6 big, too-late guardian angels to help me. I sat on the edge of the hot tub, curled up with my arms wrapped around my knees as they suctioned to the bodice of my swimsuit.

I had no concept of the time anymore.

It took all 6 of them to finally bring her limp body out of the water. Her princess hair covered her face, and as they laid her down on the concrete, one of them began CPR, sweeping the hair away. She was a light blue.

That’s when I started to cry.

——————-

Every time I recall that day, it feels like a dream. I’m certain that I blocked some memories in self-preservation; what 7 year old wouldn’t? I remember the helicopter that took her away, the gravel that bit my wrinkled feet as I walked across the parking lot, covered in a blanket.
Later, at the hospital, they wouldn’t let me see her, just told me what I already knew. Her hair, that I’d wanted so badly, had gotten sucked into a filter at the bottom of the tub. We’d never seen it coming.

Nobody asked me what happened. Not the hospital, not my mom, not a pastor or a therapist. I was never asked, so I never said anything. I just tried to forget, and kept my hair short, avoiding hot tubs at all costs.**

I didn’t see Cayce much*** after that; I was pulled out of school to begin homeschooling less than a year later. 

But this I do know: Jessica was a piece of goodness and kindness and gentleness that the absolute senselessness of Life elected to take out before she could spread her beauty beyond her corner of the world.

I hate that, and I hate the part that I played in it. That will never be taken away from me, from her family. This is a scar we will always share, as though she had been the blood and bone joining us together until we were ripped apart.

But I have absolutely no doubt that we will see her again one day.

I can picture her now, swimming towards me, laughing and splashing, saying, “THERE you are! I’ve been swimming all day waiting for you, silly! Hey, did you know we can be mermaids here if we want? Come on, I’ll show you!”

And when I jump in the water, all the pain and fear and confusion of that day will be washed away in the waves. The sun will never set, and skin will never wrinkle from swimming too long; lungs will be more than lungs and we will be more than girls. Finally. Forever.

* Some location and timeline details may have changed due to my faulty memory. Apologies.
** I can say that I love hot tubs again, and that, this year, I’ve let my hair grow the longest it’s ever been.
*** We are now reconnected through the lovely Internet, and all has been restored, thank God.

Liar, Liar. (Family Matters Part 3)

Part 1 and Part 2 are here for you.

“What have you been told about me?”

I had no idea how loaded of a question this was, coming from her side of the story. For a few more days, hours, I would be on Cloud 9, reveling in the joy that I had found my sister at last. I was a child at the county fair for the first time, wide-eyed and wondrous, having no idea that I was about to watch my balloon float aimlessly into the abyss while I retched on the pavement.

With sparkly eyes, I typed furiously : “I mean, not much, just that my dad and my mom were close friends, and mom really wanted a baby, so she asked dad to try to give her one. They knew it would be wrong, but they decided to try it one time, and luckily, it worked. And then we moved away when I was really little so I never actually got to meet any of you. I’m so happy I found you!”

There was silence on the other end for awhile. I waited anxiously where I was house-sitting…playing with the dog, coming back to the computer. Channeling nervous energy into Bugle consumption, back to the computer. Completely alone with 10,000 of my thoughts rushing through me at once.

Where is she? Did I say something wrong? She’s probably just eating lunch too. What if she hates me? She’s a mom of 3 girls, she’s busy, calm your shit. What if everything is about to change?

Finally! A message.

Cassie: I know a very different story, and I’m hesitant to tell you because I don’t want to hurt you or jeopardize our relationship so quickly.

Me: I want to know the truth. Please tell me whenever you can.

An hour later, the crushing pressure that had been building inside my chest all morning spilled out in sobs and muffled curses. I was glad to be alone, although the dog was concerned. As the pup licked my tears away, I felt like she was the only one I trusted in the world.

How could my mother have done this to me, to US? How could she have lied about this for nearly 20 years to my face?

An affair. Of course it was. Nobody just “has a married guy friend who decided to give the gift of a baby to a desperate single woman.”

You ignorant homeschooled hick.

It got worse. Oh, it got worse.

My dad had been a pastor, his wife the church office manager, his mistress the worship leader.

For three years. Before I was even thought of.

When mom got pregnant, she told everyone that she’d “finally” decided to go to the sperm bank cause, after all, she wasn’t gettin’ any younger! The church, friends and family rejoiced.

Cassie had been ecstatic. Mom was like an adopted aunt to her, and they would go on lunch-and-movie dates all the time. When I was born, Cassie babysat me multiple times. SHE F***ING BABYSAT ME, AND SHE HAD NO F***ING CLUE THAT I WAS HER BABY SISTER.

Oh, but our dad. He knew. He probably looked out into his congregation every Sunday and saw his dimply, brown-eyed bastard smiling right back at him.

A little over a year later, his wife finally figured it out.

Everything blew up, within his family, within his church – so my mom took off with me and little else. She’s been on the run ever since.

All those years I never knew why we couldn’t settle down, why we were always moving, why she never had time or desire to play with me as I grew bigger.

Now everything made sense. She had been in love with him, and every time she looked at me, she was reminded of the face she would probably never see again.

I will admit that, at first, most of my anger was self-righteous. I was already sick and tired of hearing about pastors’ infidelities, and now my parents were just another statistic, with seemingly no guilt – only owning up to their secret when they were caught. Yeah, they sound like real Christians to me. Hypocrites; nothing worse than a couple of those.

But then I realized something: nobody is perfect. Nobody is immune to loneliness or desperation or even rationalization when something feels so right it can’t be wrong. Sure, we hold Christians to a higher standard and can be eager to kick them when they fall off the pedestal. But maybe they were never meant to be put on a pedestal in the first place.

Once my high horse became more of a pony, I only felt sadness and hurt for everyone who experienced the ripple effect. My sister was 14 when she learned of the betrayal of those closest to her; it changed her, sent her down a path that would do more harm than good. I’m thankful that she was able to work through her (rightful) emotions and become the counselor for young people that she is today.
My dad’s wife endured the betrayal, the anger, the pain – and she stayed. She’s still with my dad to this day. I can’t speak specifically to the tenderness of their current relationship, but she keeps showing up. I know nothing of my brothers.

Little did I know, at that point, that this chapter of my life was not closed, even though I had made peace with everything – even to the point where I forgave my mom in the silence by never bringing up her past that was now known.

A year later, I would become driven by the need to find my dad and to speak to him for myself. And what do you do when all you have is his name, the field he works in, and a sister not willing to share more?

You hire a hacker, that’s what.

To be continued…

 Skyfall (Family Matters Part 4)

 

 

 

 

The Story of the Bumpy Doula

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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
I told Steve that I always struggle with opening my first paragraph for a blog. Without looking, he typed this and said, “There’s your opening.” I am keeping it because, really, I got nothin’ better.

And it’s also a pretty accurate assessment of how my brain has been processing information over the past few days.

adoinagona jaiodfoadn —summer is ending–aodinoianfgnaglna

adoiffoaner,m \ujq4  aolarn adfmalmd dnf — i helped a baby come into the world last weekend— woaeb affgl hqoh4rn  NEOINRLNnfaoanre aoln

oain voaijer,qnoi232nmzao\l —i am turning 26 in, like, 4 weeks—aoeif aeo iu0jJLHN0P49J

A QIEJ N\LKSM opMDF;LOAOJKR —WAIT, WHAT? I HELPED DELIVER A BABY?!? WHEN? HOW? WHO GAVE ME THE CREDENTIALS FOR THAT?!??

So basically, in the midst of everyone’s else’s “back to school” mode, I’ve been more in a “back to bed” mode. And then a “back to last week” mode.

Labour labour labour labour labour labour labour labour BABY.

*world changes*

Tears. Gratefulness. Shock. Excitement. And an overwhelming desire to make this act of birth, this event in history, this sanctuary moment, my life.

Now comes the delicate balance of telling my story without telling their story for them. A big part of being a doula is public relations – diplomacy – respect of confidentiality and privacy.

The best way I know how is to tell why I want to doula my way through life. The literal butterfly transformation I went through to go from being unready and fearful, to feeling unstoppable.

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Steve and I drove to Kelowna for the very first time on Emily’s due date the weekend before last. We spent a day exploring the hot but gorgeous landscape, and wondered why we’d never trekked here before. (aka we are definitely going back!) As we walked along the vastness that is Okanagan Lake, I wrestled. The fact that Steve was about to leave me here, for who knows how long, so I could face the unknown with Tomily was becoming more and more real to me. We had not even been apart for a night since we got married last September, and, not anticipating the heat, I had packed poorly. I was hot, I was overwhelmed, I wanted to throw up.

So I let the heat go to my brain. My heart began pounding, and I started eating.
Like, a lot. With gravy on all sides.
Already uncomfortable clothing became unbearable.
Thoughts raced through my mind: I feel so gross. How can I be a good doula to Tom and Emily when I can’t even take care of myself? I miss Steve already. Please, baby, come soon.

Baby did not come for 6 days.

For the first 2 days, this girl’s intestines were in such a knot that nothing came out, if you know what I mean. TWO DAYS. And I got a spider bite while I was sleeping. And something strange appeared on my nose that wasn’t a zit and wasn’t an insect bite and wasn’t a sunburn but it hurt and it was itchy and it made me look like a lush.

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I felt like a frumpy, grumpy, lumpy, bumpy doula, all right. And then I thought…

Maybe this is a little glimpse of what Emily is feeling. I took my discomfort and tried to mentally multiply a 9-month-baked baby in the mix. Suddenly, my problems didn’t seem quite so…constipating? Yeah. I know. My point is that I had to choose to rise above myself, to see that Emily needed Tom and I to understand what she was going through so that we could help her.

I started taking care of myself so that I could take care of her. I portioned my food properly, adding a healthy dose of curry and apples to smooth things along. I went to a thrift shop with Em and picked up some lovely CHEAP-ASS clothes that I could breathe in. I also invested in a proper bathing suit so that I could join Emily on our lake outings. (Yep, I am that person who went to the Okanagan in late August and didn’t pack something to swim in. *facepalm*) I took a pen and paper each morning/evening to write out all my feels from the day and dreams from the night so that I could get it out and let it go. I made contact with good friend Candice who is also a seasoned doula. She literally became my mentor through text message and saved my life. (Later, we also learned that she had a hand in helping Emily’s older sister give birth a few years ago, yet she didn’t know Emily at all! It’s a small globe, friends.)  I started to feel a lot better.

And then the contractions started. And they didn’t end for 2 days.

If I hadn’t spent the previous 4 days in misery and then applied self-care just in time, I don’t know if we would have made it. I mean, I think we would have, but not with nearly as much grace and content.

Without going into too much detail, I have to say that Tom and Emily amazed me, even more than I expected to be amazed. Tom never left her side, and rode the wave of every single pain and emotion with the ease of a pro. More than once, I had to hide tears as I witnessed such love and encouragement being poured onto this woman trying to complete one of the biggest jobs of all time. And if the stereotype about labouring women losing control, snapping and becoming violent towards the nearest person is true, she challenged it. Even through excruciating pain, she calmly made it very clear to us what she needed and she always added a “please” and “thank you.”  #tomforpresident #emilyforsainthood

As for me? Well, as soon as it was “go time”, something deep and hidden inside my soul broke out and kicked its way into high gear. Suddenly all of my book learning and researching and gaining resources and talking talking talking turned into warm, hard instinct. I became absolutely sure that Emily could and would have this baby no matter what, and that I, along with her husband, was going to do my damnedest to get her there. Screw the heat, screw the tired, screw the fear, screw the unknown, screw the feelings – I put on my scrubs, walked into that hospital, made sure I knew who the nurses were, that the nurses knew who I was and what I would be doing there (thankfully, mom and dad had prepared a printed birth plan with my name and title on it!), unpacked our stuff, found the fridge & ice machine, made sure the shower was working and had plenty of towels, set up Emily’s items of comfort from home that she wanted to visualize, and then ran to her side every time another contraction came on. Let me be clear: I was not there to replace Tom – I wanted there to be no reason Tom needed to leave her, except for the occasional bathroom break. That was my job. Not the doctor’s, not the nurses’, mine.

For the past 4 months, whenever I’ve had someone ask me what a doula is, I got into the habit of saying, “It’s like a birth coach. An objective third party member that’s not hospital staff. Someone hired to help the parents and encourage them, to talk them through everything that’s going on, as birth – especially the first time – can be pretty scary.”

I can’t believe how wrong I was. I mean, I was right, but there is so much more to it than that.

Do you think that when you’re in the hospital and labouring that a nurse is going to be hanging around outside your door just in case you need them, around the clock? They’re not. That’s my job.
Do you think that when you have a contraction, your life partner is going to be able to squeeze your hips to relieve pressure, all the while soothing you with warm water? They’ll try, but they can’t. With my help, they can.
What if you’re hungry or thirsty, but you don’t want to be left by yourself? You can’t order room service in a hospital. But I can go get it for you, whatever you like.
What if your shoulders need rubbing, but one little spot in your foot is itching like crazy and you’re too tired and sore to do anything about it? Bring in the birth partner, let’s get you taken care of.
And about the room you give birth in…it will probably be pretty nice and comfortable, with the option of dim lights and mobility. However, there were at least 5 other women giving birth in the ward that night, one being right next door; we had to turn up the Bob Marley just so that we wouldn’t be distracted by the sounds of their labour going on around us.

“Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be all right…”

That’s the battle song of a family giving birth right there.

In all reality, the nurse (and she was wonderful) came into the room of her own volition, unless I asked sooner, every 45 minutes. The doctor only came to the hospital after 10cms of dilation had already been completed and the pushing stage was about to begin. That’s a lot of time and space to go through being just you and your partner, whether you’re the pregnant one or with the pregnant one.

So my question is, why doesn’t everyone want a birth partner?

*gets off of soap box*

I will admit that when Emily started to push, I started to swallow a little harder as it occurred to me that at any moment, I was going to witness a small human being come out of a big human being. I hadn’t slept, I had eaten little, and I started telling myself, “You will not pass out. Stay strong. Do you want to be known as the Fainting Doula, DO YOU? I didn’t think so. Now stop shaking, get up on that bed and let Emily lean on you until the contraction passes, got it?”

I got it. And when I saw that little girl’s face appear, with her smooshed nose and gorgeous lips and perfect ears and crimpy hair, time stopped.

God opened the door, light poured in, and Love said, “You see this? That’s me. I know you’ve been looking for me for a long time; well, here I am. Soak me in. I’m here for the taking.”

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Why do I want to be a doula?

The way I see it, Life is hard enough as it is, and I have been searching for years for something that will make it a little easier for someone else.  Tom & Emily told me later that they couldn’t have done it without me, that my presence made their experience and transition into parenthood so much easier. So even if Eva Sofia is the only baby I help bring earthside, knowing this is enough for me. Knowing that I’ve finally found my calling, my purpose for being put on this earth, is enough to make me cry at a moment’s notice.

3 days ago, my entire life changed. It became more holy, more blessed, and more wholly blessed. And I’m so thankful. Long live Eva Sofia, long live the doula heart and long live the grace of God to make this place a little better than it was before.