Tag Archives: galatians 5:22

Fifteen years of longsuffering

It has been the month of patience.

Or, maybe more appropriately, it has been the month of patience being tested.

The last six weeks has held one broken leg (Dominic), two courses of antibiotics for intestinal infections (Mike and me), three trips to Thailand (all of us), and five colds.

It’s been more than a month since Dominic broke his leg and I still don’t want to write about it. Truth be told, I don’t even want to think about it. Because every time I remember hearing the crash after Mike’s mother slipped and landed on the stairs, then the long pause, then that awful, piercing shriek, it breaks my heart all over again.

And it hauls up – like a fishing net from dark depths – a whole slew of emotions.

The agony and helplessness I felt watching Dominic writhe and cry on and off during the thirty hours before we reached the hospital. Anger, because it feels like an accident that didn’t need to happen. Guilt about that anger, because accidents – unexpected and unintentional – happen, they are just part and parcel of this life. Guilt, also, that I didn’t realize immediately that something was seriously wrong. A great compassion for Mike’s mother, because I know she adores Dominic and would have changed places with him in an instant, and because I know how terrible I’d feel if it had been me that slipped on the stairs, and it could have been me. Gratitude that it was Dominic’s leg, not his head, that hit the wood so hard. Terror and an overwhelming desire to vomit whenever I visualize what would have happened if it had been his head.

And with this great mess of emotions – all slippery and flopping around and tangled up together – comes a question that is always lurking around somewhere: Is it worth it, living here?

Now, more than ever, I’m just not sure.

Dominic’s cast came off two weeks ago now. We got up early that day and caught the 7AM flight down to Bangkok. We found our way to a hospital that’s become more familiar to me than any hotel in the city.

I held Dominic in the taxi – me seatbelted in and him strapped to my chest in the baby carrier, my hand cradling the back of his head, my brain trying not to think about the likely outcome if we hit another car on the freeway. Mike held him as he screamed, terrified, while they sawed off the plaster, and then took the pictures that would tell us what was going on inside the reassuringly chubby leg.

Which meant that I was the one looking at the computer screens when the X-rays came up, and I didn’t like what I saw.

The front view showed a straight bone, but the side view showed the femur curved backwards – the spiky back part of the break still dense white and jutting out at an angle underneath the thin grey film of new bone.

The doctors told us that new bone was visible over the entire break site and that it was safe to take off his cast. They told us that bones (like so many other things in life, it seems) need to be subjected to normal daily stressors in order to prompt them to grow.  They told us that we should encourage Dominic to use the leg normally as he learns to sit, crawl, and walk.

They also told us, however, that there was no way of telling whether the femur will straighten out over time and grow normally. Because the break occurred so close to the knee, there is a significant possibility that growth will stall or, even more likely, that the bone will start to grow too fast in all sorts of funny directions.

We need to follow up via X-rays every six months for the next three years and then every year after that until the growth spurts of adolescence are over.

That’s at least fifteen years.

Fifteen years of explaining what happened to every new doctor and new school. Fifteen years of watching, of X-rays, of prayers, of keeping fingers crossed. Fifteen years of regular reminders.

It means that I can’t just leave that slew of painful emotions down in the depths and hope that if I don’t touch the thread of this particular story all those complicated feelings – starved of attention – will just wither away.

It’s early days yet, there’s no way of knowing which particular emotion is most frequently going to leap out of the morass and bite me when circumstances haul that day up from the depths of memory. Guilt? Anger? Frustration at the expense and the giant pain-in-the-ass-factor of all these follow up appointments? Grief over how this might limit Dominic’s mobility? Any of them are possibilities, but only one thing seems certain – this episode is going to push me to exercise patience in ways I’ve never before had to.

The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22 to refer to patience, makrothumia, comes from makros, “long,” and thumos, “temper.” It denotes lenience, fortitude, endurance, and longsuffering.

Before this month of patience started I thought that I had this one in the bag. Even Mike, who has a backstage pass to my life, would say that I am a patient person. I’m very skilled at controlling my reactions in the moment, at taking a deep breath and a step back, at not lashing out when I’m frustrated. It takes a great deal to make me really angry or upset.

But … the thing is … once I do get upset or angry I tend to stay churned up for a long time. Once the tipping point is reached, I hang onto all that dark energy and coddle it like a favorite pet. I feel justified in camping out under a cloud of self-pity. I have imaginary conversations during which I deliver perfect put-downs. I rehearse all the ways I’ve been wronged by others or the universe. I allow the misfortunes of the present to fuel fearful visions of the future.

Although I’ve always known that this is not my most admirable collection of qualities, I’ve never before wondered whether it had anything to do with patience. But perhaps there is more to patience than not getting upset, frustrated or angry in the first place. Perhaps true patience is also manifest in how we set about calming the storms once they’re raging?

I don’t exactly know what being “patient” with fifteen years of uncertainty about the future of that tiny, precious leg should look like. I sense, however, that it will need to move beyond not losing my temper when ugly, unwanted thoughts and feelings well up.

I suspect that weathering fifteen years of longsuffering with a patient grace will mean opening that net-full whenever circumstances haul it up and dump it at my feet. It will mean shaking loose its contents and naming these feelings, then naming the bedrock fears and expectations that have nourished them.

It will mean sifting out the thankfulness and then tossing the dross overboard.

Then turning my eyes from the depths and looking to the horizon.

Again and again.

And again.

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The Most Versatile Word in the English Language

In these bodies we will live
In these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
(Mumford and Sons)

Love: What wells up when Dominic flashes a wide, gummy grin of delight when I bend down and speak to him.

Love: How I feel about the chocolate ice cream that AB Bakery has just started making. Yes, folks, we may not have incredibly reliable electricity, but there’s now some good ice cream in town.

Love: The fact that Mike, despite feeling completely exhausted, dragged himself out of bed at 5:15 this morning, took our flapping, squawking child and our whimpering dog away, and let me sleep until 9.

Is there any word in the English language as versatile as the word love?

After I started to get the hang of breastfeeding (read: after I no longer wanted to cry every time the baby started to open and close his mouth like a clam and I could actually concentrate on something other than pain and technique), I started to read during daytime feedings. This is probably why Dominic went from average to above-average weight within three weeks. More than once I picked up the kindle after he was attached and then completely stopped paying attention – leaving my son to gulp until he was absolutely stuffed and then fall off and lie there, happily somnolent and dribbling milk down my stomach.

The first book I read during this time was a young adult novel called Delirium. The premise is fascinating – the 17-year-old narrator, Lena, lives in a society where love is considered a disease, something to be surgically cured when you turn 18. As the booklist review puts it, “[The author’s] masterstroke is making a strong case for love as disease: the anxiety, depression, insomnia, and impulsive behavior of the smitten do smack of infirmity.”

Lena views love as a feeling – a transformative feeling, impossible to resist. “Love,” she says, “is a single word, a wispy thing, a word no bigger or longer than an edge. That’s what it is: an edge, a razor. It draws up through the center of your life, cutting everything in two. Before and after. The rest of the world falls away on either side.” It is that most dangerous of diseases, “the one that can kill you when you have it and kill you when you don’t.”

There is some beautiful writing in this book, but ultimately it didn’t wow me. Love is too narrowly defined as passion, desire, eros. There is little exploration of agape love.

Agape love is a selfless orientation that seeks the best for another without expecting anything in return. This type of love doesn’t transform us in a moment; it transforms us slowly, as hundreds upon thousands of moments pile on top of one another to make up our days, our weeks, our months. This love is not the work of a razor but of sandpaper. Sandpaper that grinds, smooths, and ultimately fashions the very core of us into something more beautiful. It is a love powered by will rather than only by emotion, a love of choice rather than just a love of chance.

A love of choice.

I was reminded recently of the popular misconception that you do nice things for people you like and bad things to people you don’t. But the paradoxical truth of the matter appears to be that you grow to like people for whom you do nice things and hate people you harm.

David McRaney in an article on the Benjamin Franklin effect put it this way:

“It is well known in psychology the cart of behavior often gets before the horse of attitude. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience day-to-day. It doesn’t feel that way though. To conscious experience, it feels like you are the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants is performing actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.”

The things you do often create the things you believe.

Mike leaves Monday morning for a week of meetings down near the Cambodian border. He won’t be home until next Saturday night. So Mike has spent this Saturday riding around town on his bicycle stocking up on groceries and cash for me for next week, setting up a mosquito net for Dominic’s cot, finding and filing medical documents.

When I came downstairs ten minutes ago after finally managing to settle Dominic for an afternoon nap, Mike was programming the emergency number for our international health insurance company into my phone.

“What’s next on the list?” I asked.

“Washing the dog,” he said. “I’ll do it. Why don’t you lie down and put your feet up?”

This I know, I am well loved.

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love.

Love the feeling, love the action

This post is part of a series on the fruits of the spirit. The current theme is love.

Three weeks after Dominic was born and two days before Mike left for Laos again, Mike and I went out to dinner at the Bangalow pub. I can tell I am not one of these women who is going to struggle to tear myself away from her baby to go on date nights – I finished the feed, tossed him into my Mum’s arms, wriggled into jeans for the first time in nine months, set my watch for two and a half hours and trotted happily out the door.

Over a delicious dinner Mike and I talked about what the month apart would hold for us and the challenge I had just set myself to serially blog about the different fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22) as they related to mothering, marriage and the miscellaneous of life.

“Are you going to do them in order?” Mike asked. “Because if so, I’m going to miss most of love.” Mike said this if it were an entirely novel scenario instead of a disturbingly regular occurrence that we are on opposite sides of the world and missing out on love.

“Yes,” I said. “Don’t feel bad, you wouldn’t be getting much loving if you were here, anyway. Not with a three week old baby demanding my time, attention, and body.”

Mike considered this in silence from a moment and then brightened.

“Oh well,” he said, smiling in the manner of someone who has just had a private naughty thought. “That means that during the month of self-control you’ll be in Laos during the hot season. And I get to watch.”

I thought about all the things that might test my self-control in Laos, took another bite of pork belly rolled in apples and dates, and sighed.

“So what are you going to write about first?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Two days ago I set myself the goal of coming up with one idea or issue a night during the midnight feeds.”

“How’s that working out for you?” Mike asked.

“Well, I came up with one the first night,” I said. “Last night I wasn’t thinking of anything except ‘I’m so tired, it’s so cold, I’m so tired, it’s so cold’.”

“So what were you thinking about the first night?” Mike asked.

“The difference between love as an action and love as an emotion,” I said. “And how I didn’t feel like I felt love the moment they placed Dominic in my arms. I just felt cold and shaky, and shocked and relieved that I had somehow – against all the laws of physics – actually managed to get him out. I think popular culture leads us to expect that we should feel that rush of emotion. I know some women experience being overwhelmed by feelings of love just after birth, but surely others don’t.  I wonder if a lot of women get tripped up by that lack of feeling instant love.”

“Are you feeling tripped up by not feeling that overwhelming rush of emotion-love right after birth?”

“No,” I said. Slowly. Hesitantly.

“What does the Greek word used in the original verse mean?” Mike asked.

“I don’t know which of the words for love it is,” I said. “I’ll need to consult Google on that.”

“I don’t think love is a feeling, ” Mike said. “I think it’s an action.”

“When it comes to babies maybe it’s a feeling that follows an action,” I said. “Maybe it’s due to cognitive dissonance.”

“What?” Mike said.

“Cognitive dissonance,” I said. “When you hold two conflicting ideas at the same time it causes dissonance which messes with your head and makes you uncomfortable, right? We are generally motivated to reduce this dissonance by changing our thinking about one of these ideas to bring them more into line with each other. So if you go through nine icky months of pregnancy, then think you might die giving birth to this child, then have to get up in the cold and the dark every two to three hours to feed the little being, maybe subconsciously you figure that you must hugely value anything that costs you this much and that’s where all that love for your baby comes from.”

Mike took a bite of steak with mushrooms while he mulled that over.

“There’s something really wrong with that,” he said finally.

“Yeah,” I said. “Just for the record, that’s definitely not the dynamic at work in generating my love for you. I don’t think.”

“That might be the sweetest thing you’ve said to me today,” Mike said. “All week, even.”

“I don’t think it’s primarily the source of my love for Dominic either,” I said. “I don’t think.”

Dominic is five weeks old now and I still don’t have what love is in relation to a child anywhere near sorted out, much less where it comes from. But this has been my experience so far: Love has not swamped me like a tidal wave; it is creeping in slowly, like the tide. Dragging myself out of bed at 3am in the cold darkness to feed Dominic is love in action. Wanting to kiss his little face after he’s eaten when I know there’s a good chance he’ll baptize me with secondhand milk – that’s love the feeling.

What do you think? Is love a feeling or an action? And if love for our kids doesn’t spring from cognitive dissonance, where does it come from?

Seeking The Fruits Of Motherhood

Three weeks after my first child was born, my uncle leaned towards my husband, Mike, over the dinner table.

“It would be nice,” he said, “to see something positive on Lisa’s blog about the baby.”

This comment was directed at Mike because I wasn’t actually at the dinner table with everyone else; I was sitting on the couch with my breast firmly planted in the mouth of the small and needy mammal that was under discussion. And the reason I was sitting on the couch was because the little mammal had been almost inconsolable after we fed him just before leaving for dinner, let him sleep for 20 minutes in the car, and then woke him up by carrying him inside. When he started to scream and I went looking for the pacifier, I discovered that we’d left it at home and I was the only effective pacifier available. Parent fail.

Mike and I talked about my uncle’s comment driving home that night.

“Do people actually think I’m serious when I say things like, ‘Last night I almost left the baby in a basket at a bus stop’?” I asked him.

“You haven’t put that on the blog, have you?” Mike asked.

“No,” I said. “I only said it to our obstetrician. And maybe a couple of people from church.”

“I think most people know you’re not serious,” Mike said. “But perhaps a few are a bit worried by your flippancy.”

“When you’re still recovering from a difficult birth, you are suddenly responsible for a small being who sucks up every shred of time and attention you have to offer, you’re running on less than four hours of sleep a night, and you’re facing the prospect of yet another month apart from your husband when he returns to Laos early,” I said, “it’s sometimes easier to see the negative than the positive.”

“Well, have you had positive moments during the last week?” Mike asked.

“Of course!” I said, a bit shocked that he even had to ask. “I love lying sandwiched between the two of you when you’re both sound asleep. I love feeling Dominic settle into my shoulder with that happy little sigh – all warm and suddenly limp – when he’s milk-drunk. I love watching you talking to him so tenderly as you scoop him out of my arms to take him off and change him. I especially love knowing that I don’t have to change him that time.”

“Maybe you should push yourself a little,” Mike said. “Write about some of those moments. Make it a spiritual discipline to identify and articulate the positive in motherhood.”

I thought about this later that night while I was feeding Dominic again at 9PM. Then I thought about it at 3AM. And again at 4:30 when he started stirring and grunting less than half an hour after I’d put him back in his bed, at 4:45 when I brought him into bed with us, and at 5:15 when he started wailing and I had to get up and feed him again. It was not a night packed full of positive moments. In fact, by 6AM, I was tempted to leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

But maybe, I thought, this is where the spiritual discipline part comes in.

The name Dominic means “of our Lord”, and I’ve been startled during these early weeks of his life by how often my thoughts have turned into prayers while I’ve been feeding him. There is something about being up in the wee dark hours that nudges my mind toward friends and family, toward the blessings and challenges of life. And all this midnight praying has made me think of Bible verses that I memorized in younger days.

One that came to mind that evening was Galatians 5:22: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

That night I decided to try something new this year – to take a different word from that verse in Galatians as my theme of the month. I would seek to find that theme, to live it, and I would write about how that word was playing out in mothering, marriage, and the miscellaneous of life. I would purposefully seek the positive. And I would mostly refrain from joking about leaving the baby in a basket at a bus stop.

Mostly.

Help me out here as I start to think this through. What helps you be purposefully positive in your life?

PS. For those few of you who are concerned that I may actually leave the baby in a basket at a bus stop, never fear. If I do I’ll wrap him up nice and warm, just like this…

Photo credit: Mike, day six, minding Dominic while hanging out the laundry

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