and how your flaws put you through trials.
and how your trials give you wisdom.
then your wisdom fuels your examples.
your examples build your testimony.
those things highlight your leadership.
your leadership conveys your character.
your character initiates your progress.
your progress uplifts your gratitude.
your gratitude sharpens your perspective.
your perspective sweeps aside your obstacles.
your obstacles evolve into opportunities.
your opportunities mature into your victories.
and every morning, God has you again.
and you win.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13
From those letters
From those lies
Out of that smoke….I write.
“I wanted to multiply everything excellent in the world and make a kingdom just for her.”
I was in the backseat of the silver Corolla, seated in the middle, right where the seat rises. I felt closer to the car’s cabin ceiling, snug next to the plastic undercurve of the infant carseat. I was pressed against the base and the attachment was digging into my right thigh. It sounds uncomfortable but I couldn’t feel it.
She was sleeping, sort of hunched and sagging in the infant carrier. She was tiny and delicate in her newborn blankets, like a puffed cloth on a satellite dish. She was three days old. We were going home from the hospital.
He was outside, loading the overnight bags with baby clothes, blankets and other paraphernalia we acquired during the hospital stay. I was almost sure that I was supposed to feel tired, but I felt even more alert and alive. From this day forward, there is no such thing as surrendering to rest.
It was our first moment alone. Since my contractions, up until labor, we…well, I, at the time, was surrounded by someone- either him, my mother, the nurses. Then family, phone calls, a few relatives. This brief stay in the backseat was the first time no one else was talking to us.
Some people decided on a simple congratulation call. That was okay with me. I was too busy mastering breastfeeding. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. I was frustrated that I wasn’t gushing out milk. The nurses and my aunts started saying the baby needed formula. Then that made it more difficult. I felt like my incompetence was setting in too early.
I didn’t even consider sitting in the front seat. Once she was born, there was an inexplicable magnet to be by her side. She was so small and healthy. She was finally here but, at the same time, she had been with me the whole time. I was looking at her – her small face, her covered fists. She was officially in the world.
My heart ached. What have I done?
He got in the driver’s seat. Even at 6”2’ in a Japanese compact, his presence didn’t fill the car. This invisible grey weight swept over me, slowly, like a heavy emotional shroud. I began to sob.
What did I get myself into? He wasn’t working. He didn’t show any signs of intending to work. I supported the entire “family.” He agreed to stay home with the baby when I went back to work. Looking back, this was actually the wiser choice. But at the time, I cowered from having to explain the role reversal.
My daughter was beside me. And the man in the front seat was her father. I wasn’t his wife. He wasn’t my husband. It was all out of order. It all needed explaining. Especially when we went places and people said, “Oh well, your husband..”
Then I’d start clarifying and correcting. After a while, it wasn’t worth clearing it up for strangers. Maybe that was a quick jab at honesty for us. So, we did it anyway.
The pregnancy wasn’t planned. She was “our daughter” but, at the moment, where was the connection? Everyone was in their own body, their own personal space. There were three people in the car now, all in their own seat belts. She was a separate entity altogether.
I believed that I owed her a million explanations – why I thought it was a good idea to bring her into this life- undefined, unresolved, incomplete. Why I insisted on following a distorted rule book of keeping him around when I knew that the involvement was already draining me. How was I going to make sense of this for her? When people in complicated situations say that all they had to give was love, I finally knew what it meant.
I could tell her in later years, that during the ride home from the hospital, she had both of her parents. But he was like a ghost, wandering in and out of rooms, hardly a voice in anything significant. Really, she only had me. And I didn’t feel like I was enough, with my human resources job and traveling past. I wanted to multiply everything excellent in the world and make a kingdom just for her. And, then, maybe – maybe that would be almost enough.
It was evening. The freeway was clear. He heard me crying, sniffling.
“Hey…” he spoke softly. He was trying not to stir her with his voice. Even at the hospital, we could see that she responded to his sound.
I couldn’t answer. I was choked up and I really didn’t have any words beyond the disappointment, the dread, the absorption of the new reality that I was on my own.
“It’s gonna be okay,” he said to the rear view mirror. It almost sounded like a goodbye. I just nodded, wiping away my tears. It was all superficial agreement and genuine distress.
The world seemed too big for her. The sky looked extra dark. The headlights of other cars were loud, piercing blades of flash and panic. The air was too cold, even for California. But I’m her mother. The air is always going to be too cold for her.
He turned the car to our exit. I’m rubbing the bottom of her foot. I had an ongoing need to know she’s still there. Her feet are half the size of my finger, but it lets me know she’s complete, all parts accounted for and that she’s in full attendance.
It felt like we were transporting a secret- a new life that was going to be in apartment 104. She had a name and everything. The security gate opened and he parked the car, intending to get me and the baby in the house first.
At least, we understood each other on the basic things that seemed important in the everyday mechanics of tending to an infant. It was like having a decent science project partner- they knew well enough to move out of the way when the volcano explodes.
I unfastened the seat belt, tucking in the sides of the blanket to keep her in place. My tears had dried. I was focused on the long trek from the parking space to our front door. Her cap slipped forward and covered her eyes but I didn’t bother to adjust it.
Her eyes were closed. She was still sleeping. He unlocked the door and I walked in first. He followed behind, toting the car seat and gently placing it by the sofa. The living room was warm and it smelled like no one had been there. She was home.
“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” -Philippians 4:11
|Kadan Martial Arts Studio – Garden Grove, CA|
Watch the performance here.
Change your clothes, Baby Sister
You can’t go out like that!
People will notice the hurt on your sleeve
And the wilted flowers on your hat
Your top’s too low
That skirt’s too high!
While you’re walking,
They’ll call you a flirt
I know you already gave in a few times
But clean your face now
You gotta stay pretty,
Even if you’re hurt
Change your clothes, Baby Brother
You’re all covered with mud
I hear superheroes eat their vegetables
And soldiers wash off their blood
Wear the clothes that fit a young man
Uncle already told you
You go through more than one spurt
And watch your words you throw at your brother!
He’s bigger than you,
And he got here first.
Change your clothes, Uncle Sideline
I’ve heard you coaching me from there
When I went to that party anyway
You bailed me out of that high school dare
Roll up your sleeve of decision
Tighten the belt with quiet pride
We won’t know just how much you went through
So your nephews don’t need to “stand to the side”
Change your clothes, Aunty Careful
You stay longer against your will
Always picking up other women’s messes
And they still won’t get on the pill!
You got a stressful job
Wrap around that scarf of straightenin’
You walk tired but you’re clean now,
It’s no wonder you did a little drinkin’
Change your clothes, Daddy Absent
Hang up your jacket
We haven’t seen you in a while
It doesn’t really matter what kept you from us
What we need most is order, Daddy-style.
Dust off that guilt and distance
Clean out your pockets to lay down the law
Those support payments will be current soon
Your boots of fatherhood will stomp on strong.
Change your clothes, Spouse of Spirit
You’re what I really need to put on
Throw out those drab garments of arguing
And I’ll show you my black, lace thong!
Don’t our outfits go together?
See how the colors match our love?
Your reassurance is my warmest blanket
Your fidelity is my custom-glove
Change your clothes, Cousin Progress
We’re tryin’ to keep up with you
All that bling and online chatter
What do your gadgets really add up to?
Your beeps and blips become our underwear
Feels like we put those on, first thing
We treat accessories like essentials
Interrupt our quality time when our phone rings
Now I understand it’s a way of doing things faster
These websites are the “new way to share”
Just make sure your intent is in line with your pace
And never forget the basic use of prayer
Is that everybody?
Mama, get ready.
Change your clothes, Mama!
You gotta look nice too
You pull back your hair in humility
And wear your sweater of strength and solitude
You were probably up late last night
Mending the holes in your children’s choices
Stitch of forgiveness and a button of hope
With a song to drown out the world’s cruel voices
Let me see what you’re wearing, Mama
Your dress is wrinkled with sacrifice
Iron it out, working lady
Because thanks to you
This family is dressed real nice.
Sun on my skin, breeze blowing in the outfield.
Lying in the warm, kissing light of the festival.
I couldn’t have him here. He hates the sun.
The familiar rhythms oozing out of the speakers, that steady beat and shake of dancehall. It’s monotonous to him. He probably hates that, too.
That’s why he’s not with me. That’s why I don’t take him places that I enjoy.
Then he’d hate everything if he’s uncomfortable.
Then I’d hate him for having to listen to it.
It’s a manageable scattered sea of people, vibrant summer colors, tank tops and dark Rasta shirts. Licorice root vendor and the recycling volunteers, wearing a lei of plastic bottles around their bodies. Go green, Rasta.
The women, strut their tightest festival gear, with open-toed sandals, dancehall high heels and Caribbean earrings.
Signature midriff shirt.
Ankle-length, halter top summer dress.
The delicate fusion of appearing “earthy” and “available.”
The men, parading themselves and sometimes their women.
Stylish shirts that might be new, gathering with their friends as if they had someone to choose, a decision to make, a mating dance, all done in the festival sun.
You can tell a lot about a man from his walk.
And here they were, gliding down the path from the stage.
Through the maze of blankets and last-minute picnics.
And they stroll.
Broad shoulders and wavy hair.
Strong jawlines and working hands.
But they are empty steps – with no purpose or standing.
Energetic bodies of vain promises.
An arena full of nothing.
No wonder the women are vigilant, alert in their feminine fashions to signal the parading male who will parallel a good life with the fierceness of his stride.
No wonder the men are frustrated.
This is where their women go – looking, window-shopping and exposing.
No wonder the women are suspicious.
To see their men, congregated in observant clusters, watching and studying the sea of listeners and availability, as if they had a course to chart, as if they had a village to protect, as if this is where their manhood boomed.
And I think of him and his complaining.
His sun too bright and the music too monotonous.
And how I’d never observe the ridiculous parade, if he were here.
“Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” 1 Corinthians 15:33