catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 7 :: 2011.04.08 — 2011.04.21



When Lisa told me she was learning to yield, it was the most honest description of becoming a parent I had ever heard.  She was a new mother and we were sitting in her study, books everywhere, windows overlooking the yard, glass doors that opened into the next room.  It was nap time and we were there with the doors open, in case her son woke up.  We spoke quietly about how she was making way in her life and how she still craved thoughtful, solitary times, even as she learned to yield to the new contours of her calling as a mother. 

I understood something about yielding then.  I was finally answering God’s persistent call for me, making my way towards ordination after a roundabout and wandering journey.  The unsettled acceptance Lisa described seemed familiar and I hoped to remember her experience when I had children.

A few years later, the year I turned 40, I married the love of my life.  In a garden with geese honking as they flew by overhead, we were married and I became the stepmother of an 18-year-old with autism.  Absolutely perfect — and not at all how or when I thought marriage and motherhood would happen in my life.

A year and a half into our marriage, we decided not to have a baby.  I was 42 and Woody was 54.  Blair was 20.  I knew about the tendency of autism to run in families and the increased likelihood of older parents having a child with autism.  We already had concerns about managing Blair’s lifelong care and we knew autism wasn’t the only concern for parents our age.  One day, with strange and sudden clarity I said to myself, “I have no business trying to get pregnant.”  Then I said it to my husband and cried.

I still wanted it.  I still want it, sometimes more than others.  My next door neighbors’ darling girls, the adorable Lily on Modern Family, and my own Goddaughter awaken a deep and still-present urge to have a baby with Woody, to raise a child from birth, to mother a girl.

But for me, the experience has not turned out to be entirely about wanting.  Though I experienced a moment of clarity and made a decision, I am uncomfortable saying, “We decided not to have children.”  It felt less like a decision and more like yielding.  Yielding is about recognition, somehow, like turning around a bend to see familiar terrain or looking up from a book and into the face of your beloved.  There you are and you acquiesce to keep going in that direction. 

Woody talks about an earlier time in Blair’s life with autism when he realized that his own parental expectations and goals had changed.  He relaxed his grip and focused his attention on stewarding Blair’s happiness and health.  My own yielding has something to do with stewardship, with recognizing old scripts about life for what they are, while also recognizing in deep appreciation where I have actually ended up.  These are the people — the family — I’ve been given so much later than I thought they would arrive and almost past the point when I thought it still possible.  This is the familiar terrain I’ve been given, the gift of right here. 

Right here in our life together, how do we practice stewardship?  What is the best and most faithful way we can steward — put to use for God — our life, time, love and money?  Here is the child given into our care and he’s enough.  Being faithful stewards of Blair’s well-being is enough — a hard, joyful calling we are blessed to inhabit.

Six months to the day after our wedding, I led a trip to Israel-Palestine with my congregation.  My still-new husband stayed home and I felt the absence of my family.  Perusing a gift shop in Nazareth, I found an icon of the holy family, three other unlikely people who were formed into family.  Earlier in my ministry I had anticipated the joy of being pregnant, preaching and presiding at Table during Advent, my story comingling with Mary’s.  In Nazareth just after Christmas, Joseph became my new companion —   Joseph, the one not related by blood, but the final link that forms the family.

I was caught off guard just last week:  “Did you ever have a baby?” and “Do you and your husband want to have children?”  Sometimes, at times like that, I feel more unsettled than accepting.  I know people are curious and unaware of how deep the answers go to those questions.  And, depending on whether it’s one of my 18-year-old parishioners or someone with a few more years on her, I struggle with how much and which parts to give in answer.  More painful are statements like, “She put off a family for her career,” in their obstinate or ignorant insistence on only one set of choices about the path through life.  A or B.  But, as it turns out, there are more paths than can be conceived.  Some you choose, others choose you. 

I would have chosen to be Mary, but Joseph’s role chose me instead.  I became a parent by marriage and by the grace of God.  

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