Of True Love and Prayer

“Can we name her Ponytail?” True asked as I tucked her into bed several months ago. “How about Chocolate Chip?” Evan chimed in.

They’ve been begging God for a baby sister for a long time, and in my doubt I keep repeating lines like, “we don’t get to choose!” and “brothers are great, too!”

Inside, my heart groans with theirs: Please God?

I should have known better than to buy girly fabric shortly after we found out we were expecting baby number four. I should have known it would add to my nervous expectation and potential disappointment. But the tulips were perfect and it was March, the time of year when I really miss my sister. As I scrolled through several options, one jumped off the screen. The bold wildflowers danced across a navy background as if they were part of a painting I had commissioned. Like something my sister would have painted herself. I ordered a yard with thoughts of making a custom receiving blanket for this assumed baby sister.

But what if the baby is a boy? My brain objected.

I entered my credit card information anyway and in days it was headed to our apartment half a world away. I just won’t open it until I know for sure it’s a girl, I told myself. If it’s not a girl, I’ll make a pillow.

For weeks after I made the purchase I scrolled through baby boy names. Max? Owen? Ace? Nothing stuck the way names did for my other three.

While talking to my mom recently I started sobbing and rambling into the phone “I just want my kids to have a sister and my next appointment is on Laura’s birthday and I feel like a monster because I shouldn’t care so much. I’m terrified of being disappointed.”

My mom wisely encouraged me to reschedule the appointment but for some reason I refused.

—-

Several weeks ago I sat on the couch beside my husband as he rattled off potential Korean names. We have an agreement that he will give our kids a Korean name and I’ll choose one in English. So far this arrangement has worked beautifully. He sat in his work clothes, casually listing potential girl names before it was time to put on his shoes.

“What about [JA]?” he suggested. “It means True Love.”

“Yes!” That’s her name. I knew immediately. I felt it in my heart, but creeping doubt shut out full acceptance.

Today is my 16 week ultrasound. I already felt like I was going to throw up before I got into the sweltering taxi. The driver insists on driving through the city instead of taking the highway. He hits every red light. The windows are sealed shut. I try to read a novel in the silence of the backseat but my body is steaming and my stomach jostles with every jerk of the car.

This is the appointment I have been most anxious about. The scan where the doctor will finally be able to tell me if this baby is a boy or a girl. My head wants a healthy baby no matter the gender, but my heart wants a sister for my daughter and two sons. I try not to care, but I do. I’m a swirling mix of forced acceptance (it’s a boy!) and blind faith (it’s a girl!).

Last night Evan woke up next to me, rolled over and announced, “I just dreamed that baby-baby is a boy.” He flipped one more time and fell back asleep. So that settles it. This baby must be a boy. Another boy! Three in a row. It’s delightful to think of them wrestling in the living room together, playing ball at the park, laughing at each other’s ridiculous antics well into the future. It really is a joy to think about three brothers close in age. But at the same time I feel sad for True. I want her to know the joy of having a sister. These are my thoughts as I try to breathe in this taxi that is losing air. I slump in the backseat where the sun blazes through the window, lighting up the front half of my protruding belly. I keep telling myself you don’t know for sure.

Now I lie on the exam table and follow the flipping shadows of the ultrasound around the fuzzy screen. I wait nervously for the final say.

“It’s a girl.” My doctor announces nonchalantly, and I immediately begin to cry.

“Your husband will be sad, right?” She assumes. I try not to be offended by this cultural assumption. “No! No..not at all. This is our dream. An answer to prayer.”

She doesn’t believe me, but she tells me congratulations anyway.

Ever since I found out this baby was on the way, I’ve been wrestling with my emotions, soothing myself and my imagination with dreams of a third boy. I held back from bold prayers and giant faith because I felt selfish and didn’t want to be disappointed. But this girl, this girl that was placed so heavy on my heart, who grows wonderfully inside me now, was always on God’s mind.

Throughout my life I’ve known the ache of unanswered prayers and I’ve felt the joy of miracles. But deep down I’ve always been hesitant to truly believe that God gives good gifts. I’m learning that faith is not a bad word. That praying changes our hearts and reveals the heart of God.

In a world of heartbreak there is also healing.

When I get home from the doctor, I rip open the Etsy package that arrived weeks ago. I lay the fabric out across the bed. It’s perfect. I imagine baby sister swaddled tight among the flowers as my mind flashes back to the ordinary morning weeks ago when my husband casually rattled off Korean names.

After he left for work that afternoon and the kids were playing happily in the living room, I walked over to the kitchen where my phone was plugged in on the shelf above the sink. I grabbed it and looked up an English name with similar pronunciation to the Korean name I had just fallen in love with. There must be some kind of significance to this name that struck me with such force.

I clicked on the first search result and scrolled through obnoxious advertisements until I got to the tiny section on the page listing the name’s meaning and origin. I clasped my free hand over my mouth as I processed the meaning in disbelief. These are three words that will forever echo through our family:

God has answered.

the way azaleas grow

Every year around Jase’s birthday, I find myself writing about azaleas. Here’s a poem I scratched out last week in the notes app on my phone:

the way azaleas grow

after a skinned knee
he climbs on my lap

arms and legs tucked in close
to my chest
like the azalea buds
yet to loosen
on their reaching stems

this is the posture of a son
beloved
a bundle of petals
collecting sun
before
they unfurl

every year I consider
the way azalea’s grow
the dormant sticks
wake up and rise

pronged leaves turn green
and part to make
way for a bud
that will become a blaring
trumpet of beauty
an announcement of
defiant life: spring

when he feels better
he unlocks his arms
like the petals as they release
into a new season

he leaves my side
knowing there is always
a place for him close
to my heart

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit*

A thin layer of frost
covers January leaves—
the ones swept into piles
months ago and left on
either side of the path

I pick up a single leaf and bring it
close, zooming in on the
detail. I’m amazed by the tiny crystals
formed so intricately overnight.

Was it a delicate process like
sugar falling on a pastry or did
the frost appear suddenly, cracking
like the frozen edges of the river?

Perhaps we are like these leaves
and this is one way we
encounter God’s glory.
Fragile, bare, forgotten

until one morning when the frost
appears
and what was meant to kill us off for good
highlights our veins and edges.

Blessed are the poor in spirit
the ones who have fallen off display,
the ones who feel discarded.
For theirs,
in dependency
in beauty
in surrender,

is the Kingdom

——
*This is the first poem in a series based on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)

when you were three (for Ev)

when you were three (for Ev)

you say i don’t love you
so we count it out on our fingers
my
mom
i begin
loves
me
you finish
each of our four fingers uncurl
with each word until they are
spread out and waving.
we say it again
and again
closing our fists and opening them
slowly
again
and again
until my hand relaxes
and my arms reach toward you
to hold you and
repeat:
I
will
always
love you

Happy New Year!

I went into 2017 thinking I would revive this ol’ blog with deep thoughts and regular posts, but I ended up posting less than I ever have. (I’ve been blogging since 1999, you guys)

It was a weird year for my writing. I felt really self conscious about it and at the same time determined to write something I could submit for publication. It’s not surprising that this mindset shut me down creatively and I barely wrote at all. I filled notebooks and journals, but I had a hard time finishing anything.

I’ve finally swung back around to the reasons I write in the first place, and it feels really good to be grounded again. I write to remember, to pay attention, to thank God.

(also because I want to and have to and need to.)

Anyway, I’m back in this humble little space (hi mom!) resolved to keep at it, whatever that looks like.

——

It seems important to document what’s on my mind at the beginning of 2018. This is the kind of thing that will be interesting to look back on someday, right?

essay
The Sentimentality Trap by Benjamin Myers (I keep coming back to this one.)

(theme)song
Father, Let Your Kingdom Come (featuring Urban Doxology, Liz Vice, and Latifah Alattas)

book (currently reading)
The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick

poem
Letter to Alice by Jane Kenyon

podcasts
Upside Down
Taking Route

I would love to know what you’re into as well.

Sunset on a Winter Evening at the Close of 2017

Sunlight flings across the parking lot onto
the apartment building
diagonal from us.
I watch as light drips down the windows
like the freshest egg yolk.

It’s dinnertime and inside, on the 5th floor,
I am making pancakes
listening as the egg cracks
watching as the yolk sinks into the batter

So-long to this winter day
to the sunlight now removed from
the hours we sat inside reading
and resting.

Three horses gallup in the dim living room
as I whisk the runny pancake mixture
and outside the sun drips all the way down.

Miracles

Under the deepest blue canopy
I search for miracles as I watch
my toddler in his fleece-lined jeans
run against the pull of stiff fabric.

He is like a pigeon determined to get away.

He walks through the leaves with
a stick in his hand.
He is not afraid to run off
into the road.

As I pull him back from the curb,
I imagine the baby in a manger,
fragile and brand new,
safe in his own mother’s arms.

Walking away from the Downtown Library

The road is damp from
snow that didn’t stay

Through the open windows of
the tofu restaurant I hear ladies
clamoring and chatting,
presumably, about
their personal lives

The convenience store across the street
hasn’t changed in a while.
The outside walls are worn like a favorite
kitchen apron with grease stains and other
predictable signs of wear.
Faithful customers gather at plastic tables
out front,
people-watching and smoking cigarettes

I walk between these comfortable
places, through the snow that could have been

Looking down I see the word painted on the road
reads “slow” in Korean.

Carpet Angels

Light from the south facing window
slides in between the blinds
onto the new rug
where yesterday the children
flipped around in wonder.

Is this what snow feels like?
They ask as they lie down
to make carpet angels
again.