Showers of Blessings

100_0390.JPGIt’s baby shower season! This winter, I’ve already enjoyed attending three baby showers from various groups of friends and family to celebrate Baby V’s upcoming debut (and I still get to look forward to one more with some of my fave people here in Chi-town!) Showers mean being surrounded by generous and kind people who have been part of my life and/or Peter’s life and who want to share this new adventure of welcoming a new person into the world with us. Each event has been unique – including a creative couple’s shower with friends/family in Minneapolis, an intimate and meaningful ‘ladies from my home church family’ shower in Rochester, and a festive gathering of church friends and extended family in Michigan. Each event has been a gift to me to attend and a reminder that Peter and I are rich in our varied communities of support. And at each occasion, I have found myself thinking through how GRATEFUL I am that part of what I can give to our daughter is the grace, support, encouragement, fun and collection of memories that all of these different communities have given to me. As I have looked around at these gatherings made up of my friends who are like family, new and budding acquintances, church women who share the joy of anticipating motherhood right alongside me, extended family, and women who have held deeply significant roles in my own life, I truly feel overwhelmed. How did we get so lucky?

It also is particularly significant to me that we (and now our daughter), are part of these larger communities because one reality that I grieved when we found out that I was pregnant was the recent loss of several of my own family members.  My great-grandma (who lived to be 101 yrs!) will miss meeting our daugher – the fifth generation of first-born girls of my lineage – by a little over a year. My aunt who we all adored, my godparents who were like family, and my great uncle who hosted us as kids many a summer, won’t ever get to be part of my daughter’s life either – and they all “missed meeting her” by about a year. It also reminded me of family on Peter’s side who have died in the past few years, particularly his grandma who was an amazing example for many younger women in her lineage. I have a (numerically) small family to begin with, and having so many significant people die within a short time span was obviously a major hit in itself – but I found myself re-feeling those losses somehow as I pondered us having our first child and what it meant to be transitioning into being the one who now links a new generation to previous ones. 

While these genetic losses will always remain significant to me (obviously), the experience of losing some aspects of my ‘heritage’ has also brought out the reality that I am gifted with other broader ‘heritages’ that I get to be a part of, other communities and individuals who truly are part of my story and want to welcome our daughter into their stories. My family identity can be seen as one of several key stories that I see operating in my own life (and in the life of a future generation), instead of the only one that I sometimes fear is shrinking in front of my eyes. In these sometimes unexpected places – whether it is sustained and deep friendships, adopted/extended family, particular church congregations, the larger church community that I am part of, in-law family, friends and family of other friends and family – I realize that I can also find my own story. These places are ones where I feel like I belong, where I can see myself as part of a larger network of roots, branches and future growth that came before and will go after me. Because I have realized that this is what I fear I might be losing – the sense that I belong, that my story is connected to others, that relationships and memories and times of sorrow/joy/messiness/celebration all matter to others; that when I am lost or need guidance or simply want to share the journey, there are others who I know will show up and be on the road with me. Contemplating what being a parent might mean points me to this greater need outside of myself in a new way – we as parents will surely need to rely on the wisdom and balance of these other communities to help our daughter find faith and truth and beauty.  

There are many of us who struggle with a lack of (or have difficult) family relationships and who can see the various affects that has on our own family. And while I think that struggle always brings with it very real pain and loss, I have also seen that loss open up space in my life, a space that I see being filled by a long line of people whom God has seemingly already set up to walk into that loss with me. My daughter (wow- that sounds like such a foreign label/person!), will get to meet so many amazing people from these various ‘family trees’ that Peter and I have been grafted onto! She’ll no doubt forge her own story and make new connections as well, but realizing this ‘heritage’ that I can give to her of such a rich and diverse collection of (genetic and not) ‘family’ is powerfully healing and theologically profound to me. “I am because we are,” the African spiritual concept of Ubuntu tells us; I find myself only when I look to the wider influence and identity of others. So as I have looked around these circles of friends, women, family, church family and others who have been gathering to welcome this baby into the world, all I can feel in reply is a deep thank you. I am overflowing with gratitude that loss and struggle can also make way for grace and abundance.                   

It’s (Not) Just a Baby

I really enjoyed this article, titled “It’s (Not) Just a Baby” – the author captures how children, baby Jesus, and those who pull us into the unknown and the loss of control are often scary, and life changing. This reflection is based on last week’s reflection for Advent from Matthew, from the Ekklesia Project Blog, and is woven around thoughts on adopting a child (presumably from another background then that of the author). I think it captures the sense of the unknown and the fear of loss of control that children can sometimes bring, as well as the interesting dynamics of biology, race, and identity that different families share. If you’ve ever thought about cross-cultural adoption, or having children, or just how families interact in general, you might also enjoy this.    

My Middle Name is Margaret

Last week my great-grandma, Margaret Lundquist, passed away peacefully in her sleep at 101 yrs old. She enjoyed fairly independent and healthy living until age 100 – we just moved her into a nursing home right before her 100th birthday! I am so grateful for her long and amazing life and that she died painlessly at ‘home’ (one of her fears was having to go to a hospital to die).

Margaret was a woman who impacted many others – especially in her family – through her service, compassion, perseverance, and humility. She was the adoptive mother of my mom and aunt from the time that they were 3 and 5 yrs old, when my grandma couldn’t care for them (after her husband left her and their kids). Margaret’s husband then left their family shortly after the girls were adopted, so Margaret ran a turkey farm in rural MN by herself, continued to support her own three (mostly adult) children, and raised two young girls on her own with very limited finances or outside support. She didn’t talk much about her life, struggles, or the substantial pain she witnessed in her life – but remained a reliable, positive, and strong example of a tough, caring woman in the midst of an often tumultuous family.

I just learned some stories from my great-grandmother this past year when we helped move her from her apartment to the nursing home across the street. One night, as we shared ice cream in bed before going to sleep, she told me about her own great-grandmother, Anna, who was apparently a doctor in Czechoslavakia somewhere and was employed by the Czar. I also heard (from my mom), that when Margaret was running the farm alone and raising her adopted granddaughters, she didn’t have a lot of support from the community or the church. But one day the pastor came to visit the farm so my grandma came out on the porch to talk to him. He only asked why she had not been paying for her pew at the church. I can only imagine her embarassment and humility, her sense of being abandoned (again) and shamed. But she didn’t talk about that, ever. My grandma never went to church again. She did leave me her two Bibles – one that was her mother’s, one stocked with notes, letters, article clippings, and marriage and funeral announcements from the last century or so pressed between faded fragile pages. So much life and death recorded on those pages, so many memories.

Times like this are when I pause to wade deeper into family stories and histories, learning who went before me, who supported and wounded my own history. It feels important, even if difficult, to do. In some ways this history has a hold on me – it has shaped my mom, my family, my story, and my inheritance. And in other ways it shows how far I and my generation have moved from the place of suffering and survival that my great-grandma experienced; how far her own sacrifice helped me to move. So I pause to remember and be thankful for this amazing woman who spent over a century walking this earth. I pause to embrace my own story and to mourn for the mistakes that I wasn’t even alive for, but that deeply shaped my history. I pause to remember why we each need community and church and support – and why those most in need or on the margins may remain the most silent or unheard in their pain. And I pause to say thank you to my great-grandma, and to rememerber why I will always proudly be Elizabeth Margaret Mosbo VerHage.