Thursday, December 23, 2010

Intimacy and Fatherhood

I wasn’t prepared for the intimacy of fatherhood.

There’s the sheer physicality of it: poop that packs a punch, pain-filled cries, bouncing Robin on the sports exercise ball until my back hurts. Being a newborn’s dad is plain tiring (and we’ve been blessed with lots of help already!) The smell of her skin, its unreal softness on my cheek, overwhelms me.

Emotionally, from the moment she was born something broke up inside me in order to let in more air for love. I didn’t even realize it was happening until a few days in when her beautiful eyes seemed to lock with mine and a truth resonated: I’m yours. Of course, there’s also the quick frustration when Robin just can’t be calmed, and the wrenching gut when her cry penetrates into my pinky toes.

But it is the spiritual intimacy that most strikes me by surprise. Immediately I glimpse the long nights and miraculously intense days of my own infancy from the eyes of my father and mother. Their love for me then and now takes on a sacred light, as if lit by the preternatural purples and blues and reds of stained glass. And the metaphor of God as patient parent, as life-giving and -sustaining Father, pops into focus for me as it never did before. May Laurel and I be good and faithful stewards of the new life you share with us, O God. She and we are your children, now and forever. Amen!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What's in a Name?

My mom, Elizabeth, with my baby sister, Lana.

As impossibly large as this number seems to me, it's a simple fact that my mother, Elizabeth Anne, died six years ago today. In thinking about her, I wanted to share a little bit about how we came to name our daughter.

I knew we'd like to honor my mother's memory if we had a girl, so Elizabeth was always in the picture -- especially because the name also honors Colin's incredible mother, Penny Elizabeth. But fairly early on I was captivated by tying the name Robin to Elizabeth (though I didn't know initially if it would be the first or middle name). As a literary nerd who thinks a lot about the meaning behind words -- and names -- here are a few reasons why.

Most simply, the name reflects one of the aspects of my mother that was most memorable, life-giving, alive: she loved nature, she loved bird watching, and she loved to share that passion for the wonder of the outdoors with others. One of my earliest memories is from when I was about three or four years old and we lived on 10 acres in Cove, Oregon. One cold spring morning when the trees were still bare and everything still seemed brown, she led us out on a walk  in order to show us a nest of brilliantly colored robin’s eggs she'd found. The name Robin points to this overflowing awe at "the beauty of the earth" (to quote one of her favorite hymns).

Most significantly, though, the name reflects a trust, faith, and hope in the truth of new life and resurrection. The Robin is the traditional harbinger of spring -- the signal that just when it seems the sun will never shine again, life and light begin to return. I wanted to tie that truth to my mother's memory.

This is especially poignant today, on the winter solstice. For a long time I took my mother's death on the winter's solstice to be a rather ominous thing -- as if the fact that she died on the shortest, darkest day of the year underscored the sadness I felt about losing her. But almost three years ago I began to see it in a different way. Throughout human history, the winter solstice has primarily been a celebration of the return of the light; a celebration of the fact that just as the days are darkest, the light begins to return.

Today is an especially spectacular solstice: it's both a full moon and a full lunar eclipse, which last happened in 1638. Adding to the night's drama, the Ursid meteor shower continues. Writing about today's solstice and eclipse, Grove Harris says: "preserving hope is one role of religion -- to help people negotiate how to remain hopeful despite adversity and to live in the realm of possibility rather than in despair, no matter how warranted. The winter solstice models this on a celestial level. No problem between science and religion here. When it's darkest, the light begins to return. And this year, the full lunar eclipse reinforces that message. Light and dark are intimately interconnected."

Finally, Colin and I considered the other women we had known well with the name Robin. Both Robin Sweet and Robin Fillmore are women of great faith, compassion, intelligence, strength, and grace ... and so that sealed the deal. We would be thrilled to have our daughter grow up to be women "after" their hearts, and after the hearts of her two grandmothers.

In the days leading up to Robin's birth and since, I've felt a resurgence of grief over my own mom's absence. I know she would have loved being a grandma, and I wish I still had my own mother around as I navigate what it means to become one. But truthfully, most moments I am filled with gratitude, not sadness: gratitude for a healthy baby girl, for the love my mom gave, for the truth that death and darkness are not the end of the story. On this December 21st, I'm celebrating new life even as I remember the day my mom stopped breathing. I listen to Robin Elizabeth breathe in and out at my breast, and I thank the Giver of Life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Warm (and Wintry) Worldly Welcome to Robin Elizabeth

Welcome to the world, Robin Elizabeth!

Figuring out the baby sling ...

Look, Ma -- I can whistle!

Our first Tennessean snow...