Wednesday, September 21, 2011


"How are you doing?" is the question of the day...every day...
Everyone wants to know and everyone asks.
"Same ol' same ol!'" or, "holding steady...which means good!" I say with a smile and a shrug.

As it turns out, the raging storms have calmed and we're sailing on relatively smooth seas these days. Things have been pretty uneventful and we've found a bit of a routine. At our doctor's appointment yesterday, we learned that Baby A/Gummi Bear is 2.1 lbs (59th percentile) and Baby B/Junior Mint is 2.2 lbs (63rd percentile)! Everything else is holding steady, and we were given the go-ahead to skip a week in between appointments. Three times Dr. vB said, "I'm so happy. This is good."  Tyler and I just looked at each other, eyes grinning. Finally, some space to breathe.

But, the question is, are these smooth seas here to stay, or are they just the eye of the hurricane? We don't know. We were still sent home with instructions to monitor for early labor contractions. We're still playing a guessing game when it comes to a few time-sensitive treatments and how much longer my body and the babies will hold on. So, while the storms have calmed, my spirit is constantly on the lookout for any grey clouds on the horizon.

"How are you doing?" a good friend asked a few days ago.
"Doing well..." I said. But then I added, "...except it's so very difficult to walk the line between self-awareness and hyper-vigilance every day." The thing is, I need to be self-aware enough to watch for and count contractions, even the "normal" ones, when they come. If we ever get beyond a certain number in an hour, the doctors want to see me right away. There is a window of time in which treatments can work, so I must be aware of that window and get myself there in time. This intense awareness, in itself, is exhausting. And I've found that if I'm not careful, the abundance of time in every day causes me to tend toward hyper-vigilance: taking note of every twinge, every bump and every new feeling with great anxiety. It's enough to make me crazy, so I'm trying to trust myself; to minimize my over-analysis as much as possible while still being mindful.

Mindfulness has been a saving grace for me these days.

Being mindful means paying non-anxious attention to the world, to the spirit, to that which surrounds and dwells within us. It's a practice I learned to love during divinity school while reading some of Thich Nhat Hanh's books. In fact, mindfulness is probably my favorite spiritual discipline and one that I try to practice often:

Breathing in life-giving air....breathing out anxieties and worry. Paying attention to the breath that brings life and the Holy Spirit that moves.
Eating mindfully: taking time to taste the food as I eat it, giving thanks for the lives that worked to bring it to me and the nourishment it gives my body. Bread and drink become communion with God.
Walking as a prayer, taking each step with intention. Imagining myself walking the path of Jesus.

A few days ago I took some time to recline outside under a large Oak in our backyard. I brought a book and a glass of water out with me, and planned to read for a while. My plans quickly changed as the warmth of the sun beckoned my spirit and the breeze took my gaze upward. For some time...a long time...I just lay there and took in my surroundings, breathing in the air and soaking up the sun. Without so much to distract me, and plenty of time to spend, I saw my backyard with new eyes.

The Oak tree is magnificent: much taller than I'd ever taken time to notice. The leaves have become a softer shade of green as the summer sun dries them out and they prepare themselves for fall. A squirrel lives in a nest  there, racing down the trunk to taunt Oscar or fly over to the fence where he watches me with suspicion.

The flowering bush to my left is slowly losing most of it's beautiful pink blooms, but the bees are not discouraged. They buzz around from pink to pink, every once in a while venturing further to the yellow flowers in the planter before zooming off to the north. I imagine their home and their community abuzz when they return.

A line of carpenter ants slowly and yet quickly moves from the patio where I sit, along the edge of the mulch, then up and down the trunk of the tree. I watch to see where they are going, but the line is so high I cannot find the end. They must make the tree their home as well, I suppose. I watch them move and realize that even while you and I busily fill our days with work and worry, nature continues her movement forward.

The wind blows. I breathe. The birds sing. The earth turns. Life moves. God speaks.

All of this happens every day, although few of us (including myself) allow ourselves the time to notice. We breathe without thinking. And yet, do we breathe deeply enough of that which we need to survive, body and soul?  We race from appointment to appointment, concerned about much that is beyond our control. Do we take time to notice the beauty of the leaves or the grace someone has just extended us in passing? There really are so many gifts of grace in every day. Our creator has infused the world with them. Do we notice?

I am thankful for this time and reminder to be mindful. I am thankful for a chance to pay more attention to my world, to think deeply and walk carefully (when I do). I am thankful for a chance to eat with intention, praising God for the many people who give of their time to provide nutritious meals for my family. Most of all, I am thankful for this chance to be ever so mindful of the two lives growing well with me. I do realize that if not for bed rest, I would so easily rush and run from place to place, giving my attention to ministry and preparation and to-do lists rather than to the grace of a small "tap, tap, tap" near my belly button.

How are we doing these days? We're making it. The babies are healthy and growing. Tyler and I are finding routine in our new reality, being mindful of one another and remembering to love and laugh. We're watching, waiting, hopeful and thankful for the gift of this day and a break in the stormy seas. And, although we are mindful of what is around and within us, keeping watch for the clouds and the rain, we are so very aware and filled with gratitude for the sun and the calming breeze of the spirit that fill and sustain us now.

Life is growing. Life is good.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


At first it seemed to me that every speck of dust became 1000 times its usual size. I'd lie back in the recliner and look straight ahead at the small console on which our tv stands. It's a free piece of furniture I snagged during my first week of full time ministry at Good Shepherd. Tyler and I had just moved into our first house with only a set of bedroom furniture and a brown couch. Thus, you can imagine my excitement to find this 1970's beauty cast away sitting in the middle of the church's fellowship hall with a sign saying "Free to a good home." Anyway, this beautifully free piece of furniture happens to magnify every speck of dust that comes within 6 inches of it, and it kills me every day that I can't get up and dust it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not really a clean-freak. On a good week, I'll use my Friday off to take a good sweep through the house, straightening our messes and cleaning the really important stuff (i.e. the germies in the kitchen and bathroom). Sometimes I'll dust...but not usually. Usually I just let that go.

Until I get word that guests are coming to visit. Then, with skyrocketing intensity, I insist that every inch of the house be spotless. It's taken Tyler more than four years to have even the slightest understanding of what it is that compels me to clean like a madwoman (and insist that he do the same) before anyone else can enter the house. He still doesn't totally understand, but has developed some helpful coping mechanisms. I, on the other hand, can't seem to find the antidote for my periodic insanity.

So here I sit, staring at dust particles the size of softballs, knowing that I can't get up and clean them and it would be ridiculous (not to mention harmful for my marriage) if I insist that Tyler do so every day before work.

Why, you ask, would I need to have the TV console clean every day?
Because people are coming to visit every day.

Every other night, someone brings us dinner. Some days, friends stop by randomly, knowing I'm home. I've rarely spent a day without seeing at least one person other than Tyler. It's been fantastic and my spirit feels connected to the world. I'm so very thankful.

But every time someone comes over, I have a minuscule panic attack. The TV console is dusty. Oscar's toys are everywhere on the floor. The paper recycling is overflowing in the dining room, the kitchen is full of dirty dishes, and the refrigerator is stuffed to capacity with leftovers that need to be discarded. Not only this, but whenever someone comes to visit, I hear my Grandmother 's voice in my head reminding me that a good host would always offer her guests a beverage. My thoughts go something like this:

"Can I offer you a drink?" I ask.
"Yes? Okay, well, go ahead and get it yourself. I'm not moving."
I can see my southern grandmother cringe in the background.

So I don't offer a beverage and then I feel guilty about it. I worry that my guests are grossed out by the piles of dishes in the sink. Even more, I feel completely helpless when those same guests actually do the dishes in the sink. Because that's my job. I should be in there preparing to serve them. They are guests in my house, after all.

Hi, my name is Melanie and I have severe hospitality guilt.

When I think about the roots of my guilt, I could blame (or thank) my family, who taught me from an early age how to set a good table, prepare a well-balanced meal, endure conversation for hours on end, and hone my host-antennae to see every empty plate, glass, or stare. But I can't really blame them, truly, because there is something good and helpful about the southern/midwestern hospitality I was raised to know.

I could blame my church, which teaches a faith rooted in the Hebrew scriptures. Deep within these sacred texts are rules and expectations regarding hospitality. When a neighbor comes to your door, invite them in. When someone comes for a visit, offer them your best meal and something to drink. Even Jesus said "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me." (Matthew 25:35) Welcoming is a primary emphasis of Christian scripture; I'd go so far as to say it'd be the eleventh commandment.

But do either of these teachings justify my guilt? Probably not. The truth is, my guilt isn't really about welcoming. I can welcome people into my home just fine. The root of my guilt is perfection. The problem is, I can't show off my perfected hospitality from a recliner. And it drives. me. crazy.
But only because I'm focused on a skewed definition of hospitality.

Biblical (and cultural) hospitality, at its best, is about welcoming and opening oneself to another. It's about seeing beyond ourselves to know what another person might need in order to feel loved and cared for. When Jesus says, "I was hungry and you gave me food," his focus is not on how delicious the meal was, but that someone looked beyond themselves and saw another's need. My guilt does the opposite of that: it causes me to focus on my own sense of purpose and perfection, rather than the true needs of another.

"Please excuse the mess..." I said to a friend who stopped by unexpectedly the other day.
"What mess?" she replied as she moved a few things to make room in the refrigerator for a blessed meal, "your house is WAY more clean than my own...and I'm not even on bed rest! If this is messy to you, I'd hate to have you over to my house right now. Anyway, I just want to help out -- not make more work for you and Tyler."

And it hit me. My friend wasn't here to be served, but to serve. In that moment in time, the best way I could welcome her was to invite her into my mess. She didn't want to see a spotless kitchen, a perfectly clear refrigerator and just-dusted TV console. She wanted to come into the chaos of life, and bring hospitality to me.

In that moment we were both guest and host at the very same time.
I welcomed her into my home, offering what she needed most: to see me and serve me.
She welcomed me into her life, offering what I needed most: grace and a home-cooked meal.

The truth is, our lives are often messy. We run out of time, we are stricken with grief, we encounter the unexpected. None of us are immune to chaos. 

When that chaos happens, we can respond in so many ways. We could close our doors to the outside world, bearing the burden alone. We could politely apologize time after time, potentially passing our guilt onto our guest. We could push our own limits and run ourselves ragged trying to meet every expectation we (or society) holds for us...

...Or, we can just take a deep breath and open ourselves up to the mess that is life.

I know that no one else sees the softball-sized dust particles sitting on the TV console. They're too focused on Tyler, the babies, and me. They're too happy to be able to help in a time of need, celebrating every small milestone with us. They're too busy offering blessed hospitality to me to be concerned about my hospitality to them. 

Sometimes I think that's what God is like: simply wanting to be welcomed into the mess of our lives in order to help, celebrate, and welcome us back in return. God doesn't ask us to have it all together before walking into a faith community. We don't have to close the doors to the "junk room," hiding our clutter. And we certainly don't have to have a perfectly clean table before we sit down for communion.

God only asks that we be willing to open the doors to our hearts, letting the fresh air of grace fill us. 

In some ways, I'm thankful for the dust balls and the dirty dishes. They remind me that I'm human, imperfect and messy. They remind me that I am loved, not just for my skill at organization or achievement, but because I am me. Most of all, they remind me that honestly welcoming others into my life means opening my doors and letting them come in, whether or not I have it all together.

It's been a hard lesson, but I've learned these past weeks that hospitality means so much more than setting a nice table or making sure every guest has a beverage. It's about welcoming neighbor, and welcoming God, into the inevitable mess that is our lives.

So come on in.
It's a little bit dusty, a little bit chaotic,
but all life is like this sometimes.
Why not live it together?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lucky Number 24

24 is a good number, don't you think?

Today is a big celebration in the Harrell Delaney household! We've made it to the 24 week mark in my pregnancy. 24 weeks is the point of viability with babies. If they're born today, the medical world knows what to do. If they were born just a few days ago, they wouldn't have had much of a chance. It's a milestone, a mountain to have climbed in the 3 weeks the babies and I been on bed rest together.

Three weeks ago, as Tyler and I sat in the doctor's office reviewing what was going on and why we needed bed rest, we kept hearing these words: "We just have to get you to 24 weeks. We just HAVE to." The next day, as we sat in yet another doctor's office, she said, "If you go into labor before 24 weeks, there isn't much the hospital can do. They might admit you,  but the babies probably won't survive."

Woah. Talk about serious words. I much preferred Doctor #1's approach. We just HAD to get to 24 weeks...and we did!

So, today I celebrated with a visit to the outside world! (Okay, so it was only the hospital/doctor's office. But at least now I know the world still exists beyond my driveway!)  I'm "getting out" for weekly doctor appointments these days and today the doctor and I held a small celebration. I almost brought cookies, but then I remembered that I was scheduled to do the glucose screen test (the one where they make you drink something that reminds me of McDonald's orange drink on steroids), and I decided not to add any more sugar to my afternoon than I had to. So we celebrated with a high five instead.

Since our hospital is a university based hospital, there are always students and residents around. Today was no different. As Dr vB and I shared a high five, he looked at the resident and said,

"24 is a lucky number, right? We've gotten this far on luck. Pure luck."

"Whatever it is, I'll take it!" I chipped in.  But, just as the words came out of my mouth, my heart said, "but, it's way more than luck."

Sure, it might be true that Dr. vB was "certain" we would miscarry 3 weeks ago.
Somehow, we didn't.
It might be true that in the coin flip of a decision made 2 weeks ago, Dr vB thought either option was highly risky.
Somehow, Tyler and I made the right choice.
It might be true that bed rest is not a guarantee of success when it comes to delaying labor and birth.
Somehow, it's working.

Dr. vB says that our "somehow" is luck. But it isn't pure luck, is it?

People of faith have another word for luck. We call it prayer. Or grace. Or God. As Tyler and I breathe a sigh of relief with each day that passes safely, we know deep within that our "somehow" is the grace of God mixed in with more prayer than we have ever known before. Truly, we have more people praying with and for us than we are even aware of. From Ohio to Washington D.C., Nebraska to Florida, Arizona and Colorado, we are completely surrounded in prayer and hope and love. So the "luck" that our doctor talks about? I has to be more than that. We feel it.

I haven't always known what to think about or do with intercessory prayers of healing. In fact, that's a generous statement; I haven't often believed that intercessory prayers do much of anything. My scientific and rational self can't figure out how it works. My spiritual self believes God is always working toward healing in every aspect of our lives, anyway -- God is already on the job, so to speak --  so what difference would a prayer make?

But last summer, a good friend of mine had a very sick little 2 year old, and I couldn't stop praying. I prayed the traditional word-prayers, I prayed "in color" with my crayons, I prayed with every breath and every blink. I wasn't sure what my prayer was doing, but I couldn't not pray. My prayers came as naturally and constantly as breathing. At that time I realized that through my prayers, the spirit-connection I had with one beautiful little 3 year old, her parents, and God, was unbreakable. I knew then that prayer was important. I knew that whatever happened, God was with that young family, God was with me, and God was in every particle of space in-between. And that knowledge brought us peace.

Today, the mom of that little two year old (now three), holds Tyler, me, and our two babies in prayer in exactly the same way. So do our families in Nebraska and in Ohio. So does our entire church family. So do friends we keep in touch with through email and facebook. And, "somehow," that knowledge brings us peace.

I felt that peace deep within during one of our scariest moments two weeks ago. It was one of the most critical times we've had so far, and instead of thinking about the risk, I was thinking about prayer. I thought about the family members who were praying at that very moment. I thought about how many prayers had been said and breathed for us in the last 24 hours. Most significantly, I felt those thoughts and prayers surround me like a warm bubble in the midst of a cold hospital room. I felt the prayers of the people. And while I still felt an overwhelming uncertainty about what would happen that day, I knew that I wasn't alone in my worry, my fear, or my hope.

I wasn't alone. We are not alone.

Remembering all of the prayers, yes feeling all of the prayers, reminded me that never in our lives are we apart from the one who created us with love and who continues to create in and heal us. The holy Spirit of life is always as close to us as the air we breathe.

And it isn't luck in the air. It is LIFE. What we feel is the holy spirit of God working to bring healing and life into the world. What Tyler and I feel is the holy spirit working toward life in our whatever way that happens for us and these babies. So we breathe in all of the thoughts and prayers like air and feel peace deep within. Peace that comes in knowing that no matter what happens, we are not alone. That "somehow," with prayer and the presence of God, life will be sustained.

So, today, we celebrate lucky number 24...

        ...knowing that "somehow," 24 isn't the last lucky number we'll see.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grace, God, and Growth

Immediate. Bed rest. Babies. Risk. 

The words floated in the air as if held up by invisible strings. I reached for them so that I might understand, but they remained just above my head as I lay there listening to the doctor explain what he had just seen on the ultrasound screen. 

"You mean, like, now? Today? No more going into the office? But I'm a's just me. Can I still preach on Sunday?" 

Those were the words that came out of my mouth, but the concepts in my head were less coherent.  I was trying to string together what had suddenly gone so wrong, while grasping for a sense of what my new reality would be.

I could hear it in the doctor's heightened and worried tone. I could see it in the way the technician just kept moving the ultrasound around without looking me in the eye. I felt the way the already-too-small room seemed to cave in. My world would soon be limited to the familiar walls of my own bedroom and the smooth leather of the living room recliner.

How long? For as long as it takes. Maybe 14 whole weeks. Long enough for the two tiny babies growing within me to be able to survive (and not just that, but to thrive), on their own. Gummy Bear and Junior Mint, we lovingly call them. They aren't ready for the outside world yet. They need me, still. 

They need me still.

In the tears that came eventually, I processed the intensity of what this "rest" would entail.  I cried for the babies, cried for the risk, cried for my own body which quickly began to ache without daily use. I wondered how I, with my A-type and driven personality, could spiritually and emotionally withstand so many weeks without to-do lists and the meaning I ascribe to my work (both in and out of our home). The unknown was heavy. 

But with every day, the unknown becomes known. Two weeks have now passed. While the tears still come every now and again, meaning has not been lost. The grace, gift, and growth of this time has been abundantly clear with every roller-coaster day. Some days it is the meal brought by a friend. Some days it is the struggle itself that opens a new window into the meaning of suffering and perseverance. Some days it is a deep breath and the reminder that with every God-infused breath I take, my two precious babies breathe with me.

These days are full of worry and hope, growth and grace. I pray that through this journal of sorts I will be able to process and remember these stories of rest while I do all I can to nurture these two tiny babies into the fullness of life. I pray that you who read this blog will find meaning and grace in my words. 

Most of all, I pray that the stories I share will speak truth to the inevitable struggle and beauty that together sustain the growth of all life.

Thanks for joining me on the journey...