Sunday, February 3, 2008

little jesus zen masters: my scenic route to God~part nine

Jon Kabat Zinn writes that children are like little live-in Zen masters teaching us everything we need to know if we're paying attention. This has been true with my children. They showed me Jesus in ways that no one else could.


It was about three a.m. when the nurse sat down on my bed and whispered that Danny was getting worse. They were transferring him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit of a different hospital. I pushed past my exhaustion and half stumbled through the dark maternity hallway to the nursery where my two-day-old baby lay. Danny was a speck in a tangle of IV tubing and quietly humming monitors. The attendants were bundling him against the January frost. We rode an elevator down to the waiting ambulance, and just before they closed the door to drive away they lifted one of his tiny hands out of his cocoon and waved goodbye. In the elevator going back to my empty room, I allowed myself to cry for the first time since his birth, and the nurse held me up and stroked my hair. I thought about my two-year-old, Joey, sleeping at home, and about the ease and excitement of the events surrounding his birth. When Joey was two days old I took him home with me, sleeping, content, well. No glass barriers. No doctors conferring. No ominous signs.

I remember the Christmas that I found out that I was carrying my first child, Joey. Instead of the expected morning sickness, I actually felt better than I had in years. Severe headaches that had plagued me since childhood disappeared almost immediately, and the combination of healthier eating habits and maternal vitamins contributed to a feeling of utter wellness. Peace washed over me like a gentle rain. The only negative effect that I can recall was a peculiar aversion I developed to the sight and smell of hamburger sizzling in a frying pan. I rushed out to buy a whole wardrobe of terribly ugly maternity clothes that I thought looked really adorable, and I waited out my very ordinary, uneventful pregnancy.

Joey's delivery was as fairy-tale easy as the pregnancy. For most of the labor I could only detect the contractions if I laid my hand across my abdomen and waited for its painless, rhythmic hardening. When my doctor broke the amniotic membrane my labor progressed like a lightning bolt, and twenty minutes later I was holding my perfect son. The sound of my husband's laughter broke the early morning hospital silence. Joey was near me constantly, and we spent those first lazy days introducing ourselves, and blending our lives into a comfortable mesh.

Nothing at all of my experience with Joey prepared me for Danny. I realized that I was pregnant with Danny when I became regularly and violently ill. I dropped weight rapidly, and I became so weak that it was difficult to lift a glass of water. The nausea passed at the end of the third month, and was replaced by a softening of my ligaments that made movement a unique brand of torture; my hips slid in and out of joint. Even the maternity clothes that I loved so much from my first pregnancy suddenly revealed themselves to be the ill-fitting costumes they always were. I devoted all of my energy to simply focusing on the day when I could reclaim my body from this nightmare.

A bout of the flu sent me into labor with Danny five weeks before my due date. Medication to stop the contractions served only to drag out the pain, and I was tethered to several monitors. The delivery room held a solemn crowd of specialists hovering over an oxygen-ready warming table. Danny's birth brought him into a world of cruelly bright lights and mechanical enclosure. A nurse in full surgical scrubs gave me a mask and allowed me to hold him for a few seconds. His skin was ink-blue and hung on his tiny frame in loose folds. My husband touched his hand, and stood quiet and afraid as they hurried our baby away. The following days were a dizzying downward spiral that I barely remember, but when it was over, I took my brave child home.


You might be wondering how what I've told you has anything to do with how my children showed me Jesus. It's funny how that happens. Joey and Danny are 25 and 23 today. They each have their separate offerings, and they have taught my husband and I to recognize and appreciate the different ways that we are loved by God. In the beginning, through the circumstances of their birth, we recognized something of God in them and in our ourselves. Joey offered up to us the kind of love that comes easy and free, a gift given in joy, a miracle of peace. He brought us laughter. Danny offered up the kind of love that's grounded in determination and forged in a fire, a love that tests you. He brought us strength. The lessons are still coming to us today. Every word that they speak, every touch, every difficulty brings me closer to God. The way that I love them, and the way that they love me points me to the unfathomable love of God. My children have placed in my heart a deep pool of gratitude, and a sense that I am a part of something holy.


  1. Terri, this is ridiculously & insanely beautiful ... both what you tell and how you tell it.

    I love that the love you describe is both/and: easy and light and free ... and on the other hand, trial by fire, something we struggle for, something tenuous and tender and putting us out of joint. I love that somehow, in the mind of God that these are not opposites but are all somehow part of that big crazy love of His.

  2. God is good to bring you and all of us Joey and Danny.

    I love you all!

    mamma mia

  3. Wow. This story blew me away. It made me aware of how much life you have LIVED. You and Dave and your beautiful sons make a gorgeous family that is forged in love and determination and fierceness and great gratitude. I love it. But I also recognize how painstaking and scary all of this must have been in the moment. I'm thankful for God's graces to you all, that He brought you and Danny through it safely, that all of you made it and are so beautifully close today, even today.

    Thank you for pulling back the curtains and sharing this glimpse of your history with us. It makes me appreciate even more all that you are.

    Love to you. Miss you. So glad to have new words from you again.

  4. When can I expect to be holding you book? Seriously, your writing is powerful and true and amazingly beautiful.
    I too have found giving birth and being a mom to be sacred, spiritual, downright holy. Even in the crying and temper tantrums, the sorrow and heartache, their is god sitting in my living room. And the smiles and joy? It breaks me heart open where love rushes in.

  5. kirsten: yes, God puts me out of joint on a regular basis. :) seriously though, it's true, isn't it? there really is no love without the ups and downs, the struggles, the complexity.

    mia: they are pretty nice gifts aren't they? we love you right back.

    christianne: i actually wrote most of this back in college. i've always loved the feelings that come from it. and the knowledge of how close we all came to real loss make all of the goodness so much more precious.

    bella: when will i be holding YOUR book? i knew you would like this part of my story, my doula friend. sometime when you're holding leo on your lap, notice the smell of his hair. i'm pretty sure that's what heaven smells like.

  6. mom... that was beautiful. i was crying through the end of it... i think i tend to forget just how blessed i am to even be alive... thank you for sharing that...

  7. Yes, thank you for sharing that Terri and letting us experience vicariously another's sweet sorrow turned to joy...didn't know this about you Danny, incredibly thankful you are alive and even more appreciative of the gift you are to this world, one miracle after another you are!

    Please Terri get that book published and whichever story you choose to share in your debut appearance will be more than captivating!

  8. Good stuff ma. You rock.

    It's really weird reading that. You get all wrapped up and forget that you're reading about your family. It's surreal.

    I'm glad I was the one to cause you joy and peace. Pretty much continued through my teenage years too, didn't it?:)

  9. How beautiful. I'm almost overcome by tears when I think of you trying to hold on to those dual joys (and that's saying a lot, when I'm sitting in my office taking a break from work!)

  10. Amen to all that.

    The memories for both those births came rushing back like they happened yesterday.

    thanks for repainting that picture.

    it's good to remember somethings . .

  11. This is beautiful Terri.
    It's interesting, I've been on the "other" side in these medical situations for the past 8 years, and it's so easy to forget that something that's routine for medical people is anything but for a family. This hit home for me in a way I've never experienced before when Lydie was in the hospital...theoretically I knew how scary and traumatic this can be...but I never really understood until now. It's given me a new appreciation for what families go through (and I'm not even Lydie's family...but you know what I mean). Can't wait to see ALL the crazy Churchills SOON!!

  12. What's "funny" is that before my kids were born, I would never have been able to completely relate to what you've written about here so eloquently. But why can't just learn with the peace and laughter without the forging by fire. :) Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us, Terri.

  13. danny: oh there he is blessing me again! hi honey. i'm glad you liked this.

    di: i can't imagine my life without those boys. and the book...i don't know when i'll get the time for that. (more than captivating? did you use that word on purpose?) :)

    joe-bug: hey, welcome to my blogworld! it is cool to read isn't it? and everyone knows you were always the good one. ;) love you sweetie!

    sarah: wow...tears at work. thanks for entering in with me.

    dave: those boys couldn't have asked for a better dad to walk through their lives with them. it is amazing to look back and remember it all. i'm glad you're here to remember it with me.

    jen: yeah, this stuff probably is really routine for you. i think it's really good for doctors and nurses to be on the other end of it every now and then. man, do i ever wish you would have been around back then. so cool what you're doing for the Livesay's. can't wait to see you soon!

    tom: oh yes, i wish we could just choose...but i can't really imagine that, can you? i was actually thinking about you as i was writing this post...about how you're still in the middle of something like this with really no end in sight. blessings to you as you walk through your fire my brother.

  14. argh . . . haiti internet not allowing me to comment -- just TRYING to say (for the third time) that I LOVED reading this post... thanks!

  15. Simply lovely ~

  16. With you on this.

    Our second one born at 30 weeks, I learned each day is a gift. She truly is, as you say, "love that's grounded in determination and forged in a fire, a love that tests you."

    Thanks for sharing. Beautiful, heartfelt thoughts here, Terri.

  17. I look forward to the day when I can write about my son being 25 years old. I hope the love and relationship I will have with him will be as obvious as yours is with your two boys.

  18. God often does put us out of joint, doesn't He? He tosses us, swallows us whole, removes the earth from beneath our feet.

    Wow, Terri. You have the most beautiful family. But I am not telling you anything you don't already know. ;o)

    [Hi, guys.]

  19. Does real love exist in America...I guess it does when i read this blog i believe that it must.

  20. tara: man, do i ever know that feeling...blasted haiti internet! i'll bet with your recent scare with lydie you were feeling me here. love to you. give jen and tess a big fat hug for me!

    alexandra: thanks.

    23: hey, it's the "happy are the feet that bring good mews" guy! thanks for stopping by.

    oh dear brother, it is a frightful thing when your child is hanging there in medical limbo. i hope your little girl emerged unscathed. bless you.

    becky: believe me, it comes sooner than your body can believe it. oh, i just realized...i should have had a warning to expectant moms on this post. hope i didn't freak you out. and hey...did you say son?

    kirsten: they are unbelievably wonderful. i hit the family jackpot!

    poet: yes, there is all kinds of love here. it's true.

  21. We never got to bring any of ours home. The farthest any of them made it was five months. She had been gone for a few days already and was very discolored. She was still the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.

    Even she was able to teach me some things. Very hard things and some simple ones. I'm sure there will be more someday - but I just haven't gotten there yet.

  22. Terri you've really had some amazing experiences! This is what always terrified me about having children. There's nothing that can bring as much joy or as much pain. I'm just thankful that to date the terrible pain that both my, and my wife's, parents experienced has not paid us a visit.

    Your 'captivating' reference interests me, maybe you'll pick up on that somewhere along the line.

  23. Sharp: I'm so sorry to hear this part of your story. I was keenly aware as I put this out there that there are mothers and fathers who don't have the happy ending...who never do bring the child home. I did have a miscarriage and one of the most difficult things about that was that no one really sees that as losing a child. Everyone expects you to quickly move on. But the truth is that as soon as you know you are pregnant, you are a parent of a specific living child and the loss is real. Bless you brother.

    Dean: It's an amazing risk to become a parent, isn't it? So much potential for crippling heartache. I'm glad you haven't suffered any of that so far.

    And the captivating reference...let's just say that Di and I had an experience connected to that word that was really interesting. That's probably all I'll say for now, but maybe I'll revisit in in the future. (Part of good story-telling is wise use of teasers.) :)

  24. I'm guessing I know the reference though my heart may just be taking a wild guess.

    I look forward to that part of the story as i still have some questions after my own experience.

  25. Hey Dean, if you want to go to my profile and email me you're welcome to. Maybe we can take this part of the conversation off-line rather than talking code about it. :) Your call.

  26. tahnks for passing by my place and for the kind words...your family, as i see their pictures seemed so heartwarming. and i too share that profound appreciation of how wonderful blessings of heaven they are to me...

    you are such a great, great you expressed those words *sigh**are just so touching and moving!

  27. That works for me. This isn't the place.

  28. Well, knowing Danny and Joey since they were wee little tots, and having raised three kids of my own... may I submit that a good bit of the things God teaches through our children is a testimony to how creative he is at bringing good out of evil (Rom. 8:28)?

    No offense Danny and Joey, but ya'll ain't always been angels.

    Greg (your favorite pastor)

  29. li: thank you so much for that. coming from an artist like you, that's pretty meaningful.

    greg: what are you talking about? my kids are saints. you must be confusing them with your kids. ;) love you.

  30. dang! touche Terri!
    and except for the confusing part so theologically sound!!

  31. Terri,

    This post was so IMPACTING! I'm glad I didn't miss it. You are phenomenally gifted.

  32. di: he kind of asked for that...poopy head. :) but yes, my kids are saints who are humans just like the rest of us.

    nathan: so glad you're back from the dead.

  33. Just wait till you have a grandchild! Holy moley - it's like Zen on Acid. Oh wait, that didn't sound right. You know what I mean.

  34. i know exactly what you mean. :)