relationships

The Dark Horse Of Love


We found out that we lost the first baby a few days before Ash Wednesday.

It’s hard to understand mourning someone whom you will never meet. Our older children were both a stark symbol of the growing absence and a balm in the midst of our gloom. When we initially told them we were going to have another baby, Norah’s reaction was strange. She was concerned for the baby’s safety, uncharacteristically nervous. When she found out that the baby had died, she sobbed. Having that pain filtered through our five year old’s tears was harder to bear than any other shade of this sorrow.

I have found that we each give and receive love in ways as unique as our own thumb print. Upon reflection, mourning seems to be a self-same instinct.


Me, I just wanted to keep my head above water till the storm waters had subsided. I expected to always carry the weight of this grief as heavily as the day it was handed down to me. I spend my days preparing my heart for sorrows that rarely crossed my path.

But my wife on the other hand, her feelings are usually so veiled that they remain shrouded even to her, until a culmination of grief and relationship bear in upon them. A woman’s connection to her unborn child is something a man isn’t meant to understand. The difference makes it all the harder to relate in processing the loss. It wasn’t until the pregnancy in May that she began to talk expectantly of another loss. She felt as if something had broken in her, both spiritually and physically. As if she were being punished for some fatal and unrecognized flaw. Her brow was dark, forecasting a curse that she would never have conceived of six months prior. And in some aspect at least, she proved to be right.

The second miscarriage was worse. Farther along and with more complications, the scars run deeper. My wife rarely shares, but says those memories haunt her every day. She ended up in the hospital before all was said and done, undergoing outpatient procedures that turned into an inpatient transfusion of a couple of quarts of blood. We buried our baby boy at the back of the garden, near his sister, sprinkling wildflower seeds across the sprawling roots of the stump that serves as a headstone. They are just now starting to bloom for the first time.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Perhaps it does seem foolish in hindsight, looking back on our ancient decisions. The sorrow of loss is inextricably mingled with the question of culpability. We replay our missteps and recalculate our misguided course corrections ad infinitum. We wear out the tread of the truth in each slipping memory.

What should I have known then? What could we have done better? Is it irresponsibility to let this happen again? Is it cowardice to stop nature in its course?

Hope sprung eternal, hellacious gluttony, or stubborn pride of principles? Some synthesis of these keeps us returning to that boundless natural resource: human suffering.

We all squint a bit sidelong at the foreign aspects of each others’ humanity, incapable of understanding what allows someone to be so cautious or so reckless, so invested or so isolated.

Too deeply animalistic, so willingly tied to the frailty of our fallenness.
Undisciplined. Too excessively principled, rejecting sensibility to go chasing shadows of eternity in a dangerous world. Naive.

These mortal coils seem sleepy and submissive at a comfortable distance, yet they always prove inscrutable at close proxemity. Lulled to sleep by years of screen hyponosis, yet a prolonged toothache is all the discomfort needed to suddenly stir the dozing suburban spirit. Many would call us fools for allowing our bodies to continue to procreate. I imagine myself viewing the scene over your shoulder, nodding my approval of such pronouncements. Perhaps I am a selfish pig for allowing my wife to devote her body to so many scarring failures. Perhaps she is a timid fool for continuing to trust in me and Him and this process.

The third miscarriage in as many quarters came with stranger circumstance and more nebulous confusion. After a month of concerns and tests and procedures, the doctors could never verify the presence of a child in the womb. Still, her body continued on high alert, in a fever pitch to prepare for a life that didn’t seem to even exist. The verdict was that letting this misguided attempt continue would most likely kill her in time, but we waited all the same, hoping toward some glimmer of knowledge on which to hang. None came. Each passing day meant less time before her body broke. We caved. The girders of our constitution were found wanting. Under stress, they collapsed upon our heads as we pondered them. The layout of the hospital wards were becoming all too familiar. By the end of October, we looked back on the year in a dumbfounded daze.



Suffering is a thing that some prepare for. Like doomsday preppers, they carve out a place inside them and try to get comfortable, quivering and waiting for the inevitable fallout. Most seem more eager to ignore the mushroom cloud on the horizon. With a little numbing of the soul, we can convince ourselves that it can be avoided altogether, even as we cruise toward it. Whether we level our stance to try and catch it or turn our hearts to ignore its approach, the breaking of our love bowls us over and wrings us out when it arrives. No philosopher who apologizes suffering in the sunshine feels comfort from his aphorisms in the midnight watches. No preacher is comforted by his portfolio of God-study on the restless deathbed.

Love sours. We place our youthful bets and clench our tickets madly, cheering in unadulterated enthusiasm. At length, life slows and we frown. Grey hairs arise. Hopes wane and fall back among the pack, being slowly surpassed by unforeseen entries. Mourning is the dark horse of love. This new front runner overtakes and whelms all of our investments as we get to know and slowly age out of this world. We reveled in and savored them in their newborn flight. Now they are leaden upon our shoulders and our hearts.

I promise that if you love, you will know excruciating pain. Lewis said that to appreciate even an animal is to open oneself up to be broken by care. Still, to those familiar with the long weight of beauty, the man who has no attachments has a more pitiable fate than that baggage of a lifetime. Such is our lot, to sting and yet fear most the not being able to feel the sting.

I promise that your loves will deteriorate and that it will hurt. This is true for the waffling atheist, the star-crossed lover, the ardent jihadi, the workaholic philanthropist, the octogenarian martyr, and the cafeteria Catholic alike. The depth or type of a conviction is never strong enough by principle alone to withstand the terrors that prey upon the minds and memories of men. Whether you ignore the universe or build an empire of conclusions, everything human cracks under the slightest pressure from our inescapable place. There is no collection of right perspectives or sufficient actions that will grant release from the slowly crushing weight of existence; all attempts at love and hope turn in slow degrees to anxiety and despair. What we lean on most heavily becomes in its turn the source of the quickest decay.



Is there yet some flicker of comfort in all of this? Some recollection of a sensible design, if decay is now the unforeseen path upon which caring leads us? Love is not a blindly self-replicating chemical reaction, a dangerously diluting emotional state, or even the noble choice of a hearty devotee. Love is more than a divine impulse. Love is divinity Himself. Love once embraced this depth of mourning and darkness and pain. Love recognized that its path led into desolate depression, yet still it plunged. Love is a person who embodied hope that willing drowned in pain. Love entered a void of turmoil and came up gasping for breath in the unseen hope beyond.

When we lost the first baby, our daughter wept tears too bitter for the young. But then she sang songs of life over us. This one we first put our life into, she poured out new songs about Jesus’ desire to change our circumstances and our mistakes and making all things right.

Love is not a concept or an action. Love is a Person; that Person is the salvation of the world, who willingly stepped away from all hope and trusted that hope would be found beyond reckoning. The Christ is Love, promising unfathomable mourning now and overwhelming purpose ultimately. Suffering hits us all squarely, disorients us to the cores of our likeness with Him; but we can expose our hearts before God and men, open ourselves to more suffering without hardening our hearts, and seek to know the Person who is a promise that all will be renewed as concrete joy in the end. Mourning hearts are well prepared. Those who have known loneliness make worthy worshippers.


Two Year Olds Are Not Terrible


My second daughter (who is now a middle child!) turned two a couple of months ago. While she is extremely different from her older sister, there is one similarity between them that has struck me. Being a two year old is tough work for everyone, but it is emphatically NOT terrible.

Her older sister is a three-and-a-half-year-old dreamer. She’s barely aware of her physical surroundings; easily engrossed in cartoon worlds; always coming up with bizarre, creative ideas; and constantly singing, dancing, or talking about dragons, ghosts, and castles. She always forces me to be the princess and deems herself the king.

My newly established two-year-old is intensely opposite. She loves singing and dancing as well, but she is hyper aware of her physical surroundings and other people’s emotions, she would rather take a nap than watch Gummi Bears with us, and she gets great joy out of putting trash in the garbage or trying to help sweep the dining room floor.

When my older daughter got to be about two, we saw what people often see. An easily satisfied temperment gave way to something newly challenging, which people frequently call “terrible”. Our older daughter would become easily enraged. She had a difficult time learning to engage in communication about any point in contest. Any hint at disrupting her fun, even accidental, would provide kindling for a quick melt-down. In helping her grow, we had to learn to temper our discipline and patience with intentional efforts to create communication and dialogue, both in and out of trouble situations.

My younger daughter is, of course, proving to be a very different person. When she gets in trouble, it’s often drastically different trouble from her older sister’s. She does not respond to interruption or correction by freaking out, but with a cold, hard stare of defiance. She seems to feel that she has been watching the world and adults long enough to understand how things should be done and she will not be easily dissuaded. She often gets bent out of shape when we attempt to help her with simple tasks like putting her shoes on the right feet. She wants to contribute and she wants to do so on her own terms.

Something in a child changes when they get to be about that age, and that something is developing personal desires for ideal outcomes. Children near the two year mark are becoming more fully human in that they are developing intuitions, tastes, preferences, and goals. They are learning to choose their emotions. They are beginning to do what everyone else ahead of them does every day until they die. They are making conscious decisions and gauging consequences.

Is a two year old terrible? No more than any adult. The transition that happens around two years is more drastic even than the transitions of puberty. A child is learning to have preferences, to plan ahead, and to believe in and build into their own identity and identities of others. Along with these stunningly beautiful core elements of being human comes a whole slew of misused emotional responses and improper judgements.

We parents are actually still learning what they have just begun. As a dad, I am still trying to learn to guide my children to make good decisions without making poor, emotionally-driven decisions myself. At nearly 28 years old, I still have a tendency I picked up around two years old, a tendency to get so emotionally overwhelmed by the behaviors I can’t control in others that I act out of anger or exasperation. I try to be louder or prove I’m stronger-willed.

My kids are just starting to come to grips with the hopes, fears, dreams, and discouragements of being a human in this world. My older daughter isn’t even four yet and she’s gaining tons of ground in learning to communicate better, even with so many poor examples on our part. Recognizing these things helps me focus on who I’m led to be and leading others from that identity instead of focusing on forcing the appropriate responses of a two-year-old who is trying to learn not to be terrible at living.

I think that sums it up. Two-year-olds seem like a lot of work because they are becoming more like the rest of us. My two-year-old just woke up from her nap and brought me a couple of misplaced coat hangers that she expects me to put away appropriately, so I’m signing off!

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Further Reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Fathers

The Tragedy Of Childbirth

A Poem On War And Children

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!


We see it almost every day. Whether its a government cover-up, corporate fraud, or a religious group’s controversial public statements, we are bombarded more than every by a constant stream of articles and headlines about the latest controversies. Thanks to social media, we are becoming the ones who are most responsible for determining what issues gain steam and become headlines. I’m just as guilty as anyone else of feeling required to chime in and make sure other people hear my opinions on the current big issue. We find it necessary to identify ourselves as being for or against these brands.

Brands, you may ask? Why yes, every political candidate, Hollywood star, and non-profit organization is, at its core, simply a brand. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the social media world of likes, retweets, and reposting sensationalized articles. We recognize and either endorse or condemn nearly every public entity as a brand to be consumed or blacklisted in our modern online context.

But what most of us really want is to make the world a better place, right? I mean, isn’t that what we think we want somewhere deep down? Isn’t that in some dysfunctional way connected to the root motivation of many of our pins and tweets and likes and posts? How can we begin to actually make this world a better place to live? By liking statuses and reposting inspirational memes?

Here’s the fact:  We are hiding behind our ideas of good and bad when we should be acting upon them. We’re trying to decide what to endorse when we should be asking ourselves how to take action and relate.

Relate? Yes, as in a relationship, where two beings enter into actually knowing one another personally and, often, in person. True, this does require more work than scrolling through a newsfeed and often it will entail sharing our own hopes, dreams, mistakes, and brokenness, but I will promise you something. If you do this often, it will prove to be worth your time.

What if we stopped investing so much of our time into reading articles about group’s stances and started reaching out to tell our friends what encourages us about them? What if we stopped trying to decide where to point the finger and started lifting one to help a new neighbor move in? Supporting a non-profit that helps the hungry in the third world is really important and hugely valuable, but helping the homeless in your own city has a greater impact on you and builds an actual, ongoing relationship between you and the people your helping.

So get out there! Be a great dad. Be a great mom. Be a great dad or mom to someone even if you have no children of your own. Make meals for people you don’t know well. It’s okay that it might be awkward the first time. Share a beer on your porch with the guy next door after work. Write a letter, on paper, and mail it to someone you highly value. Start investing into the real people all around you.

You might just find that pointing out the bad has never been as rewarding as doing the good.

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Related:

– On the dangers of being Optimistic

– Poetry and Children and War

– How does the Common Core Standard hold up?