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sarahtornaroberts

On Mother’s Day (and what you learn when you don’t have cancer)

May 11, 2014 by No Comments

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Today, I’m so profoundly grateful to be a mother, and so painfully aware that it’s a blessing not promised, not necessarily permanent, and not without moments that require a love that just plain hurts .

I found out last week that I do not have cancer. It was an actual possibility. Having been sick for 4 months with troubling symptoms, walking through the doors of the Cancer Center was about as terrifying a moment as I’ve experienced. What followed was 2 weeks of tests, and 2 weeks of waiting.

“No chance you’re pregnant, right?” asked the tech when I went for a chest and abdomen CT scan.

I shook my head. She laughed a bit.

“I almost forgot to even ask you, it’s so rare we have someone your age in here!”

Yes, I know. I’m 31, too young.

I wanted to tell her to look hard, take good pictures.  But please, don’t find anything. Please. I have 4 babies, they’re little, they need their mother. Flat on my back, they slid me in the tube and as the table moved me further in, my eyes fell on the brand name “Phillips” printed on the top of the machine. My almost 8-year-old boy was expecting a delivery from Amazon that very day, of Phillips headphones. He bought them with his own money. He’s 8. He’s 8. He’s 8. Oh God, please.

The wait is over. I’m still puzzled by symptoms, but there’s no cancer road to walk right now, and I’m grateful.

I don’t know what it is like to have a cancer scare without children. I can’t begin to understand the bag of fears that situation would carry with it. All I know is what the last few months have put me through, and that is a cancer scare with four babies under my wings. The mama bear in me went a little wild as I imagined everything from living far away for treatment to my husband raising our boys alone. I discovered that I wasn’t not scared in the slightest for myself. I’ve known Jesus long enough to know that if the worst happened, I’d be more than okay.

No, I was scared for my babies. I sat my husband down, my mother, my in-laws down and I told them, “Listen. If this is the road my babies have to walk, the only way I will be able to stand it is if enough fantastic things happen along the way, that even if the worst happens, somehow they’ll be able to say in some far-off distant day, that somehow, they feel a little lucky.” I realize that sounds impossible, but it’s not. I know it’s not. Miracles happen, provision is given, relationships are built, and somehow the worst things turn into beautiful things. You’re forced on a road you never would have or could have chosen for yourself, and yet, you find that you’re strangely grateful. And that is what I set about to create for my kids, before I even knew what we were facing. I told people what I expected of them. I wanted my kids to be absolutely stifled with love and support. They would have more people loving them and providing them with a safe place to fall than any child has ever had.

And now, it turns out, I get to be that soft place for a while longer. 

My heart overflows with gratitude. But also, it aches.

Because sometimes, the tests aren’t negative. Sometimes, mothers who love their children just as much as I do mine, have to say goodbye. Too often, that is the road children have to walk, and too often, there is no soft place for them to snuggle up to at night, no soft place to land when the blow knocks them off their feet. 

As I’ve transitioned into full-blown adulthood, I’ve come to feel conflicted about Mother’s Day. Of course, I love honoring my own tremendous mom, I love the little cards from my babies and the breakfast in bed made by my loving husband. I’m grateful for mothers and the work they do in our world. But I’ve also walked along with friends who want children and can’t have them, who’ve lost the babies they wanted so deeply, whose mothers left this life too soon, who don’t have mothers that are kind or good or healthy. And now I’ve walked my own path of wondering if my children would even have a mother a year from now. Motherhood is complicated. I hate to make it even more so by having a day that pretends it isn’t. That it’s a given, that it’s the pinnacle of every woman’s life, that makes some women feel invisible or cut to the quick. 

I want to be a soft place to land for those women.

Maybe that’s the only way to deal with anything in this life. To grab on and hold tight to the fact that beautiful things always happen on the roads we are forced to hobble down. To look around us and demand more love, more support, more safe places for those who are hurting. To make ourselves people who see people, who really see them. Who make our homes places of safety and love, where pain is shouldered and feelings are safe from correction or cliches. Maybe we rally around the children who pay the price far too often, who need to be smiled at and rejoiced over.

Maybe we let down our guard and our fear of getting too close and we just be the beautiful thing happening on someone’s painful journey.

I’ve been on the receiving end of that so many times, and I see so many working toward that end in other’s lives. Let’s continue on, shall we? And to anyone who does that good and noble work, I say, Happy Mother’s Day.

On Moments and Seasons

May 2, 2014 by 1 Comment

The heat has come to my California town, and with it, early sunrises. I simultaneously love and hate that early morning light streaming through my bedroom window. I hate it because every single morning, when my eyes flutter open well before 6 AM , I flashback to the days when I could sleep in so easily, all I had to do was turn off my alarm clock. Light, sound, class… nothing could pull me from the comfort of sound, solid sleep. It’s isn’t that way anymore. The children have ruined sleep for me, and I fear the damage is permanent. I’ve heard folks say that someday it will come again, but I’m not talking about babies sleeping through the night. We’ve arrived at that blessed day. I’m talking about the catastrophic damage done to my circadian rhythms by 8 years of up and down all night, of early risers, and middle of the night peed sheets. I think 8 years is a long time and it’s probably unrealistic to expect my body to bounce back just because the kids all sleep through the night and are capable of getting themselves a little started breakfast in the morning.

But, there is also a part of me that loves the early light. It’s so much easier to get up to a quiet house before the start of the day when the house isn’t dark and cold. It’s already hot by 6, so I might as well leave my sticky sheets behind and enjoy the peace for as long as it might last. Which is never long, of course. But even a minute or two does something to the soul, and that something is good.

One of my long-limbed boys has now joined me. He’s reading on the couch while I hack out a blogpost from the loveseat, and I’m thinking that for just this moment, everything is so very good.

That’s what we get, isn’t it? Moments and Seasons. Moments where the earth pauses and you notice the small slice of perfection. Other moments that pile one on top of each other in rushes of pain or exhilaration. Seasons of hunkering beneath the quilts and seasons of early morning wide eyes and the creeping sensation of a hot day coming. Seasons of laying about all day, come hell or high water. And seasons where you move in a frenetic pattern through your days, your life, and you just can’t seem to stop. Neither is permanent. The moment passes, the season changes. And all that’s left is whatever we managed to gather before it all shifted again.

Today, I’ll gather up the bony bare shoulders of my oldest boy, peeking above his book. His little boy face, so earnest and still droopy with sleep. How big, but still how small he is. The couch nearly swallows him up. I’ll gather up the minutes that have ticked by while I’ve breathed in and out, gathering peace and stillness, with prayers that I’ll be able to store them and call on them throughout the day.

Because the day is coming. It’ll jam itself full with all the unknowns, the frustrations of dawdling boys who need to get ready for school, the joy of kissing them before they scamper off to class, the knowing that those days are numbered. Soon it will be just a side hug, or maybe just a wave. Lord, have mercy. I’ll pick up the same room 3 times. I’ll feed and cook and wipe down surfaces. I’ll break up fight after fight. I’ll kiss my husband. I’ll throw myself pity parties as I clear legos from beneath the kitchen table again. And more than once, I’ll think to myself as I glance around at all the hustle and bustle of life, that I’d live every single second again. Because no mother has ever had more fantastic children.

And no woman has ever been loved so well.

On Small Healings and Keeping On

April 27, 2014 by 1 Comment

This Sunday morning has found me beneath my covers instead of in a pew. I’m reading poetry and bits of my favorite books, and barking out orders to kids who are flying haphazardly around the house and into each other. Brandon has joined me between our sheets with his own novel in tow, and we’re neither of us real interested in cleaning the weekend-destroyed house. It’s a twisted sort of Sabbath and it’s both all I can muster right now, and everything I need. 

Easter happened, a week ago, and my Lenten practice of quieting my world came to a close with it. As is so often the case, I didn’t miss the mass of voices and words as much as I thought I would. I admit, I cheated a few times. I found myself typing in the url of voices I love, friends whose words inspire me. But, it wasn’t until today when I finally opened my blogreader for the first time in more than 40 days, that I realized how many words have filled the internet that time. There is simply no way I can go back and ingest all I missed. I don’t even want to , to be honest. I scrolled down and down and down, and didn’t open a single blog. Not a one. Maybe tomorrow, I thought.

I kept up with the Psalms, with the prayers made easier by my beautiful Anglican prayer beads. I filled in the gaps with the Book of Common Prayer.

Church is still hard. Life is still hard. My health continues to struggle along. I haven’t ventured outside of the Psalms. The Bible is still a bit much.

And yet, I can’t say change didn’t come. I can’t deny that healing has filled in a few cracks.

As seems to be a common theme in my life these days, the change is small, the healing even smaller.

But I can feel it there, deep inside. I felt it when I got some bad news and after several minutes of tears and choking and eyes burning, I settled. I’ve heard of the peace that passes understanding. The truth is, until that moment, I’d never felt it pump through my body, nestle into my bones. The air around me felt warm, like I’d just had one glass too many of chilled champagne. My breathing came out measured and soft, my body as calm as if I’d just received a full body massage, and my heart beat slowed to the slow rhythm of a ramble through the sand and sea.

I had clear thoughts like, “All will be well.”

I felt it again when a long overdue conversation rose from the ashes of hurt feelings and years of staying silent. Of building temples to my rights and expectations and bowing down before my razor edged broken heart. I felt it when I spoke what was true, what was hard, and what was kind even still. I felt it as I accepted explanations that didn’t fully explain, and felt the creeping sensation of love and forgiveness, and the temple returned to dust.

I felt it when I felt as fragile and sharp as an icicle hanging from the rooftop gutter. And I just let it be. I didn’t get pissed off and ragey to prove I wasn’t dangling from the edge. I let myself feel helpless, and I found strength in acceptance in melting in the scorching sun.

The Psalms reminded me that to be human is to be healed and broken, rescued and abandoned. I’m still scared and disillusioned and a bit angry. But I’m not scared of being scared and disillusioned and a bit angry anymore.

And to me, that feels like the road of a brave and beautiful life. 

Where the cracks are both healed and replaced by new places of brokenness. Where poetry replaces a sermon every now and then, and the Psalms are my traveling companion, murmuring in my ears that to be angry is to feel, to feel is to be stripped down to honesty, to the truth of myself before God and all these witnesses.

Where we keep going, even if continuing on means simply sitting still for awhile, loving and being loved. Letting peace roll in, when it will. Knowing that it’s possible.

On Every Unexpected Thing (A Guest Post)

March 28, 2014 by 1 Comment

Today, I am more than honored to be guest posting for Briana Meade, a blogger who has mesmerized me with her words, her depth, her tenacity again and again. She is hosting a fantastic series entitled, “For Better or For Worse”, and I am grateful to be included.

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My husband and I made our first vows along the Imperial Highway in Southern California, the long stretch of road between our two universities. Every day, his ’95 gold Saturn would find its way to me and as we drove back and forth, we dreamed and made promises we’d been ready to keep from our first days together.

Our hometown was four hours north and once a month or so, we road tripped home together for the weekend. Without fail, we’d find ourselves sitting in Friday night traffic right behind a long line of brake lights waiting to exit the freeway for a weekend in Las Vegas. We eyed the sign leading to Las Vegas, make a few half-serious suggestions, and the temptation to just run off and get married filled up that tiny gold Saturn until it was almost too strong to resist.

 We were desperate to be together, but we were young and instead of disappointing our families by eloping to Sin City, we struggled along, giving all outward appearances of doing everything the right way, the healthy and mature way.

We didn’t run off to Vegas. We got married two years later in a huge wedding with more than 300 of our family and closest friends. That’s how it works when you get married at 20 and 21. You stick to tradition, you follow the rules, you have the big church wedding. It really was a lovely day. My mom stretched our tiny budget, and the end result was simple and perfect. And while I look back with so much gratitude for the love and support that surrounded us that day, the toll it took on us as a couple to arrive in that place, in hindsight, makes me sort of we’d just gone to Vegas…

Click here to join me at Briana’s blog and read the rest…

On prayer beads and a smaller way

March 21, 2014 by 8 Comments

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Sometimes, I feel totally ridiculous. Like I’m doing everything backwards. For instance, at 31, shouldn’t my spiritual life look a little more like walking in the way, moving forward, certain and maturing more with every step? Wasn’t I supposed to do all this questioning and discovery more than a decade ago? Back then, I just thought I was lucky.  I didn’t feel a need to do any major self-discovery. I didn’t need to question my faith. I was happy, going to church, being married, living a simple, but faithful life.

But now, here I am. It often feels like I’m standing in front of an eternal card catalogue, where I’ve so carefully filed every experience and insight about God, the life of faith, the church. I’m standing there, pulling out one card at a time, and I’m flummoxed. Is this true? Why do I think or believe this? Is this mine? Or did I inherit it from my parents, my church, my fear?

Some cards are easily tossed away, thrown down to be trodden on by other questioners. Others aren’t so simple. I fold over the corner of the card, a promise to return to it when something becomes more clear, if it ever does. And still others are placed firmly back in place, with a sigh of jubilant relief. It’s true. Not everything is wrong, not every foundation I’ve built my life upon is sand. Thank you, God.

I often joke that I’m just a little bit Catholic, I’ve got the need for something bigger, something older, something tested. I’ve even walked down that path a ways, feeling it out, seeing if I can find home in Mass or with the Rosary. And as comfortable and familiar as it seems to this soul of mine, I’ve found that it’s not my home. Not home, but a beautiful stop along the way, like when you go on a true vacation and return home promising to bring the beautiful and slower ways home with you. That’s the Catholic way to me. Beautiful with so much to teach me, but not quite my home. 

I bought some prayer beads. And a Book of Common Prayer. And all my old ways are slipping through my fingers. Some of those places I’d built it all on were indeed, sand. And the waves of Liturgy, the tide of ritual and echoes of centuries past, they’re washing it all away. I’m craving a faith of invisibility, of slipping in a pew and having my faithfulness noted only by God Himself, the transformation of my heart by the small miracles of His enormous grace.

This Lenten Season has taught me the sure footed place of a smaller faith. I wanted big, I confess. But the truth is, it’s just not in me to be wildly abandoned to anything. At least not something I can’t see, something that is so Mysterious. But I can do small. And small is where I’m finding His voice, small is a Psalm  after I’ve dressed kids and shuttled half of them off to school and turned on Diego for the other half. It’s a Psalm in my bed while those same kids holler for more water or whisper conspiratorially together. I pretend not to hear while the Psalmist pours his words into my ears, they’re fresh to me all at once. I’ve read them hundreds of times, but they’re so true now that a bit of life has gone by. I clutch my Anglican prayer beads, whispering,

Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth…

Not a single original thought, no spontaneous promises before the throne or desperate pleas for mountains to be moved. My faith isn’t that big. Just a bead, and then another one.

I bless the Lord. Thanks be to God.

There’s so little of me, just the words of a long dead king, the words penned so long ago, a circlet of beads and a cross, only my lips murmuring and willing my heart to listen.

And yet in those moments where I feel myself shrinking into my bed, into  my kitchen table… I feel His eyes. I am seen. Somehow, in this new and smaller way, I’m able to let go my worry of saying the right thing, the best thing, anything at all. I’m borrowing the words, they aren’t mine at all. And maybe that’s it, it’s that I am beginning to trust the words of others to speak for me when I can’t seem to speak at all and God loves me for it. He’s turning my inability into my strength. And He’s pulling me nearer with every murmured prayer, with every step in this smaller way.