The air smelled like stinky feet, and I cried.
Infamously dubbed “Tacoma Aroma,” the rotten-egg-ish odor sometimes wafted from the Tideflats up through our windows, and on this particular day it brought me to tears.
As a new mom and just one month into a new city thousands of miles from familiarity, I sat rocking our newborn back and forth, back and forth, wishing the stench away. The irrationality birthed from sleep deprivation coupled with insecurity had me convinced that the breathing in of Tacoma’s aroma would bring inevitable demise on our child.
Actually, I lived in constant anxiety thinking that just about everything would bring demise to our child. Losing weight and described as “failing to thrive,” our daughter was prescribed formula to supplement her breast-feeding diet, and I was unreasonably sad, thinking that I was polluting her body with chemicals that would slowly kill her.
I cried when the doctor prescribed nystatin to combat thrush and simple infant’s Tylenol for teething because medication seemed (ridiculously) like poison to her pure form. I cried because I didn’t want to sleep, thinking that in my slumber, our daughter might take her last breath; I cried because I so very much needed to sleep, but couldn’t; and I cried because when she cried, I couldn’t figure out why she was crying.
I was a crazy-haired, dark-circle-eyed, wrinkly-clothe-cladded shadow of my former self; and worse, I was embarrassed to share my disheveled new-mom reality with anyone.
Long past are my days of new-mom malaise (thank you, Jesus!), and I’ve learned that most big change will be delightfully harrowing, frighteningly joyful and exhilaratingly terrifying. Because becoming a mom? It’s not either delightful or harrowing; it’s both. Getting married? Both frightening and joyful. Changing careers? Both exhilarating and terrifying.
Even big change of the traumatic sort produces a kind of messy beauty. (I’m actually convinced this is God’s specialty!) I look back on my brother’s tragic death, for example, with a bittersweetness as I recall not only the terrible circumstances, but also the renewed faith (for many!) born out of it.
I’m learning to expect that even the happiest big change will have pockets of sorrow, and that even the most wretched of life turns will have moments of redemptive joy. It’s why there can be laughter seconds after a brother is buried or sadness weeks after a baby is born.
I think we could do one another a favor by allowing each other the room to express all the things — the harrow and the delight; the fright and the joy; the terror and the exhilaration — no matter what life change we’re facing.
Christ’s brother James tells us that “whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (1:17). May we be the kind of people who cry at a funeral, but who also point out (and join in with) the gift of laughter lilting over the fresh grave; may we be the kind of friends who love on and draw attention to the gift of a beautiful baby, but who also hold the hand of one anxiously stumbling through a new life stage.
Because no one should be embarrassed to share her disheveled reality in the midst of big change — especially with fellow believers. Amen?