Rosemary for remembrance.

During my first week as a hospice nurse, I spent a few days up at one of our organization’s hospice houses. A hospice house is typically a small unit, sometimes in a free-standing building, that provides an environment for people to get their symptoms managed so they can return home OR an environment for people to pass away. It’s all up to patients and families, but you can imagine how difficult a job that could be for staff. Patients either arrive in crisis or in an actively dying state. The amenities are positively amazing, and the entire place is set up like a birth center. I always tell people being a hospice nurse is like being a midwife, just on the opposite end of the life spectrum. There’s a kitchen for families, and a suite attached to each room for loved ones to stay overnight. There are stone fireplaces and chapels and gardens for walking and clearing the head and catching a breath. My favorite part of the hospice house, though, is the postmortem experience.

Stay with me, folks. The staff at this hospice house understand how difficult it is for families and even themselves, dealing with death day in and day out. So they’ve developed a beautiful ritual, a processional, for each patient’s passing. After a patient dies, the nurse walks outside and cuts a handful of rosemary, the herb of remembrance, from the gardens. The rosemary is tied up with ribbon and placed on the patient after they have received a bath. The staff follows the rosemary with a handmade blanket from a volunteer. And then the unit’s lights are dimmed, music playing and candles lit, while the entire staff follows the body outside to meet the funeral home vehicle. Every available employee lines up, from the nurses to the janitor to the cook, and they do their own thing. Some pray out loud, some sing, some sway back and forth, some just bow their heads in silence.

This is what we mean when we talk about death with dignity. Lord, don’t ever let me forget that.

It’s not natural, and that’s okay.

When I realized I was going to marry my husband, I quickly warmed up to the idea of being a stepmom. I’ve always been great with kids and just assumed I’d be a mother at some point. Like a lot of girls, I’d always pictured my family looking somewhat like the one in which I’d grown up – two kids, maybe one of each, a few years apart. Stepmotherhood could easily blow that picture to bits, but I was good with it. I figured we’d have one more and be done. It might not always be easy, but it would be natural.

Ames was born just before our first wedding anniversary, and I was surprised to find that he was hard… for me at least. My husband and stepsons and family and friends all seemed to love him easily and naturally, but I felt empty most days when I looked at him. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was there – a dark, nagging voice in the back of my head that told me I wasn’t cut out for this. Just nine months after he came along, right when I felt like I might survive this newborn thing, we found out we were expecting again. And then came the anatomy scan at twenty weeks, when we learned we were expecting twins.

I remember lying flat on my back in that ultrasound room, looking at all of the boys in my life fist-pumping and yelling with excitement. I remember staring hard, squinting at them even, trying to figure out what they had that I didn’t. I remember looking back at the screen and asking God why. Why would He bless me this way, when I wasn’t even feeling accomplished at my current motherhood situation. Why, when there were women all around me longing for children? That dark, nagging voice came back again. I was terrible at this, and more was only going to make it all worse.

It wasn’t until my twins were over a year old and we found ourselves pregnant with Hadassah Lee that I heard God’s voice beat the dark, nagging one to that sweet spot where my heart meets my brain. I stared at that pregnancy test and laughed in the bathroom stall at a megachurch in Atlanta. This time, my Father’s voice showed up first. Either that or this time, I chose to hear it first. I’ve called you to this, and I won’t leave you alone in it.

And suddenly, things got easier. Not in a task-related way, but in an emotional way. Everything felt lighter. I found it easier to love my stepsons and toddlers and messy, chaotic life. My pregnancy was one of the worst to date and somehow I just sailed right through it. I had a beautifully redemptive birth and and a gracious newborn season with my tiny queen. Everything just started to make more sense when I accepted this new idea. Motherhood doesn’t have to be natural. To this day, it doesn’t feel that way for me. Walking with Jesus just makes it easier. His yoke is easy, his burden light.

I wasn’t created to be a master of motherhood. I was created to learn motherhood from the Master.

The little blue car that barely ran.

My best friend in college drove a little blue car that barely ran. To this day, I’m still convinced there was a hole in the floorboard that we kept covered with a mat. But she had a car, and I didn’t, and she was my best friend. So her car was family. It was small and rusty and faithful. It took us everywhere, most often to hardcore shows. One weekend, we wanted to get to a show a few hours away but the little blue car needed an oil change. We did what all broke college students do and did it ourselves, with the little blue car up on the curb of our apartment building.

The little blue car that barely ran took us to visit boys we hoped might save us from ourselves, and it helped us escape when we learned we were terribly wrong. That car taught me how to take quick and efficient naps when others are driving around town, a skill for which I’m grateful now. The little blue car that barely ran taught me how to harmonize. I will never forget what it feels like to sing at the top of my lungs, windows down, heat blasting on a cold winter night. That’s when you know you’re living, when you look over at your best friend and she’s singing right along with you and the world could end right then and you’d never even notice. The little blue car that barely ran taught me about community, friendship, and generosity, and about all of the yummy late-night eateries in town.

My last memory of riding in the little blue car that barely ran is perhaps my fondest. I’d recently signed up for a six month missions trip and was planning to take a semester off of school. I had moved out of our apartment and back into my parent’s house to get ready. My best friend was leaving me behind in school, and I was leaving her behind to travel the world. I’d met a man I knew I wanted to marry, too. My best friend and I, we knew things were changing and they’d never be the same again. So one last trip we took, in the little blue car that barely ran. It was June, and it was hot. The windows were down and it was loud on the highway, so we didn’t speak. It was too loud and windy for music, even. Both of us leaned forward slightly, trying to keep the sweat from seeping through our clothes. Nearly two hours passed, and not a word was spoken. As I turned my head to pull window-whipped hair out of my mouth, I caught her eye. We cried together, in that little blue car that barely ran. She was the sister I never had, and our lives were about to change forever.