househuntersFive years ago, I became a grownup. The process involved the following steps: leave New York City, get married, buy a house in the suburbs, have two kids. Recently added into that mix is the forsaking of narrative-driven TV for shows like House Hunters (or House Hunters International, if you’re nasty), the Food Network (love you, Ina), and, for the love of fanny packs, Rick Steves travel shows. With two small kids, I simply have less time and brain space to devote to character development, slow-burn romantic entanglements, and complicated plotlines. Not to mention the emotional toll: The Walking Dead depressed me, House of Cards angered me, and Game of Thrones reminded me too much of my childhood. Don’t get me wrong–I still watch these shows, just in a style reminiscent of the way God works: outside the traditional parameters of time. (Is the Governor still alive on TWD?).

Such meandering through series of television creates a conflict whenever the Netflix connection is down or I open up the current issue of Entertainment Weekly to spoiler alerts, but our DVR space has been cleared for home, cooking, and travel shows. Recently I was watching an episode of House Hunters featuring an insufferable wife (aren’t they all? When they’re not me?) lamenting the absence of items from her wish list in a house she and her husband were…hunting, I guess? Their agent reminded them that, when purchasing a home, the buyers typically only get 80% of their desires met. This number was news to me, and I found myself wondering what algorithm the agent used to obtain it, as well as whether it applies to marriage, too. And children. And…well, life.

Our shower recently stopped draining.

In a segment of my life I like to refer to as So What if They’re First World Problems? THEY’RE STILL MY PROBLEMS, I am frequently decimated by domestic breakdowns. The water dispenser in our refrigerator door just up and left its post the other day, and I slammed my fist on the counter in tears. “I just want everything to work!” I cried to my husband, who promptly burst into laughter. (I think he might be broken too.)

Our leaky faucet began to drip, rhythmically mocking me.

rickstevesA few days later our older son came home from school with a stomach virus. Upchucked sweet potatoes all over his sheets, and let’s not even talk about what happened in his pants. Just as he was returning to health, the baby blew the same mess into his diaper. Next, his nose became a snot faucet. Once that improved, he developed an ear infection. He was put on antibiotics that he preferred gagging on to swallowing. And let’s not even talk about what happened in his diapers. Let the circle be unbroken.

Throughout this period, our wonky dryer required four cycles before its contents were dampness-free.

I looked around at my grownup life and felt like it was falling apart. Forget my happy ending–I’d settle for a hot shower, cold glass of water, and contained diaper at this point. Apropos of all of this, my husband likes to imagine a scenario in which House Hunters is screened for a village in Africa, whose residents get to witness Americans’ incapacity to live without granite countertops and gas stoves. It’s a perspective-shifting prospect–especially when I consider my own complicity in this culture of wish lists. I’m so easily affronted by others’ demands for perfection until I realize the silent ways I imply my own entitlement to it. I mean, I know original sin kind of screwed up the possibility of perfection, but can’t things at least be in working order? According to how I define working order?



Three days a week, I drop my nearly-four-year-old off at school, where he is in a program designed to address the challenges he faces; most notably, that he’s not currently speaking. These “challenges” might more aptly be named “daggers to my heart” for the way they seem designed to pierce me where I’m already wounded. Oh, you love words? Here’s a child without any. Feel yourself fall apart when confronted with an underdog scenario? Best skip the birthday parties for awhile. Thrive on verbal affirmation and approval? There’s no timeline for when/if he’ll tell you he loves you. Need predictability and certain outcomes? We’re going on month eight of potty training, so…good luck with that. One morning, I go in for a hug and am sidelined by his interest in the school bus outside, his excitement at the kids arriving and his school day beginning. I climb into the car and begin the drive back home the way I often do: with tears over what is not. Over what feels broken.

What made God think any of this was a good idea when it all feels like good’s opposite?

My hands grip the wheel, the tears threaten to become ugly crying, and I feel the urge to check my phone, turn on a podcast, daydream. Medicate. That urge converts to a choice: noise vs. silence. Material vs. mystical. Drugs vs. divine counseling. I leave the phone on the seat and the radio off. I relax my grip on the wheel. I wait, which is sometimes the same as praying because I’m not the one doing the work. Love arrives in the form of awareness: awareness of how I look for medication when what grace brings is healing, and it is an awful healing that pierces me right where I’m already wounded; that breaks the bone to reset it. (Is Tolkien not just rephrasing Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophets when he writes, “A great lord is that, and a healer; and it is a thing passing strange to me that the healing hand should also wield the sword”?) My need for words and approval runs deeper, into rivers of guilt and fear, and that this is where I am meant to be made whole: by grace targeting these deepest fears, this pervasive guilt, until neither can stand up against its towering truth.

But damn if that standoff isn’t hard to endure.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, how much of God and grace and beauty is captured in mystery, and how often our pleas for clarity are really just grasps at control.

I wonder why I ever expected to be healed anywhere except where I’m broken. Guilt, fear, approval, performance–these are the words of the language I’ve always spoken, and grace is taking me home to my native tongue. There is no healing without brokenness. There is no forgiveness, no redemption, without the pain of the gardens: Eden and Gethsemane paired inextricably.

That night, I am standing beside the baby’s crib, halfway through the song before I realize I’m singing “Jesus Loves You.” And this may be the whole point of life and parenting and all of it–our waking up to grace, his love flowing in us to flow through us.

Later I fall asleep dreaming of my older son: he’s talking, and he tells me he loves me in words I can hear. When I wake up, I stay in the grief instead of reaching for the drugs, and the sorrow is real and painful: this feeling of being robbed. Then grace arrives in the form of a memory of an interaction between Harry and Dumbledore about what is real.

Our shower is fixed, and we have a new dryer. But the faucet still leaks, and words have yet to arrive. As recipients of grace, we remain suspended between what is and what is meant to be. But all is not lost; in fact, nothing is. Why wouldn’t my dream be real? My son speaks to me with his hands. I don’t hear his love, but I see it. And grace doesn’t allow it to be lost on me, how God speaks this way too: pierced and scarred hands leaving prints I can see all over my life if only I look.