The Price of a New Life Is Your Old Life

August 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

We spent time with Elise again, today. She has taken us to several of my boy’s doctor appointments. Today it was the chiropractor and the dentist. I joked that I was taking him in for a tune up before getting on the road. We also planned to visit our friend, Maggie, from church. She recently moved into a retirement facility. Maggie has a special place with my boy. He always remembers to pray for her. “Don’t forgeeet! Maggie!”

I was excited to share our project with J’s chiropractor. She knows what a much needed change this is. I knew she would also appreciate the depth of this experience for us, in many ways. I’ll miss the smell of her when she approaches us, her bright face, her warm voice. Dr. Letty has been a gift to us. It was hard to hug her knowing that it was probably the last time. I don’t like to let go. It made me think of a quote by Samuel Shoemaker, the Episcopalian priest who led the American branch of the Oxford Group, “The price of a new life is your old life.”

It’s more than running to something. Whether I wanted to be here or not, we’ve woven our entanglements. We’ve laid down emotional ties to the treasured people we’ve met here. I don’t like seeing people for the last time. As we prepare to embark on this journey, part of the preparation involves saying good-bye. A dear friend of mine, Millie, taught me not to say good-bye. Instead we say, “Later.” She’s a Jehovah’s witness who is confident in “later” and who also doesn’t like the finality of good-bye. The other side of the country is far away. You can’t get around that fact.

Maggie didn’t want to say good-bye when we departed. I know she hoped we’d enjoy a meal with her, but we’d visited a good while and needed to get the boy home. She said she hoped we’d come back before we left. She didn’t want to say good-bye forever, either. I quoted my grandfather, Lupe, “If I no see you more here, I see you over yonder.”  “That’s lovely,” said Maggie. I’ll miss her radiant smile, her obvious beauty even at 91, the easiness of her nature.

When we walked away from her, Maggie stood on her frail legs, watching. She didn’t want to enter the dining hall until she had savored every drop of our visit. She is an intelligent and capable woman. Loss of freedom is painful for her, and she is lonely. I blew her a kiss as we walked through the outer doors, knowing we’d never see her again. “The price of a new life is your old life,” I thought.

I don’t like to perpetuate the myth of birth as painful, but it doesn’t feel like a back rub. As much as I want the new life, the price of giving up the old one is still quite high.

J checked out, from stem to stern. Another rejuvenating visit with Dr. Letty was followed by another perfect report from the dentist. He’s ready for the road. I am trying to emphasize the positive nature of this transformation so that he can look forward to the trip and not getting caught up in the sadness of departure. Still, we will both shed tears as part of this much-needed change. The irreplaceable people that we will miss are worth the heartache. It’s only grief for the loss of their company, their companionship, communion. I just keep telling myself, “If we no more see you here, we see you over yonder.”

Our Last Month Before Leaving

August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Last night was our final night sleeping at Saint Ann’s. I relished the peace of the church for our time there. It was almost like the old-fashioned notion of going to a sanitarium, the kind in movies with rolling green lawns and luxurious bathrobes. After the last few years, I needed a sanitarium like that. The scars of abuse, the weight of grief, and the stress of needing major change have worn me down. Saint Ann’s has helped me to get my spiritual, mental and emotional feet under me. I’ve never been especially graceful, but I’m in motion.

Kissing the back rail of Saint Ann's to say Thank You

For our last month here we’ll be staying with our friend, Gary, from a local store. When he offered us a place to stay, I was really touched and relieved. He doesn’t really know us, but his kind heart was called to answer our need. I didn’t think we’d have to take him up on his offer, but here we are. I can almost hear that voice talking to me, again.

Gary invited us to lunch on Sunday to show us his place and share a meal. Communion. I think we were all a little nervous at first. We only know each other from talking at the store. Gary was putting food on the grill for us. I watched him cut potatoes and shuck corn, spreading them lavishly with butter before putting them on the fire. He had a package of hotdogs thawing in the sink. “I’ll let those thaw a while,” he said.

A little while later, a covered dish appeared. “What’s that?”, my little one asked. “That’s for your mom,” he told him. In the container was a t-bone steak that he had marinated for me. He served this luxurious meal to me and took nothing for himself. I realized the hotdogs would be his own dinner, later. This humble man had given the best he had to offer to us and had taken nothing for himself.

While we were there, he opened his cupboards one by one, showing us all he had. They were filled to the edge. They couldn’t hold one more box, bag or can. In the refrigerator were two unopened gallons of milk, one regular and one chocolate. He had grapes and bananas, too. At the time I was so overwhelmed with the uncertainty of staying with a virtual stranger that I wasn’t even able to really understand what I was seeing. Later that night, I woke suddenly. It was for us. He was extending to us the fullest measure of his generosity and grace, setting a place for us at his table, offering us communion.

Last night was our first night in this new place. Gary’s home is comfortable and cozy, a very inviting and homey place to be. We went to bed before he got home from work, but when I woke at 1:30 to use the bathroom I found him in the living room watching television. On the counter was a package of goldfish crackers with a note on for my son. He had parked one of my babe’s little cars on top. In every elegant part of his gesture there was love and warmth.

Sunday’s sermon is still resonating in our lives. The warmth of companionship, communion, has been offered to us by someone whose every action toward us has felt like the loving hand of God moving in our lives. Even in uncertainty, We moved forward in faith, believing that God would lead us to a safe place to gather ourselves before getting on the road. God’s love touches us through our friend’s every gesture. His kindness and humility are like a warm embrace, a kiss on our cheeks that wishes us bon voyage. The message that started with a tree is still being spoken and we are listening with gratitude to every word.



Saint Ann’s

August 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

When you enter the front doors of Saint Ann’s, you are in the narthex. Our dear friend, Elise, has been my Episcopalian history and terminology instructor; she taught me that term. She delivers lessons from her broad bank of knowledge in an off-the-cuff, matter-of-fact style, but you can tell she has a deep love and sense of pride for this place and its history. She’s devoted her life to the care and service of Saint Ann’s. Elise has been a big part of making a home here for us. We’ve spent a lot of time sitting in this magical place, just us and Elise.

Elise playing ball with my babe

In the narthex, there is a big book on the table for guests to sign in. Our names are there with the date September 4, 2011.  That was the first time we came to Saint Ann’s. I was nervous. My previous experiences with religion made me skeptical, but I hoped I could get through church without too much discomfort. We needed community, companionship.

Today, Reverend Lisa talked about the word communion, what it is, what it means. She described communion as literally communing with others, sharing the warmth of companionship. She said it’s about being a part of one another as well as a part of God. Saint Ann’s has given us that gift. We have a place here. We have become a part of instead of apart from because of the characteristic open embrace of the Episcopal Church.

Lisa also talked about how communion is meant to put us in companionship with Christ, which is a very comforting idea. But my favorite part was when she talked about what that means. She said communion, coming to the table to share with God and one another, is supposed to transform us. She talked about being mindful of what that looks like, about bringing the love and compassion we get from God into our hearts so that we can extend that same grace to others.

That is the wonderful Episcopalian call to action that I love so much. Going to an Episcopal church is like going to an AA meeting, or a therapy session. That makes it different from my other church experiences. In the Episcopal Church they tell you about the love, grace and forgiveness you get; but they move past that and get down to changing our actions and our thinking. Rather than being just recipients of love and grace, we are supposed to give it, too. What good is all this love, justice and peace if we keep it for ourselves? It’s about communion.

Lisa also said, “Come broken and be healed.” If I hadn’t already been crying, I would have started then. So much in me is broken. When we first came to St. Ann’s, I could feel the pieces rattling around inside of me, a hollow vessel filled with shards of pain. The knowledge and perspective Lisa and Richard have shared with us poured something else into my vessel. It has poured in understanding, patience, healing and peace. I am still broken, but the pieces are being knit together with the fine things we have found here. They cushion those sharp corners. They give me a chance to see a purpose in my brokenness, and a hope that I could become whole.

Saint Ann’s has changed me. The Episcopal Church reflects back to me he dearest things I have always wanted for myself. It nurtures my own goals and values. I have cried many tears in my pew at Saint Ann’s; but mixed with my tears of grief there have also been tears of relief. Saint Ann’s has given us the companionship of friends, and of God. When we wrote our name in the book that first day, we really had signed up for communion. And for transformation.

No Looking Back

August 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Sometimes there is no looking back. I was adrift in uncertainty, but something in me was awakened. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. And I prayed. For a long time I had prayed for change, much-needed change. There had been no movement, and every sparkle of hope fizzled out. A small glimmer of something burned inside of me to keep me going amidst the fear that it would never end. I kept praying.

It may sound like weird hocus-pocus to say I heard God speaking to me, but I did. I heard it in my heart so clearly. I had this feeling that if I just kept trying, kept moving forward, that something was about to happen. Everyone said the tree was a message, a mysterious fortune imbedded in disaster. I had an odd confidence that God had a plan of action that would soon unfold.

When your children pass away, faith becomes very confusing. Why did I have confidence in this prayer when prayer before hadn’t saved either of my sons? With Erik it was over a week of constant vigil, thousands of people praying everywhere. When they told me that there was no hope, that he was brain-dead, a wall came down. An intense volley of prayer had been hurled at the unyielding threat of Erik’s death. Why did God say no to my children, no to their lives?

I cried out, “This is RIDICULOUS!!” again and again. One amazing minister there said it with me. That comforted me like nothing else did, though I felt no comfort. It validated me, I’ll say. Not comforted. Comfort is not possible when your child dies. Still, I was grateful for that minister, then and now. He planted a seed in me. He gave me the chance to see the death of my child, my children, as something separate from God.

I don’t know. I can’t know. An answer without words stirs in me but doesn’t have enough form to be defined. I have to focus on what I do know, what speaks in my heart. Something in my heart was saying that I should just keep doing that, keeping listening, and the answer would come. The tree was kind of like God clearing His throat. To hear the rest required patience.

I try to stay tuned into the message. “We’re not going back,” I told my son. “We’re just going to leap into adventure! Is that o.k. with you?”  He leaped to his feet, gave a few hops, and threw his arms around my neck. His yes came out through his giggles. So with his vote cast for adventure, hand in hand, we journey on.

The Tree

August 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Some of you may remember the storm that came through the north central and northeastern part of the US at the end of June. I hadn’t even heard that a major storm was coming, not really––at least not one that major.

I was at my desk with my son sleeping right next to me. In an instant, the room was vibrating. A sound like a roaring train was coming down on us. It sounded almost alive.
“If that is a storm,” I thought, “we are in big trouble.” A ripple of fear went through me. I ran to the door to see what was coming. A thick, smoke-grey cloud consumed the road, driving and swirling. The top of it mushroomed up to cover the sky, barely over the tops of the trees.

Just in that moment, I heard a sickening crack. A boom shook the house. It was over the room where my sweet babe was sleeping! I tore down the hallway to rescue him. All I could think of was Arthur and Erik, my other dear sweet ones, already gone. “Please don’t take my only living babe!!” was all i could cry out, from my whole heart.

When I saw my son asleep on that bed, I froze in motion. The sight of my beautiful child mesmerized me, still here, still whole. I ran to him, scooped him into my arms and screamed for help. The tree had come through the roof over my desk. Rain was pouring in on top of my computer, which I need to earn a living. Our young neighbor burst through the front door, “I’m here! I’m here to help you!”. She was an answered prayer. She helped save both my baby and my computer. I was so grateful she came to our rescue. She was the extra pair of hands I needed, just at the right time.

Stunned and wet, he and I whispered side by side in the sweltering heat until long after sundown. This was something new for both of us. The sky was the strangest, darkest salmon color that night. The color lingered like it was the new sky of alien world. It was, in a way. From there, nothing would ever be the same for us. Nothing would go back to normal. With the loudest knock I had ever heard, something new had arrived.

From the front of our dear friend, Brian’s, beautiful shop. It has been an oasis for us.

Building Adventure

August 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

It’s all coming together. I can’t believe that an idea that seemed like a distant fantasy is turning into a living creation. Bit by bit, a notion is growing into an intricate reality. It blows my mind!

My project is about change, about growth, about hope. It’s adventure, it’s humor, it’s life unfolding. Part of me is still distant from it, like I’m watching it happen; but I try to keep it in the here and now. Inch by inch. Do the next right thing. I’ve invested a lot of prayer in this opportunity and I’ll invest plenty more. It’s a joy. What an opportunity! Rebirth! But it’s real. It’s here. It’s my long prayed for Grand Opportunity.

We’ve charted a course. All along the way are beautiful, historic Episcopal Churches, each with their own unique presence and traditions. What fantastic territory to explore, especially with my sweet babe! We are going to take beautiful pictures of these places and share all of these gorgeous, interesting things with you. We’ll also share our adventures, our challenges, and the people we meet––and we will meet a lot of people. There aren’t many more social than we two. I think our friends would testify to that. :)

We’re also going to share something of our own history, surviving abuse, being transformed by the loss of my children. Things got so dark after that. Being a part of St. Ann’s has helped to let some of the light back in. Really, being a part of St. Ann’s has changed our lives. When the wide-open arms of the Episcopal Church took us in, I found a view of God that made me feel better, not worse. The Church has given us a great gift, and I want others to know about it. That is why once we get to our new, far-away home our collection of lovely photos and stories will go into a big, dazzling picture book, complete with a directory of all the Episcopal Churches in the United States.

I can’t WAIT to visit all of these places! I can’t sleep at night for the thrill and the fear. I don’t like to go fast, and I’m not much of a daredevil, but I’d say the feeling I have right now is probably not unlike the rush of adrenalin and joy once must feel when pushing off of a steep ski slope or jumping out of a plane. What a rush of world that is about to go by us. What kinds of things will unfold for my little boy? I can’t wait to find out.

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