Clean the Inside

October 31, 2012 in Uncategorized

Luke 11:37-52

37 As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table.[a] 38 His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. 39 Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! 40 Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? 41 So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.

42 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens,[b] but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.

43 “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces. 44 Yes, what sorrow awaits you! For you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.”

45 “Teacher,” said an expert in religious law, “you have insulted us, too, in what you just said.”

46 “Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden. 47 What sorrow awaits you! For you build monuments for the prophets your own ancestors killed long ago. 48 But in fact, you stand as witnesses who agree with what your ancestors did. They killed the prophets, and you join in their crime by building the monuments! 49 This is what God in his wisdom said about you:[c] ‘I will send prophets and apostles to them, but they will kill some and persecute the others.’

50 “As a result, this generation will be held responsible for the murder of all God’s prophets from the creation of the world— 51 from the murder of Abel to the murder of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, it will certainly be charged against this generation.

52 “What sorrow awaits you experts in religious law! For you remove the key to knowledge from the people. You don’t enter the Kingdom yourselves, and you prevent others from entering.”

We are awash in images of easy-going, white-guy Jesus. He wears a halo, his nose is very straight, and his hair falls like silk upon his shoulders. His European whiteness is striking. The heavy “om” that hangs around him belies the heat that rises from passages such as these.

Granted, this is Luke’s take; but there are plenty of verses in the Bible that reveal just how pissed off Jesus could get. Dealing with stubborn fully-humans was not easy. For Jesus, the truth is obvious. Attempting to convey it can feel pointless.

Expectations are created in the image of the placid, pale Jesus who glows from within. Ideas about who Jesus was/is and what Jesus stands for abound.  Hemmed by righteous walls, reasons to keep people away from the table spring up, full-grown. Well tended beds of bigotry and coldness bring down the curtain with conviction while our world churns with division and pain.

The bible shows us an angry Jesus sick of dealing with jerks. In my mind, I see long, curled hair tossed around caramel shoulders, brown eyes flashing through his exhaustion. In these passages, Jesus lets out his rage against injustice, superficiality, and selfishness. It is not abstract. “He who has ears, let him hear!” Matthew 11:15.

This scripture was from my daily reading. The Episcopal Church is constantly asking these kinds of questions and raising these kinds of issues. People will be people; but the Church, itself, keeps an eye on truth, justice, and peace.

Trying to think like Jesus did is strenuous. A peaceful radical is hard to construct. There were rules about hand-washing. Jesus didn’t care. He said forget about governing the world outside; and govern the world within. Forget formality, forget righteous and routine judgements; look through the radical and loving eyes of Christ. The narrow path opens like a rose.

Saint Ann’s in New Martinsville, West Virginia. We loved serving Her.

I’m sloppy. I stumble around like a drunk in the mud, reaching for the ideal. An embarrass myself, but my flailing is sincere: I search after God with all of my heart.

I am constantly failing. My rage and my pain throw up signals to the left and to the right, and I react. My son catches most of it; but no one is immune. I pray all over it. Lord, make my actions match the feelings of my heart. Help me to reflect the love and compassion I really have within. Amen.

 

Your Eye Is A Lamp

October 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

Luke 11

33 “No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket.[k] Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.

34 “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness.

I can totally dig those words. Maybe it sounds silly or strange; but so often my prayer has been a simple request: help me to shine your light in the world.

Another part of me, the angry part, calls fraud. Really, the whole deal just sounds way too idealistic. It is like something you want to believe, that you hypnotize yourself into believing. Once in a while, something rears up in me and says “no”.

Still, there is a knowledge in the flesh. I know what I know about peace, kindness, respect, the kinds of things Jesus asked from us. You can feel right from wrong.

Something more is at play. I don’t know what it is; but I practice these rituals to give me the patience and fortitude to wait on the answer. Once my priest at Saint Ann’s, Lisa, said to me, “Just pick a religion and go with it.”

The greatest value seems to be less in the beliefs and more in the habit. A reshaping of the will framed by prayer and fellowship helps keep the focus on personal growth. Personal growth leads to more mature relations; and that leads to greater peace.

Today was one of those awesome days when Kris went out with us. We shopped, ate and played together. The babe grew evermore close to her, and to the animal family. “Kris, pick me up!” or “Kris, carry me!” or “Kris M–! Kris M–! Kris M–!” lit the air as they connected. In spite of the rain, sun radiated from within our new family

In today’s scripture, Jesus talks about our perceptions. Will we perceive this difficult world through the lens of God’s love and be sustained by the peace that comes from that; or will we see only darkness and become dark ourselves?

As we went about our day, Kris and I observed the distant, unhappy crowd. “This is a very depressed area,” she said. “People are depressed.” What a wonderful position to take when regarding a sea of bitter faces. Instead of speaking bitterly herself, she offered understanding. Chill waters edged in at our elbows; but with each other to hold on it, we had the fortitude to keep swimming.

Your eye is a lamp. So, it’s not just about being filled with light or dark. The thing that fills us will be the thing we reflect. Lamps shine light out, not into themselves. Just like in parenting, my own wounds sometimes prevent me from reflecting love in all of my actions; my own darkness can come out into the world. They also prevent me from completely loving others in the way that Jesus described.

These are not good days for me. This is a very, very bad time of year. In a few days, it will be Arthur’s memorial day. As much as I try to tune out, it chews at me from behind until it’s had its fill. I can’t escape it. And it never gets full.

I listen to my heart. I hunger after peace and justice, and try to grow into someone who reflects it. My depression, weakness and grief rise up, and I swallow against its burn. I sip repeatedly at the communion table to try and wash it down. Teach me, Lord.

Buddhist Goddess of mercy and compassion, Kuan Yin, teaches, “The incredible process of being human allows for the higher self to
acknowledge and extract divinity from one’s trials and tribulations.
The truth is one must be fully human for the divine part of self to be
more in tune. Rejecting the human body assures one will have to come back, return to the lessons here on earth. It means ‘you didn’t get it’.”

In the end, I hope I extract some divinity from all this. I have my ear to the ground and my willingness right up front.

Ecclesiasticus 24: 7-8

Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide? “Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent…

For me, this scripture talks about both a physical and spiritual home. Here, with our loving new family, we build a tender, new peace. Within, I keep my eyes on Christ and ask continually to grow in compassion, peace and understanding.

To our new family here, and the family of all life on earth: God’s peace.

The babe, as seen through the filter of Piper’s whiskers. Piper has claimed domain over the bathroom sink. They rub foreheads every time we go in.

 

He Does Not Do What He Hates

October 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ecclesiasticus 15:11-20

Do not say, “It was the Lord’s doing that I fell away” for he does not do what he hates. Do not say, “It was he who led me astray” for he has no need of the sinful. The Lord hates all abominations; such things are not loved by those who fear him. It was he who created humankind in the beginning, and he left them in the power of their own free choice. If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; he is mighty in power and sees everything; his eyes are on those who fear him, and he knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and he has not given anyone permission to sin.

Let me start off by saying this: “fear”, as explained to me by my own priests, Lisa and Richard, back at Saint Ann’s, is not really about “fear” as much as it is about deference, love and respect. Why not defer to the creator of everything? More than keeping us shaking in fear, God wants to remind us that our puffed of feelings of importance, pride, and power are inappropriate. We were created to be a cooperative. That word “fear”, as it appears so often in the Bible, used to be a barrier for me. With the help of Lisa and Richard, it no longer stands in my way.

I’d never read Ecclesiasticus, also known as the book of Sirach, before. It is one of those books found in the Catholic bible, but not in the protestant. When I came across that scripture in my daily reading, just two days after Arthur and Erik’s birthday, I almost cried with gratitude and relief.

When Arthur passed away people said some of the most bizarre and hurtful things to me. “Well, at least you have another one” was a common response. Really, there was a lot of truth in that. Having no children to live for makes a person want to abandon life themselves, as I would find out; but then, it was the cruelest thing I could imagine. “I didn’t have a spare,” I would often respond.

When Erik passed away, darkness took me down. The god I had loved and turned to was gone. In its place was an enormous, chewing mouth filled with blood and bones and growls of pleasure. Something awful had taken my sons.

In the years before motherhood, I read a lot about home birth, unassisted birth and breast-feeding. I was very interested in these subjects; but devoted to childlessness unless ideal circumstances arose. I spent endless time pursuing relationships that always offered more frustration than happiness; and ultimately left me holding the bag. It reaffirmed my decision not to have children until the time was right.

Arthur and Erik began to grow inside of me at a time so wrong that I couldn’t have scripted it. I was living away from my abuser; but he was still in my life. My peace was fragile and my mind was still in pieces. Because of his abuse, I had been starved down to a size 3. I could feel my insides like never before. I lay in bed and felt my babies. I thought I was feeling one baby and one placenta. In my fantasies, I raised a little feminist to never flounder after love the way I had done. I rubbed “her”; and I dreamed.

The ultrasound gave me a shocking surprise. I thew my problem on God’s shoulders and waited for the answers to come. Soon, I asked my abuser for space. He gave it because of his desire to manipulate the situation to his advantage, not because I had attained any real power with him. Nonetheless, I packed in his absence and, with the help of a friend, got the boxes to the post office.

I traveled out of Arkansas on the hand of God. Twenty-four weeks pregnant, I rode feather-light in an old Lincoln Towncar on an upturned palm. It radiated peace and love from beneath. I held tight to the wheel and breathed in the moist darkness. I ingested the best of Arkansas, a land I learned to love. I didn’t love abuse, and I didn’t feel at home in the South; but I felt at home in Arkansas’s wild places, land shaped by the same hand that opened the door to the cage She had become.

I loved my boys so much, as I drove. I wanted to raise my boys so very much. Almost as soon as I held them, they fell through an awful hole. I am still screaming down it, after them; but they are never coming back. I will never feel their arms around my neck. I won’t hear the name “Mama” in each sweet, little voice. This warm babe I have now eclipses the universe. For Arthur and Erik, I have to accept that all of that is gone. Horrific.

Who was God, then? An abuser? One to delight in my pain? Perhaps one lacking all power, unlike what we were told. Perhaps one not all loving: and what then? That was the worst scenario of all.

Two days after Arthur and Erik’s fifth birthday; I read those words: He Does Not Do What He Hates.

I concluded, long ago, that God had not killed my children, nor allowed them to be killed. Sanity required a leap of faith. I would believe that, somehow, this all powerful god really couldn’t stop what happened, or what is happening all around us.

We drown ourselves in beauty while all around is horror. What kinds of horrors will come from storms like the one eating the east coast, right now, for example? Why does God let this go on?

I don’t know; and that is a very unpleasant feeling. I have to keep pushing past it with faith in the things I know to be the truth, those things focused on by Christ. Love, compassion, equality, generosity, humility, the best of what unites us as a family instead of what keeps us apart.

In the things he taught, there is something that is more than words. It is a feeling. I know you know what I mean. There is that feeling inside that squeezes, that takes your breath and races your heart. It is the edge of knowledge, the edge of something profound. It races by, a rush of moonlight. Wispy-thin, we can barely describe it; but we know when it’s touched us, and after, we are never the same.

With our doubt and hopefulness, we never stop reaching. Sometimes, we nip the edges with our eager tips; but it darts off like a fox, too clever and quick to be caught by a clumsy, hairless things like us.

The Bible does say we cannot even begin to comprehend what God is all about; but it also says that he would never create hurt for us. He does not do what He hates. That is what I suspected, what I hoped; because in the dark days of God’s perceived sadism, I nearly lost my mind.

The message of Jesus is Truth. Equality, love, respect, servitude, the seeds of paradise. We have them right in front of us. The whole point is to answer the call, to say “yes” to paradise, from whatever perspective you may come. Focus on the ideals, the message, practice as if we are in life in paradise by learning to love and respect one another, right now. Break out, reach out, and dig in.

If He doesn’t do what He hates, then let’s do what he loves. He is pulling for us all the way, with that kind of perspective. It makes the message of Christ even more appealing. In a way, God’s approach reminds me of Positive Discipline.

Why, then, does life still hurt so terribly much? Arthur and Erik are in tiny, cardboard boxes. I have never been able to pick urns for them. I can’t touch the boxes, or look at them. My boy wants to pick urns. All I can thinK is, “Strengthen me, O Lord”.

While I’m praying, why not go on. Bring me closer to You, to gentleness and to truth. Bring me closer to compassion and forgiveness. Help me forgive You for what happened to my children; and help me wait for the answers I will never have on this side.

Amen.

Typical Washington sky. Bright and sunny with a threat of doom. I love it.

 

 

Jimmy

October 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

Back in 1993, I moved from Pittsburgh to New York City. I had been in Pittsburgh for eight years, and the walls were closing in. I am a Sagittarius which, I am told, makes me open to travel and adventure. I was. I left all of my friends, my job, and my familiar life to live among strangers in one of the biggest cities on earth.

It was for me. Even my rocky arrival and difficulty settling in didn’t dampen my feeling for the city. I liked how you could get lost. Coming from a small town where gossip and backbiting had robbed me of happiness in my childhood, I loved being able to escape every familiar face.

In New York, you can walk for hours and not even feel it. There is so much to stimulate that you walk with ease, eating the city with your feet, your eyes, your senses. Street corners can smell like bread, spices, urine, flowers: it is all there for a hand to touch.

My adjustment was a struggle. I had to reinvent my plan for one after thinking it was a plan for two. I got very sad, drifted alone into the city, and ended up at Tompkins’ Square Park.

The friendships I made there changed the color of my life. I sat on a bench in a big bricked oval, watching a medley of people play soccer. They would take breaks to smoke, drink and chat. I made friends.

Around the corner, drummers were drumming. The sound of Yoruba rhythms shaped the space. I rose, rounded the corner and entered another world. A woman sat on the bench, grooving, reverberating, to the beat of half a dozen congas. Consuming beats merged to the periodic singing of the drummers.

Green was greener. The air was pulsing around me and the circle opened to include. A young woman danced, welcomed me in with almost demure flirting; and soon, I had a whole new group of friends.

Cenén, the woman on the bench, was a poet like me. The young woman dancing was, as well. Through them, I met a whole cast of characters and dipped into a well of culture and experience from which I had never drank. It was awesome.

One of the people I met during that time was Jimmy. Jimmy was a professional dog walker. He was also addicted to alcohol and heroin. Nonetheless, our conversations shaped me; and kept me from the brink. His humor warmed my life. He gave me compassion, communion and deep companionship.

Summer afternoons are heaven at that park. The energy is buoyant, and the company abounds. The soccer players were kicking a ball around while I talked to my friend, Ernst, who was taking a break from soccer. Ernst’s broad face was spread with a smile. Shiny on top, his head was rung with dreadlocks around its circumference. Ernst had come to New York from Haiti to work. I took every opportunity I could to share his space. Patient, with a casual laugh, he was medicine.

As we talked, a familiar voice cut the air. From the huge bent branch of a 70-foot tree we saw Jimmy dangling. He called out to us from above, and recited a poem. It was genuine and angry, comical and brief. He was drunk; and up very high. I wanted to pluck him down like an adoring mother; and hug the ache away.

It was late winter, and the weather was expecting to turn for the worse. Jimmy had invited me to a party at some ultra-hip, redesigned, lower east side loft. The food was good, the drinks were free and we stayed too long. The soft static of the blizzard hypnotized us through the enormous windows while the atmosphere and music said, “dance.”

By the time we left, there were easily four inches of snow on the ground, if not more. The wind tried to force us back to the party as Jimmy tried to walk me home. Shouting at each other through the storm, we decided Jimmy’s house, only three blocks away, would be the place to stop.

Jimmy’s house was unconventional. Judy, the dancer, and I often joked that Jimmy had a house and an apartment. In fact, Jimmy had a squat and a well built shanty in an abandoned lot. It was to the shanty we were going, that night. Honestly, I couldn’t wait to see Jimmy’s house. I’d never been there before.

Pressed tight together, we cut through the blizzard down Avenue C. In a few blocks, we came to an enormous corner lot, fenced in with 8-foot-high chain link topped with razor wire. Around the corner, we slipped through it and into the lot.

Past the fence, the path descended into overgrowth that loomed above. At our feet lay a path made of stones, intricately woven through the brush. In secrecy, we approached the center of the lot.

Jimmy’s house was probably just a little bigger than this one. Built of discarded materials, it stood solidly in the gust of the storm. Jimmy grasped the edge of a sheet of plywood and thrust it aside. He gestured me through the door.

Half of the space was sectioned off for storage; the other half, his living quarters. A mattress sat on a carpeted floor next to a small space heater. A long power cord supplied electricity from a neighboring building. Jimmy turned on the heat.

Sitting on the heater were several cans of Ravioli. After talking a while, we’d eat that warm pasta in the comfort of his tiny house. Built by his own hands, Jimmy had made an incredibly solid, cozy, secure home int he middle of an abandoned lot. We sat out the storm in the comfort of each other’s company, nestled down in a plywood shack.

When morning came, we went out into the snow. It was double the night before, soaking up every trace of sound. We left the little house behind us, leaving our evidence on the snow.

Almost 20-years-ago: it doesn’t seem possible. I can’t find Jimmy. I don’t know his last name. I think about him in this tiny house, the solid walls holding out the rain and the cold. I close my eyes and feel the rushes of blizzard snow hit, deflect and leave us in peace. Leave me in peace.

The other night, I ate a cold can of Ravioli. I could have heated it; but I was lazy. Still, I thought of Jimmy. Ravioli in hand, in front of the space heater, I offered up a gentle pray. “Peace for Jimmy.”

I’m thinking of you Jimmy, wherever you are.

Iron Sharpens Iron

October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens another.

Morning comes too early, lately. Seems I would get up easier, since I’m actually getting up later. Maybe the time difference is helping to mask my depression.

But, the kid makes me move. As we were going through our morning routine, we opened the door to the tiny house. A gust of warmth penetrated the chill: the sound of our own Kris M–.

“Was that Kris M–??” J moved towards the door. I didn’t bother to contest. I grabbed the coffee pot, my cup and went with hopeful expectation. Kris was awake when we were.

For some reason, my boy likes to tell people about Kris’s insomnia. He thinks it is fascinating that we have two different schedules. He loves exploring the boundaries, on both ends. Last night, they encountered each other after hours. We caught Kris in the half-light of the refrigerator as J was getting a snack. Both wore a half awake look of wonder and innocence, exploring each other in this outer world.

The morning was starting off right. i determined not to worry about productivity, to focus on connection and just let go of fear. No worrying today about looming futures. Let’s make the most of it. Everything in Kris’s posture showed her willingness, even if her eyes were tired. The show was on.

In almost nervous action, I took up the broom. My anxiety levels sometimes make it hard for me to sit still. Since Kris has been nearly bedridden for two months, she wasn’t opposed to the help. We talked, talked to critters, and talked to my wee one as we moved our way towards one another.

At some point, Kris emerged with an electric skillet. I had a bag of garden-grown red peppers I had gotten from church. Before long, the house was filled with the smell of frying onions. Kris did her faithful best to manage the babe’s 3-year-old desire to poke a dog or ‘play’ a cat while i chopped vegetables at the glistening counter. This was the first time I’d cooked for Kris.

The pan was a winner. The omelet was thin, perfectly cooked, and filled with a pile of cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, red peppers, and mushrooms. Warm whole-grain bread was spread with butter and jam; and sliced garden-grown tomatoes dressed the meal. My babe ate perfectly cooked over-easies.

Shared food is the foundation for many rich social interactions. It is interesting to reflect on our natures in this cooperative, sharing behavior so common among all people. Even among hostile people, it is an offering of momentary peace. Among those who love each other, pure bliss.

We got a lot done today. When we work together, nothing is impossible. Like it says in Proverbs, “Iron sharpens iron”

After the babe went to sleep, I crept into the big house. I was hoping that Kris might be up; but I didn’t count on it. The house was quiet, and I heard the sound of her soft breathing. I didn’t need to look around the corner. I knew she was under a warm blanket of cats.

Today, I got a chance to observe something I hadn’t seen before. I saw Kris settle down. After stirring the onions, I peeked around the corner from the kitchen. She was sitting down. I peeked around the corner again, to finish a sentence, and she was covered in cats.

“Covered” is strong language; but there were about three. Mama was back, and cats needed cuddles. Kris held communion from the recline of her chair as friends reestablished connection by coming aboard. I got excited. We were really merging worlds. I delighted in the process as I put peppers in the pan.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Kris said. The words are simple but the idea is huge. I can’t believe it, either.

The last time I saw Kris, I was 17 years old. We were both outcasts in a tough town in a valley, casting our gazes far beyond the hills. When she came to the door last night, she scratched, like a cat wanting to be let in, her hair still wet from the shower. The scent of her soap caught on the breeze. She held her classic stance as she cautiously, yet earnestly, acknowledged my pain. I saw the eyes, I felt her soul, and I collapsed in her arms in my grief.

She listens with ferocity, as she has always done. As always, we are sisters. Passionate and vulnerable, we probably look dramatic to other people. It’s not drama, I promise you. My sister supported me as I wept, and never drew away. I lay my full burden down, and she offered all she had to help me carry it.

Today, head in a cabinet, I told her how weakened I am. Abuse has weakened me, along with my grief. I am skittish and nervous. I am tired and worn. Her answers to me were rich with feeling. My sister. Her words slid over my back as I stirred, so solid, so real.

We relaxed into the comfort we each offered. The room buzzed with the energy of the kids, little sweet one and his new animal companions. The air was round with the scent of food, and plates sat warm in our hands. As iron sharpened iron, the air sang out in warmth.

To friendship, and to friends.

Arthur and Erik’s Birthday

October 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

Isaiah 65

20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years…

Today, my two oldest boys, Arthur and Erik, would have been five. This day sets its teeth for me every year. In a little more than a week will come another day, the day the Arthur passed away. In January, one more sickening day will loom, crush and leave me struggling to regain my fragile ground.

I was 40; and I had no children. I always said that I wouldn’t have children unless I had a partner I could count on to carry 50% of the load. Never having found that, I never became a mother.

My abuser was thorough, and he was brutal. He was also buttery, enticing and sweet in the familiar honeymoon phases of his abusive cycle. It is this confusing behavior doled out on a broken down set of perceptions that keeps the abused person stuck.

I knew I was pregnant before I even missed my period. He knew it, too. I don’t know how, It was one those eerie things he shouldn’t have known; but did. It was another part of the spell he had me under.

When I went for my 16 week ultrasound, I found out it was two. The delighted technician delivered the news as she flashed their faces on her screen. I cried out, “O no! What am I going to do, now!” and burst into tears. I knew I had to protect my children.

Regardless of circumstances, pregnancy made me very happy. I never thought I wanted it; but suddenly I rubbed my belly, night and day. I felt such warmth and companionship from their presence. My old life shed like uncomfortable clothes, I nestled my boys. I cooed on my nest in pure love.

My imagination wanted what I’d read so much about: home birth. More than that, unassisted birth. Instead, my boys came too early, at 28 weeks. After a pregnancy peppered with bleeding issues, a hemorrhage brought an end to my dreams of anything natural. I was fully sedated and separated from them, at birth. I woke up intubated and terrified. It would be several hours before I knew what was happening to them, and more than 12 before I could see them for the first time.

I wasn’t permitted to hold my children, or even touch them very much. I cooed to them from outside of their boxes by day, and wept for them by night. Little books and pamphlets made me angry, as did phrases that sought to diminish my sadness. Nonetheless, the connection was instant. Something happened when they left my body. It was like a key turning in a lock. I felt the click, and nothing has ever been the same. They had made me a mother, my tiny boys; at two pounds six ounces each, the were dancing in front of my eyes, my only vision.

I found lodging at the Ronald McDonald House. I walked steps daily, drove my car and walked long halls at the hospital as my legs and stomach swelled with fluid. As miserable as I was, on some level, I was waddling mass of both grief and bliss. Premature birth is a terrible loss. It very hard to accept when it is unwanted. Still, this new love intoxicated me. I was a moth to their flame.

The first child of mine I ever held was Arthur. One night, when I was still hospitalized myself, the late night staff asked if I wanted to hold him. It had been three days since his birth. I caught my breath and burst into tears.

Immediately, the staff buzzed. I quivered in a rocker meant for mother’s, feeling the vinyl of the seat with my hands. “This is this,” my mind told me. “This is another experience. Just go. Go.” My disconnected brain floated me down. I let myself flow, overwhelmed, into the moment of my son. A stiff, swaddled bundle, Arthur appeared under the haze of my tears. My child.

I’ll never forget looking into his face. It was my face. I looked with adoring love, right at a tiny me. Still, it was far more. I felt his presence. I felt the vibration coming from his soul. He was not a person-less, tiny baby, incapable of expression; his was a responsive presence that entered my sphere with a glow. My mouth touched his; impossibly tiny lips had a feel much like my own. I felt a grin coming from inside of him.

It was five days before I could hold Erik. A bit slower to breathe independently, there were also other concerns about his health that kept us apart. When I held Erik for the first time, it was in Kangaroo Care, a therapy used with premature babies. Erik relaxed into me; his mother’s child, he got his first meaningful rest.

Today is their birthday. I woke up with it around me like an ion cloud. Tiny fingers skittered over all of my surfaces while I tried to focus on the now. What do I do? What needs to be done?

Five years ago, I was being introduced to a breast pump. My children lay inches from my fingertips, and my body was wounded and open. Five years ago, two tiny boys brought me closer to myself.

I want to celebrate their lives. I am still too devastated by their loss to begin to know how.

Arthur Emmanuel and Erik Zebediah.

Born October 25th, 2007

Erik Zebediah

Discomfort Zone

October 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

Revelation 8:1-13. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

I’m shaken. The vibration of the road has started to wear off, and I feel my feet on the earth. When I close my eyes, it’s the same sensations and the same sounds. Blood squeezes past the backs of my eyes, and blood-filled lids drop a pink veil over my sight. My wet mouth tastes itself like it has all of my life, and familiar tongues brush against themselves at the tip. Air goes into my lungs, and whispers goodbye against my upper lip as it departs. In many ways, nothing has changed.

Everything has changed. They routines of our lives, the familiar faces, all flutter behind us down the corridor of our transformation. Friends reach through in little taps: a blip on the phone, an email or facebook message; strings still tied give a tug from their distant origin across the miles. New friends tug the ends of their strings, too, as messages of love and friendship reach us from points across the great divide.

We’re divided. The daily hugs and handshakes and smiles mean more to me than maybe they should. I’m like that. I’ve always been like that. I am tender inside–I’d almost say raw–and deeply vulnerable to stress and pain. In younger days, I used to say it was like I didn’t have any skin. Everything that touches my raw outsides radiates electric sensation deep into my clenched core.

I’m rattled to my core. We have a stack of boxes, a few thousand photographs, great memories and stories, and a few dozen things to build from the pieces we’ve gathered and tools we possess. I want to take my own advice: Just Do The Next Right Thing. I take my own advice. I play with my son.

“Mama? I want you to play playdoh with me.” I respond as if I’ve been given the clear instruction I so long for, and get down on the floor. I make a face, and he embellishes it.

Oswald the Octopus, with hair

I am down on the floor. I am being a good mother. Everything is o.k.

My babe starts to bring out his train set. The part of me that isn’t glued down in depression and terror rejoices. This was last year’s “big” Christmas present. I try to give only a few gifts, but to make them count. This was a much admired item anywhere he found it. I’d purchased him a modest, but versatile, wooden train set that he had been aching to bring into the tiny house.

We brought it in to the tiny house. We organized, cleaned and got a small rug for the center of the floor. The train set moved in, the primary big-toy item we would keep in here with us. A shelf full of books is his other primary entertainment. I watched as he began to build.

My love for my son grabs from inside like an ache. He is my heart’s desire, my joy, and he was created in the ruins of grief. I watch his soft hair fluff around him in tufts as he moves to build and zoom. His round profile pegs me to my place with wonder and awe. My child. It is a miracle.

My love for him aches deepest when it is framed by visions of his loss. People who don’t grieve children might not understand. This isn’t willful on my part: it is a reflex. It’s a rudimentary limb, awakened by grief. It flails, functionless and vulnerable, it sends a phantom ache through me like a chill. Everything is made of ether. I could reach for my son in the next second and grab only air. Grief tells you that.

When I get anxious, I am ready to walk. The train ran out of steam as we put on our clothes. There was a goal: snow globe.

The broken snow globe had left a mark, beyond the one healing on the heel of his hand. A call had been sounded that would have to be answered: snow globe. In this town, there is one street where half the businesses (or more) are thrift stores. Our friend, Mick, would collapse in a fit of ecstacy on this street. Two months from Christmas, there had to be one snow globe.

We walked. We walked past a coffee shop where I bought him a hot cider. It wasn’t Baristas, and I felt lost. J adjusted his cap and chatted up strangers.

“This is Damon’s hat. He gave it to me. I don’t like the kind with the buckles. I made it really tight so the wind won’t blow it. See how tight it is? Do you have a hat?” I glimpsed the familiar in their faces: utter delight at the charms of my boy. The ground thumped a little to let me know it was there.

Hot drinks at hand, we proceeded. Tight hats gave us the courage to face the wind. A secret phase of my mission involved a few organic lollies from a local health food store before hitting the thrift store strip. Hand in hand, we ran through wide intersections towards the unknown. The smiles of today might even be the warm hugs of tomorrow, so we might as well keep hearts open and run.

In one overstocked store, a woman gathered up dust with a grey-masked, rainbow static duster. Her footing had purpose and her face was warm. She mentioned being from out of town.

“Me, too,” I almost felt myself stumble forward into her arms. Still on my feet I asked, “How long have you been here?”

“A month,” she answered. I felt that stumble, again.

“We’ve only been here a little over a week,” I told her. “We are really starting from scratch.”

All clouds blew away from her gaze. Her eyes met mine with the energy of hope, “Faith is all I have,” she said. “I am just like you. I try hard, and believe in the best. What else is there to do?

“What’s your name?” she asked me.

“Erika,” I said.

She grabbed my arm and cried out, “NO WAY! I am Arica!” her chest came out a little and I saw the hope that she lived on bloom towards me.

I told her about the move, the project, the storm, the tree. I told her about the Episcopal Church, it’s inclusiveness and focus on peace, social justice, and love. I also mentioned last week’s speaker and showed her Saint Stephen’s website. It would be radical if she showed up.

My kid and i had some fun. The babe tried on skates and got his first feel of the wheel. He found a fantastic 25¢ motorcycle that he took to bed with him. When I asked if it needed a face (he likes cars that are smiling) he said, “It has one.” He indicated the reflectors as the smile, and the eyes in an imaginary place. Good view to take. Maybe i should start seeing smiles where there aren’t any, too. After all, it’s what you give, not what you get.

It was a timely message from the Forward Day by Day. Rather than a conversation about fire and brimstone, they used this scripture to open a conversation about faith and the purpose of prayer. In my current state of mind, I needed to hear it. I was filled with the Holy Spirit a couple of weeks ago. Now, I am tired and scared. Great time to start praying.

My friend Q told me, tonight, that she believe God called us out here, brought us out here, and has a purpose in mind. Now begins one of those periods of waiting and prayer. The answers will come.

I have a lot of anxiety. It’s hard for me to take it in stride, sometimes. I panic; I want to produce outcomes. That makes it an even better time to start ramping up the prayer.

I need to shed my thinking. I need to keep it concrete. I need to follow my own advice in earnest: Just Do The Next Right Thing. Day by day. Don’t stop waiting on the answer, don’t stop waiting on the miracle; it might be the next experience you have. Hang on. Do what’s right. Act in love. Keep moving.

In today’s reading, they challenge us to give the outcome up to God, in faith. Really, why not. Does not doing so give you control? Nothing will quell the panic brought on by the willful hand of future. Give it up to God.

Near the end of the day, we entered one thrift store having a 50% off sale. We hit walls at every other store; but I asked with the hope of Arica, “Do you have any snow globes?”

“Actually,” she said, “Yes, we do.”

They had four big and three smalls. J picked a small one with a penguin inside (what luck!) and we went home triumphant, nursing the seeds of new friendships.

 

 

 

 

Take A New Grip With Your Tired Hands

October 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Hebrews 12:12-24

12 So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. 13 Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. 14 Work at living in peace with everyone, and work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.

Work at living in peace with everyone. I love those passages. Live in peace, with EVERYONE. We are so accustomed to competition, and the constant need for acquisition that is instilled in culture. There is the constant worry, “How will I get mine?”  Following that, “How will I maintain it?”

Kris was awake when we got up. I was shaking granola out of our (Kris’s) sheet when I heard her holler from the kitchen.

“Was that Kris M–?” J queried.I knew where we were headed. I filled up my coffee to go as I grumbled, “Yes, she’s up.”

We have a very different sleep cycle than Kris. She often can’t sleep, and will be up all night. As we are rising, she is settling down. She’s not as easy to get time with as one would think. When we catch her, we get excited.

In we went for morning coffee with Kris. At least, my morning coffee, as I wasn’t even close to finishing the pot. We headed down the sidewalk, coffee holstered, the dogs bouncing around us on the wet ground as we went.

Boomer has me by the heart because he is so much like my Cheeps. Almost her same coloring, he also possesses many of her behaviors. It is almost unsettling I see her in him so deeply. He throws me the eye “moons”, white showing like a sliver moon as he offers submission and devotion, almost always along with a request. It is more than a “look”; it’s a personality trait, and I love it. It is my Cheeps times 100; and it both pains and uplifts me.

Max is another who has deeply touched my  heart. It’s his face. His old man’s grey replaced a resplendent black, a reverse rottweiler pattern that made him quite striking. Now, he is striking because of his heart.He barks out excitement, but not with a sharp bark of anger. His is a round-mouthed bark, a softened bark, of pure spiritual excitation.

His soul is another who rejoices at communion. He often thrusts his nose between my knees upon greeting. He needs the deepest of connections. It is the reason for his round-mouthed bark. It’s all about connection, for Max. He and I are cut from the same cloth. I’ve only known you a week, Maxer Relaxer; but I love you!

So hungry, I drank it all in. Their loving kindness was a blanket of security. “We love you, friend. You are welcomed by us.” It felt great.

When Kris’s soft desk chair wrapped itself around me this morning, I was instantly soothed. Coffee was lukewarm and ready, boy was between my knees, and the sound of our mingled voices filled the room: I was on vacation.

Kris: what a companion. When I sit down with her, my shoulders can come all the way down. Elbows are on the table, and I am leaning it. She is there; and I love it. I knew this was going to be a good day.

She was cutting Martha’s nails (a rabbit), and it became a classroom. At Kris’s side, my son can learn many things about animals. How it feels to be prey, how we create connection and ease fear, respect for the differences of others: what great lessons, especially when given in community and love.

Inter-species relationships are important for learning sensitivity to others. Learning to appreciate the otherness, yet sameness, of animals contributes not only to greater peace with animals, but with us all. It is a an un-schooler’s paradise!

When Kris had to run a cat to the vet, we sprang to action. Most of Kris’s days (and nights) are spent on the care of her animals. Being involved with her, we will be involved, too. This is a great opportunity for my little one.

“Kris M–?? Kris M–???” comes the constant choral call of my child. He loves her. He wants her hand, her attention, her knowledge and love. He’s looked around at this family assembly; and he’s decided he wants in.

“Kris M–??” he calls. Surrounded by her children, it is still a call like she has never received. She raises her eyebrows in his direction; and leans in.

Kris M–, we love you. Thank you. We’ll build it.

J and his sister-friend, Hannah. We miss you!!

Put Peace into Each Other’s Hands: Saint Stephen’s

October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized

It was a Sunday on the edge of experimentation. We were going to a new Episcopal Church; and we were trying to make oatmeal (the boy’s favorite) on a $5 dollar hotplate.

Breakfast tasted like triumph. Another bridge crossed, in miniature. Our tiny stove made two big bowls of our favorite morning treat while we tried to get out the door for services at Saint Stephen’s.

The road to the church was a tunnel of trees. Ushered forward by Washington’s willowy arms, we found Saint Stephen’s waiting for us in a cloak of light rain. Faces brightened at our arrival, and I felt small blooms of hope.

There were a lot of new experiences. We both perked up with appreciation and wonder at the sound of the bell choir, which was something we’d never experienced. The sung, old-fashioned parts of the service were replaced by more modern feeling words. I went with it, and kept my ear to the ground.

There is was. A guest speaker was giving the sermon, Reverend Ann Holmes Redding, founder of Abrahamic Reunion West. She seeks to create unity and peace among Christians, Muslims and Jews. Bold statements for peace like this one make me leap for joy. I clung to the edge of my seat as she reflected on our commonality, shared goals and the real meaning of sharing and sacrifice. She was singing my song.

Coffee hour brought a rush of friendly faces and progressive thinkers. Something good was on the air. J munched watermelon, carrot sticks and cookies with cups of chai and Earl Grey tea. The familiar face of sister and brotherhood edged in around us; and we left enriched, with a dozen eggs and a bag full of homegrown vegetables.

It was a day to connect. We also met a young brother working at a local bicycle shop. Famous for trick bike riding, he tried to satisfy my son’s desire to see someone ride a unicycle. He also encouraged us to explore Olympia, promising a hippie wonderland. I have to admit, he got my interest.

I’m not sure how I feel about the modernizing of my familiar Episcopal service, but I’ll get used to it. Some of the new things are cool. I really connect with this new hymn:

Put peace into each other’s hands and like a treasure hold it.
Protect it like a candle flame, with tenderness enfold it

Put peace into each other’s hands with loving expectation;
be gentle in your words and ways, in touch with God’s creation.

Put peace into each other’s hands, like bread we break for sharing.
Look people warmly in the eye; our life is meant for caring.

As at communion shape your hands into a waiting cradle;
the gift of Christ receive, revere, united round the table.

Put Christ into each other’s hands, he is love’s deepest measure.
In love make peace, give peace a chance and share it like a treasure.

The question was asked again and again, “How can we live differently with one another?”  I love hearing the question asked. I share the passion to answer that question, and the desire to be a part of the answer. I think we’re a bit closer to home, here in Washington. With each new day, we’ll continue to explore.

 

Anyone Who is Not Against You Is for You

October 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

Luke 9

49 John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.”

50 But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.”

For a friendly person, I don’t make friends easily.

It is kind of silly to call yourself “erika on the edge”; but I did use that moniker for many years. I am on the edge. I’m still on the edge. I am on the edge of every social group of which I am a part. I am a moon to their earth, a satellite.

I used to, more negatively, think of myself as the “Court Jester”: entertainment, but not really a part of the group. None of my friends know each other, for the most part. I touch the edges of many worlds; but none are a part of one another. I am in between. I am on the edge.

Then, I fell down into the pit of abuse; and my otherness was stripped away. One by one, each thing I valued about myself was torn from me. It was like a madman had entered my house and kicked down all the interior walls. I was hollowed out, bit by bit.

I don’t have time for edges. One of the reasons we moved was to feel more connected. I don’t want to be somewhere where I am “almost o.k.”. I can’t live like that anymore. With my babe to think about, it’s just not good enough, anymore.

The Episcopal Church makes us a promise . I am so proud of the Church’s boldness in taking a stand on critical social justice issues. When Father Goeke, of Bassett, Nebraska told me how he was actually required to be out to his congregation (though he already was), I nearly leapt from my seat. This is the kind of attitude I always hoped from a church.

Episcopal church, why are you so “other” loving!? O, because Jesus, himself, was an “other”?? YOU ARE AWESOME!

These are the kinds of messages we get in church; and I love it. It brought me in and keeps me hooked. Plus, you get the great element of ritual; which, somehow, creates a feeling of peace. Continuity. I guess we all long for it.

Sky facing west at 4 p.m.

Sky facing east at 4 pm

Today was a day that only half went right. We did find a one burner hot plate for 5 dollars, but my babe also fell on his much-longed-for 25¢ snow globe; and cut his hand on the remains. His heart was left shattered with the glass as I carried him away from the painful scene in my arms.

It was rush to do, to get, to finish until we made our way back home. J was looking for his dog friends on our return; but they were all inside. Imagine his delight, after I visited the big house, to learn that dogs were awake and ready to greet. His shoes were on in no time; and soon he laughed in a sea of dogs.

In the hectic, helter-skelter of our return, Kris handed me two envelopes. Our first meaningful mail had arrived. Our friend, Magda, had written us and so had our friend, Hannah. Still, rushing from the hassle of the day, I tucked the letters away to open after my little one went to bed.

Special people come out of the crowd. As we are exploring, we discover the souls that resonate with our familiar music. When we keep our horizons open in the “anyone who is not against you is for you” attitude, miraculous connections can emerge.

The letter from Hannah had been a surprise. She is a friend of ours from Baristas, a young woman of only seventeen. A remarkable soul who radiates the love of God, she resonated with me and my small son during our time there. For her, edges were only things to walk through. Rather than keep me at arm’s length, she sought me out. She gave from deep within, in friendship and in love.

My tears dotted her letter. It was an assignment she had written for her speech class. At the top of the page, it said “Erika Quiroz”. As I read, I saw myself through her loving eyes.

She had shared the story of Roger, the homeless man we had met at Trinity in Mission, South Dakota. She thought it was remarkable that I would embrace a homeless person, and kiss his hair. Her open love and acceptance of me is no less remarkable, in my eyes. She is for me, and I am for her. In the few brief moments that preceded this new life, a window opened and three souls joined. We love you, Hannah. You travel with us as we go.

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