Good

November 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

1 Peter 3:13-22

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.

At the end of June, a gale came from the west. In the grey swirl of its wind it called us home. A single blow from above opened the door as the tree sent a ray of light into our cell. We were free.

I dropped the ball in the lap of our Lord. My heart broke open as I poured out my hopes and dreams on Saint Ann’s quiet altar. Shrouded in darkness, my tears fell in secrecy as I asked my Father to show me the way. Take me. Take my heart, take my hope, and lead us away.

The morning we left was like a dream. In the dark, our friends lent their hands to our mission as we got ready to face the road. Three thousand miles lay ahead. My boy was strapped in his car seat, forward facing, in the seat next to mine. His eyes were poised to eat the road.

As mile after mile fell behind, the great question opened ahead. We didn’t have enough money to make it this far. We had faith, a direction, a gallon of holy water and our prayers. As the miles rose up to greet us, we also had friends.

It was the sea of hands, from in front and behind, that lifted us out of our trap. It was the conviction of our purpose and the shine in our eyes that made prejudice and judgement fall away. In towns across this country, tiny rural places, unflinching eyes shined with the love of Christ as they met my tattooed face.

The love of Christ looks past the things of the world. In the love of Christ, we tunnel straight into the heart. When we find the truth we don’t care what it is called, or even if it lacks a name. Truth knows truth; and when we find it, we celebrate our coming home.

This past Thanksgiving, a new friend Arica had reached out a hand. Only here a month longer than we, she wanted the feeling of family and community in her home. We gave our “yes” and spent two afternoons in the church kitchen getting ready for the feast.

We showed up with faces glowing with hope. Juggling whipped sweet potatoes, cornbread dressing and peace cobbler, we wobbled through the door. The thump of music and the buzz of car engines from a video game met us as inside six wee ones scrambled around six adults. Every kitchen surface relied on the lightness in our hearts to hold the bounty that Arica had spent all night preparing.

We were ready to eat. I peeked under each foil cover as my stomach digested itself. “When is dinner?” I asked her. Arica moved around us with composure and grace, touching dishes and adjusting foil covers. “I don’t know.”

A woman from Arica’s church, Miss Karla, had invited us all to eat. Her dinner was at 4:30. It was only noon. Everyone was starving and the food was within reach. Arica had been up until seven a.m. cooking it. I wanted to eat it. She asked for a vote and we all said “Eat”. Miss Karla would have to be disappointed.

Arica’s graceful,movements corralled the space. Somehow, one shower washed 10 people as we considered our dilemma. Deviled eggs appeared and disappeared, and more eggs were put on to boil. In my hand appeared a cup of the most delicious coffee as I waited for our quiet matriarch to announce our plan.The pressure was applied. We wanted to eat now.

As she listened to our grumbling, her children were groomed. Three tiny people took their turn between her knees as her purposeful hands worked over their bodies. Dabs of lotion were rubbed, rubbed, rubbed, until tiny curls bounced and faces glistened. Each child, in their turn, stood as if hypnotized as their mother tended them.

My own child within went to its knees. I longed to be one of them, to have those hands pass so brusquely and confidently through my hair, over my round and waiting limbs. On her face emotions swirled. She laid a thin veil over it, and weighed each choice.

“I can’t disappoint Miss Karla,” she announced. “My heart just won’t feel right if I let her down. I have to go to her dinner.”

In this crowd of impatient, hungry people Arica could have very well suffered for doing what was right. I was one of those pushing to eat now and forget Miss Karla. Still, Arica would not. She had a commitment, and she was going to honor it.

At Miss Karla’s, I jumped into the fray. Fourteen hungry people had walked through her door. As much as they insisted my help wasn’t needed, I began to wash dishes. Eventually, pie crust was handed to me as my experience in that area surpassed those of the others. I mixed and rolled, and I shared our story. We’d come through another door of fellowship. Around me, were the arms of my companions in Christ.

What does that even mean? What is a companion in Christ? Is it someone who says the name of Jesus the right number of times each day? No. As the Bishop reminded us in his sermon today, being a Christian means being different in the world. It means rejecting the values of the world.

Arica heard the call. It came from her heart. It required her to behave with respect, love and honor. Karla had heard it. It came from her heart when it excited her to prepare food for 14 strangers. I heard the call when I made pie crust in a stranger’s kitchen, and when I chose hunger for the sake of love instead of instant satisfaction. We hear it when we recognize the Christ in actions taken by people who will never, and need not never, utter that name.

Unity, peace, compassion, generosity, sister- and brotherhood are all the watchwords of the one we call Jesus, but Jesus is so much bigger than that. Jesus is bigger than His own name, bigger than His own ideas, big enough to reach into every part of our world if we look and share with open hearts and eyes.

Good. Fairness, real love, and real concern for others and for the world: this is what we are called to practice. Anyone who practices it by any name–or none at all– is our sister or brother. When we take down the walls created by labels and words, we make more seats at the table.

As I worked at Karla’s elbow, as I honored Arica’s word, as I stepped out in faith into an unknown world, I stretched my arms to expand our family. I am so eager to do good. I need to be a part of something eternal, something holy. On the other side of this, my babies are waiting.

Today, the Bishop talked about how we were required to be something different in the world. Forget what the world values; forget what the world expects: What did Christ ask? “Would Christ sleep outside of Wal-Mart for a flat-screened T.V.?” he essentially asked.

In other words, look again at your values. Look at the values of Christ. Who cares what you call it. Be eager to do good. Suffer for what is right. This life is a weigh-station for something much more. Think carefully about what you put on the scale.

In the days since Thanksgiving, I have thoughts of Arica. I consider her quiet poise, the massaging way her hands passed over her children, her insistence on respecting Karla’s generosity and feelings. Eager to do good, she listened to our grumbling while she following the goodness in her own heart. That hungry day, I watched her blessings multiple; and I fixed my eye on a sister who has a lot to teach.

Arica, thank you for showing me the good. I am so thankful that you join me on the path. Here’s to love, sister.

Return to Me

November 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Malachi 3: 5-7

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

Wild winds of abuse and grief had herded me into West Virginia. My sweet babe emerged in the eye of the storm. A peaceful birth into my own hands, a new rush of power swirled in on the February winds. For the first time in years, my body opened willingly; and untold joy appeared.

Cutting wind came from the rear. The storm of grief was not silenced. A penetrating fear rose as I imagined a gaped-grin creator flicking Its tongue at my tears. Outside of my window voices howled. Vulgarities spilled down alleys of social and emotional isolation. Feelings blocked by years of neglect and abuse, the sufferers believed themselves impossible to hear. Rage and pain swirled outside my windows, delivered at top volume. I kept my hand near a paper bag for the panic that would inevitably strike. My body drew into a tight ball of fear.

Eventually, I prayed. No god, no hope, my slippery grace resistant to even the most modest forms of peace, I prayed. One night, from the chair, I heard the sounds of abuse rising from outside. I gripped the chair and squeezed shut my eyes.

Behind my lids, I didn’t see a vision from outside: I saw my boy. I saw his sleeping shape, a soft “s” aglow in quiet light. I needed a way to change this course, to break this line of thinking, to make a way out. I clutched my lap, hung my head, and prayed.

There was nothing there. Nothing I felt, nothing I knew, only something I wanted: hope and purpose. “Here I am!” I cried. “See me!” I cried. “Touch me!” I cried. I lifted my hands to the sky as my tears washed me. From the cradle of that chair I offered my willingness, my will and my life. I offered it to nothing. In my offering, I had one request: touch me. Let me feel you. If I have reason to hope, if I have reason to relax, give me a direction for my life.

A blast from the west drove the tree down on us. We reached for its power as we climbed up and out of the hole. From that first night, I rested my new faith upon it. From our neighbor’s sweltering second floor we watched a strange salmon sky. There was a message in it. It was time to go.

Three-thousand miles lay behind us. From the corn to the plains to the Sand Hills to the mountains, a new faith carried us on. In messages like those from Malachi, I find my peace.

God loves justice. God does not do what he hates. God has a special love for those of us who suffer. Our raging, righteous Jesus champions the cause of every ne’re do well, outcast and struggler as he sweeps us up on his brisk walk to peace. Whatever he asks, I strive to learn. I know I will fail; but the Holy Three will see me trying my tail off to get it right.

Tonight, as I typed here, I watched a flutter rise and fall in the light from my lamp. Eventually, I glanced up to see a ladybug light on the base of the lamp. Conditioned to love ladyBUGS, I scooped it (her) into my hand for release. Earlier, another bug that was first suspected a cockroach had been trapped with a paper and cup for release. I didn’t want to touch it.

The ladybugs feet tickled the inside of my clasped hands as I thought. What other prejudices of mine pollute my thinking? Who said I held beauty in my hands? Who said some brown thing was ugliness? In what other ways do I lack courtesy and fairness? I puffed my creepy-crawly into the wind. I have a lot of thinking to do.

In all of this, I had only one certainty: I love and desire peace, justice and equality. Since my request, I’ve gained much more. A love rose up from beneath me. God has shown me how He makes Himself real in all of you. My cry for my Father was answered by the bounty of hands that appeared, and continue to appear. “Let me feel You,” I asked. And I do.

Invitations

November 20, 2012 in Uncategorized

The past few days have been couched by heavy skies and strong gusts. The verge of something terrible is suggested, but never comes about. Cradled at Kris’s backdoor, the cold winds only entertain us. We eat, drink, play and rest in our safe, little pod. Firmly seated in the thrust of the wind we journey on.

We plan our departures between the gusts. Darting between them keeps us reasonably dry as J strains towards puddles. When is a good time to have a child soaked to the bone? There are few occasions on a 50° day. I think I need to pack several changes of clothes and plan a Puddle Jumping Excursion to give my sweet one a chance to soak himself.

We spent the day at the church cooking for Thanksgiving. Not only was is great to have access to their facilities, it was great to be a part of the liveliness of their day. When I asked Mother Kathleen to use the kitchen, I hadn’t counted on getting to hear bell choir rehearsal. I hadn’t counted on Angie’s company, either.

The babe was transfixed by the sound of the bells. He took a seat and watched them, unmoving, for at least 20 minutes. If his hair ruffled, it was the wisp of a wind sent rolling from the curl of a tuned brass bell.

As I sat out the ingredients, I swore out loud. “Crumbs!” I cried out. A woman walked by as I exclaimed, freezing in her footsteps. “What’s wrong?” she asked me.

I had forgotten eggs. I needed six and I had none. Without provocation or hesitation she hopefully stated, “I can go to the store for you!” I stood humble in her offer. It was all over her face. She wanted to help, I needed the help and God had opened the door for communion and fellowship. I accepted her loving invitation, and was blessed both by eggs and her company. Small steps toward community grow on.

After a long day in the kitchen, I was ready to go home. We had a movie to watch and I had a bed to lay on. As I rounded the corner I found Kris, in front of her computer, wrapped up in her blanket.

She flashed her face to me from its folds in inquisitive surprise. As her eyes caught me, I felt a slight lift. Without her, we wouldn’t be here. The hands that held her blanket had curled themselves around us, drawing us over 3000 miles. Because of her, this had magically become our home.

Hurried, we greeted her as we ran to our tiny house to settle down. I had buttered a piece of cornbread for her. I stuffed it into her hand before retreating to our little home. “You are so good to me,” she said. From the folds of her blanket came the soft glow of love.

A little over a month ago, we met our friend, Arica. She had been here about a month when we first arrived. Partnered with a friend, they followed a job to Longview. The job didn’t pan out; but they decided to set down roots here.

From our first words, Arica and I were connected on the grounds of justice, peace and growth. She works at one of our favorite thrift store, so we have occasion to run into her. A week ago, she invited us to share our first Thanksgiving here with her and her family. “Thanksgiving is a time when you have people over. We don’t have anyone to have over. Come over!”

I took in the warmth of her invitation. They are new in town, just like us. They are flying on faith, just like us. With six little ones in their household, ages 6 to 3 months, this is going to be an experience. I absolutely cannot wait.

When I asked what we could bring, Arica suggested a pan of dressing. “I make a cornbread dressing,” she said. I snatched her arm in sisterly passion. My mother is from the South. If it’s not cornbread, it’s not dressing. We’ll each share our own style, as well as our own style of sweet potatoes. I think this is going to be delicious.

I feel like I’m playing the Trust Game: close your eyes and fall backwards into a friend’s arms. The tree raised a call; the shout itself came from God. We followed it west, to this new place. A reason is waiting for us here. “Close your eyes; and fall,” it’s telling me.

Arica is doing the same thing. She told me from the start that faith was her only option. I believed her as I watched her at her work. She is a woman with love, hope and willingness leading her forward. It was with those full arms that she reached out to me.

I’m standing back. From my vantage point of surrender, I see a net in the making. Woven beneath us, ground forms piece by piece, hand in hand in hand in hand until we wonder where all the hands are coming from. They hold our arms, our legs, our necks, our heads–until they are carrying us.

Through them, God carries us. The hunger for right, for compassion, for the ways of God, draw us on. In the narrow neck of the bottle sisters and brothers are found.

 

Fallen Asleep

November 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

When Erik died, I fell apart in a whole new way. No children to tend to, no little faces to kiss, no reason to be awake at all hours of the night, the death of an only child is absolute. The absolute emptiness, the ugly echo that comes back from a world gone hollow makes it almost impossible to live.

Pain took me over in waves. I’d lay nearly numb and dead, and then suddenly a spasm would draw my body into a knot. Twisting and moaning, my cries were almost gastral in their depth. Throats don’t produce those sounds.

Sometimes, I’d be moving down the hallway and then find myself on the ground. Twisting and groaning, I flailed, buckled and screamed. I didn’t care. “Take me away if you want to,” I felt. “Put me somewhere. I can’t live or function out here like this.”

My child appeared everywhere. Just like with Arthur, I saw him in places he was not. I felt convinced that the right kind of asking would cause him to mysteriously appear in one of his old places–if my request was fulfilled in a certain window of time. Magical thinking. Do you think I am alone? Ask any grieving parent. We enter the realm of the magical when the real ceases to be acceptable.

I would lay on my back in bed most of the day. Sometimes I would just scream out, “NO! NO! NOOOOOOOOOOO! I don’t WANT this identity!!”  I used to liken it to being burned horribly in a fire. No matter what, when you enter a room, the view others have of you will have changed, forever. You are “Her” or “The One”. Now, I am the woman with two dead sons. I am. Or I forget them. Great choice.

Not long ago, a friend told me my blog (I hate that word) had taken a turn for the dark. Revealing how the tape the hospital used tore Arthur’s skin is very upsetting. In the past, another friend commented that sharing his death picture was too gruesome. At the very least, I should photoshop over the missing skin.

In this moment right here, I reach my hand out to every person who grieves like this. I reach out to everyone who appreciates that grief. The things I share are the things that I have. To share otherwise is to embellish. Here, I tell you the untellable truth.

My grieving friends are screaming in support, right now. We hide these feelings while we uncomfortably dodge other people’s fear of our pain. We hear things like, “Well, at least you have this one,” as new babies are expected to take away our grief.  When Arthur died people said, “At least you had two.”  Sorrowfully, that turned out to be true; nonetheless, I don’t think they understood the depth of those words when they spoke them.

Today, in church, our priest asked why it was hard to look at the tough stuff. A door opened beneath me, and I fell in. I pointed my tattooed face down at the glisten of my bright blue, velveteen pants and gripped the floor. Pay attention to pain and don’t flee, she advised.

I froze like prey. Were the people around me so comfortable with pain? Was the horror that met my eyes so foreign to those around? My own grief is only a part of what touches me. The terror of this world is all around. The pitchforks of polite society raised behind me as I ran.

“Grief changes to the reveal the face of love,” I heard. Before we had even talked about pain, we were running from it. We said the word pain, and then sprinted to the safe-line before we could feel a thing. I can still feel the heat of their tiny bodies leaving as I held them in my arms. My fellow parishioners were being led on a sprint. I couldn’t catch up.

I sat through the reassurance like a stone, studying, taking notes. Where did I fall away? Facing pain was likened to birth, the worst of which was identified as transition. My hands remembered the warmth of my children’s bodies, and then it slowly leaking away. Another transition. As I listened, I wondered how the transition from pain to its beauty was being made so fast.

Recently, another grieving mother I know was accused of being obsessed with death. She mentioned her son, Isaac, too much. Had I the time, I would have asked to share his picture in this post. He looks so much like my friend, Jamie. When she and I talk about these things together it is hand-in-glove. All else transcends as we cling together in grief and Christ. Awkward moments like these are impossible.

All grieving mothers share the same experiences. When people dare to mention our children we often weep. “I’m so sorry I made you cry,” they tell us. Don’t they know that we cry whether they can see it or not? We never stop crying. When you mentioned our children, we gain the chance to cry communally. Communal crying is the most healing of cries: don’t help us avoid it. Have the courage to invite it. As our priest said today, “If we stay with it, we have the chance to go deeper.”

But if you’re comfortable, who wants to go deeper? Who wants to experience this grief with me? Will you grab at it, like a kid on a dare, and then dodge before you get the full hit? Really, forget about my grief. I’m far from the only one; and my case is far from the worst. When it comes to those in pain, how does Christ call us to care for one another? How much should we let ourselves share?

We put a fence around pain. In this world, it is more common than joy; but we steel ourselves before we approach it. When my grief is on the table, I watch eyes dance at the edges of my dark Medusa. If you look too closely, you might make it your own.

Yesterday, a friend told me she hurt her back. “It just hurts and I can’t get comfortable,” she told me. From my grief place within I said, “Exactly.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-16

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

 

 

 

 

 

Who Rescued Who?

November 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

The excitement began before today even arrived. Today is Kris’s birthday. The boy and I planned a surprise. I found instructions for baking a cake in a crock pot; so we gathered ingredients for this great one-bowl cake and made it here in the tiny house.

One-Bowl Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup white sugar
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water
Directions:
1. Spray crock of a large slow cooker with cooking spray.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla until well combined. Whisk in the boiling water. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well.
3. Pour the cake batter into the prepared slow cooker.
4. Set slow cooker to “Low”. Cook until cake has no wet spots on top and has pulled away from the sides of the crock, about 3 hours. Turn off slow cooker and allow cake to rest for 30 minutes before serving.

In the dark of the morning, we reviewed the plan. Who was going to do what? Duty lists were established as we had early morning libations. Under a tent made out of blankets, cold coffee gave rise to the course of the day. The name of the game: Cake Surprise.

We tried to be quiet this morning. Kris had been up all night worrying about Pippa. Pippa, one of our cat family, has been seriously ill. She has a genetic disorder that causes blisters in her digestive tract, sometimes making it impossible for her to eat. Plans for treatment exhausted, they decided to do an endoscopy to diagnose the problem. The results, today, would decide the course of her life.

It would be a grief to witness this in anyone; but in Pippa, it is a deeper heartache. When she lays a paw on you, it settles all the way in. Her eyes catch yours and an understanding is passed.

Pippa is one of the smallest cats. slight, with a small, heart-shaped face; but she is the boldest among them all. Her trills and sharp purr-greetings are like none I’ve heard. With her tiny body, she shoves aside four large dogs to ask for my affection. Can I refuse it?

When I consider life without Pippa, my eyes filled with tears. To think of losing her purrs and trills–of course Kris was up all night. Today was the procedure that would decide if Pippa had a chance.

“We have to be very quiet!” I told my boy. “Kris and Pippa have a very important appointment with the doctor today!”

His little cowboy boots clacked down the sidewalk ahead of my words. “O.K.!” sailed back over his shoulder, his sounds twirling through the gold-streaked hair that streamed behind him.

My shoes were half on when I heard Kris’s voice. Across my plane, four swift cats shot train-style through the cat door. Kris’s bewildered face hovered as I caught up, my own agenda shimmering under the cat-terror we’d just caused.

Undaunted, I burst into song. “Happy Birthday to YOU! Happy Birthday to YOU!” as Kris threw up weak hands in nearly sincere defense. Embarrassed and uncomfortable, there was still the warm under glow of love.

Back in high-school, Kris had that characteristic angry swagger that cut a path wherever she went. Her eyes took bites to the right and to the left as she burned a path out of our alien world. She and I left it only to step into the great abyss. As she cautiously dodged our exuberant love, cool smoke drifted above old, quiet fires. Worlds continued to merge.

While Kris was taking Pippa to the vet, we retrieved our ingredients from the fridge. We got a mixing bowl, and ducked back into the tiny house. The kid could hardly contain his excitement. Duty lists? Give me that spoon! Now! Please! The desire to experience things directly was irrepressible. He was an octopus with only one arm on the goal.  It looked a lot like misbehavior; but from another angle, it is enthusiasm unbound.

Batter in the pot, we went for the bowl. As we mixed, I promised he could lick the bowl. Having never done it, he thought I meant he should put his whole head in it. As I scraped batter into the pot he cried out to me, “Please, let me lick it now! Let me put my head in the bowl!” It was only cake; but he was nearly weeping.

People always comment about how intense my emotions are. To some people, I probably seem “dramatic”. Kris is very similar to me in that way. Consider, for a moment, that we are not being dramatic? What would that look like, feel like?

I consider that when I view my boy. What must these new things feel like, at three and three-quarters? Hey, sometimes I could scream for a new sensation. Why not my son?

Finally, I was able to put the bowl on his lap. I explained that licking the bowl meant cleaning it out with fingers and spoons, not actual tongues. Needing no further instruction, he got to his work. Finally free, he smeared two hands in to the elbow. “Look at this!” he cried, shoving both of his sticky hands in my direction. My “Whoa, Babe!” met his enthusiasm as I found release in his absolute joy.

My plan was to serve the cake right in the crock pot, hopefully warm, with melted chocolate chips on top. The chocolate chips were still at the store. Leaving the cake to cook we went for chocolate chips, party hats and uncurling party blowers. I could only imagine Kris being mortified; but somehow, it felt right. It was jubilant love; and we wanted to share it.

Kris’s friend, Sarah, and her mom, Joyce, treated us all to pizza to celebrate the day. I followed Kris there, as she needed her own vehicle to pick up Pippa on the way home. On the way there, I noticed her bumper sticker for the first time.

When we got to the pizza shop, J descended on the nearby box of toys. The adults took a table, and settled in. My new family. I touched my toe to the water. I was ready to show them what I was made of.

The cake held its presence behind me. I felt like a kid, our surprise hidden in the car: when could I bring it out?? Using the threat of rain as an excuse, I grabbed J and dashed into the parking lot.

We sneaked the cake past the front door and lit the candles on a back table. My babe had his party hat perched neatly on top of his shimmering head, a monkey on a bright green background leading the way. From the rear came my denuding call: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU!

I watched Kris’s shoulders hit the deck, and then to writhe in the complicated dance of love and embarrassment. We sat next to each other, our hugs and small touches knitting further the bond of our sisterhood.

It started back then. It started with shoulders, with sharp looks that somehow made me an exception. It grew on the trellis of two fierce hands joined for survival over the miles, and it traveled on ideas built out of mutual faith.

Today, Kris sat in front of her plate. On it, the cake we had made in our tiny house sat waiting. Before she even tasted it, she took a deep breath. Pausing in natural prayer, and I watched her heart give thanks.

Now, I give thanks to you. I love you, Kris.

Dedicated to Veteran Chauncey Eaglehorn

November 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

Memorial for Chauncey Eaglehorn, who gave his life for country in 1918

Member of Company M
167th Infantry
Born 1874
Enlisted April 1917
Killed in Action
at Chateau Thierry
France July 23rd 1918
Those Whole Knew Him Best
Loved Him Most.
He Fought in Defence of
Liberty and Union.
Nobly He Fell While Fighting
for Liberty.
The Bravery of Our Honored Hero
Shall Never Be Forgotten.

While looking through photos last night, I came across this photo of the memorial at Calvary Church at Okreek on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Being Veterans’ Day, I was grateful to be reminded of Chauncey Eaglehorn who, at 43-years-old, felt moved to offer his life and passion to a cause he believed in.

I imagined all the broken hearts he left when he was killed. Unsaid words, unhealed wounds, deep loves: the things of which our lives are made. They put the stone there. They cried around it, placed flowers around it. Layers of ghostly forearms drape at its base in broken-hearted prayer.

As a grieving mother who has fellowship with other grieving parents, this thought creates within me a deep pain. To contemplate the layers of suffering laided over the generations, the poverty, the loss, the broken hope; it becomes too much to contemplate.

Forgotten: one of the grieving parents most persistent worries. Dark thoughts are planted that others will forget your children. You watch their name dwindle in conversation while you fight to keep them alive. That is the pain out of which a memorial is born. It is a broken heart crying, “Don’t Forget!”

This is the season to be awakened to my own loss. Dates and seasons bring memories of my time with Erik. He is remarkable, just like J. Even from a very young age he was keen, connected and ready to go.

 

Everything he did, he did with vigor. He grabbed at life with passion and ferocity, hungry for connection and exploration. We both ached at our unnatural separation, and worked hard to go home.

Throughout those months, we built our connection. We lived for just we two. I cried with him asleep on my chest for the loneliness there would always be; and I cried for myself, being robbed of the pure joy of motherhood. Still, we reached; and we built.

Mama and Erik Zebediah

Don’t forget. I can never let anyone believe that I am the mother of one child. I have to mention Arthur and Erik. Before these remarkable people, I was not a mother. The thing that happened happened only after they were born. It was that magic click, that document-able change that occurs when love ignites hormones in the supernatural womb. Nothing would ever be the same.

I couldn’t have imagined this. I wouldn’t have wanted to imagine it. My sons’ ashes horrify me so that I can’t go near them. I see these beautiful pictures and my heart leaps for joy. Then, everything I am goes running. Impossible.

Another church we visited at the Rosebud Reservation was Grace Chapel. As I grabbed pictures of the church, our friend Mikayla took J up the hill.

At the top, they called out to me. “Come see this!” called Mikayla. “Mama, come!” echoed my son. I hit the slope, clutching my camera. The wind that drove the clouds resisted me; but my eyes were on the crest.

Soon, crosses came into view. I faced a cemetery with graves decorated with flowers and toys. Closest to me were the graves of two children, one a three-year-old boy and another an 18-month-old girl. I froze, then fell apart.

Tears crossed my face in the wind as Mikayla reached for me. One of those dear friends from the road, her spirit penetrated me. My grief rose into her waiting arms, and we carried my grief together.

Cemetery behind Grace Chapel, Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota

I left my babe in her care while I explored the interior. Generations of broken hearts rolled back across the landscape, lost in a thicket of burrs and grass.

Calvary Church on the Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota

Every road I traveled, my children waited for me. My own extraordinary question, I resisted the urge to look for answer. Instead, I stood with my grief. Facing the field of leaning crosses, I let my own grief out to join them. I wailed into the wind, into the grass, into the arms of the mourners still gathered around. Pain lay side by side with peace, clutching The Question between them. They reached for my hands and brought me down into the grass, to the earth, our mother and the place of our birth. With theirs, I joined my memories and watered my faith with my tears.

 

Friends

November 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

Proverbs 18:24
There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

As the dust starts to settle, we cast an eye back towards the chain of friendships we’ve built. The road through the red doors found embrace after embrace, both from within the church and without. Each leg of this journey a leap, hands waited to lift us up or catch our fall–every step of the way. We traveled in faith, love and friendship; and we now enjoy the everlasting love of people across Turtle Island.

Emerging is another kind of relationship. I’ll call it the “Catch You Later.” Something from the spirit speaks up, loves a virtual stranger. An unhearable bell sounds a visceral tone; and a sister or brother is found. Some are for an hour, some a day; but the message within knows that there is eternity within it.

As our road ungulates behind us, friends reach up to wave their hands behind us. Relationships made on the road, or shortly before we left, are still in formation. Distant and limited, I know this is not all. These are just the beginnings. I am watching a family being built.

My friend, Renee, is one of those impromptu family members offered by life. She was there when I escaped the abuse. I had seen her at meetings, but my abuser warned me off of her. A liar, a gossip, heartless and rough, I was to part from this woman at the table. She would do me nothing but ill.

A few days after the door opened, setting me free, I saw her. She saw me, the bruises on my face and hands. “What happened?” she asked right away. She invited me to come to the meetings, and offered to be my friend.

When I first got away, I was nothing. Everything I was made out of lay in flames behind me. I stepped out of the fire scorched to the bone. Having learned not to show signs of life, I played possum. My emotions had all been concentrated in to utter horror and shock, then I was forced to suppress them completely.

Renee was there. With her little boy, and sweet boyfriend, I had the companionship of giving people. They shared their table with me, their hospitality and their love. In the rural deep south, I stand out quite dramatically; but with Renee, I received only acceptance and love. It was that love that began to bring me back to life.

Almost 30 years ago, another friend of mine and I stood restlessly at a street corner. The restlessness came from within, within both of us. The pressing of our minds and our ideas threatened to sweep us away. It was one of those “Catch You Later” friendships as life’s funnel cloud drew us in different directions.

In church, the sermon was centered around a machine called the Gravitron (or something), located in a science museum in Portland. It is comprised of tubes and balls, the balls moving in what appears to be irregular patterns, continuously, throughout the tubes. A few minutes standing in front of it in a museum makes it seem to be random; but in truth, it is a regular pattern that repeats every 15 hours. It was a lesson about randomness. or what seems to be random, from a short vantage point. Maybe it is just our vantage point that makes everything seems so out-of-control.

This evening, I heard a shout outside. Was it a neighbor? Maybe Kris was in trouble. I stepped outside.

“Was that you??” I called across the lawn.

“Yes! I’m worried about a dog!”

I put my shoes on and went to the house. Maybe something was going on with Max, Boomer, Savannah or Buster. I came in through the kitchen to find out what was wrong. My restless friend was busy at the sink, regaining some composure.

“I just can’t stand that barking! Those people across the street, they keep getting dogs.” My restless friend and her restless friends cross each other’s shadows. I understand. How abusers can keep on abusing, how the cycle never stops, is more than I can often bear. This world is so full of suffering. How can any of this be right. I think that is the conversation we were having when the funnel cloud came down.

I often self-talk myself through waves of panic and despair. I also try to remember that the presence of the Holy Spirit is there, urging from within. If I need a hand to hang on to, I only need reach out. The love of God is waiting. All these wonderful people in our lives, whether for an hour, a day or a life time, each bring with the presence that sustains me. God is at work in my life.

Bring Them Up

November 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.

I’d like to say that, in the pre-dawn shadows of morning, I welcome the sun. I’d like to call last glints of starlight playing in my eyes and across my mouth quick kisses thrown to a new day. The truth is, when my babe bolts up at 5:30 or 6, I grab onto the bed like the world is spinning. Lately, I am never ready.

My mental to-do list is very long; and pressure squeezes in with the light. The morning has questions about my purpose, and about how much I deserve the modest share for which I strive. I feel the voice of failure shouting, contracting my nerves in tight, fearful coils.

My child, a three-year-old, just ready for life, sees these tight spots. It’s like he’s found a spider in the grass. “Look!” The small finger reaches forward; and the coil is sprung.

My restrained words are filtered through the coil’s first safety, the tightly pressed lips of my worried mouth; but a three-year-old is a scientist, so what happens next? The “ow” that came at the first tenuous touch is tested with a poke. Then, my tender three-year-old faces an unfair adversary. He awakens the dragon.

I have spent many nights in sad regret. I have read enough about attachment parenting and positive discipline to know what is breaking my child and what is building him. I am ashamed by my failure to resist acting on my feelings as often as I do; and I see the effects.

Today, we watched a movie we rented from the library. We are not t.v. people; but we do watch some movies and documentaries. Since my boy loves Volkswagen Beetles, I had chosen, “Herbie, the Lovebug”.

Watching videos used to be something we did a few times a week; but in my stress, it is something we now do daily. Even in my own fearful, addled state, I watched my son. I saw the familiar signs of self-medication. He is fairly angry with me for my harshness, for my unreasonable limitations, and for my failure to recognize his feelings and rights as an individual. He was watching videos to escape; and felt better when he was “carried away” by the stories. I’ve been there, and I recognized the signs.

I also watched my tiny boy develop a strange, avoidant look that I knew meant he was turning off his emotions. When I saw that, my shame grew deeper.

Proponents of Positive Discipline are not just “Big Softies”. We are people who recognize that the breaks occur in childhood that follow us for the rest of our lives. We are also people who recognize that a society with more peaceful, compassionate people could change the face of the world.

My little one eased his hurts by asking to watch more and more, while my own capacity for video ran out. Before I reached my own stress point, I finally took action. Reaching deep for all the tools I had read about, I stopped taking it personally and sat very still.

“Babe, when this video is done, we need to go out. If you ask for another, I will say no. We have seen enough video for one day.”

With all of my faculties, I imposed peace on my coiled frame. With a deliberately quiet voice I said, “We’ve watched videos long enough. It’s time to turn it off.”

My babe disintegrated. “NO!! NOOOOOOOO!! I have to see the one where they tell about the other Herbies; THEN, we can go!”.

I am a PD wanna-be; but I still recognized what I saw. This was a chance, using a small point of contention, for him to “unpack” a very heavy load. With a slow, quiet breath, I held my ground.

His emotions broke through like a rocket. His tiny body pivoted to face the wall. “I am going to kick that picture OFF–THIS–WALL!!!!!!!!!” he cried, stamping his feet against the wall directly under a picture I had hung. “I’m going to make it FALL!!!”

In the past, my first thoughts had been for respect for property. My own anxiety worried that he might kick a hole in something or break something for real. Today, I let my love for him come first as I saw his rage and pain pummel that wall. Instead of panic for myself, I felt tears prick my eyes with the depth of his hurt.

I kept my voice low when I spoke. “I can see that you are very angry. You have some very big feelings, right now.”

He kicked even harder as my words gave permission for more expression. My own concerns, and my desire for resolution were shoved to the bottom. I looked honestly at my broken-hearted son. I reflected honestly on all the times I lacked patience, compassion or the ability to compromise. I saw all the times I had shut him down for convenience. I promised myself to never do it, again.

“It’s ok, J,” I said. “You have some very big, scary feelings, right now. I won’t leave you alone with them. I will stay with you. I will stay right here. Feel your feelings. I will help you.” With my words, I begged for a second chance.

It is me always harping about love, about justice, about peace. It is me always talking about a fair world where everyone matters. It is me trying to instill these values in my own child while I rush him through the difficult process of becoming a part of this unnatural world. He looks at me and sees a liar. I look at me and see someone struggling to live by love.

I pray for redemption. I pray for the courage not to take it personally. I pray for the ability to see the emotion behind the expression; and to learn what age-appropriate behavior really is. I watched my son kick the wall for about five minutes before I tried to say more.

“You have a lot of big, bad feelings inside.”

“YEAH!!!!!! I DO!!!!!!! That is why I kick this wall!”

“When you watch videos, it makes those feelings go away!”

“YES!! YES, It does make it go away! That is why you have to turn it BACK ON!! Right NOW! Please!!!” He curled up in a ball, wracked with honest pain.

“We’ll find another way to make it better, Babe; I promise you. Let’s start with a hug, a kiss, and going to the park. Let’s play together; do you want to??”

It wasn’t as smooth as that. Before we could even leave, I asked him to show me his bad feelings. He reached inside of his body to pull out a mass. In two extended hands, the brown marbles of his eyes locked mine as he showed me. “It is brown and green,” he said. Between us, it came to life. We described it and acknowledged it.

“Does it have a face?” I asked him. He said it didn’t; but used his arms to show its dimensions. Each feeling that came after that was cataloged, described and given to me to throw in a crash can. At each step, I stayed open.

He saw me genuinely join him in his experience as we explored it, together. After he removed feelings from his skins, calves, behind, back and sides, he moved into play. We left for the park, after good hugs and kisses, with open hearts.

Getting to each level took patience and time; but in the end, my son and I were connected. At the park, I asked for his help. Being a poor climber and athlete, my request was an honest one. Together, we conquered new obstacles; and we returned home friends.

I say I value peace, compassion, justice, humility. My child stands right in front of me; and extends to me the most honest of calls. The greatest opportunities to practice justice, humility, compassion and peace stand right in front of me. My own attempt at creation, I owe my sweet one my all.

Our ability to view one another in that same genorous light is the foundation of any peaceful future. Being a receiver of grace is easy; extending it can be almost impossible.

Help me love others the way You love me, Father. Especially my own dear, sweet one. Amen.

The Narrow Door

November 8, 2012 in Uncategorized

A little over a month ago, we got on the road. I felt like my tail was on fire with the desire to run. My hunger for escape laid my hands on a rope that dragged us forward, one town at a time.

In a moving van with car hitched in back, I traced every mile. The tip of my toe sent every bump to the hip as the landscape tumbled like a Magic 8 Ball. We rolled onto unknown terrain, sometimes by the hour, as everything we knew fell away. Our own car bounced behind, worn rear tires eating asphalt. I kept my mind in today and tried not to panic. It was in the hands of The Spirit.

I’ve been sorting through pictures from the trip, looking for ones to offer as prints or as greeting cards. I am thinking of also turning them into mugs and shirts. Handling thousands of cumbersome files, I am reliving it all. A month ago? Surely, more; or in a dream, perhaps.

Original glass from Saint John’s in Glenwood, Iowa

We touched these places? Really, I can’t believe we’ve moved. I see houses, trees, sky. The ground responds to my step. Where am I? On one side, shocking blue is edged in puffs of white. Flick the eye to the left, and storms approach.

Kris took us to a grey, volcanic beach. Huge hunks of driftwood cover, as if on display. Bits of Mount Saint Helens litter the path. My babe ran, like a kid needs to do. My heart ran with him as I waited for what direction to follow.

Colorado River

Luke 13:24. Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.

I want in. It’s like my anthem. All of my life, I’ve stood outside of the gate. From our place outside, we took passage. We went by way of the Episcopal Church. For any who love justice and peace, the doors open wide.

That verse is a show stopper. For many, it is used as a banner for their version of Christianity, one that leaves many people standing outside the gate. It was those very views that separated me from church for a very long time. The exclusiveness that seemed to hang around the religion made me want no part of it.

When I listen to Jesus, I hear a message very different from the one I’ve gotten from churches. I hear the message of the narrow door. It is narrow, just like the verse says; but not for the reasons often sited. It’s not easy to love. It’s not easy to share. It’s not easy to refrain from judgement. It’s not easy to always look for Christ in others, or to respond to it. The difficulty of those tasks, and the difficulty we sometimes have honoring their importance, makes the door quite narrow, indeed.

It was by surrender that we passed through it, again and again, until the doors opened on the other coast. The desire for concrete answers and plans consumes me. I want, so badly, to bend the future to my will. Even without the van, we strain forward with each mile.

Daily, I give it to God. Daily, I try to take the right steps and surrender the results. The book, my plans for my work, it all swirls in front of my tired eyes as I strain to pin it down.

I want to do my part to illuminate the peace and justice of the narrow door. I want all of those people who are just like me, people who would love to be a part of a church but never could fit in, to know that there is a place for them. I think that’s why we are here. Purpose still gurgles at the edges of my exhaustion as I try to understand what might be ahead.

A parenting article I read today said, “Rest, Refuel and Ask for Help.” I am a single mother. I don’t have the resources to support that advice. I remind myself that those circumstances might be essential to the light we shine on another’s path.

So, we wait, do the next right thing, and keep walking towards the door.

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
 
– Sir Winston Churchill 

We Who Believe in Freedom

November 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

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