You Answered

February 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

Psalm 138

  When I called, you answered me; *
you increased my strength within me.

Eight months ago, my son and I lay in the thick heat of our neighbor’s upstairs bedroom, stunned and alive. We wrapped one another in sweat-slicked arms and stared with awe at the salmon glow of sunset. A few hours before, a historic storm had driven a tree through our bedroom roof. When I pulled him out from under our ruptured ceiling only the urgency of life was present within me. In the strange peace that followed, a clear voice spoke a single word: Go.

I prayed. Father, show me the way. Show me the open doors. One by one, in the wake of the storm, we watched. Some doors slammed shut while some fell open. When they opened, we walked through. Through people and prayer, we got a clear message. We laid a path for the west.

If we didn’t need it, we sold it. Trips to the post office diminished our load and increased our resources. Still, when we left, we’d spent all that we had. We had a moving van, some food, and enough money to get us about half way across the country. In the early light of morning, we hugged our friends and drove away.

I focused on the project. I focused on exploration, learning and teaching my son. I left the big questions up to God. My faith is my passion. More than habit, more than obligation, more than expectation: I love the ways of the Lord. Most especially, I love the way they are expressed in the message of the Episcopal Church. We would explore it, document it, and share it. We weren’t just moving to the Pacific Northwest. Our journey had a deeper purpose. I felt I had given my life over to the service of our Father.

Through the grace of God, and the love of our sisters and brothers, here we are. We left because of a message; we arrived because of love. We didn’t drive here: we were passed, hand to hand, arm to arm, cradled like children in the arms of God. Not one step of this journey happened without the love and support of people who cared for us and believe in our goals. Not one.

We’ve been in this new place for four months. Not every moment of life here has glimmered with the golden glow of angels. We are really struggling. Learning new places, new people, new ways and new surroundings, we tread water with the tenacity of rats. My son carves his way into the hearts of our neighbors, and we learn what it means to walk in love. Still, the results are up to God.

I am also left to deal with life in practicality. I need to rebuild my career. Before we left, I was working on a big, independent project. I had been illustrating the Hebrew alphabet for young readers. With no support here, finding a working rhythm has been a real challenge. Still with pecking and persistence, and a lot of support from my sweet young son, I have finally finished it.

hebrew alphabet. Vov for Vicuña

It’s a piece of the puzzle. A few years ago, I was making comfortable money illustrating educational materials. That had been my career for over a dozen years. When that work disappeared due to outsourcing, I was lost. Now, in a new economic climate, with a new baby, on my own; I started, again.

Hebrew Alphabet, Resh the Raccoon

Maybe that’s not the best time to drive a moving van across the country, your car wiggling behind it like the tail of a fish. Maybe that is not the best time to spend every cent you have, sell anything you could call an asset and take to the road with only your three-year-old for back-up. Maybe not. Maybe when your career is in the toilet and you are terrified of the future… Well, maybe that’s when you put away your mind, thrust yourself into prayer, and follow the signs thrown up by faith until you find yourself shipwrecked on a brand new shore.

Hebrew Alphabet, Zayin the Fly

And here we are. Everything is wet. Everything is covered with moss. We have 99 square feet of living space, and we are down to our last resources.

And in the miracle of God’s timing, here is my alphabet. Done. Ready for market. Prints, cards, posters, shirts, place mats, necklaces, pillows, stickers and everything else I can think of will be adorned with it. When I find a publisher, it will also be a book. Within a few days, products will be available.

About a week ago, we both got sick. Life is miserable for the sick, and even more challenging when you only have 99 square feet to entertain the lackluster and ill-tempered. Though I generally avoid T.V., we put on Mr. Rogers. We watched it for nine hours straight.

I’ll tell you this about Mr. Rogers: I am his number-one-fan. Mr. Rogers embodies everything espoused by positive discipline, attachment parenting, and Jesus Christ. By the end of nine hours, I was weeping and shaking my fist in the air. Fred Rogers is one of my personal heroes. For my sweet one, my passion was hard to understand.

For J, it was different. He loved the encouragement, the value of his imagination and curiosity. Still, none of that was worth my tears to him. He doesn’t know how bad the world is. Only the adult knowledge of evil can allow Mr. Rogers to really be upheld as an embodiment of justice, peace and equality.

I watched Fred Rogers pretend and play, digging in sand, working puppets, singing, putting on voices, and my heart broke over the sharp stone of my own history. Here was the love I always wanted. Here it was. Framed in respect, compassion and inclusion, came the voice of God.

When I was a child, I was as weird as I am now. I was just as unwanted, as odd, as unconventional. Growing up where I did was hard. Even as a teenager, I would watch Mr. Rogers. “People can like you *just the way you are*,” he told me. I would sit in front of the television and weep.

I remember being twelve years old and coming home from my paper route. I had a secret. One of my customers on my paper route had molested me and sworn me to secrecy. My world, ever since, had grown dark.

When I came home, my mother was in the kitchen. I was lost, broken, and sick in spirit. Fred Rogers was on the television. “It’s you I like, every part of you…” I sat down. With my newspaper bag still over my shoulder, I sat down in front of the television, mesmerized by the love in his face. Before he was done singing, my face was wet with tears. Don’t put on your coat, Mr. Rogers. Please don’t leave. Please don’t leave me.

On that sick day, I felt it, again. Please don’t leave me, Mr. Rogers. Please don’t leave me. I brought my baby all the way across the country, Mr. Rogers. I am a failure, Mr. Rogers. All my love and desire has only amounted to struggle, Mr. Rogers. If I am so worthy, then why am I fighting so hard, Mr. Rogers?

Then, in a flurry of panic, I finished this project. To an outsider, it may not seem like much; but to me, it is quite a lot. This aleph bet (alphabet) is the great seed of our new arrival. It is the great seed of my new career. My son’s dance lessons are in this seed. The continuation of our lives our in it. It is the beginning of a new beginning, my humble offering to a brand new start.

I’ll share with you my constant prayer: Let me be a beacon for your message God; a channel for your light.”

Hebrew Aleph Bet (Alphabet). Mem for Macaque

John 6:35

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Isaac

February 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

John 11

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

 

Wednesday night, when I got to my desk, I had 28 messages from my friend, D. We met through a local moms’ group back in West Virginia and bonded over our shared pain: we are both grieving mothers.

******

are you around?

i need to vent

Isaac

Issac

 

I’m going to write, b/c I have to get this off my chest …..Its come to my attention today that grieving mothers are not allowed to “offend” anyone.

My sister is having a baby this weekend and she doesn’t know the gender, i got an email from my mom saying that they know i will be upset if it is a boy, but we can’t take her joy away from her newly born child.

I wrote back asking her if she really felt it was necessary to write such a thing to me.

I wouldn’t want to offend anyone with my circumstances and my life.

Maybe I shouldn’t even come around if it is a boy, i might offend someone if i get teary eyes.

I wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable and feel what it is to walk in my shoes every day because they ask me how many kids I have and i say three, two daughters and a son who died.

I wouldn’t want to offend them.

I wouldn’t want to make them uncomfortable. I would rather let them live in the imaginary world where everything is peaches and sunshine and no one dies and everyone is ok and happy. I wouldn’t want to give them a hint of what my life really is. It is probably better to be fake then be real. Because I might offend someone.

I might make them uncomfortable because I have a son who is dead, like its a disease that is contagious. I might rub off on someone, so hold your son tight when I tell you and offend you. because you never know how my offensive life might affect your perfect world.

I wouldn’t want to remind someone that the world is broken and so am I, that i get up every day and cry or have to hold back tears for the emptiness in my heart. It might offend someone to see the empty place.

To see the pain and the empty arms that I felt, to feel the pain of what it was like to look into my sons eyes for the last time, to hold him when he took his last breath. To visit his grave once a month. It might offend someone.

Or maybe it will offend someone if I post pictures of my son’s headstone with my living children beside it because we took him balloons or flowers, our missing link to my family in buried there. The brother that never got to fight with them or protect them, or get to know them. I guess taking my children there so they can know they indeed have a brother, might be offensive.

Its funny really, because no one worries about offending me.

Me, with the broken dreams and empty heart. Me, with the millions of sleepless nights and nights of tears and wailing for my arms to be filled.

Me, who had to sit at christmas dinner and actually hear about my sisters pregnancy when my father says “maybe I will finally get a grandson.” no one worried about offending me.

No one seems to worry about offending me by forgetting them have a nephew or a grandson.

No one worries about forgetting to mention my first child and just skipping to the second and third when they talk about my kids.

People and close friends didn’t worry about offending me when they stopped talking to us after Isaac died so that they “gave us space” It might have made them uncomfortable to be around me anyway. Maybe they would have been offended. I guess I wasn’t offended when friends stopped communicating with us because of their own fears.

no one worries about offending me when they say things like “he’s in a better place” “you can have other children” “God is in control.” and the dreaded “God wont give you more then you can handle” I guess that is not offensive….or people think I shouldn’t be offended.

But what the hell do they know. they have never lived through my hell.

They have never had to put a child in the bassinett at the hospital so he could be taken to the morgue. They have never had to close the lid on a casket containing their child. They have never had to watch their other children grow up without their brother. They have never had to hear the bus go by on the first day of school that their son would have started that year. They have never had to sit at a tree in memory of their son in their back yard and try to feel peace or some resemblance of memory for their dead son. They don’t wake up for fear of their others childrens’ lives, because losing another one would be a definite ticket to insanity. They don’t have to feel the anxiety and pit in their stomach if they even think about going to children’s hospital to take their other child to an appointment. It might be offensive to think about those things.

I wouldn’t want to take away anyone’s joy.

anyone’s naive life and pollute it with my offensive life.

If I could change it I would be less offensive, but this is the life I have and I am not willing to forget my son and leave him out of my family just so I’m less offensive to others.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

******

isaac

isaac

I wanted to share D’s messages to me because they so eloquently convey the private pain of a parent’s grief. These are the kinds of words we share with each other; but rarely dare to share with outsiders. The death of a child is so unspeakable, so horrific, that those who experience it can become almost untouchable. D’s friends faded away when Isaac died. I lost friends, too.

Among my grieving friends, we share what happens when we show our pain more openly. People recoil. They want to make it o.k., make it go away, find a way to fix it. We experience a surge in our agony as friends glob solutions onto our wounds. Their solutions are swallowed in the chasm of our grief. We learn to only share the depth of our pain with those who also live with it.

Some things cannot be fixed. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for pain like this is just see it, respect it, sit with it and let it be. Remember our children. Acknowledge our children; respect that we are not going to recover; and let us, as we are, live among you.

Jesus knew that Lazarus was going to be just fine, ultimately. Still, he respected so much the pain of his friends that his own heart broke with compassion. He didn’t tell Mary that Lazarus was an angel, now. He didn’t tell her that God knows best or that it was His Father’s will. He didn’t even tell her that it was going to get better. He felt her grief; he respected her grief; and, together, they cried.

Freak

February 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

“You have to know what exclusion is to know what welcome is.”

Father Randy Goeke
St Mary’s Episcopal Church; Bassett, Nebraska

Psalm 56

  Whenever I am afraid, *
I will put my trust in you.

When a storm-felled tree cut through my complacency, it set in motion a continuously unfurling set of events that led us across the nation. Four months ago today, we entered the Sand Hills of Nebraska to spend the glorious 5th of October with Father Randy Goeke and the congregation of St. Mary’s.

I parked on the outskirts of a sand-blown, sand-colored town. It looked more like Old West movies than anything I had ever seen. I dropped from the truck, slipping into the blustery, sand-strewn cold. Ahead of me, another vehicle had parked. A radiant man turned to me, clutched his scarf and ran. I had found Father Goeke.

I fell instantly into the sea of Father Goeke’s eyes. The air crackled, and we were united. Loneliness fell away. In the arms of Father Goeke, and the people of St. Mary’s, we were home. At the dinner they held for us, there were real people, glowing with the desire for good. They reached out to take care of us. In the humility of their care, our souls rose.

For someone like me, these experiences are precious. All of my life, I have been different. Few hesitated to point it out, and I have been reminded time and again of how little I have in common with the “regular” world. An outsider who could never find the door, I had placed both of my hands on the gateway west; and pushed. A lonely heart hauled herself forward on a thin rope of hope. Maybe acceptance was on the other side.

Here we are. With few resources to explore, it can feel like we just shifted from one side of God’s immeasurable palm to the other. jettisoned, wormhole style, from an east coast pod to our west coast one, my heart sank as I again met the question: Where is the door?

Of course, upon arrival, I reminded myself of what a reject I have always been. I hoped for a nitch as I inched forward, heart-first. I spun on my heel from our new stuck place, meeting this new world with my open-book smile. “Hi! I’m really vulnerable! I am traumatized! I am a reject! Want to be my friend?”

That is a terrible approach, I know; but I don’t know any other way. In my life, where reservation would have protected me, I have stunt-cartwheeled through the paper walls. No matter how I try to hold back, ultimately, I loose my battle cry: Tada!  Here is everything I am! Do you like it??

Many have not. I am told that I am a little much for ordinary people. Too intense, too open, to emotional, too opinionated, too weird. Too much. Mostly, I have been a satellite on the edge of others’ lives. I was told a sea of ideas churned in the west. Here, it would be different.

One of the things that brought us west was the search for shared ideas. I wanted to be a part of a community that shared similar views regarding our planet, how we should live with it, and how we should live with one another. That is what I like so much about Jesus; and I wanted more of it in a more intense and immediate way. I wanted to know other parents like me, homeschoolers and unschoolers committed to creating a different kind of world.

Almost four months into this new world, we began discovering play groups and attending story hour at the library. These play groups are terrifying places for me. I am the freak. Single mother by choice, older mother, grieving mother, wild hippie-liberal-episcopalian-tattoo faced mother, I look around and I feel alone. The other mothers are not going to like someone like me. I am always an outsider. Still, I made my cartwheeling entrance and took my place on the floor.

Then, last week, I saw someone from our new church at story hour. We accidentally stumbled into the subject of home schooling. She shared with me about a new group forming, a group of homeschoolers/unschoolers wanting to connect. Was I seriously interested in home schooling, too? Good; then, I was welcome.

I moved forward with trepidation. Through the Facebook group, I reached out to a few of the parents before embarking. I hoped to break the ice. They seemed very nice; still, once they saw me and talked to me, they were going to know. They would see that thing that everyone always sees about me. They would see what others see in my disposition and personality that sets me apart. My invisible stain would let out its colors, marking me the clown.

We put some gas in the car and headed to the meeting place. The rare drive aired out our sails. The kid has been telling me recently that he needs to get back on the road. He wants to see more churches and stay in motels, he says. He wants to see new landscapes. Today, we scratched just a little of that itch as we headed into the hills.

Parents moved around in the parking lot, making their way upstairs. As soon as we neared the building, we could hear the tinkling sound of young joy above. Running across the wooden floor, they leapt through webs of shouts and laughter. The echo in the room came back to me. In all their happiness, my stomach cramped with fear. I was familiar with rooms like these. In rooms like these, I was never chosen. Last one picked for the team. Different different different, my mind told me as I went through the door.

I saw one of the women I had spoken to online. I hurried to her for an embrace. A small bit of fear rolled down my spine as I moved. A wild-haired artist and older mother, like me, I knew I had at least one familiar in the group. I tried to let go of a little more fear.

Soon, another new friend found me. Before I knew it, I was standing in small group sharing ideas and interests, climbing up, up, up through the varied landscape of our common ground. I drank yummy coffee and engaged in one comfortable chat after another. Before I knew it, my shoes were under the bench and I knew at least half of their names. I stood shoulder to shoulder, one of the crowd.

As I stood in the small group of chatting parents, a new couple came through the door. The man was smothered in tattoos, giant rings hanging from his stretched out ears. I reached toward his effervescent wife who immediately seized my hand and pumped it with great sincerity. “You are an amazing writer!” she cried, her eyes alive and connected. I felt my mouth fall open. My hungry heart ate from her generous plate. This was all so new.

She wasn’t the only one who mentioned having read my blog. Another mother told me that her and her husband both were exploring it. He had seen the link while hanging out with friends, she told me. “He was reading it while he was playing cards,” she said. “He started crying right at the table.” I imagined this, wrapped myself in it, and ate of their good food.

I wish I could have seen my own face in those moments. A zero, a nothing, a skittering shape at the edge of real life, people were seeing me. People were talking to me. People were embracing me. My ideas were not weird. My ideas were just like theirs. No one had to reach to find me. We were all right there.

My kid joined the mob of kids, running, crawling, bopping, zooming. Then, he needed to touch base. As I stood in the crowd of our new friends, a blue train tent edged in from below. My son was inside of it.

“Mama! Mama! Look at this!” A balloon exited a soft cloth window. With my toe, I poked it back in. “Mama! Mama! Look!” The balloon popped out, again. This time, I tucked it back in through the door. The cloth train jiggled and bounced, poking the gathered adults as they conversed. I felt myself grow anxious as he pushed forward even more. Just a week before someone had chided me for never leaving him with a sitter, for including him in all that I do.

I felt my face grow warm with apology, “He wants to be near mama. He needs to connect…”

“As he should!” a new friend cried, clapped a hand to my sagging shoulder. I blinked and blinked, unaccustomed to this new, accepting light. A few more offered the same. “Yes, of course!” I heard. After a few minutes, the little blue engine moved on.

One after the other, I made their acquaintance. One after the other, walls of my own making fell away. Soon, and maybe for the first time, I was one in the number. I was not the different one. I was just one. And One.

The group is full of ideas. We have walks to take, museums to visit, clay to mold, caves to explore. For me, this is like a miracle. I feel like a kid rolling down an ice cream mountain into a hot fudge lake. I have also changed my battle cry:

WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

and WE.

 

 

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