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.

 

 

 

Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Castle Rock, Washington

December 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

Isaiah 1:11-20

11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

This Sunday, we decided to shake things up a bit. The longing for the road has not left us and we wanted to start experiencing some of the area’s other Episcopal Churches. We threw a dart at Saint Matthew’s in Castle Rock, and then took to the road.

Movement, on any morning, offers me a challenge. A pot of hot coffee used to motivate me; but I am finding it harder and harder to rise from the bed. A groggy awakening led to bins of clothes rapidly slid and coffee rapidly slurped. Cups full of fruit and granola passed hands between refills of milk, with probably one milky latte making its way into the mix. Fueled and fed, our ready souls were ferried towards the door.

I couldn’t believe how great the road felt. When my wheels hit the interstate, my back let out slack. We were moving. This was more like it. Finances have us grounded, but movement is our natural state. Volcanic mountains rose and fell to my sweet one’s cries of delight. A moist, foggy morning enclosed us as Washington offered its all. Freedom.

A sudden exit, a snail’s shell spiral of turns, and our bumper faced a small, modern grey building with two unassuming red doors. My emotions went through possible experiences within like an animated flip-book. Whatever waited on the other side of that door, I was ready.

A single woman in a white robe sat at the lectern. The wood-paneled walls enclosed a small, modern space that was just beginning to respond to its heaters. From her bent position, her smiling face rose. “Welcome! We’re so glad to have you! We gather in the back before services. You’re welcome to join them.”

I turned my neck to look behind me. A small group of friends sat in front of coffee at a communal table. Already a woman was approaching, arms open wide. “Hi!” she offered. “Come on back. We do have Sunday School, if you’re interested.” There were no other kids, and my babe always stays in services, but her words shaped a funnel through which I willing spun. I fell down, down into Saint Matthew’s embrace.

“My boy loves to be in church,” I told her. “He won’t miss communion.”

I only saw a moment’s dip in her enthusiasm. “No commune today. Our priest is away, so it’s morning prayer.” Nonetheless, the open faces and hands all around us fed that communal need. With the tiny fray, we were swept into the nave.

Including us, there were 11 congregants. I grinned like a school girl at a summer dance. Eyes flicked our way continually, full of round, rich smiles and genuine love. Not one eye turned away from us as we followed along doing the Episcopalian Book Shuffle. It was like coming home.

My boy was dying to know about the bell. From behind a small electric organ, the organist was ringing a bell with a full, long, lifting tone. My boy wanted to see it. As we greeted one another during The Peace, he asked to see the bell. The kind organist, Ken, in his jacket and t-shirt, lifted a meditation bowl and wooden striker. Gently he touched the bowl and an unavoidable “Om” rose out. My boy asked to touch the bowl to stop the sound, just in play. I heard a woman say, “Ken likes to let the sound ring out.”

As The Peace was ending, my boy ran back to me. The tone of the meditation bowl was still fading as he hung a sharp left. His toe caught, and he was sailing forward. The sound of wood on flesh broke my chest in two. I scooped him off the floor before his stunned reaction could sink in. His forehead was nearly split and the goose egg rose as I watched.

Brokenhearted cries filled the church. Songs were sung and prayers made as he wept into my chest on the bench. In each pained tear sat a seed of frustration, hurt, or a hope denied. The stress of our travels and our new adjustments all joined his mournful throbs as they sang out a chorus of grief and sorrow. I rocked and rocked, and I prayed and prayed. Lord guide us into a better future, and shape me into a better mother.

As the service ended, our Sunday School friend returned. There was a sandbox. Suddenly, a small window opened that led away from tears. The surrounding smell of foods materialized our plates. Each bite I ate was tinged with my sweet one’s well-worked sand.

“We’re a family!” Mary, one dear sister, offered. Her face shone with pride and love. It was all so different from our experiences in our new hometown. As we moved through its stores and streets, the people there made us invisible in a single glance. Behind us we left a community of loving friends. Here, when my boy approaches, most work hard not to hear his voice. At Saint Matthew’s, we were instantly a part of the family.

They listened as I shared our trip and the project around it. Eager eyes followed as I shared the history and beauty of some of the churches. Waiting laughter met our stories of fellowship, and of the road. Suddenly, I froze.

“WAIT!” I cried, with all urgency. “No one leave, yet!”

I ran through grey drizzle to the trunk of my car. In a tussle of unloaded cargo sat a paisley, pink bag. Within, the last of the chaplets from Saint John’s in Glenwood, Iowa. Treasures. I had been very careful with these last few.

I burst through the door with nine chaplets hugged to my chest. I blurted out the story as I spread them out on the table. “Erika!” Mary gasped, and I knew I had done the right thing to save them. Click. The fellowship of Jesus went right down to the heart.

Our Sunday School friend had clerical work to do. She invited my sweet one’s help, and he learned a lot about the printer. Soft eyes touched us and warm arms hugged us. My tattooed face was no different from any other in the room. In our fellowship, I felt the real presence of the Jesus’ own message.

Love. It’s such a hard concept, so hard to practice and so hard to feel. It’s all love. As soon as you think you’ve lowered yourself enough, you need to go a little more. Love. You see a face like mine coming? Look at the eyes. Look deeper, now lower yourself, and look further. Listen to the voice. Consider what it represents. Walk in Love.

People love to snip this passage from Isaiah.

18 …Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;

We love the part where our yucky red sins turn white. Still, while we sit in comfort, look back. Before he offers forgiveness, the Lord sends out this call:

17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

Is that what we find in our churches? In the parish hall of Saint Matthew’s, Ken, the organist and ringer of the mediation bowl described a cathedral he’d visited in Washington. “They said they left the Cathedral so open so its spaces could fill with love.” From his kind eyes came nothing but.

Thank you, Saint Matthew’s. We’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

 

Like-Minded

December 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Philippians 2:1-11

2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Like-minded. Do nothing out of vain conceit; value others above yourselves. We know what Jesus was like here on the earth. Jesus was passionate about inclusion. Jesus was passionate about compassion, forgiveness, humility, generosity. Jesus traveled from place to place with empty pockets, depending on the generosity of others to sustain him and his companions. God would show them the way they should go. They lived, day to day, on love, fellowship and prayer.

With no property taxes or stock options or insurance, it was life on the brink. Jesus advised not to be invested in this world. Jesus said that if you love life in this awful place, it’s all yours. For those who hate it, you’re coming with me. Two will stand in a field and one will go *POOF*, just like that. Is it a literal poof or a figurative description of a complex idea? In the Episcopal Church, take your pick. That really helps me with these concepts.

I’m like those who clambered after the hem of his garment. I’m blubbering and frightened, desperate for a miracle. Not only does this world not attract, it terrifies. The words of so many Great Teachers are ignored and it’s countless fragile systems are bullied into the arms of destruction in which the unnatural stampedes.

Christianity is Jesus. Jesus was something new. Jesus was a radical who loved everyone, especially those nobody else loved. It wasn’t about who you were; it was about what you wanted and who you wanted to be. Values. Behaviors. The whole system is based on love. Who is ready to throw it all, throw it ALL, on love?

Christianity has more followers than any religion of the world. Why are we at war? Why are people hungry? Why do some have so much while others have nothing at all? We dominate the world. Why do the values of Christ not dominate?

This is one of the questions that kept me away from religion. At times, this question enraged me. I churned in the dark in bitter fear. My clutched hands twitched around the space in which I hoped to conjure the answer. Say it. Justify this horror and I will strangle you.

The Episcopal Church doesn’t justify it. When I ask my questions there, I often find peace. Like a thirsty animal who discovers a trickle, I lap and lap until I get my fill. I stay near. I know my thirst will return. When I stretch out my hands for communion my whole life waits within them; and that barest of  trickles runs down the back of my neck.

At the dark edges of fear, I knit myself to God. I hear the clear, bold instructions that come from the teachings of Jesus (and many others, I’ve found) and it brings me peace. Somewhere, someone is believing this. Behind my closed eyes I see sisters and brothers; I feel the touch of distant hands. I see a place where we nurture peace. Sustaining these visions is is not easy; but I know we’re in it together, and that helps.

A few days ago a letter came in the mail. Our friend, Hannah, was reaching out. Hannah, only 17, has lived her whole life in the Ohio Valley. The Ohio Valley can be a very protected, limiting way of growing up; but, somehow, in this silenced place, Hannah is pressing at its edges as she blooms.

In her letter, she shared a solo and impromptu human rights action that she originated. After observing six of her classmates chanting another student towards suicide, my shy Hannah was lifted by ire. Knowing that no actions would be taken against the aggressors, she addressed the injustice herself.

She stood in front of the lunchroom and requested its attention. With a small carton of milk in hand, she made a clear statement about the lack of follow-through on current bullying policies, and then ceremoniously poured the milk over the heads of the abusers. Trembling, in a world almost outside of herself, sweet Hannah was embraced with eruption of applause.

When the night is dark, it is lights like Hannah’s that shine. In a recent speech, Hannah raised challenging questions regarding the true equality and justice among people, and the corruption of current systems of justice and democracy. When I hear these ideas rising up from that narrow valley, I want to leap up with gratitude and celebration.

As a result of her errant behavior, Hannah is now head of an anti-bullying group in formation. There are a lot of exciting ideas fueling her life. As I read the folded pages describing her action, my nose receives a gentle cloud of her scent. The smell of rain and clouds, it’s the scent of a radical.

The other night, a text from her came through. Could I talk? With the babe asleep in the tiny house, I had to take the conversation outside. My back hugged Kris’s house just under the eaves as Hannah shared with me her plans and designs.

I was transfixed. Clear statements of justice and equality, clear values based on love, frame every idea that she sets forth. I hear with such clarity things I hope the world to learn. If it’s coming from this young thing maybe there is a chance. Her words offer a cool trickle on a very dry rock. I drink; and, in motherly admiration, I wait.

My respect for her keeps growing as I appreciate the ways her goodness could impact the world. I was trying to tell her how awesome she is last night. Instead, she pointed me back to her ideas and away from her. In humility, she values others above herself and seeks continually to find new ways to share the good love that comes from God. As the way opens before her, she bows continually in deference. Hers is the path of a peacemaker.

Like-minded. We dominate the world, yet chaos dominates the world. What good is it to follow Christ on paper only? What does it look like when we really love, really welcome, really receive. What does it look like when we stop looking for fault in others (really stop), and start focusing on making ourselves more loving, tolerant and humble?

To me, it looks like peace.


 

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.

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