Grassroots Marketing

March 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

Psalm 69

15   In your great mercy, O God, *
answer me with your unfailing help.
16   Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; *
let me be rescued from those who hate me and out of the deep waters.
17   Let not the torrent of waters wash over me, neither let the deep swallow me up; *
do not let the Pit shut its mouth upon me.
18   Answer me, O LORD, for your love is kind; *
in your great compassion, turn to me.”
19   Hide not your face from your servant; *
be swift and answer me, for I am in distress.

These nights that I write to you almost happen in a sigh. Days full of frantic efforts stop when I sit down to write. Efforts to sustain my family and move my work forward consume every moment.  I never stop moving, never stop talking about my work, never stop taking action. I grapple with the hooks of my insistence, up and up and up. From my place down here, I see the lip of the hole. I keep my eyes on the light, and my sweet one strapped securely to my back. Every nerve and muscle in my body is drawn up in the tense anxiety of waiting, and of working. My goal is in front of me; and I am ceaseless.

I pray. From inside, I hear a voice. “Have faith, have faith. God did not bring you 3000 miles to drop you in the mud. There is a purpose and a plan. Do the next right thing. Keep moving.”

I do. Last week, I announced the release of my Living Hebrew Aleph Bet. I can’t say this with certainty; but, I am fairly sure, there is no other widely circulated Living Hebrew Aleph Bet around. My alphabet reaches out and connects. The natural shape of each animal flows in the shape of the letter. They become one. They are a walking, talking circle of friends. They invite you, “Learn with us.” With them as my partners, we have every reason to succeed.

With passion under my wings, technicalities broke in. My perfect store both on this site and on my portfolio site, www.erikaquiroz.com, fell apart. The sections for placemats (one of my most popular items!), pillows and pacifiers stopped working. Then, as I attempted to fix it, both of my sites went down.

Hebrew Aleph Bet Placemat comes in orange, pink, blue, purple and green

All week long, since the release, I have been beating the streets. I’m talking to friends, making contacts, reaching out. The word of my project is being spread via several media outlets, including this article on the Real Moms Guide at Sheknows.com. If there was a great time for my store to twist on itself and my sites to go down, this is it.

I sat at this desk last night and stared. My screen said “internal Server Error 500″. My insistence had broken it. My determination to fix my own problem had thrown it all into the trash. Hoping to solve my problem, I took out a few quotation marks from the code. Suddenly, my sites were gone.

Damn it, Jim! I’m an artist, not a programmer!

I called my host’s tech support. For forty minutes, I paced outside in the cold. Our house is tiny. My son was asleep. I can’t talk in here when he is sleeping. I paced and I waited, I talked and I tried. When I went to bed, both sites were still down.

This morning, like a miracle, they were both back. Both stores are still imperfect, though. Placemats, pacifiers and pillows still do not display. If you want to see my full line, my direct Zazzle store is your best bet. I will sort out this store issue; but it is going to take some time. I also plan to offer more products outside of Zazzle, so this is definitely a temporary fix.

Besides fielding technical difficulties, I have spent the week in grassroots marketing. What is grassroots marketing?  It is this: It is this take-charge-yourself, take-responsibility, tap-into-your-own-resources kind of approach. It is that approach that will make my project a success.

Do you read any blogs, other than this one? Are there any blogs you read that you think might write about my Aleph Bet, or me? Do you know anyone who writes for a print or online publication? Contact them and tell them about me, or give me the contact information and I will do it myself. Be creative. This is a Hebrew Aleph Bet; but consider the whole of the story. Anyone who writes about family, education, single mothers, alternative families, art, community, entrepreneurship, new starts, or any other host of topics would be a good fit for me and my project. Think about it. I bet everyone knows as least one resource that I could pursue.

My project doesn’t end with posters and placemats. My Living Aleph Bet is going to find a publisher. Once it is a board book, stories for each animal will follow. This is a learning series in the making; and more languages will follow this one. Anyone interested in early language education will want to follow my work.

A few feet away, a small voice just spoke in his sleep. Two pink cheeks turned toward me, and an unintelligible sentence ended in the word, “Mama…”. I stopped typing, slipped in beside him, and kissed him back to sleep.

He is the reason my work will succeed. He is the reason I grapple, my insistent hooks pulling us up. Together, we are building the life he needs. It is the life we need. My sweet homeschooled son will have me; and I will have him.

Look out over the lip of the pit; see us reaching up. You are watching the American dream. Be a part of a transformation story that will uplift others and offer hope. Talk about it; help us connect.

Connection, passion and imagination are great keys. Connect in your own lives. Use your imagination. Connect with those around you. Consider the one next to you and see their struggle with patience and compassion. Then, reach out. When we change our relationships we change the world.

 

 

 

Grand Aleph Bet Opening! Help Us Spread the Word

March 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

It was over a year ago. I sat at my desk in another small room, working like a spider in an untenable web. A friend from my grief group, Joanne, had given me a gift: a feature ad in her Chabad’s annual calendar. I decided to illustrate a few letters of the Hebrew aleph bet in honor of her gift.

I asked my Hebrew-speaking friends for some suggestions for letter/word matches. From that short initial list, I let my imagination go. For me, it was clear. When I looked at Alef, I saw a lion walking through the jungle. When I saw Tsadi, there was a bird in flight. “If I can create these kinds of partnerships for every letter”, I thought, “what an amazing project this could be.”

Gimmel the Giraffe, Hebrew Alphabet Animal

From the strands of that web, I reached; and I researched. Each letter was pondered over, savored and explored. When the perfect partnership arose, I grabbed it. Each time, a new life was born. One by one, I watched Samach, Yod, Tet and my other animal friends step out to make my acquaintance. I was creating a family.

J stood at my side. “What is its name?” he would ask me. I’d answer, “Ayin”, or “Chuf”, or “Hey”. It became a game. We would say to each other, “Hey, you hippo, Hey” and before I knew it, he knew every letter I had drawn.

I planned an elegant finish, with an elegant release. Before I could draw number 18, a tree split us from the life we knew. Suddenly, there was no time to research letters or animals. Now, it was time to move.

I let my project rest while we reworked the present. I went with it as we moved from church to coffee house to the road. I let the gears of action spin as we docked on a new shore. Then, I picked up the pen. It was time to get back to work.

Vav, Zion, Resh and Mem joined our happy family of animals. I think my hope for the project rings out in Mem’s eyes. He holds the fruit of this great accomplishment, and the seed of our hope for a better start in the glorious west. He grabs your gaze; he requests your participation.

I am an American dream, waiting to happen. I am an entrepreneur who didn’t wait for someone else’s ideas. I used my skill, my resources and my talents; and with them, I created something. Something fun, something useful, something beautiful and something worthwhile came from my desire to be free, and to parent my son. It is the first of many things I plan to offer. In our new life, it is the first step that raises us up.

This past weekend, we nestled with our friends in the woods. In their home, we soaked our clothes, muddied our hands, painted our dreams and nourished our souls. The seeds of what we were seeking when we pulled away in that dark West Virginia morning sparkled at the edges of a brand new life. I watched my son as he rose up within it, and I celebrated.

“Look at the trees!” he cried. “I love being in the forest!” We came from West Virginia. West Virgina is no stranger to trees; but here, in the moist Pacific Coast, the moss-covered branches that cradle the sky are like nothing we’ve ever seen. Green, literally wrapped in life, the air is thick with possibility. Here, we stir the seeds of great change.

Moss covered tree in Washington

I finished my Aleph Bet. Each animal holds its letter and offers itself to a new home. In my Store, I offer prints, posters, pillows, pendants, pacifiers, stickers, cards, shirts, placemats, and I plan to add much more. I also offer custom prints with names spelled out in my animal letters, letter color customized upon request. That option is not yet in my store, but contact me and I will work with you to create it.

You are here, and you are reading this. You know something about our history, our journey, our purpose and our lives. Borrow just one slice of our passion, and pass it on. Help others to know about the things I’ve created, and help my entrepreneurial spirit change our lives.

Go to the Store section of this website to see what I have to offer. Tell your friends and family, and ask them to tell their friends. You easily share fun animal pictures and other inspirational stories. Help us spread the word, and follow along as we go from the struggling faithful to the triumphantly free. Be a part of the miracle.

Peace and Blessings to you all.

John 7: 37-38

37 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38 He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.

 

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.

 

Summer is Near

December 12, 2012 in Uncategorized

Luke 21:29-38

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

In our wet, northern pacific world, the only thing sprouting is moss. Spongy, green pads grow on trees, benches, stones–even replace lawns–in the abundant presence of Washington’s heavenly dew. It doesn’t rain every second, but it is always wet. This new climate is the backdrop for our every excursion.

At 52°, with a persistent drizzle, we darted out under the heavy Washington sky. Today, I was on Mission Arica. Arica has no phone, so it’s hard to keep in touch. The episodes of life have woven a web between us, but I’ve been looking for the path through it for a while.

Today, the drops finally opened onto the smiling face of our friend, Arica. A corridor opened in traffic as we approached the cross walk (according to Washington law), and we ran towards our friend, who we could see through the store window. I called her name even as we ran. Her bent head raised to meet us, and a smile raced across her face.

The motion of the wet world behind us resumed as we jingled the bells of her door. Arica stood, polishing a dainty for display. “Erika! Juice! Where have you been?!” her whole face radiated with her genuine warmth. I ran toward it. I threw my arms around her and felt relief rush in. I had wanted to make contact with her so badly. I wanted her to know how glad I am that we are friends, and how much we enjoyed Thanksgiving. But Life, you are a complicated conspiracy set against my own designs! Still, today, I defeated you; Arica was mine.

She had lost my contact information. She said we were M.I.A. All of her friends had been asking about us. There was a birthday party to which J was invited. How were we going to do Christmas? From a damp, cold rain we took a place by the fire. We looked for a place to settle in and catch up. Since the kid wanted to see toys, we headed to the rear.

As we headed back, I noticed she was limping. I asked her about it. It took several minutes to untangle the tale of her ongoing foot problems and lack of insurance. She was working hard, an active participant in moving her life forward; yet, she wouldn’t take off a day to get treatment for herself because she couldn’t afford either the loss of pay or the medical treatment. I felt a hot crackle inside. That is not justice. There was a time when she would have qualified for some kind of assistance, but those days are gone. What has been spared at the expense of this working, single mother-of-three who can barely walk?

Once we found a place in the back, Arica found a chair. With a bin of Barbies to the right and a bin of clothes and accessories to the left, she sought to create gifts that anyone’s child might enjoy. On the right was a bin of well-worn dolls with hair too matted to comb–most with all their hands and limbs. On the left sat a bin of mismatched  clothes and accessories.

I volunteered to help. I couldn’t stand and chit-chat while Arica sorted through those bins.

“I like to be useful,” I told her.

Arica set her warm face on me. “That’s what you said at Thanksgiving,”

I started brushing Barbies. As I passed the brush through one frazzled head-of-hair after the other, my heart broke. People were not donating, giving something of themselves. In too many cases, they were dumping garbage. This is what our culture thinks of the poor.

When I collected donations for the reservation there were very strict rules. If things were not new they needed to be in like-new condition. If you would not accept it for your child, don’t donate it: simply put. Still, there is not one toy in that shop that isn’t broken or missing pieces.

We have spent a lot of time in that shop, watching little ones pick over the bones. As you watch these little hollow faces meander, questions come up. When parents are deprived, it is only these who suffer? Poverty breaks in on every level, and affects us as a culture on every level. As long as some of us are without, none of us is really whole.

Some of the Barbies needed haircuts. I brushed and cut doll hair like i was a kid again. I thought of each little girl who might hold that doll. And we talked. A lot had happened, and yet all was the same. Still, I gave her mine and she gave me hers.

At Thanksgiving, I had promised to teach her the delicious art of pie crust. She said she had blueberries. Before long, we were making plans. On Saturday, I will show a beautiful young woman how to make homemade pie-crust.

I don’t think either of us has a rolling pin. I made pie-dough for Thanksgiving with a can of Pam. We’ll work it out.

Something is in the air. Our adjustment here has not been easy, but hands are reaching out. Some are near, and some are far. From across the miles, hands touch us. Friendships continue to grow as we reach forward together, in faith. God is assembling a family.

Like lights coming on in a darkened house, the faces of friends light the way. As each branch rises to make us stumble, a hand reaches out to catch our fall.

Leaves are spouting.

Can you smell it?

In the air, there is spring.

 

 

 

The Labor of Love

December 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Instead, we were like young children[a] among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. 10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

Check out the words of Paul. He gives us a window into the disciples’ way of spreading the Good News of Christ. They go in with a message. Following the guidance of Jesus, they approach like servants, delivering that message with both word and action.

Imagine the Thessalonians, hearing the values Jesus espoused for the first time. As Paul enters to teach he rolls up his sleeves to work. Caring for others, contributing to others’ work, they worked and sweated together as Paul shared the message. He shared it in words, and he shared it in actions. Give more than you take. Broaden the family. Try love, says Jesus. Open sesame.

People are looking for this kind of open-armed embrace. People with a loving core reach out for love; but too many find closed doors. Through the log in the eye comes a chant from the inner circle: “Get clean, get clean, get clean.” But it’s more about adhering to culture than to ethics. “Get in line, get in line, get in line” seems to be the actual message.

Hey, Episcopal Church: I’m about to praise you, again. In the seeds of The Church rests a radical message; and I do see it described each week. In practice, the Episcopal Church is open-minded, curiousity driven and respectful. A range of beliefs exists within; and no argument need take place nor exact point be agreed upon. It is justice, peace, love and equality that define it all.

This weekend, we had the chance to attend the Light-Up Night Christmas Parade. Unprepared for a Washington parade, we had no umbrella. We darted from leafless tree to leafless tree, leaving a trail of lukewarm hot chocolate. Finding a prime piece of curb, we stopped. It seemed wrong to stand openly in the rain, but there was no other option. Huddled in the chilly dark, we listened for a far off cadence of a marching band.

A couple stood to the right of us, a young man to our rear. My boy, in typical open love, started a conversation with the young man. The young man’s shy, loving eyes glanced from my babe to me. A space of kindness and understanding was created between us and my boy slipped right in.

His name was Grant, a teenager, a satellite of his friend’s parents. The edges our of experiences crossed at the curb. My son asked boldly for a share of Grant’s umbrella. Grant lowered it with a tender smile, and stood in the rain. I ceased to wait for the parade. I had found something else to watch.

I didn’t let Grant stand in the rain. I got him to raise the umbrella and urged my sweet one to stand closer to him. The three of us continued to fellowship in the wet night as we waited.

It was almost a taste of Glenwood in those few shared moments. We touched on justice. We touched on the needs of our fragile earth. We exchanged small bits of concern and messages of kindness, beads strung together on the thin band of time that stretched itself from our tiny, new community to the distant start of the parade. Like jewels, they hung in the wet and in the dark; and they glittered, with love and with hope. Every young, conscious mind is a hope for tomorrow.

“Walk in love, as Christ loves us” they tell us in church. You say it over and over until it’s meaning fades away. Brought sharply back to the words “walk in love” the world takes on a new shape when we look around.

On our way to the parade, I passed a woman playing air guitar on a large, guitar-shaped cardboard imprinted with the image of a pizza. My first reaction was amusement, but it didn’t last. It was raining. The woman was easily in her early fifties. She was standing in the rain, playing air guitar on a cardboard pizza. What was this woman’s life like? What was it like to earn your living by humiliating yourself in the rain?

Some of you may think my question is poorly thought out, or inappropriate. “Hey, in today’s economy, she’s lucky to have a job!”  The point can be taken well enough. I don’t have one. My daily searches have, as yet, been fruitless. My efforts to sell my own work are a struggle. Still, I’ve been in her shoes. From her point of view, it’s probably hard to feel lucky.

A few years ago, I escaped from a maniac. After living for over a year as a prisoner on a remote farm, I was cautiously free. I had no money, and no work. He had taken everything. My job of over nine years had ended because of him. My car, just paid off, he destroyed. My radical feminism and insistent independence was kicked, punched, raped and strangled away. My thin legs were poor crutches for the load that I bore.

Have you ever heard of Liberty Tax? They do a promotional gimmick at tax time. They hire people to dress up like the Statue of Liberty and dance at the side of the road. I took that job.

When I went in to try on the costumes, a problem arose. My abuser had worked me very hard. He had fed me very little. Around my bones I wrapped yards of cloth that dragged on the very near ground. Being winter, after I layered up with five layers of sweat clothes, I was ready for the rainless, Arkansas cold. At 40 years old, I stepped to the curb dressed like a statue, nearly as lifeless, down to my core.

I danced. With earphones in my ears, I danced on the side of the highway. Often, there were tears running down my face. I laughed into the traffic. My laughs ricocheted within the cavern of my being, looking for a seat. From inside, I listened to my voice and I watched my face. I was radiant. Inside, I was an animal fresh from a cage. I broken, beaten and raped, odd green rags hung from my bones beneath a foam headdress. I was lucky to have a job.

After a few small checks, it was done. Soon my sons would start to grow and I would have to run. To all those people who passed me on the road, I was forgotten. My family was within me, and we were moving on.

That night at the parade, we cheered and we screamed. We scrambled for candy (most of which would not be eaten) and exclaimed at the animals, music, cars and lights. As we did, our eyes would flash at Grant, our partner in the glittering spectacle out in the rain. A momentary bond of peace, love and kindness was forged.

Grant’s kind face was an opening. I treasure it when I find them. There are moments, small windows, that we slip into as we travel through life. In this town, they are few. That makes people like Grant all the more precious as we look for purchase on uncertain ground.

Today was my birthday. My babe and I celebrated by making a cake in the crock pot like we did for our friend, Kris. When he asked to lick the bowl, I set few limits. His clothes and body were soon covered as I watched through the thin veil of adulthood. I reach towards his joy.

We are not finding this coast as open as we hoped. Experiences like those with Grant are very precious. Sadly, people often turn their backs to us, even ignore my boy when he tries to speak to them. Yet I know, difficult as it is, in this experience lies an important message from God. I listen for it, and I wait.

Today was also the Feast of Saint Nicholas. We celebrated with other people from our church. The boy and I volunteered to help. We showed up early to sort and position ornaments for the tree. In fellowship, I worked along side Buddy and Stephen as we laid the foundations for the children’s’ decorating bonanza.

Balls rolled, glass broke, and my sweet one ran for the dust pan, each time. At the end, we were full, tired, laden with crafts, and ready for bed. A few from our new church family let us know we were missed on Sunday. “We were worried!” we heard from several congregants. A small warmth slipped in against the cold.

A few arms pressed tighter. Their gentle pressure released my ready tears. We don’t feel welcome in this town, but we are rolling up our sleeves. With a message, and with a mission, we come offering our all. We are ready to work. Will you have us? Only time will tell.

 

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.

 

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