Earthquakes, Ascension, and Sidewalk Chalk

unnamedEarth-Maker
Pain-Bearer
Life-Giver–
I’ve heard You called by these names.
When I read them aloud
in a sea of voices in Sunday worship
I feign comfort and assurance
at the power these names imply.
I read stories of You
speaking through whirlwinds
appearing in fire
and affirm my desire to follow.
Then I listen to the radio
and hear that this Earth
the very ground we live and move upon
has cracked wide open
yet again.
The land that gives life and vegetation
now rushes down the mountain
burying all in its path.
and I wonder if I really mean those words I recite on Sunday
the ones I whisper now:
Earth-Maker
Pain-Bearer
Life-Giver

I trust that You are there
in the places where the Earth cracks and slides
in the villages and cities in chaos
in the homes and halls of pain.
I trust that new life emerge from these cracks
and ascend to heights I cannot conceive.
In those moments when my trust quakes
I see a glimmer to remind me.
Something as simple as a child’s sidewalk art
that proclaims
“love is stronger than fear.”

Entering the Emptiness

2014-04-25 16.40.26One of the opportunities of recovery is time.  Time to breathe.  Time to be still.  Time to ponder.

Time to look around the house and simply drink in reality.  Generally, I don’t love swallowing reality by the glass.  Intellectually, I know a good swig of reality is the best cure for stink in’ thinkin’.  For fairy tale illusions.  For suffering.  It’s an antidote for so many ailments I seem to be susceptible to.  But the pace of normal life makes a dose of reality much harder to prepare and swallow than say cramming my calendar with to-dos or crashing on the sofa with a computer.  (Nothing better than looking present but virtually being in multiple places at the same time.)  This spring I have said yes to reality and enjoyed sipping from its brimming cup.

One sip I have savored has been noticing how full our home and life is.  Although the clutter can drive me crazy, I find myself amazed at the fullness represented in the hodgepodge of backpacks, art supplies, notebooks, knick knacks.  This has nothing on the village of shoes and socks that live by the doors and often seek their mates.  Yes, our house is full.  So full we are about to burst at the seams.  So full I know I am no longer just a me but truly part of a we.

During my busy days of the recent past, I often found myself irritated by the hodgepodge encroaching around me.  Where is the neat and tidy space I used to call home?  While in recovery, I realized that home–the neat and tidy one from four years ago–doesn’t exist anymore.  The emptiness that I entered when I bought this house trusting is no longer empty.  The life that I longed for when I sat at the settlement table is now our life.  Miraculously over the last four years I have grown into our life.  At a first glance it looks nothing like I planned.  At a second glance, I know this is better than I could ever plan.

In these days of recovery, I see this Easter I sip from a cup of reality that invites an inner emptiness.      Like the trust of moving into this house, I trust somehow this space will be filled, too.  I wonder, what new life is waiting to be born?

I’m a Hyster Sister

I’ve been debating writing this piece and putting it out there.  For all my talk about being honest and real, I still wrestle with when and how.  Is this too much?  Is this too personal?  Is this too intimate?  I started actively sitting with these questions this January when I began having chronic pain in my lower pelvis and back.  I am no stranger to pain in that area.  I am no stranger to painful, lengthy, and challenging menstrual issues.  What I am a stranger to is stopping and listening to my body.  Slowing down and going to the doctor.  And then continuing to ask questions and speak up until I am heard.

What I am also new to is sharing this part of my life.  Those who know me most closely have known the pain, embarrassment, and struggle I have lived with since starting to menstruate at 11.  Most people don’t know.  Because like a good girl, I haven’t said anything.  I’ve swallowed more than my share of ibuprofen, plastered a smile on my face, and kept on keeping on. 

This winter I stopped that.

This spring I stop the silence.

The reality is in less than two weeks I will be having a hysterectomy to treat fibroids and a myriad of other menstrual issues.  Even as I type, I find myself wondering where the “whisper font” is.  This is not something we talk about in polite company.  We can mention knee replacement, heart surgery, and gallbladder removal.  But hysterectomy…shhh. 

Mention this and there are a million images projected onto the emotional screen in your life.  Maybe it’s the secrecy.  Or the assumption that women aren’t women without a womb.  But the assumption is devastation.

And in my case, that’s true in part.  It is devastating…a loss.  Truly closing a door to the life that I always thought I would have…the one where I birth a baby of my own.

But on the other hand, it allows another door to open.  The one where my body can finally heal from pain that has tormented it for years.  The one that proclaims to the world that womanhood is so much more than a part of anatomy.  And motherhood is larger than birth.  For me the loss of a womb feels a little bit like the fear and joy of the empty tomb.  A place where Mystery just waits to be resurrected.

What if We Actually Believed That Death was Not the End?

Last night I had dinner with a dear friend and colleague in ministry.  Even though we love to catch up on the details of family and life, our conversation can’t help but include a least five minutes about the church.  Last night’s five minutes (and then some) touched on the challenge that not only her parish faces and that I see when I supply preach, but the challenge that seems epidemic in Mainline churches–the struggle to survive.  The reality is many congregations face dwindling digits of dollars as well as donors.  Add to this the balance sheet that reveals that many regulars donate a weekly amount that is equivalent to a week’s worth of Starbucks coffees.  It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out that sooner or later there will be nothing to rob from either Peter or Paul.  Both of them will run out of resources.

This challenge is so widespread that books and blogs explore the ins and outs of how to solve this problem.  Churches need to do more to attract new people.  Churches need to educate people about stewardship.  People need to give more.   People need to embrace change.  Pastors need to preach the Gospel.  The list goes on.  While I believe that all of the above are true, I think it avoids talking about and sitting with a piece of reality:

People die.  Things die.  Organizations die.

If you profess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the blessing to the above statements is that death is not the end.  Something comes after death.  Resurrection.  New life.  But here’s the thing that I think most people, including myself, struggle with…the resurrection can only happen after the death.  To put it in biblical terms, Jesus couldn’t be resurrected until AFTER he was crucified.  In order for him to be raised from the dead, he needed to die.

Perhaps the Good News is that none of us, not even churches, need to fear death.  Something comes after.  Perhaps the challenge of this Good News is that death comes first.  And death isn’t easy or fun.  Death means change.  Change means loss.  Loss means grief.  Perhaps what we’re most struggling with in the church isn’t to survive as much as it is to avoid the agony and pain of grief.    Grief.  What does it mean for the place people turn in their grief to be the very place living in grief?

According to Walter Brueggemann, one of the three prophetic tasks of the church is to “grieve in a society that practices denial.”  I can’t help but wonder, what would happen if we spent this Lenten season intentionally giving ourselves and our communities the safe space to do this?   Rather than starting a new program, beginning an outreach, or initiating a new stewardship campaign, we paused.  Rather than giving up chocolate or candy or Coke, we gave up denial.  Rather than walking through Holy Week as if it were someone else’s story, we named and grieved the places where it is our story.  

What if we practiced our faith this Lent living the belief that death is not the end?

 

Harvest

Great Creator

I see the gift of autumn

in the glory of crimson and gold,

and the abundance of the harvest.

Still the bitter-sweet taste of sage

Flavors all I swallow.

This harvest season

These fields,

the ones that have nurtured my growth,

Are now fallow.

The bounty of their final season

Gleaned.

They are to remain barren.

I believe in the miracle

Of the womb

And the empty tomb

But for today

My eyes see only empty horizon.

Quantification

One of the best and hardest units to teach in Eighth Grade Communication Arts was on the Holocaust.  The complexity of our history and humanity astonished, sickened, and captivated the fourteen year-olds.  For the first time in their school career, we would read a text without a fairy-tale ending.  Even after a month of working on research papers and reading articles, the end of Anne Frank always stung.  Something about the story.  Something about the reality that she was their age.  Something about the unfolding of a young woman and the love story tasted sweet.

We would get to the end.  And in every class, at least one student would ask, But what happens to Anne and Peter?  Never mind the context.  Never mind the research.  Something about the reality of this happening to someone just like them made the sweet-and-sour taste of tragedy confused their palettes. Inevitably, I would repeat multiple times that day, “Anne and Peter both died in concentration camps.  This story…this class… is how they live on.”

There was something about Anne’s life and story that transformed the number six million into a small enough dose of tragedy that the eighth graders could taste it.  Could digest it.  Could begin to fathom the unfathomable.  Could share in and pass along someone else’s sacred story.

Today I seek ways to fathom the  unfathomable of the Philippines.  NPR reported projections of 10,000 people dead and nine million displaced.

Nine million!

My non-linear, non-mathematic brain tries to compute this figure of devastation half-a-world away.  I can’t seem to make sense of it.  But I know that in the midst of it, there is an Anne and a Peter.  I know they struggled and continue to struggle.  And I know that I will listen for their stories.

Memories

We speak of resurrection

as a kind of memory.

The scraps of the past that linger

in our lives.

The photos of those who went before us

still here.  

Perhaps in 2D only,

we resurrect a piece of them through the glossy shine.

Some mountain top moment

frozen in time.

Sometimes resurrection is more visceral than even a photo.

Standing among the zinnias today,

I saw my grandmother.

I snip the last of the mint

resist making iced tea.

Oh that life got so busy

And I didn’t take the time to really watch her make it.

Surely she’ll appear

to leave me a Pyrex measuring glass of fresh iced tea.

A little mint.

A little lemon.

A little sweet.

It was always just right.

Standing on the edge of the coast

I watch my new family

frolic in the waves

squeal with delight.

It’s a photograph in my mind

like the photograph of my Grandmother

laughing at the water’s edge.

She never got to meet my new family

But when I stand knee-deep in the sea

zinnias or ocean

she is there.

Every New beginning Comes from Some Other Beginnings End

So I borrowed the title for this post from a late 90’s hit by Semisonic.  For those who didn’t listen to 90’s pop music or who may not remember, it’s the song “Closing Time.”  Seems like an appropriate theme for this week.  And I’m not just talking about the race.  It’s true, the race is over.  And I finished in a record 34 minutes and 40 seconds.  This my friends is between a 10-11 minute mile.  And that’s including allergies and walking over the finish line.  Yep.  I had about a tenth of a mile to go.  I could see the finish line.  I could feel the phelgm in my nose and thoat.  What I couldn’t do was breath.  So I stopped running.  I walked.  The closer I got to the finish the line the more people raced passed me.  The crowd cheered and my inner demons tried to taunt me, tantilize me, and torment me.  I said, “No!”  A twofold success…training and running the race….and listening to my body at the end while telling my shoulda, woulda, coulda voice to sit down and shut up.  Truly every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.

That was Saturday.  Today is Tuesday.  And it continues to be a week of endings and beginnings.  Of course there’s the obvious ending.  Or at least closing of a chapter with world events (I’m not even going to dig into that one here)  There’s the ending of another semester, another academic year, another season.  And personaly there is another ending and beginning.  Part of it is recognizing the ending of the ordination process and the beginning of life as a Reverend.  Sounds so strange in some respects.  Me?  Me!  Me?!?  I try my best to live one day at time, put one foot in front of the other.  Some days I do this very well, most days I’m ok, and some days…not so good.  I guess what I mean by that is this whole seeing myself as a “Rev” has been an adjustment to my own preconceptions of myself and ministry.  It’s been a long road, and like the race, has taken a bit of training.  So, this new beginning comes with the end of a long journey.

Then there’s the end of a year of challenge.  That ending started a couple of months ago.  And today I’m not so much interested in going into the pain and suffering of the last year but rather acknowledging the spiritual work it takes to get to resurrection.  Like no other year I truly lived the liturgical calendar from Easter 2010 to Easter 2011.  And life events–both personal and professional–always invited me to engage.  Actively waiting, epiphanies, wilderness journeys, and yes, even resurrection.  And what I’ve realized through it all is that it is all blessing.  Now, I’m not saying I like it all.  I want to relive it all.  I would choose it all.  Or there weren’t moments of pain, injustice, and hurt.  No.  Those are all true.  What is also true is that I faced these challenges in new ways.  I allowed myself the dignity of my own feelings.  I allowed others the dignity of seeing and hearing them.  I’ve talked back and talked up in situations where I would have been silent and sat with some ideas that I would have blurted out in the past.  And in all of this something has shifted.  Something in me.  Something miraculous.  And that is the blessing.

Quotations for the Week

“Closing time…Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”  (Semisonic)

“We were blessed by the minister  / Who practiced what he preached  / We were blessed by the poor man / Who said heaven is within reach  / We were blessed by the girl selling roses /Who Showed us how to live  /We were blessed by the neglected child /
Who knew how to forgive  / We were blessed by the battered woman / Who didn’t seek revenge / We were blessed by the warrior
Who didn’t need to win / Yes we were blessed” (Lucinda Williams)

Ophelia Resurrected

I had all intentions of blogging Tuesday on my four day trip to North Carolina, the land of sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, and Cookout milkshakes.  I even took some photos of my meals along the way and was prepared to confess that it started well (by well I mean written down and “counted” and ended in a biscuit sandwich with egg, cheese, and bologna with a side of fries and who cares.  And then my week happend.

Monday night my hard drive crashed, so Tuesday when I took my baby to the doctor, they told me, it’s gone.  Everything.  And I need to order a new hard drive.  I’m trying not to think too much about how much was on the hard drive that hasn’t been backed up on the server due to a.  my laziness, off-site work, and frustration at the complexity of getting things to the actual server and b. the fact that our back up hasn’t been backing up for quite awhile, and I haven’t pursued it.  So, needless to say, my post was delayed.  And now I can no longer write about the journey into the land of Carbohydrate Temptation.  I have to write about stuff I don’t want to look at or think about.  I need to come clean about some of my struggle with other challenges…namely disability, abuse, and death.  Talk about a serious turn for a blog that usually focuses on my weekly weigh-ins.  So, look at this as a long two paragraph disclaimer and warning.  If you don’t want to read about the previous three things–DON”T GO HERE!  Look away and come back next week.

Why these three things?  Well, I suppose the death of my hard drive, the fact that it’s Disabities Awareness Week at the school I work at, and the reality that next week is Holy Week might play into it.  And much as I like to avoid the reality of the end of Holy Week, and let me tell you, I do, this year I can’t.  Though I love Lent, the contemplation, the introspection, the journey,  I always seem to want to skip over Good Friday.  (Why we call it good still baffles me.)  Spending a whole week preparing for a day of death–and not a pretty, die in your sleep at age 80 mind you, we’re talking painful, crushing, soul-killing death–there have been years where this was too much.  I couldn’t go there because I lived there.  And that’s why I needed to write about this.  You see, there are people sitting in the pews, walking on the street, standing in the pulpit who have lived a year or a lifetime on the cross .  What are you talking about?  Year on the cross–surely no one has experienced the kind of pain of Jesus. Some might be thinking.  That’s true.  No one can experience another person’s pain exactly.  But I think the thing that makes the story of Christ so very powerful is the fact that human life is filled not only with joy, not  only with laughter, not only with mistakes, not only with betrayal, but also with suffering.  Sometimes so much so, it’s hard to bear witness.

This week has been a week of bearing witness to this kind of suffering.  Tuesday night I had long phone conversations with both my parents.  Both lamented about my niece (We’ll call her Ophelia.)  You see, we knew before Ophelia was born this past June that it wasn’t going to be easy.  She had a heart condition that was going to necessitate open heart surgey at birth, six months, and two years.  So, we prayed for a miracle, and when Ophelia arrived, she had more complications than the doctors thought.  And my sister and brother-in-law made the courageous decision to take Ophelia home and forego surgery, and we were all told Ophelia would not live past a month.  And we prayed for a miracle.  Well, we got our miracle.  Ophelia lives.  No heart surgery and no heart change, she lives.  Like Lazarus, Ophelia continues to live.  Like the Lazarus in Carrie Newcomer’s song,  the life isn’t exactly the miracle I thought.  You see, touch no longer comforts her, eating appears to give her tremendous pain and provokes horrific cries, and her body, fists, and face contort in what looks like rage.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there are also many moments of grace with Ophelia, and she is loved beyond measure by us all.  But to watch a 10 month old cry in agony day after day and be able to offer no more than a crib, well that’s hard for an auntie.  I can only imagine how hard it is for her mom and her dad.  To have spent 10 sleepless months.  That’s rough.  To have spent 1o sleepless months with no real sense of what’s next, how to proceed, or how to alleviate the situation, that my friends is suffering.  And so as we approach Good Friday, it seems it’s been a year of the cross for them.  In a house holding what many have named the miracle baby lives a family who may not see it that way.  And I can’t help but wonder what really witnessing this suffering would mean rather than trying to move Ophelia to resurrection to ease a community’s (and my own) anxiety.

And it’s not just Ophelia’s suffering that’s been on my mind.  You see yesterday was one of those days.  I couldn’t escape it.  I was also asked to share a poem at F&M’s Take Back the Night.  An evening to bear witness to the crucifixtion of persons sexually assualted.  It had been several years since I’d been to a Take Back the Night, and honestly, yesterday I wasn’t really feeling like going much less reading a poem.  These nights are long.  Painful.  Exhausting.  Telling my story hurts.  Especially looking in faces of women and men who understand me without my saying a word.  But I said yes.  And in the finding of the poem, preparing for the night, listening to the stories, sharing mine, and sitting with a young woman afterward, I realized that something miraculous has indeed happened.  You see for many, many years I tried to ignore the pain and suffering of sexual abuse.  And then for many years, I lived with the feelings, in what I think of as “years of the cross” where I lived as if I was who I was inspite of what happened.  Over the last year, I’ve started to tell people I am who I am because of what happened.  For me this is the resurrection moment.  As I read my poem last night, I realized the poem  is a eulogy to myself.  To the death of a little girl.  It is a huge loss and one that needed to be grieved and mourned.  I needed to live through my own Good Friday experience before I could ever live in the joy of Easter.

And here’s the thing about Good Friday experiences.  They suck!  There’s no glory in it.  They are painful.  They mean living through the thoughts and feelings we’re not supposed to have–you know the “my God why have you foresaken me” thoughts the “I’m pissed these people can’t even stay awake with me” feelings, the “Please take this away from me” moments.  It’s got all of those.  And getting to resurrection means naming and claiming them.  Now folks, that is hard work.  It is not for the faint of heart.  But here’s the other piece.  It’s not only hard on the person suffering.  It is also hard work for the community.  It means pat answers, spiritual platitudes, and a desire to live Holy Week like someone else’s story won’t do.  No, bearing witness to the crucifixtions in your community means living Holy Week.  It is not about shame, blame, or calling someone else a name.  It’s about having courage. To bear witness.  To stand at the foot of one another’s crosses.  To annoint one another’s wounds.  To seek our place in the story.  It is what makes us pilgrims and not tourists on life’s journey.  How else can we hope to taste resurrection if we have not had the courage to hold one another’s cups of suffering or to take a sip of our own?

Quotations for the week;

I aught to be grateful to drink from the grail / But I don’t be belong on either side of this veil.–Carrie Newcomer

I mourn for her death / because no one else will / for he left an unmarked grave and no witnesses to tell.–Megan Malick