What the Machine Missed

I finally had my mammogram yesterday.  A couple of months late but with no insurance it took an entire network of sisters who knew that I needed to go visit that squishing machine to make it happen. Women who understand that we all hate that contraption, hate the very thought of leaning in chin up arm over here just another notch down don’t breathe. This year though I had some irregularities that meant I couldn’t really ignore the reminders in my inbox and mailbox saying it was time to schedule, even though I worried about how to pay and what they might find. I delayed, I kept my concerns secret until I couldn’t and then I whispered and hinted to just the right women who found the necessary resources and soon I had an appointment that led to another and another and yesterday was mammogram day. The worry was over, no need for concern. All clear, see you next year. As I thanked God for lumps that weren’t cancer, I also praised Him for all who made the day possible, the techs, the docs and the women who made the connections. Still, I hate the machine. I’m only human. I realized also I kinda hate my breasts.

That cold machine that looks inside my body only sees tissue. What it misses is that my breasts are scary parts to me, these flesh pieces that hang a bit too low now but once sustained my babies. It doesn’t see that I fretted in school that they weren’t big enough, then later frowned that they were too large to go without something to support them. The machine doesn’t see that I have always been slightly at war with these appendages  who expose my gender and often draw unwanted attention to me sexually. The machine looks at tissue, looking for disease battles to be fought and doesn’t know a lifelong war has been waged.

The technician with cold hands, a gentle soul and an accent I can’t place instructs me in all the moves to get the best view as I consider how my breasts have shaped my life, how many hours I have spent thinking about these very members. Her low voice fades as I remember the empowerment I felt in those first moments of breastfeeding my daughter, knowing I had just carried, delivered and was now nourishing her, ME! My body was no longer dirty, sexualized, I didn’t escape onto the ceiling as I watched others invade it, I was with her as she fed from me. I gave her life and she gave me wholeness. We bonded over the latching of her tiny mouth to my personhood, my breasts reaching from my soul to her.  Milk enriched with hopes and dreams that she would never feel anything but the empowerment I was experiencing in that moment dripped into her mouth, ran down her cheek, soaked into her newborn skin. She smelled of me, the sweet scent of deep yearning surrounding us both.

“Turn this way, please,” I hear from a distance, as I remember in middle school pubescent boys running by laughing as they stroked fingers down my back, checking to see if I was wearing a bra yet. Shaming all of the girls, those with their nubby nipples and those of us who bloomed later, who knew we were lacking. The world and little boys telling us our worth was measured by our cup size in 6th grade, a message that continues in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and tv anchor dress standards. My mother didn’t understand my dismay at my flat chest, she bore the shame and back problems from growing breasts early that required she never go without a bra, ever. I remember watching her get ready for work in the morning, her breasts hanging as she powdered and wrangled them into shoulder-cutting, back-scrapping heavy duty armor. I longed to grow breasts like her, I knew it was my birthright. She hoped I never would. She bought me a training bra to quiet the school yard boys, one that would suffice for years as I didn’t grow and her hopes were realized.

“Are you doing ok, Lisa? We are almost done with the right side, just one more,” I float away again as I recall my very first mammogram when a lump was found and I was thrust headlong into a different world of worried faces and alternate rooms and extra exams all behind the doors that kept the men on the other side so women could wear pink gowns that open in the front and don’t really cover anything. A quick biopsy and another all clear and a reunification with my husband before he even knew I was fighting with my breasts and had escaped with a win again, we went for lunch as if nothing had really just happened. Yet I knew, a glimpse, just a tiny moment’s worth of what so many women don’t get to come away from, they stay in those rooms and don’t go for lunch and they know the battle is only beginning and I wonder how many memories they have of their breasts, something that men will just never understand.

I had my yearly mammogram and all is clear. I turned this way and that, I leaned in and held my breath, I got squeezed and smashed and I have to do it again next year. I remembered one time laying on a secluded beach with Chef in Mexico, newly married or maybe not quite yet and removing my bikini top. The sun was hot on my skin and I dozed safely, aware that I didn’t need to battle in that moment, I could rest in peace with  more of my body exposed. No 6th grade boys or invading machines or judging society or even tiny babies to pull and tug. That beach was a communion, the only one ever, between me and my body, a white flag of surrender of all the worries and wantings. The sun lowered, the day ended, my breasts and I picked up our weapons and prepared for years of war ahead. Still, we had a moment, we had a day. My breasts were enough, I was enough.

“We want to do an ultrasound, just to get another look at what the machine can’t see,” I hear as she guides me into another room, more positions. As I look at the ceiling and recall all the times I have been touched by those who weren’t so gentle and didn’t tell me what they were going to do next and didn’t ask permission and didn’t care if I was comfortable, I wonder at how we have distorted and diseased what God has given us to nourish His babies. How a body part no different from any other has come to be so sexualized that even little boys who don’t really know what they are doing participate in shaming. I wonder how sad God must feel that I war with my own body, His temple, only able to commune fully on a sandy beach far away, rather than daily in my own skin. What would it take to stop hating and fearing the parts of me that God created every bit as much as my eyes that seek out beauty and my ears that listen for laughter? “Everything looks good, we want you back next year, no cause for concern.” The machine and the tech and doctor don’t see though what God is showing me, the concern and worry were never about the lumps and the tissue.

I have a year before my next encounter with the machine. 365 days, will that be long enough to fully lay to rest this war and come to peace with my body? Will I enter the pink rooms and don the front tying gown next year with a love of my full self, an awareness that I am actually exactly just right. I am enough, not too much, not wanting. I have breasts, nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Like the grainy images I spied on the screens, impossible to understand and interpret without training, the path forward is unclear but still calls to me. I don’t think I can really be absolutely grateful to the God who sends me sisters to set up appointments and foundations to pay for the uninsured and scans that are clear and technicians that are holy and inventors who create the machines in the first place and not understand that at the heart of it all is a God who loves me, all of me, my breasts included.

I had my mammogram yesterday and all is clear, the tissue as well as my need to embrace self- love, to truly commit to self-care.  If I really want to have communion with God, I have to begin to acknowledging the vessel He gave me and offer some grace to my breasts, who are not at war with me, but have been with me all along, waiting for my surrender and acceptance. A lifetime of turning this way and that, of covering up and hiding away, no easy feat to stop this battling. The gentle words of the technician remind me, “We’ll go slowly, just one step at a time, and let you catch your breath between.” Yesterday I had my mammogram, today I begin the journey of acceptance. It may not show up on any of their reports, but that is what I learned in my pink gown. Thank you God for all of it, for another chance at communion.

By the way, have you scheduled your yearly appointment yet?

Spring Found Me

I have tried to stay in winter, cold and dormant, dark days under blankets lost in thought but spring pursued me nonetheless. The grass has greened without any effort of mine, the buds turned to leaves while I huddled on the couch. The air inside has become too warm, windows must be opened, bringing in high pitched calls of children on bikes with newly pumped up tires and the thud of balls bouncing against garage doors, the crack of bats connecting accompanied by shouts of victory and the soft splatter of chalk dumped on the sidewalk. Children know, spring is here. They recognize that days are longer, they resist going to school and wearing jackets. All that was waiting has woken, I have as well, slowly, reluctantly, not like a crocus this year ready to pop up at the first hint but more of an iris, taking time to test the air and stretch my limbs carefully into this new season.

I listen to the children in their shorts and tee shirts racing by the house, envious of the trust they so quickly put into the changes. Rushing headlong into spring, they breathe the hope and promise even before the windows have opened. Children don’t long for evidence of that faith, they don’t cling to dormancy to avoid trusting once again. Children explode into the season with popsicle stained faces before the air has fully warmed, begging for sprinklers and water balloons to cool their sweaty bodies. Hope fills their lungs at the hint of spring and they lean crash throw themselves into late nights outside for games of tag and forget homework and long school projects. Sitting on the couch, I wonder if I have ever been that child, have I ever embraced hope so fully.

A friend posted a picture of her garden already planted, I sat on the porch of another who had flowers already potted and glorious. Farmers know that spring is planting season, trusting in the assurance that summer will come with all the sun and rain and warmth needed to grow what seeds are settled into the earth. I am behind, so far behind. Why am I resisting hope this year? Why am I so reluctant to dig into the ground, to shop for my annuals, to plant and believe that what I cover with dirt will bring good things later? My heart wants to stop the seasons until my family is restored, I long to halt any more holidays without my children gathered around. Still spring arrives with lilac breezes and I cannot hold it back any longer. This is the promise of God, that faith the size of a mustard seed will grow enough to house the birds who nestle there. Thus I know God is sneaking in through my open windows with the children’s calls and the singing morning birds and the glorious sunrise, telling me to plant just the tiniest seed, allow Him to worry about the rain and sun and whether my children will come. He tells me not to notice the empty porch chairs that once held Stella’s college roommates and friends for cookouts and weekly dinners, He tells me not to focus on the extra swing awaiting my granddaughter’s giggles as she soars. Plant some seeds, the wind whispers.

It is planting time, spring is here, barrels of dry dirt beg for flowers and color. Once again I am waking up to the season, slowly accepting that God has brought a new day and another opportunity to tend to my home, trusting that He cares for the nesting robins and the sprouting bluebells and for my Arrow and Stella so far away. Days when I feel more like Job with Satan attacking, I know that I may never fully understand why I seem to keep losing what my soul holds so dearly. Yet Job trusted in God, refused to turn away from his faith, surely I am being asked to do no less. God has brought spring to me with the request that I give Him my doubts, let them melt with the last hints of snow into the earth as my daffodils rise. Okay, God, You found me, I couldn’t hide away. I will open the curtains, drink my coffee on the porch, and begin to welcome spring. Hope has arrived and it sounds like geese honking their return.

Interruptions: Opportunity or Annoyance?

Some people divide the world into haves and have nots, others into groups based on color or who we love, maybe the separating lines are which team you root for on Sunday afternoon. For me it is this: Are you an interrupter or one who listens with intentionality? Now some may argue that this is not an important issue during these times of political and environmental unrest, when it is imperative that voices of truth be heard above the forces that would shut them down. Sing it, Sista! I do hear you. Still, I know that my life has been marked by interruptions, the significant points in my journey are all places where I was stopped unexpectedly while moseying along or speeding forward with mission focus. Then, bam, slam, screeching brakes and my progress is interrupted. I know these events have given me opportunities for growth but only through much pain and most often the loss of that plan in exchange for a new one. So when I am talking with someone and I get interrupted, maybe not the first time but if it is a habit of theirs, my skin gets itchy, sweaty chills cover my body, I feel the rage building. Enough with the delays, I just want my turn to go, go, go.

My first recollection of being cut short was in elementary school when my parents divorced. Clearly as the child of sexual abuse, I can assert that my entire life plan was disturbed by the horrific actions of others, a waylaying of the dreams that God had for me. Maybe that overarching trauma is why the little and huge delays are focal points for me. Still, at my elementary school, all the grades were together with little desks and smaller chairs and access tot he smaller playgrounds, except the 5th graders. They learned and played in the new big wing that was glorious and had larger desks and the pencil sharpeners were higher on the wall and the playground had no fence.  The goal of every child was to be a 5th grader, to own that school with our evident importance, to be the ones allowed to walk through the halls delivering notes and passes and look condescendingly down at all our poor small brothers and sisters, to collect their wishes as we walked by, knowing we were at the peak. I longed to be in that wing, I just couldn’t wait to have those teachers who seemed to dress smarter and have better supplies. I wanted to have the confidence I knew came with an assignment in that hallway. Then my parents divorced and we moved the summer before my 5th grade year and I lost my school. I am sure my mother had no idea of the gravity of this move, how changing schools systems interrupted my reaching those dreams. I almost made it, I did the work, I suffered the withering looks of older kids, I never reached that wing. Matters were made worse by the completely alternative school setting I then attended, I have written about that and the saving grace of my friend Lisa. Still, I didn’t recover well, my progress was interrupted and it took some time to regain my footing.

Later, in high school, I had to graduate early and enroll in college classes in order to maintain Social Security benefits that would pay for my education. The final semester, the one I had intentionally left full of fluff classes, having taken everything I actually needed to complete all the requirements during all the packed semesters before, gone in an instant. I no longer went to school with friends who were skipping out and planning prom, I was thrust into college courses with people who drove to school and then went to jobs, not my dream of college either. A long delay that broke my spirit and left me out of step and alone. The haunting of 5th grade, I knew these ghosts but couldn’t find a way to make the change good, to see the opportunities afforded me.

Later, I married before I graduated from college, seemingly unable to now finish with the same group I started with, an unconscious force requiring that I break it off with education just when things were getting really good. I got pregnant during grad school, and chose to delay my studies, a 3 year program turned into 4.  I have written much on how I derailed my career, but through the lens of interruptions, I can see that I have a certain inability to cross the finish line, at least on time.

I know also that my most important, most dear life plan ever has been critically interrupted. It could be argued that the suspension came when I sat in jail and my children waited at home. It could be argued the interruption came when I couldn’t sing to them at night or hold them on my lap or make snacks or carry them on my hip as I busied about the house. I can see now that the line was just fuzzy, that I was not accepting a disconnection. I maintained all routes of communication and was blessed with weekly visits. Still, 2 1/2 years were lost. The real interruption wouldn’t come for 20 years.

It is clear to me now that when I am speaking, I just want to be heard. I value those who listen without preparing their response before the words have left my mouth. I crave the presence of those who are comfortable with silence, who can allow space for thoughts to form and ideas to percolate. I find solace in relationships where careful consideration is given to the message, where effort is expended in determining meaning. How much is missed when we stop another short in our quest to ask a question, force our ideas into the air that was carrying theirs? Like a fan that circulates the dust particles around the room, nothing ever lands, nothing is heard when everything stays swirling. Conversely, the quiet, the listening, the actual hearing, that is grace. Holiness happens in the moments where truth can be spoken, when we meet each other at the altar of our own hard stuff and find there is room for all of us. No need to push or shove aside to get our truth spoken, we find many truths can co-exist, we find the answers to questions come if we wait.  So folks who practice interrupting or have trouble with silence are hard for me to be around.

Lately I have been so taken with the concept of being present, really aware of the moment I am in. I want to look forward to the 5th grade hallway or the day my children and I are reconciled. I want to rush forward to when everything will be better, trying to get through this long interruption and back to my real life. But what if this IS my life? This very moment when Plum sits on my lap and I type around him, his long legs now almost reaching the floor, his wiggling bottom indicating he needs to pee, the smell of little boy filling my lungs and soul as he rests his sleepy head against my chest. This is my moment right now, my life within the interruption, my opportunity to detour and find a new path. Because the truth is that the new school in 5th grade brought me a life long friend. Going to college early may have saved my life, I was drinking and driving and on a poor choice path. I left grad school to spend a year with my daughter, one I will never regret. Those interruptions were also opportunities for me to check my trip outline, to see that other options were better suited for me.

Maybe my battle with interrupters is not completely fair. I may have lost sight that sometimes I need the air to be circulated, I need someone to help me pause. Because my thoughts can go on for too long in the wrong direction, a gentle “Um, Lisa, can I get a word in?” may be just the thing. I sat in on a meeting a few days ago and listened as my good friend who is quieter seemed to struggle to be heard in the larger more vocal group. My own Chef repeatedly jumped in when she was speaking. Later as we processed the event, he had no idea, said he was supporting her words, her truth. When he apologized to her, she was completely unaware and did not experience it that way. Her take: maybe I am just a bit sensitive in that area. Ouch. So the jury is out for me and interruptions. I don’t have resolution on my big pet peeve, except to know I am working on being here right now and hope that you can join me in this space. I am really curious how others experience interruptions, how conversation flow affects you.  Thoughts, comments, go! Are interrupters an either/or bad/good deal breaker or necessary to keep the conversation going?

How Much is Our Share?

I buckled his seat belt, I kissed his check then the sweet spot on the back of his neck and told him I love him. He said he loves me too while distractedly drawing on his new pad of paper with a green gel pen, I was not his focus. Onto the other side of the car to kiss Sweetness goodbye, usually I do this first, he gets the last kiss but today was just out of order, I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked away from the car. Almost there, I heard Mama’s call, “Come Back, Plum is crying!” He was sobbing, wailing, so quickly things had turned. Rushing back I found a very jealous child, one who no longer remembered our “goodbye exchange,” who no longer remembered all the times I told him he is my favorite, including earlier that morning, a child who thought this new baby had taken his place in my heart. His heart was the color of the gel pen, his eyes could only see green.

More kisses, tender listening to all of his fears, a reminder that he will always be my favorite best big boy. Like the cracker crumbs from snacks eaten while he rides, my words and affection mostly all fell on the seat around him, mostly never reaching inside of him for nourishment, to fill his hunger. The damage was done.  Too tired, too emotional to hear what I tried to explain to him, that God makes our hearts expand when we add in more people to our lives, we don’t have to share limited space, he could only accept more kisses and strike out in his hurt.  He is sure that this new baby sister has taken what was his for 6 years and he is wondering what is left. As adults we can smile knowingly, shaking our heads and assure each other that he will grow out of this phase, but I wonder. I wonder if any of us ever really do. Maybe we grow to understand that our siblings are not our enemies, but do we ever fully grasp that the same equation that allows the hearts of our parents to expand is the same for our God?

The meat of it all is the jealousy, the insecurity that we feel when we think someone has more than us, has a better pathway in than us, got the last kiss, that is what troubles us and causes the flailing about, the striking out, the competition for attention. Yet if we were sure that our kiss even if it was the one that came about way before the door closed was meant just for us, held all of the love and joy and power of our God, would it really matter what anyone else received?  If we rested in the glory of the sunrise and knew that was our God telling us we are His favorite, wouldn’t that be enough? Would we have the need to fight over blocks and Lego and new cars and territory if we understood that we can sit secure in the expansive love of our Father, we do not have to compete?

We teach children to share by modeling sharing: here honey, I have an apple that I am cutting into 4 pieces, one for you, one of me, one for you, one for me. That is a wonderful exercise but only works when we begin with the willingness to share the apple. What if we begin with a piece of chocolate cake? Umm… maybe you should get your own, right, this looks really tasty and I actually would like to have it all. Maybe I can be generous enough to give a taste but there will be no splitting this delicacy into 4 pieces. So modeling sharing works in controlled circumstances but do we actually model it without such exaggerated awareness? Most mom’s are bad at this, we don’t share. We give the kids the whole apple, the last apple.  I remember one conversation with Arrow when he hit his late tweens, early teens and began to see me as more than a mom. He asked if I really like only the toast edges that he and his sister left behind, if I truly prefer just the burnt pieces of popcorn. Of course I didn’t always want those, what I came to prefer when my children came along is that they have the best pieces and parts and choices and I would always accept the scraps, if there were any. Thus I missed that opportunity to model sharing with me, that I was worthy of a piece of the apple as well. A mother who will sacrifice all for her children is easily sacrificed, I have learned. I taught them I was less than them. They have graduate degrees in this philosophy now. But I digress.

Do our rights as Christians mean we have to protect our turf? Are we obligated to ensure that the pews never get too full, that we always get the last kiss and don’t allow someone who is not in our family to join in and displace us? This fear of others is our insecurity about whether or not God can love us all, that His love is so big and can get bigger to include more and more and we will not feel less. Maybe Mom didn’t provide for us, Dad never said the actual words, we didn’t feel that love in our homes of origin, we just keep grabbing onto more and more than is our share, trying to make up the lack, taking extra portions and never getting full. We can’t get filled when we feed off of other’s portions, we spread hurt. Insecure adults who say no you can’t worship here, you can’t live here, you can’t go to school here, I need this space.

In truth, God’s orchard is limitless, He never runs out of apple slices. If we understand the idea of an expanding heart rather than a dividing one, oh the rest, the peace! No longer competing, rather we savor the kiss we got and notice not the one that came before us to our neighbor or the one that came after to our new baby sister or the LGBTQ teenager who is loving differently than us.  Love everywhere, big bigger expansive. Soon our apples look like too much for us to eat alone, we notice the juice is sweeter when we see it running down the chin of a hungry child. So what does it take to become so secure in our Father’s love, to trust completely in His expansive heart that our insecurity vanishes? I think the key is to no longer look back to what was, to not spend time in what we want for the future. This moment, this apple, right now. We have a choice to know and to seek out whether we are enough, we have enough, right now. Absolutely in this very moment, was this kiss meant for me? Staying with that one, hearing God whisper that I am His favorite, this can fill me up, millions of granules of sand pouring into all the cracks and broken places, filling me with God’s wholeness.

Becoming whole in God’s love is the ultimate healing of the broken love we inflict on each other, erases the worry about toast edges teaching the wrong lessons and who to kiss goodbye last. Knowing we are going to mess up and hurt each other and others are going to miss that we wanted an apple slice also, we have to turn to the only source of complete love. Poof, just for a moment, calm restored. The next moment is coming though, what will we do with that? Can we allow room for others, can we accept the second to last kiss? I pray we stay right is this place, where the apples are sweet and juicy and God is serving us all. Getting there and staying there are hard work, certainly not any more difficult than battling over who can pray with us. Let’s just share our apples, friends, and our pews and our hearts.  Let the only green we see be that of the orchard. And of course, gel pens. Green gel pens are our favorites.

Empty Tomb No More

Recently I wrote about Being Stuck at the Empty Tomb, New Perspective hopelessly out of reach. Rarely have I gotten what I asked for so quickly. Maybe it was my utter devastation, my complete lack of direction. Maybe I was just empty enough to listen finally, to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit tell me to open my Bible to the book of Romans. I did and what I found was perspective, the exact thing I was seeking. I don’t have easy answers but I have a new outlook, sometimes that is all it takes to start the day anew, to find the energy for a shower , to make lunch, to go smell the flowers.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How many times have I heard that haunting call of Jesus at the cross, always considering the agony of Jesus dying to humanity, the burden of our meanness and judgments and horrible behavior requiring that he suffer the worst that we may experience the best? I haven’t ever stopped to imagine what God must have felt, to be separated from His Son in that moment. Yes, He knew the outcome, He knew how long it would last, but He also knew that in the deepest darkest moment when His child needed Him, He could only remain close but not fix it all, make it better, stop the destruction. I am horrified to realize that my sinfulness caused God to be separated, even for an instant, from His Son.  I also realize that God fully understands the agony of an estranged parent. He gets that pain of one left alone while sin runs rampant and destroys the family. He knows the only way to restoration and redemption is to be rejoined with Him. All this time while I thought I was suffering alone, begging God to return these children to me, He was saying, “Lisa, I want them to come home to me as well.”

I was drawn to the book of Romans today and as scripture so often does, the words jumped off the screen to me, they were alive.  I read the first chapter and was shocked to see that this new estrangement epidemic was not so new after all. Paul wrote about it: “They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way.” Romans 1:30 I have wondered how my Stella could reconcile such a hard heart with what is preached in church each Sunday, I know my Arrow has stepped far away from his Christian faith. Before either of them can be returned to me, they must return to God. After all, they were His first. His agony must be horrific, to see His children so far away from knowing Him, believing and trusting in Him. In my weakest moments, I thought God had left me in this misery, I missed that we were suffering together.

My new perspective changes nothing in my relationship with my children, or lack of one. What has altered though is my closeness with God. No longer battling with Him, feeling lost in questions about why spring can come again but not my daughter, I understand now that the flowers bloom and the birds chirp as we together look for hope that they too will see those and hear those and remember that He is the creator of all. As my daughter shows the buds of new life to her daughter, surely she is explaining about the God who delivers anew our second chances and forgives us. As my son prepares to welcome into the world his daughter, can there ever be a more spiritual moment than that? Surely they are facing opportunities to find Him again and then they can find me. Perspective, I see you.

I know now that my prayers are not that God might hear me, that He might see my pain and my worry and that He might bring about the change NOW!!! How many times have I moaned that I cannot go on? How many times have I called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He has been with me all along, the separation only in my mind. No longer helpless or powerless, I am united with a mighty God who can bring these children home, home to Him. Restoration to the greater family of Christ, then to ours. Together then we will smell flowers and feed birds and laugh and go to church and praise a God who loves us enough to give us the hope of spring days during dark winter moments. Now I join with God to pray that they grab hold of the faith of their youth, that they turn back to Him.

My new perspective, not from a bottle or the store but waiting for me in scripture all along. Psalm 62 reminds me: 5Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. 6Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

Do you see the lilacs bursting on the bushes, the breeze bringing the sweetness of spring into every open window, filling our homes with soul lifting hope? Can you hear the songbirds, as they busily seek twigs and strings, preparing to build nests and lay eggs and carry on with life, fulfilling their purpose? We won’t be shaken today friends, if we stay steadfast in our unity in the Creator of all. My new perspective is quite an old one, sometimes I misplace it in the dark. Blessedly, God shines some light and doesn’t let me get too lost. I trust He will do the same for those I love.

Stuck at the Empty Tomb

I wish I could go to the store and buy a bottle of perspective as easily as a jug of milk. I desperately need it and just can’t find it anywhere. I can purchase anything on Amazon, I can download a book in seconds. Everything seems readily available, at my fingertips before I have fully felt the wanting, yet I cannot get my perspective back. I am lost in a mess of remembering and wishing, usually cured by a spate of travel to mountains or valleys or beaches or to places where others are really hurting and my wounds look less like gaping oozing death-at-my-doorstep slashes and holes and more like pinpricks that itch or irritate but oh look at the view kind of sores. Good Lord, I need some perspective.

I’ve noticed an emptiness, a wandering sort of wanting, that leaves me lost in my head lately. Conversations swirl around me, I forget that I was reading or the show I selected is still playing, I am somewhere else. When I reach for the thoughts that seem to have captivated me so, I can’t quite grasp anything, sliding through gliding away. Daydreaming, unfocused, words float out and away, images hover, this is the edge of the abyss. I know, I have visited here after every hurtful text from my son, after every holiday my daughter is silent. My losses are real, the wounds won’t heal and each month seems to bring another damn holiday to highlight who is missing and what I am without. Some are easier for me, a slow pull to the edge that allows me time to fight back before I ever get close. Others, just too powerful and I am leaning over the cliff before I have pulled in enough breath to last me. I get woozy, I grow weak, I lay down and rest and forget I am supposed to get back up. I wander about in my mind. Sure, memories of joys and laughters and platters of food can threaten my mental health, but I forget I can choose not to breathe my slow breaths at that altar. I can take in lungfuls of goodness and new joys and the aroma of a smaller platter of brunch as well. The only way back is through, maybe, but sometimes it is just to turn around. Turn right around, open my eyes and see what is in my lap. That maybe is my bottle of perspective, awaiting me.

Yes every year, every month brings more opportunities to feel the ache but also the same can be said for chances to notice what is not hurting. Do we ever notice our elbow except when we have banged it on the wall and it throbs? The same can be said for all the things that go right, do they get our attention or only when they break, leak, chip? How many mornings have I gazed out of my office window at the bare bushes, longing for spring, wishing for the lilacs to bloom. Yet here they are, gloriously scenting my entire yard and I  stare past them into the darkness. Feeding the birds throughout winter was an obligation, now they are flying eagerly about, singing chirping calling and I hear them only from the distance I have created. Patio furniture is in place again, I sit on the couch inside. This is misery chosen. Perspective cannot be found on the couch in the dark curtains drawn to block out spring flowers.

I recognize this pattern, when I breathe deeply enough to regain consciousness and I remember I can still survive. There, another deep breathe, up we go. Step away from the edge, let’s rejoin our life. My self talk awakens me, again I must remember the path back, breathing isn’t enough.  The darkness that threatens to overtake, I must seek out the Light. Then I remember the way: gratitude. Yes, I ache for the losses in my soul. Today is the new morning, the day to awaken from my self-imposed joy sleep by breathing in lilac air with a nod to the birds building nests of blue string Plum and I littered throughout the trees. I am seeking out my blessings, the only way back into the light. Perspective doesn’t come easily when I am not packing my suitcase, when no mountain top reminds me of my smallness and God’s bigness. Wildflowers surely are blooming on the Colorado countryside but they are also sprouting in my own backyard. Noticing, seeing, hearing, I cannot leave all this behind in search of the God who visits far off places, forgetting He is here, right here with me in my sorrow.  He knows I am just stuck on the emptiness of the tomb, missing the hope and the promise, mourning still still I am just not done mourning.

Songbirds call to me, the breeze brings my favorite scent from the bushes around my yard. God I think understands though that I cannot buy perspective and I am cannot rush through this pain. I sit at tomb weeping and longing, slow deep breaths until I remember that I can get up again. And then I will. With my new perspective.

 

Double Teamed

There are days when in spite of all of my best efforts, my hearts shows the cracks anyway. Those days when the tears come a bit too freely, when the texts that I usually write and delete get sent instead, when I try one more time. There are days when I get lost in remembering and hoping and wishing and wondering, I forget to stay where I am, I go back to what was. Instead of gratitude for the plates that I do set around the table, I want to put out more. Those days, I wonder why God gave me a love I can’t stop for those who seem able to. I listen to sermons about all those who need me and I try to reach out to the needy but I want to be needed by who I choose also. At least seen by them. I try to strike a bargain with God, if I see those you put in my path, if I love those before me, won’t you please bring the other two back? Those days come and go, when they come, my heart shows the cracks.

Today the world sang the Hallelujah chorus and heard sermons on grace and I wondered if Stella was listening. On any given Sunday I feel convicted by the messages and try to correct my course, always correcting my failures to align more with Jesus. How can we listen to the songs and the words and the greetings as we walk into church in our best clothes and not feel compelled to adjust our behavior and notice how often and how much we have been forgiven? Of all the things I don’t understand about the estrangement phenomenon that is so incredibly prevalent and there are many, is how it can possibly live companionably within the heart of a Christian, that is the greatest. But probably that is true of so many ways in which we hurt each other and then go to see our priest or pastor or preacher each week. I know that no sin is worse than any other, I have been granted grace beyond what I can ever express. That is the very reason my heart just cannot hold on to a hurt, a grudge, a wrong. I know the power of forgiveness and multiple opportunities to get it right. I still get so much wrong. Another Sunday, course correction. Somehow my heart just believed that my daughter would walk into a church today and hear a message and the clouds would lift and the angels would sing and the phone would ring. It is Easter, for God’s sake, the big grace day. Did she listen to a choir sing and not think of giving another chance?

Instead I listened to a sermon about a woman who was estranged from her family and went to see true devastation in Rwanda and then heard God speak to her about not straying away from Him. I thought, Stella and I went to the Killing Fields, we did that. Why are we now estranged? I heard the pastor speak of a family that discovered their child dabbling in illegal substances. They decided to go all in and build an orphanage in a foreign country, a means to reach out and pull themselves back together. My cracked broken heart only heard that I should have built an orphanage when I found the first joint in Arrow’s room. My heart was showing the cracks today.

I was missing the message.  The point is that people mess up and God finds a way to bring them back together, if they stay open and present to His word and His calling.  I am open, I am listening, I am mostly present. Let’s see some results, God. Challenge accepted.  The pastor didn’t talk about the happily ever after part, the immediate appearance of the angel and the chorus. Surely it happened. I just want my angel and my kids and my happily ever now.  See my heart cracks? I was a bit angry in the chair during the sermon,  I really felt I was doing my part and God was just not showing up for His. Bold, right? On Easter no less.

Most days I seal up the cracks with forward movement, planning next steps and answering calls of ministry. I spend time with the ones that God puts in my path and I actively seek out more that need what I have. Putty, spackeling, this stuff restores what is breaking in me and in the world. On good days, that is enough to hold me together. I can keep busy enough that I barely consider what size dress my granddaughter might wear, I barely allow myself to note the calendar inching closer ever closer to her birthday. Then Easter comes and suddenly my hopes are raised, this could be the day that restores us all. Might this be the day that I can stop pretending I am my own devastated wasteland, a family killing field, a place where traditions and laughter have been destroyed by the regime of estrangement?

I listened to a podcast Steve Wiens put out on Holy Week, the episode is called Loss. Had me from the start, sigh. I considered not listening but Steve usually gets me so I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t going to disrupt my cracked and barely holding together heart. I was wrong. He smashed it open, he expanded my grief and I am sitting with a new understanding of my loss. He told me I need to offer grace to myself. He is a crazy man.  I have spend two years now seeking begging pleading for forgiveness from my daughter for all the wrongs I can imagine, plunging into our history for evidence of my rights, searching for an identity that allows me to still be her mother when she just says nothing which somehow means no. I forget that I am worthy of forgiving myself. He shared a story that included the message that yes, of course we messed it all up. Yep. Yep, we do that. Owning that is not the end of the story. What else have we done? Did we try to fix it? Offer grace to ourselves.

This is radical stuff to me, I didn’t see it coming. I still am battling with God that I want restoration with my daughter now, that I have cracked open my heart enough for other people. Maybe though the crack hasn’t widened quite enough to include me. Maybe the voice God is calling me to love in the devastation is not all of His other children but me as well. Maybe the orphanage he wants me to build is a home for this child here, who seeks refuge and safety and a place of belonging. God is so sneaky, sending me a double teaming set of pastors to deliver Easter messages, knowing my cracked heart is turned away, turned toward little dresses on grandchildren in another state that I won’t see today. If that isn’t love, if that isn’t grace, I really don’t know what to tell myself.

So I cry some tears but not many and I remember a bit but don’t get lost there and I make my ham and listen to the chatter of the ones who are here and I make the plates on the table be enough. I know the tomb is empty and the weeping was for that moment when the loss was real.  Then all were restored but it was different and unrecognizable, this new Jesus and our job as believers got so much bigger. We have to deal with the cracks in our hearts, we have to let the loss be felt, and then we find restoration and grace in the One who rose. Not a simple 1,2,3 get it done process, no angels singing and the clouds parting when we get it all right. Because we so very rarely do. Thus the grace. For OURSELVES and others.

My sweet friends, offer yourself a gift today and listen to this podcast This Good Word if you dare and if your heart feels ready for some expansion. Some putty may fall away, you may find yourself listening to the call of God’s voice, saying, “You, you child are the one I want you to love and forgive. Then we can do some big stuff with food pantries and orphanages and classrooms and driving without anger.”  The truth is we are all mistake making messes but I would sit next to you at church any day. Will you sit next to me as well? Can we make some space for grace for ourselves this Easter? I am not trying to team up with your pastor, but personally, I think you are worth it.