Carrying My Elephant

When I explained to my friend that I felt disconnected to my Plum, that I knew I wasn’t being emotionally available to him, that I feared for our relationship but felt helpless to muster the energy to play our pretend games or create my own Lego robot to battle his, she offered many gentle suggestions but one stood out. I needed to tell him the truth. Hardly shocking or earth-shattering yet I hadn’t even in my foggy state, considered the power of offering him my truth.  Her ability to discern and deliver hard truths and beautiful insight with a softened tone and gentle words has aided me in correcting my paths too many times to count now. I trust her, I believe she has my best interests and even more, my soul, in mind as she listens to me. What if I offered my Plum the same gift of truth?

Her ideas about how to stay present with Plum, to create some space for even a few moments of engagement that would carry him as I sunk back into the fog of memories and heartache, they changed our weekend and brought me closer to this sweet child. Putting the plans in motion alleviated the guilt I was trying to add onto over-burdened shoulders. We built some Lego guys, we chitter-chatted. By Sunday though, I was exhausted and weepy and just needed some alone time. “Gran can we play our pretend game?” When life was our normal, he and I took on the role of characters, or more accurately, I did. He always stays Plum but I am a cast of friends who have different voices and attitudes and agendas. Our group tackles the concerns in his mind, we work out proper sharing and competitions and word choices and even a new crush. This play forces me into giving him my full attention and he loves it, craves this secret activity of ours (if Chef approaches, SILENCE!) By Sunday morning, I was completely unable to take on any more roles, I barely had my own voice. “C’mon here Plum, let’s talk.” Instead of playing any other parts, I gave him my truth.

“Gran’s sad is so big, so heavy, it is as if I am carrying an elephant.” Spreading my arms out wide, I showed him how heavy they were, how cumbersome this elephant actually is.  “Gran is so tired because this elephant is huge and heavy and it is wearing out my arms, making my shoulders ache, my body is exhausted.” I asked him if he noticed that I wasn’t very attentive right now, he said I was grumpy. Yes! I owned his label and told him this elephant is making it hard for me to see anything else, my view is blocked. I get distracted with the heaviness of it, I forget to be nicer and I can’t pick up anything more. Apologizing for not being more with him, expressing that I so missed our special times together, I told him I wouldn’t be carrying this elephant forever. “But Gran, I thought you love elephants?” Clarity and history broke down my metaphor, I struggled to explain that indeed, I do and yet this one was coming between us. Still, he said he understood and he offered grace to his Gran, tempered his invitations to play and met me in the light of our truth. Even as I pondered my promise to him, that this elephant carrying wasn’t forever, I realized I had no idea how to set it down. Slowly, carefully, with great care so neither of us were permanently damaged, I imagined.

“Your joy is your sorrow” writes Kahil Gibran in “The Prophet,” a work that has greatly steered my thinking for over 30 years. The words of this poem have been echoing around my thoughts as I consider the question posed by my Plum. Yes, one of my greatest joys ever was when Stella and I interacted up close with elephants in a sanctuary in Thailand.  The opportunity to side atop one as she played in the river, to be dunked under by the mahout, her tender, and gasp in delight as a baby elephant swam under us and popped up spraying water all around us, this joy is deeply connected to my daughter and my time of discovering her fully as a young woman. Why didn’t I tell Plum my sad was as big as a whale? A huge building? When the words left my mouth to this sweet boy, I said elephant and it was truth. My most joyful moments are the self same deepest sorrow, forever joined in my love for these two children. Remembering how carefully we made meals for the elephants within this sanctuary, how we marveled at their size and gentleness, I am reminded that my grief deserves the same consuming tenderness.

One day I will merely visit with this elephant, I won’t be carrying it. That day seems quite out of reach in these early dark moments. For now, I got honest with my Plum and we are both better for it. While I am weighed down with grief, we have offered each other space to feel how we are, be where we are, we are finding language to share difficult emotions. Mostly though I was to free up a hand to reach out to this child.  Joy will come again, I am confident this child will we teach me the way back. Reconnected, I release the guilt and hold my sadness tenderly.

 

 

How Pictures Keep Him Close

For all of the negatives that smart phones have brought into our culture, I remain grateful for mine. My most used feature is maybe the same as yours, the camera. Having the ability to snap pictures and grab moments at any time, to crop and get just the right view, has allowed me to document and keep not just the big events like weddings and celebrations, but the odd moments of day to day life. When my grandson Plum was born, I became the photographer in the family, continuously snapping shots of him and his parents, of everyone around gazing at him. Arrow, my son, dubbed me “mama-razzi” and often bemoaned my dedication to preserving these moments. Still especially when he was in prison, those previous pictures and all the ones I took daily were a blessing to him, I sent over a 1,000 to him throughout his stint. These pictures that were for him are now my most treasured possessions.

I start each morning watching the video that mama made for the memorial service, the highlight reel of my son’s life. As soon as my sleep ends and the reality of a new day hits me, I find comfort in the thought of visiting with him, if only through pictures. “Good morning honey,” I silently greet him as the images flicker across my screen. Pause, stare, inspect, fall into each view as I remember that day, that slice of his life. Pictures are powerful gifts, their value growing as time moves on.  For now, looking at him over and over feeds the denial that he is truly gone. I am fighting acceptance, dragging my feet and heart into realization that my world is forever damaged, like the images that pop up and fade into the next, I can only hold this new reality for a flash. I jump to the next picture where he is alive and big and laughing and there is only joy.

My father died of a massive heart attack when I was 14, while he was in the hospital being teated for the one or two he had suffered the previous week at home. Closeted in the separate waiting room, the one where they gave the bad news to families, I remember overhearing a nurse say that he had tried to jump off of the table, his pain was so great. For 40 years I have considered that level of pain, that desire to escape what is happening within our own body, a futile attempt to leave, to stop the excruciating nightmare. Until that morning 6 weeks ago,  I was never truly able to understand. Maybe it is harder for those of us who learned to dissociate at such a young age.  My challenge has always been feeling the pain, acknowledging what is happening to my body, until I learned that my son had died. Now every morning, countless times throughout the day, I want to scream, to jump up and roar that this is too much, to leave where I am and go somewhere that the pain cannot follow. I long for an escape, to go someplace else where this attack on my heart cannot reach. Resisting the outbursts that bubble within me, I don’t scream or jump or roar, instead I look at pictures.

I hear his deep voice calling me mamarazzi, asking me to send him all the pictures I have taken as he poses and plays with his son, as he snuggles with our beasts and cuddles the cats gently with his huge hands.  Reliving each moment, I hold him close and forget for mere seconds that I will never take another of him, seconds that stop me from jumping out of my skin in anguish. Click, the video starts again. Good morning honey.

 

Communion Sunday

The weekly exercise of celebrating communion as a Catholic was the highlight of going to church as a child. I loved the thin wafers, the solemn manner in which we all stood in line to approach the altar, the seriousness on even my brother’s faces as we participated with all who had studied and prayed and finally been accepted into the club of those who are worthy of receiving. I knew what the sacrament meant but I didn’t feel it, I was more interested in what all those around were doing, how it seemed to change everyone as they stood in line to open their mouths and drink from a shared cup. Folks who had just been napping, children who had been kicking the kneelers, suddenly all were as outwardly invested as the widow who never let her attention stray from the priest. My communion was with those around me but not yet with God.

My Methodist church celebrates this sacrament on the first Sunday of each month. For 3 or sometimes 4 weeks, I attend without this direct connection with God, without the reinforcement of His sacrifice and HIs desire to give me new life. It has become ever more a significant Sunday, I remind Plum that it is communion Sunday when he is wavering on his decision to join us. He, like me as a child, loves the ceremony or maybe just the sweet bread and the grape juice he dips it into. In fact he often asks at home for bread and a cup of grape juice to repeat the experience, I don’t think he is praying or receiving enlightenment, yet he knows the practice at church is special and he loves to relive it at home. Even with the opportunity to frequently enjoy those flavors as he sits on the couch, he always chooses to go when I remind him it is communion Sunday.

Keeping track of THE Sunday each month allows me to consider hours before I ever leave the house just what is going to be asked of me when I do get to church. Much before I am invited to the altar, I have been preparing to receive. I feel the heaviness of my soul as I consider my desire to be in communion with God, I recall the lightness as I return to me seat after opening my hands to this gift. The responsibility of it is never lost on me, yet sometimes communion hits me deeper, knocks my balance off, I stumble away and know God has asked of and offered more to me. Thus, after missing the last two weeks of church, the first Sunday because I was too sad and the next Sunday because I was too ill, I was well aware of the calendar date and what I was facing this week.

My anger over the loss of my son was initially directed at God, I had no desire to draw near to Him or to accept what He was handing out. Having healed from this rift, having confessed my blaming heart and my misplaced and outsized anger, I slowly have been making amends to God and accepting His nearness. But communion? An entirely different communication of my choice to be a supplicant, of my proclamation to seek Him out, of my declaration of an emptiness only He could fill. To be honest, even as I prepared for the day, I wasn’t confident I was ready to dive back in that fully, to talk with God that directly. I slyly mentioned to Chef that I wished he wasn’t going to miss it due to the class he takes during the service hour. I wanted him with me but I didn’t know how to ask him to sacrifice what he gains from the group just to prop me up, again. It felt selfish to ask someone to give more when I should be able to do it on my own. He replied that if I came to his classroom when it was time, he would duck out for a few minutes. A plan was created, I felt surer knowing he would be by my side.

The music began, my soul was being prepared to receive by breaking down my resistance, the pretend wholeness I was showing to those around me laid bare. My tears flowed freely. I was being readied to approach God out of my need rather than merely because of habit. I barely heard the sermon, couldn’t stay focused on the words my pastor was sharing. Instead I was anticipating the choice I was making, silent emptying of this vessel I brought into the building. God was no longer content to be near me, He wanted more. Was I willing to submit, to allow Him to patch up my brokenness with His love, could I agree to welcome the Holy Spirit directly into my pain? God and I have been dancing, my steps going back and His reaching forward, certainly through the example of His children as they have supported me and loved me and given space for my grief. Now though, He wanted to show me Himself.

As my pastor broke the loaf of bread, as he poured the glasses of juice, I was mesmerized by those symbols of sacrifice. I was transported back to the last supper, to a deeper understanding of God’s gift to me. Rushing out of the room to get Chef and Plum from their classes, I felt drawn back into the sanctuary, my urgency to commune was palpable.   Minimally aware of my surroundings, I approached the communion stewards, beautiful friends of ours who offered not just their own desire to hold us along this sorrowful path but also the welcoming of God. My hands opened and lifted up to receive, gently I held the bread and dipped it into the juice, the moment had arrived, would I, could I allow this into my body, could I commit to God’s redeeming presence in my soul?

What happened deeply, profoundly transformed me, my thanksgiving stuttered to God as I sank to my knees on the cushion by the altar, I can only say that my resistance vanished as the body and blood of Christ met my tongue, traveled into my body. My Chef met me as I sobbed before I could even return to my seat, an emissary of God, one who could surround me and hold me as I freed the tears and the pain, my emptiness replaced by God’s grace. I haven’t been right since, I am changed. I am solemn and serious and celebratory all at once, I know that God and I have built a direct line between us, no longer dependent at least for these few hours, on the work of His children. I communed with God and it was good.

It will be four more weeks before I have an opportunity to approach the altar with a humbled heart, willing to publicly announce my acceptance of the glory of God in my life. Where I will be on this grief journey by then is beyond my awareness. Will I grasp the gift, will I walk humbly up to receive? Will I avoid or reject out of rekindled anger? I am as unsure of the future regarding that choice as I am of my ability to leave the house each day to honor commitments I have made. Yet for this one morning, the first Sunday of the month, I walked further into my relationship with God. God offered Himself to me, I gave back my broken self and we communed. Bread and juice never tasted so good.

Building Puzzles and Relationships

My mother-in-law came to stay with us last weekend, something I had desperately been wanting. She left for a month long stay in Florida on the day we discovered our son was gone, I needed my mother, I needed her hugs. Yet the dementia that she is experiencing robbed her of the ability to stay with me throughout a conversation, she hasn’t absorbed the news in a lasting way. While heartbroken that I am losing her too, I accepted what she did have to give, the glimpses of her I could still catch. Sitting across the dining room table, poring over a puzzle, we chatted as if our world was not as scattered and disconnected like the pieces we started at. In the end, I realized she was in there somewhere and I was blessed to have her near even as her mind was far away.

My thoughts are consumed with memories of my son, blessed gifts that now flow freely. Sudden eruptions of tears, of sobs that begin and end with seemingly little control on my part, are my new normal. I too, like my mother-in-law am only partially present. Yet those around me are accepting of the little I offer, content to be close by when a smile appears on my saddened face, when a bit of my laughter joins their chorus. They also remain when I am vacant and far away, when I have no inclination to participate. This family of faith bolsters me as I journey a path that winds me close and then sends me plummeting, they welcome me anyway, in spite of, without judgement. What does it mean to offer that to all of our brothers and sisters, to accept them where they are and the gifts they have to share without the desire to fix, change, alter each other?

I grew up in the Catholic church, dabbled in Episcopalianism as a young adult, finally landed in this Methodist church. I came here not for some deep commitment to John Wesley and his teachings but because of the congregation, the way they reflected God and Jesus to me. Slowly I have learned about the actual tenets of our denomination but take those almost as suggestions, not as rules that guide us (my apologies to my Pastors!). Our church runs a wide spectrum of personal beliefs, we do not support one political party or agree on societal issues like abortion and sexuality even as we are pursuing social justice issues with a new ministry of partnership with the local probation department to support those formerly incarcerated. I once questioned whether this congregation was truly progressive enough for me, I felt called to evaluate how my leanings meshed with the wider group and came away with the comforting knowledge that I prefer the combined voices, the opportunities to hear other perspectives, without being forced to accept all of those as my own. It is okay with me that we disagree, we are supporting each other anyway. This is my church home, my family, a coalition of those who could choose to be divided, those who could seek to speak louder and drown out opposing views, yet we have thus far managed to sing together. Still societal concerns do beg for a thoughtful response, one that discerns the nature and teachings of our Jesus. How do we construct our puzzle together?

Ultimately, I am thoroughly encouraged that I am not given license to determine our church’s message on sexuality, on homelessness, on abortion, on who deserves the grace that I receive with every interaction at church. What if I have it wrong, what if my personal views are not as rooted in faith as they need be? As I continue to grow into my relationship with God, I can look back and see along my path discarded prejudices and with each step, less need to impose my views on others who are traveling as well. I trust the voices who come together in the light to ask hard questions and to listen to others who may have walked a bit longer or along a rockier route, who may have stumbled and gained insight as they climbed back up. We in this congregation are not told who to vote for, how to respond to each person’s failings or sins. We are taught to accept the weavings of all of our threads, to create a thing of beauty that grows as we unite our lives and struggles.

My mother-in-law and I worked on the puzzle for hours. I sought out ways to connect individual pieces to create the image on the box, she approached the task much differently. Picking up one piece at a time, she studied the box until she could find where that bit of color, those tiny words, could be identified in the larger image. She didn’t connect the pieces, I didn’t use the box. I could argue that her method moved us no closer to our goal, yet her ability and desire were not the same as mine. She was content to be with me anyway. I was blessed by her nearness. We traveled separately together. Our voices mingled and joined, we love each other anyway. I pray that my church never loses that which makes us the strongest, our inclusion of wise discerning voices who can see the larger picture and connect the odd bits as well as those who are lost and disconnected, those who look at the world with aged eyes who have seen more and experienced more. There is no one right way to build a puzzle, there is no one way to interpret the bible. In the end, the journey of questioning and wondering aloud IS the point, that is the calling, that is where our beautiful joining occurs.

Shall we continue to listen to wise scholars and dissenting views, to those who are young in age and those young in faith as well as those who lean differently than ourselves? What a beautiful tapestry we create with the rich colors of us all. Our puzzle won’t be completed on this side but with each piece added, the image of grace becomes clearer. How joyful I am that we don’t discard those pieces that just don’t seem to fit, what elation I feel when the awkward shaped one becomes central to the picture I am building. Just as I cannot do this puzzle work without a strong light to illuminate the true markings and soft edges, this life walk begs for our reliance of the Light. Thank you church for showing me the way and the worth of us all.

Could I Survive A Zombie Attack?

I have a friend who teases me sometimes about riding out a zombie apocalypse, she questions my ability to survive. As an extremely non-violent person, I have little chance apparently, fortunately she has offered to protect me. What I have come to understand though is that I am already a survivor, I have the skill set needed to withstand all that comes at me, I have been practicing nearly my entire life. Every day up to this one has prepared me for the worst that could happen, the loss of my child and the darkness that would ensue. I found my safe space not in a bunker filled with bottled water and canned goods but in a family of faith, open and light-filled, the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit breezing through the open windows of my soul. those who freely offer grace and forgiveness, who have listened to my fears, my shame, my heartaches and still usher me into their sanctuary, these light-bringers invited me into the Kingdom and asked me to call it home.

An advantage of making as many public mistakes as I have is that you cannot run from the truth, it is all out there. The choice is to live in shame and the judgement of others or rise up.  Accountability and atonement are my guiding principals, seeking the next right thing and making hard choices that are not in my best interests or even what my heart yearns for, these skills have served me well and are leading me back into the fold. Beyond what I would desire, I will survive this grief and the pain because I have been preparing for this my whole life. I am a survivor. In fact for many years I merely survived, I existed. I eased through each day making as few waves as possible, standing in the shadows, silent and grateful for the crumbs of joy that entered my soul, I was a zombie. Then God said, “Enough.” I was washed of shame and offered transformation and a full life in the Light. I accepted, not realizing that very act would prepare me for the greatest loss of my life. That building of trust with others who share my faith and guide me to restoration are all I need to withstand attacks from evil worse than any zombie.

This spat that I have been having with God changed over the course of a weekend, when I lost a filling in a tooth and then caught the stomach bug that has been circling around our community and then found a comment on this blog that was absolutely cruel.  Physical agony that compounded my soul ache, utter helpless that sent me to my knees pushed me where I was meant to go with my broken heart. I had time to think, no puzzles and crocheting and feverish house cleaning to keep me distracted. Finally it occurred to me that I couldn’t blame God for not saving Arrow, He had done so too many times before, Arrow had been protected and rescued countless times, I know of those exact moments that God interceded on this child’s behalf. Arrow chose not to cherish that intervention, to see what more he was and stay in the Light. As clarity came about fault and blame and accountability, I found God hovering patiently, waiting for my confession for doubting HIs love. I needed more though, to allow God to be off the hook. It came in the form of insight from my daughter, from Stella, shared cruelly from one who wished to cause harm. Yes, you read that correctly.

As I read the words of my daughter, the first insight into this estrangement, the first communication that gave insight into her thinking, I became free. That which was meant for harm God turned into good.  Of course the missive was ugly yet it brought total clarity as I realized just like my son, my daughter is choosing to use and others are supporting her destructive habit. Rather than substances, she is consumed with hate and distortions and twisting of truth in order to maintain this estrangement. I recognized for the first time, IT IS NOT ME! Just as I couldn’t stop Arrow from sliding back into the darkness but provided him with every resource to choose a different life, so I am not responsible for my daughter’s  graceless existence even as I recall that she was raised in the faith where forgiveness, atonement and grace are practiced. Genesis 50:20 comes to mind: 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. Yes, I am going to survive this and continue seeking what direction God is leading me, I certainly cannot do that and maintain my fight with him.

As the chains broke loose, as I realized evil was trying to push me away from God, I chose instead to live, to more than survive, to reenter a lasting full relationship with the One who had been mourning the loss of me, who was hurt by our separation. As a friend prayed with me, I heard her speak of God mourning and the last brick in my wall crumbled. I had hurt God by turning my back and He was mourning my loss. How could I as a mother awash in grief inflict that on anyone, especially the One who had interceded before, who was with my child in the final moments, who lost His own son and who cried at the wasted life of mine son? Who would ever choose to add to another’s pain, who would intentionally bring dissension and hurtful words to one already aching? I cannot be that person, I cannot treat God this way. I am called to seek reconciliation. Thus I confessed to God my sin and my sorrow. And I began to rise. In accepting that God was mourning me, I couldn’t deny that I was WORTH mourning, that my life holds value and meaning. Mind blowing stuff that destroys the evil that has attempted to overtake me. The ugly words, at the attacks on my right to grieve the loss of my son, the horror of how my son’s death was handled, all banished as the dirty work of the evil one. The Truth and the Light prevailed.

The distractions of evil that have swirled around the loss of my son are gone, I am left with the freedom to mourn, to grieve, to celebrate Arrow’s life and to ache over the death of my child. I have survived the plague of iniquity, the zombies are banished. No special weapons, no stockpiles of blankets and flashlights, I did it with my first-aid kit, one filled with the Holy Spirit and the Truth.  Love and grace from the children of God who battled alongside me showed me the relentlessness of God as they tended my wounds and shared their oxygen. Indeed, I am a survivor and I am even more. I don’t really know what zombies could bring but my heart isn’t troubled by that worry.  God and I are on speaking terms again, together we are in mourning and we are healing, one breath at a time.