Keep Singing

Last night I tuned into The Voice finale just as the reposts of the bombing in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert were flooding my twitter feed. (Yes, I am guilty of looking at my phone while watching tv, I have many bad habits, this is not that post where I list them all.) I can’t say I am familiar with her music or even really know where Manchester is located specifically, but I understand the power of music. I was struck by the young artists on this show who were striving to get their literal voices heard, who had dreams and aspirations and felt the music clear into their souls and absolutely needed to express their gifts. Ms. Grande seems to be just such a young woman, now forever connected to a horrific act and the loss of lives. Her concert attendees seemed to be mostly other young people, many really young, accompanied by their mothers. I watched the tv and saw hopes looking for a chance as others were extinguished all as the music played.

When my children were adolescents, I took them to just such concerts, Avril Lavigne and some boy band my daughter loved that I can’t recall right now. I earned “best mom ever” credit for sitting through loud concerts with screaming girls, buying t-shirts and letting kids stay up way beyond bedtime in order to feed the need for music that spoke to where they were. I even took them to a Christian music Woodstockish festival where we camped out and got muddy and went from venue to venue for several days. The kids ran freely among other early teens who were searching for identity and safe rebellion and rap music that didn’t make their parents ground them. Toby Mac introduced us to a new way to worship, a new way to let them express some angst while still within the boundaries of our faith. It was bliss and too much laundry and terrible camp food and unexpected cold and rain and amazing memories. I understood that music was integral to shaping their choices, I wanted to help them make positive ones. I can only imagine the same was true for all of those moms at that concert last night, for those who purchased tickets for their children to go and waited outside in coffee shops reading a book, feeling so confident in the parenting choice they had made. I can only imagine the horror that they all feel now, those who ran screaming, searching, begging to find their children safe, those who did and my God, those who didn’t.

I sat in the sanctuary this Sunday while our praise band, certainly not concert level material as we are Methodist, slayed me. The music, the songs, something holy happens sometimes and I just have no ability to maintain the defenses that I walked in with. These people share the gifts they have and God takes over, my soul is broken open and real work is begun. I believe that is what happened to my children at all those concerts, even with angsty teen music. Whether they were learning to trust their mom durning the rough years ahead or they were learning to lean into their faith, those concerts undergirded them during critical times. The bombing at this concert makes it all the more horrific to me, all the more personal to me. Terrifying people at a time their souls are being opened, truly an actor evil.

Today I am hearing that the bomber was a young person as well. I can’t help but wonder about what has taken place in his life, who broke his soul to allow him to carry out this atrocity. How does one look at the joy and celebration in such an environment and decide you must kill? When I am in such places, I want more of that joy, I want more of the happiness, it is energizing and catching and electric. Only a deadened soul wouldn’t  feel the beat and want to tap toes and raise arms and begin swaying, at the very least. Who didn’t sing to this child, who didn’t tell him he could play an instrument of peace? Who perverted any of those messages his mother gave him to turn what were songs of love and hope into screams of horror?

As more information comes out, maybe we will have answers about this bombing but I know for sure that music will live on. I know someone will win The Voice, but really they all did already. I know my praise band speaks Jesus every week.  I know more songs will be written and more little kids will pick up flutes and tubas and learn to play the piano. I know moms will take teens to concerts and we will sing in our churches and temples and mosques and wherever we worship. Music is holy. The way through this horror is not more guns or wars or hate but more love and peace and prayer. I’m reminded of the old Coke commercial , oh I wish we could all sing together today. Still, we will keep singing wherever we are because music is absolutely bigger than hate.

Let our souls join with those who are mourning and fearful, let us join in prayer and song for those who are aching. Let us lift up those who are being broken right now into the ways of evil, that they may be invited back into songs of joy. Let the music of peace always win.

 

Ruth and Naomi

I have been reading the book of Ruth lately, digging into the story of two women who united under extreme circumstances. I find myself coming back to this story often, I know the deeper meaning of the players and God’s call for us. Still, I just really like Naomi and Ruth, I understand them beyond the surface level of the story. The funky boundaries of their relationship, the strength of their characters, the hardships that they faced together, these women were rock stars. I want them at my dinner parties, I know women like them. In fact, I surround myself with Naomi and Ruth in friendships, in classes I attend, in groups I am drawn to. I love these women. They show up, they ache, they are loud and are shy, they just keep doing the next right thing even though they carry a history that hurts and a fear for what their children are doing right now. They pull me aside and share their brokenness because I tell mine here, they know we will recognize each other. Still, the story or Ruth and Naomi is about more to me, a guidebook of how to love in the midst of hardship and the world questioning your right to, a society that says go back to your own people, a story that tells of a love that goes beyond blood and into the souls of women.

My own relationship with Mama defies explanation, is one of the purest examples of the power of prayer and a view of real redemption. We have struggled together to find our way in the wilderness, she was left “widowed” almost as soon as she discovered our Plum was growing within her womb. Chef and I offered safe haven about 7 1/2 years ago now, we have been offering the same ever since. She and I are our own Naomi and Ruth, gleaning what is good from the fields of our history, a bond that is so strong and fragile on any given day, yet forged by God thus unbreakable. Mama and I met when she was at her lowest, we have found ways to take each other even lower. We have hurt and healed each other in ways that only women can. Words that wound and leave scars have been flung out in anger and fear. We also have spoken sweetly and at the most tender times, messages that bore truth so fiercely the walls melted away. This bond is what happens when God gets involved, when God says I will not allow you two to break what I have chosen to stand. Despite all of our best efforts to destroy our relationship on any given day, any given year, we have survived and are bound together not just in our love for Plum but the underlying love for each other.

Now that she has married this wonderful new man with a full family in tow, has a new baby, Sweetness, my place in her life is once again a battlefield. Blessedly, this time it is not us warring. Who wouldn’t, if you have not journeyed with us all these years, wonder why in the world she calls me instead of a different grandma or brand new sisters? Why does she allow me into her heart when others are kept at bay? I won’t share Mama’s story here, what I can say is that building and destroying trust and trying to rebuild it is not for the impatient, results are not immediate. Isn’t this true of all parenting? The seeds we sow at the earliest ages are what we find sprouting in adolescence, rarely do we get the behavior turn around from a time-out in the blink of an eye. We stay with it, we keep trying. We do the next right thing and own when we did all the wrong things and admit we were just too tired and hungry and lonely to even have a conversation so please don’t talk to us when we look like that again. We admit our humanity and we show humility. Because those characteristics are what we want to see in our children. Mama and I have learned each other’s hungry faces, too tired to talk voices, we have learned the silent signals and where all the land mines are. We have found that hurting each other is so horrible we can no longer bear to do that, loving each other is too dear, we must continue. Doing so is work, I know I drive her crazy and there is a really big obstacle called my son in the way many days. Still she knows that more than anyone on this earth, I want her to succeed. I am invested in her being the best mama ever. She knows that I don’t visit her to judge her progress but to delight in her love for her family. She trusts that I never carry a scorecard to document her wrongs but rather a camera to catch her family loving laughing snuggling. She wants me to see her doing this, my soul aches to see her see me seeing it. Together we know how critical it is that she be affirmed as mama, that she not be undermined at this important time in her daughter’s life. We have journeyed here before. Traveling together on this road is much much sweeter while she holds and loves and coos at her baby, I take the pictures. My need is not to hold Sweetness, my soul yearns to see her do so with this confidence. Thus, she allows me in, a spectator a witness someone to document this time around because I was there before. Naomi and Ruth bound together searching for scraps of nourishment, feeding each other’s souls. I get it.

Mama doesn’t let others in so readily, she carries many wounds. She doesn’t broadcast them for all, she is protective of her story and her family. Oh Lord loving our children is hard, isn’t it? We just want in, they want boundaries and schedules and to be seen as adults with the ability to make choices that are respected. We see children playing house until we are forced into acknowledging our baby has grown, our work there is done, we no longer can give a time out. Forging a new relationship with an adult child requires respecting limits we don’t like, we may be put in the thinking chair, our desire to speak may be rejected. No longer in control, we find ourselves suddenly wondering what happened, where did we go wrong, even try to affix blame on the interloper, the new spouse. We lose sight of the fact that we have actually succeeded in launching our child into the world, we can now sit back and drink wine on the porch and do hardly any laundry and the house stays neater. We find our own women friends again. Just as we do, the phone will ring and a question is asked. Do you think she may have a fever? What would you do about this stain? You find you are invited to step in just a bit, you must control the desire to rush forward and do the laundry and make the dinner and hold the baby. Go drink your wine and just listen. I imagine Ruth and Naomi spent many hours talking to each other, more was spent listening. Those silent places are where holiness happens.

When Ruth went out into the fields, when she later married Boaz, she didn’t leave Naomi behind. Their relationship was cemented in the journey of hardship and loss and pain and tears, all those long talks and shared worries about where the next meal may come from and how much they ached over the Ruth’s husband no longer being around, Naomi’s son gone from them. These two women were bound together thus when Ruth began her new life, she took her “mother” with her. During a time when bloodlines really mattered, this is an incredible story. The graciousness of Boaz is remarkable. Today, families are scattered like those barley seeds that Ruth labored to harvest, bloodlines are even more messy. Today to have two women like Mama and I bound together after so many fractures and obstacles is surely the work of God. We are blessed that our real life Boaz accepts our relationship. We are blessed to have each other. Just this Sunday as we sat in church together, I gloried in how ridiculous our family tree at that moment was and how amazing God is at sticking folks together. Later as Mama sat outside the sanctuary and sobbed because her gift to me on Mother’s Day was not good enough, sobbed because my children were not seeing in me what she does, I could only remember those two women long long ago who found a way through famine and loss and hardship with only their faith to carry them. Mama’s gift to me is more pure than a bouquet or a bottle of perfume, it is the inclusion into her journey. It is the gift of trust that comes only through fire that has singed us all but left nonsense in the ashes and what matters most stronger and standing.

Isn’t it amazing that the story of Ruth and Naomi is what is shared at weddings? The story of love that is selfless and outside of convention, the story of women who understand that listening is every bit as important as talking and honoring looks different than showing up on one day each year with a card or flowers. Time to build trust and following each other along the path of God is surely the only way in to lasting relationship. Mama and I have journeyed long to get to Bethlehem and I know there is room in the city for others to join us. May they come and sit patiently, may they wait for their invitation to dine on the barley seeds, may they accept the gifts of love that come from the deepest parts of a young mother’s soul. It is worth the journey, I promise.

 

Ahead of Myself

In a family where impulsiveness runs as sure as blue eyes, we know all about fresh starts and second chances and the power of forgetting that last act that was out of character. We understand each other, we often ask, “Did you get ahead of yourself?” and then give space for the offender to catch up. We move too quickly through life which generally serves us well: Stella began reading on her own at age 4 after crawling at 3 months and walking at 8 months. Arrow was not to be left in the dust and walked at 9 months, he chose not to read until kindergarten and then jumped to 3rd grade level with a couple months of special attention. Plum is no different, he finds controlling those impulses a daily battle won mostly at school and often lost at home. We are not smarter, just process quickly and then act, but when we act and then process, mistakes happen. We get ahead of ourselves. Within the confines of our home, we understand this and sprinkle grace about, understanding eyes shine on each other as we throw away the memories of the last unfortunate toss of flour onto the counters and beasts or spray of water onto the bathroom floor, we know better and are better and mostly do better but sometimes the urges overwhelm us. The floor is wet, the counter is covered with dust and we wake as if from a trance and wonder what In God’s name just happened. Have you ever been there?

Arrow was actually diagnosed with ADHD as a child, Stella received her ADD status as a young adult, gifts surely given to them from my blood line but I am not counting out the pesticides from all the fruits and vegetables I fed them as children. That doesn’t explain my inability to act outside of the fog sometimes, surely my brain was not still permeable by these chemicals? Age is not helping, stress an even greater factor. More and more I find I have gotten ahead of myself with disastrous results, whether in conversation or in action. It seems I so very often am seeking that sprinkling of grace and those understanding eyes from others who may not know I moved a little too quickly and left my reason behind. At this rate, I fear I will be tottering old lady saying quite inappropriate things to strangers at an alarming rate without even a chance to come out of the fog. As my body slows, my mind is directly proportionally racing. It doesn’t bode well.

Yesterday I wrote here on my blog and didn’t do the final edit before it was time to join the family again for the 7,000,000th time to fix breakfast, check the iPad settings, let the beasts in and out, refill Plum’s milk, feed the cats and finally give up and head out to the church sale and the errands that awaited us all. Later as Plum and Chef were getting haircuts, I sat in the sun and remembered I hadn’t published my post and went to the app on my phone and hit the button and all was well as I sat in the glorious sunshine and breathed for a moment, just one moment of peace in a crazy morning. That was my trance, looking back now, that snippet of time sitting on the sidewalk alone with no distractions I went into a different brain place that was not good even though it all seemed so lovely. I had forgotten that I didn’t edit, that I wasn’t ready to publish. Nothing in my memory spoke up and said stop, wait, slow down consider, nothing. I just hit the button and the internet was allowed to read not only my blog post for the day but my personal journal writings. EEK! Retract, squash, withdraw. Except one cannot undo such a public step, this blast of speed was not within my kitchen, was not just flour all over  my countertops in a fit of abandon but a recording of my deeper musings caked into emails that I couldn’t scrub clean.

As I sat with Plum and Chef eating lunch at Taco Bell where the little prince had requested 4 soft shells tacos and was only eating two because he was consumed with the sauce packets he was teasing his grandfather with, we discussed the names on the brightly colored challenges to Chef’s palette. Mild, hot, fire, diablo, Chef tasted them in progression and made increasingly disturbing faces to the delight of the boy who was being initiated into testosterone dares. I was focusing on the cute messages on each packet and then settled on the hottest, asking if Plum knew what diablo meant. A wonderful opportunity to discuss good and evil, the role the devil plays in our choices, how we battle Satan in our daily choices and then my phone rang. Generally I wouldn’t answer during a meal but given the name on the screen, I chose to this time and that was God right there in Taco Bell, because that caller alerted me that I was way so far ahead of myself that I needed to pull myself back and check my blog. Immediately I realized what I had done, emerging from the trance like splashed with icy water, the furious deleting began. Still, emails existed that couldn’t be recalled. Thus, the ask for grace, the wondering if I had been working for diablo, how could I have chosen the wrong army?

What I know is this, edit, edit and edit some more. But more than that, God is in the mistakes also, in those holy moments when we sometimes show our truer selves and speak our deeper truths. Those messy dirty places can be washed clean but only if we bring them out in the open and let some light and water and air come to them. I certainly wouldn’t advise posting journal entries on the internet but mistakes happen and grace is given and pausing to seek God is especially important. I have also known lately that I am moving too quickly without giving enough thought to my actions, I am running from ghosts and hurts and am begging for retreat alongside some still quiet waters. Just this week I mistakenly picked up a homeless man instead of the gentleman from our church outside of a clinic who needed a ride home after a minor surgery. What could have been really dangerous or mildly disastrous turned out to be somewhat hilarious but still, I was too distracted to be in the moment, the trance had me and I was unaware.

I know this also, I am blessed with such a beautiful friend who loves me enough to call me and say wake up you absolute fool, my words not hers, but the message nonetheless. I am blessed with other friends who replied to my email saying they deleted the first one with offers of grace and support. I am blessed to have a former resident pastor who still shepherds me from afar who put context and wisdom onto my mistake.  I am blessed with the knowledge that I was not choosing to be on the diablo side, just not actively choosing God’s army either and I have more work to do there. Mild sauce is not good enough, I need to be cold and clean and clear with my words to avoid hurting others. I need to be awake, have my impulses in check, not so far ahead of myself that I coat others in the dust of pain. There are only so many times I can ask for grace for that, only so many times for second chances.

The still quiet waters are beckoning me, escape from the world and into retreat with God. I believe it is time I accept the invitation into that trance.

Restored

 

I hear wise words floating around me, coming from trusted women and NPR stories and snippets in the grocery store. Words that encourage and show strength and perseverance, words that show one can survive unimaginable losses and not be destroyed. I hear of widows who carry on, not shut away but still singing at church and baking brownies for youth group for sales.  I hear of adults who found their way to America with only one member of their family, the rest victim to the Khmer Rouge. I follow a mother’s updates on Facebook, a woman whose daughter went missing and no trace has been found since that night out with friends June 3, 2011.  The world is full of such great heartache and I hear the stories, I want to be able to gain perspective on my losses and get back up, bake more cookies for sales and sing more in church. Yet the wisdom slips through my grasp, too fragile to grab hold as my sorrow weakens me, muscles not exercised have gone limp. I want to forgive those who have contributed to my missing pieces,  I want to be the better version of myself,  I want to not ache and to allow others the time to grow into themselves without me but the yearning within me doesn’t cease. How do you stop marking the calendar with days missed together? The old Alcoholics Anonymous adage carries more wisdom: one day at a time. Still I know even with this model, I have relapses, I have lost my recovery into a state of sorrow. I hear the wisdom of survivors around me, the low hum of voices that cannot reach my heart. I want what I want, like an addict wants the next fix. Until I chose to get help, I am lost to this madness of mourning.

Finally another wise woman asked, “How is your soul?” and something broke through. I wanted to cry, I knew my soul was in tatters and spilling droplets of memories about me. I wanted to scoop them up and stuff them back in but they leaked and pushed and refused to be ignored. My soul? In a state of disarray, disquieted, disappointed, I answered. But now, several days later I realize I was wrong, my soul is steady and sure and waiting. I had mistaken my soul for my heart. My broken bleeding aching exhausted heart, that had taken over all of my attention and I forget about my soul. I was confused, as so often happens when emotions run amok with their blinding neon demands for attention, technicolor arrays of aches and pains that bleed into the next, no time to catch my breath before the next contraction arrives. God has sent these women to be my midwives, birthing me again and again as I find my soul where He resides. How is my soul? My soul is wounded and broken for the mother who can’t find her daughter, for all the families lost to genocide, for the mothers who will visit their sons this week in prison and the ones who cannot, for the women who feel less than because their body has produced no babies and the women who wish their own mothers were here to accept a corsage and those who never knew them or wanted to give flowers away.  God has given me a soul that notices the least, the vulnerable. That is where He resides within me, not my heart, where I live too often.

The run up to this holiday has been brutal but I see now I have chosen to step into the boxing ring to get pummeled. Jab, upper cut, smash, each punch of an advertisement knocking me further into my own heart and separating me from God, dividing me from what it is that He has asked of me. I can’t apologize for mourning, God surely recognizes my loss as well. Yet I just know that He is asking I trust Him to work on that, why cannot I fully turn that over to Him and do what He asks me to do without concern for the world and arbitrary dates on the calendar? Do I trust God? The clear answer is that I want to and I want what I want and I want to be better and I am just too full of humanity to lean so fully on my faith when the bright colors of Sunday ads with flowers and perfume and jewelry tell me that my children have forsaken me, knowingly neglected to reach out on this day, to inflict more damage. Yet, is that the truth? As my friend Janet is want to say, is that the story I am telling myself? I cannot speak to how hard this day is for them as well, I don’t know if they don’t ache to pick up the phone and have not yet reached the place in their journey that allows them to do so. Can I trust God with my heart and carry on with my soul work even on the hard days, the really horrible dark ones where the couch beacons even as the sun shines?

The only way I have ever known to survive is to rely on my soul and not my heart. My heart is faulty, a storehouse of tiny grudges and rather large expectations. My soul, though, no matter what I do, I cannot seem to muddy it up. That temple within me is where God awaits my return, my re-turn into His arms and His word and His promises along His path. Grace finds me there again and again, just as my children will find one day when they call home. Regardless of the calendar, it will be mother’s day. That is the promise that comes from trusting God and seeing to my soul. Hope is too tricky to allow into my heart, a fickle emotion that promises sugary sweetness but the crash that comes after is devastating. No, hope must live only within the confines of my soul, hope in God not in people or circumstances. No blood sugar spikes, no depressive lows, God is constant and persistent and pursues me with NPR broadcasts.  God in my soul says make some brownies for the bake sale and take some flowers to another mother this weekend. Go to church anyway, get of off the couch. This is just another day and it is a gift, greater than a corsage or perfume or even a call from children. It is from the One who never stops loving. How is my soul? Restored.

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Tree

Leaves have emerged onto the branches of the giant old tree in my back yard, I must have slept while it happened. Barren all winter waiting for spring, then brilliant red buds lined the wood as it reached across my yard and into the sky. Every year I plan to watch for the moment those promises turn to leaves, to see evidence of hope long buried sprouting into shade for giggling children on the trampoline. I miss out each year, it happens without me. The tree doesn’t need a witness to change, it needs no applause or  pictures to capture the stunning developments. The tree does as God asks, through every season, without complaint, shedding losing growing deep in the soil where no one can see and reaching high into the heavens. The tree allows nails to pierce it’s trunk as planks are applied for little feet to climb, it allows tiny growth to be pulled and plucked by a little boy who grabs hold and explores. The tree is steady in purpose, providing comfort and shelter and the joy of seasons to all who venture near. I can hear God asking me to be this tree.

How does one truly accept all that has come before, all the seasons and the plucking and the piercing? Forgiveness. Ugly horrible painful deep real forgiving of the people who have hurt me because otherwise I remain like a weed, sprouting up each summer in danger of being trampled, being poisoned, carrying my own prickly edges of protection that hurt bare feet and hearts that come too close. Without forgiveness I cannot accept that I am where I am supposed to be, I am who I am supposed to be. What if just one life event were different? What if I were not a childhood sexual abuse survivor? Would my heart really seek out the quiet children others miss? Would I understand the acting out teen who is yearning to tell a secret and deathly afraid to do so? Would I join in the slut shaming movement instead of wondering how this young woman learned to use her body to gain love? Becoming like the tree is to gain that perspective on my life, to forgive all that has come before and embrace the very soil that feeds my roots.

I have abhorred my father for longer now than he was alive, longer than I was with him. My hate has always been justified in the horrific things he did and allowed others to do. But what if I were to see him as damaged also? What if I go back a generation further? He was a child once, he was 6 years old once just as my cherished Plum is now. He was worthy of love and hopes and dreams, did anyone tell him that? What broke in him that he emerged as a hurting adult? That inner little boy must have been devastated at how his life evolved, how he was hurting his own children. That image breaks me, I can relate to that sorrow. I found a connection to my father. I found a way in to forgiveness.  My tree is growing roots.

I have avoided any mention of my exhusband, a chapter of my life best forgotten. Yet my children came from that union, gifts that bear the sweetest fruit and the most painful thorns. Much hasn’t been resolved from that rushed marriage and the even speedier dissolution, so many points where events could have turned right instead of left with only a different choice from him. Still, I know where he came from, I know who he is. Thirty-five years is a long time to be disappointed in someone for not being more, not being stronger. The truth is, it was never about him, it was always about me. He wasn’t enough for me, I chose wrong. I can forgive him for not being the right person because it was the wrong union, like a tiger and a frog marrying, never a chance for success, someone was always going to be destroyed. All fallout from that marriage is ash or glitter, burning bridges or sparkling promises of the future. He still influences the children, yet I am grateful that he gave them to me in the first place. I can offer forgiveness to him for not being strong enough to help me, then or ever, it wasn’t really his calling. I forgive myself for seeking refuge in the union, I know what I was escaping from, I was only looking back, not where I was headed. I brought devastation to us all. My tree is growing stronger.

The events surrounding my journey into prison are so rife with spots of intervention, my God I wanted someone to rescue me. The double life was exhausting, I have never possessed the ability to hide my feelings well, how could everyone miss what was happening? Furthermore, how could I not trust ANYONE? Surrounded by professionals who could have saved me, healed me, believed me, I chose the path of secrets and pain and the ugliest spiral into darkness. I have no need to forgive those who missed my tear-stained face or my anxiety or my bloody panties in the trash can, I am long beyond holding anyone else accountable. It was all me. Can I forgive myself for not screaming? Can I forgive myself for not going to the next person and the next until someone heard me? Deeper still, can I forgive him? He was once a child, like my father, that someone wanted more for. The sickness with which I sought out abusers so I could be the perfect victim is appalling, fuels my marching and protesting and shouted chants. I have to be heard now, I won’t be silent. Is this not what God wanted me to learn? I do not need rescuing, I am my own savior, I am strong enough. Without this experience I would be on a markedly different path, I would certainly not be married to Chef, not be involved in my church, in the deep meaningful relationships with women who have molded me. I would not care about prisoners who are locked away and forgotten, I would not understand to serve a replica prison meal before the showing of the documentary “13th” at church. My soul without these deep broken places would not feel and notice the aches of others, I cannot believe I would care as deeply. I am those lepers, I am those on lists who check boxes and struggle to ever be employed or respected. Can I accept that my brokenness brought me to an alternate wholeness? Only through real forgiveness for what happened on a dirty mattress in a filthy apartment when God cried out with me. Forgiving that moment brings buds of hope, as surely as Jesus shed blood on the cross to give us all new life. Those seconds as I watched the ceiling My God was still with me, waiting for me to realize I was more, I was meant for joy and comfort and purpose. Such a patient God, through the long seasons as I am stripped bare and forget that summer comes and I am His and my body is not for this. He has long forgiven my horrific choice to accept so little from life, to forget to reach up and out. Peaceful gratitude swells within as I offer up my branches now to the God who has shown me I never have to allow anyone to cut into my soul again. Forgiving myself, my rapist and the God I thought did not protect me, my tree grows strong and sturdy.

The ugliest times in my life are the very parts that move me into action, into growth. Those branches that look dead in winter sprout new buds and then leaves, providing shade and comfort for the weary and the rowdy. I rarely can see when I move from bud to full leafy coverage, God moves swiftly. A call, an ask, I am fully vested into areas of ministry before I realize that I have grown and pushed myself deeper into soil and out further into the sky. I am the tree that stays steady through the seasons, planted exactly where I am meant to be. The pains of my past are piercing and purposeful, certainly God did not orchestrate the horrors but will use what I give him to bring beauty and glory to His world. All He asks is that I stay planted right where I am, that I trust that I can bear the seasons, that I watch for the buds to emerge.  Children will giggle around me, birds will nest about me. Life happens in trees, all of life.

I don’t need pictures or applause to document my changing and growth, I don’t need anyone to notice that I have moved into a new season. Trees don’t long to be planted elsewhere, they don’t yearn for the leaves shed last autumn or the one before. God is asking me to be this tree, to be right here, right now, and know that He is with me. My heart wants to be obedient to this ever present God. Still, those leaves that have fallen away… a certain wistfulness and ache remains. Clearly my work as a solid tree of faith is just beginning. This season of renewal in Him brings peace in releasing the weight of the past, a peace in embracing this moment, as I wait for the birds to nest.

Time Capsule

As I grow older I have become less and less willing to celebrate commercial holidays. Maybe the blatant consumerism, the grab for more and more of the less and less money I have is fueling this resistance.  Maybe it is just weariness, every month seems to hold another event to “celebrate,” decorations to pull out, hang up, put down, stow away. Why can’t my home just rest as it is for a bit, the constant shifting of the wreath on the door and moving the items on the table to clear space for the tchotchke of the moment means the stuff I really like rarely gets displayed. Have I become a curmudgeon? Is it really that the fractures in my family are more visible when holidays are quiet, when presents and picnics are not planned with anticipation around this home? This estrangement is wearing on my soul and another Mother’s Day is rolling around, must we have this day this year? I know I can’t be the only one who wishes to hide as the calendar flips to May, knowing there will be no honoring me as I question my very worth in such a basic role.

Schools build craft activities around celebrating moms, how painful it must be for the children who have no mom to take the handprint plasters and tissue paper butterflies home to, no one awaiting those treasures to fill the box and look at years later, measuring the development of the artistic and handwriting skills of each child year to year. I have one of those boxes, filled with cards and letters and art projects, a cedar chest that holds the most prized baby clothes, tiny shoes with scuffs from wobbly steps, bits of ribbon and squares of bed sheets. More than just evidence that I was a mom to those children, it reminds me of our love, of our lives together. The cedar chest is our time capsule, one that they often would search through, ruffling the contents, pushing aside the items that belonged to the other as they sought clues to their early years, asking for anecdotes they had heard many times over. This time capsule may be buried now for them but it sits still in my home, a ticking living beating heart of our story. One day like long lost travelers they will come home again to discover our history is still in that box, that our relationship as mother and child began with my hopes and dreams and the ankle bracelet the hospital attached as they first entered the world. They will pull out cherished locks of hair to hold against the heads of their own children, comparing colors with a wistfulness that will break their hearts.

My treasure chest contains the last cards I received on Mother’s Day, lauding me and dripping with gratitude. As I read and re-read the card from my Stella, the estrangement becomes even more difficult to grasp. She was real in that card, those were her words, the daughter I knew since birth. Only months later she disappeared into a darkness that my light and love cannot reach, is there anything harder for a mother? Moms who have lost their children to death or to the world, who ache to have one more conversation, to caress those baby locks that have turned into teen and adult hair styles that no longer need our brushing, just one more. But I am not being honest, I want more than one, I want to hear the phone ring as it once did, see that my Stella was calling to include me in her daily or weekly musings, especially now that she is a mother herself. I knew her when she played with dolls, when she painted them with nail polish and bathed them in her own tub of bubbles. I long to see her bringing her fierce love to those babies now in her care, to see her teaching and reaching and carrying without thought, to watch how she juggles the one on her hip and the one wrapped tightly around her as she fixes snacks and tends to her home. I want to see her be a mom, I have seen her in every other role throughout her life and it has been a magnificent view. Like watching the most amazing movie only to have the film snap, sputter, the reel spin, the screen go black, I still remain incredulous that the connection has been broken. Offered tickets to a lesser show, this one of muted colors and b-side music, I long for the glorious vibrancy that she brought, the birds sang jazz, the colors were neon. I want that bigger life that comes from generational connections.

I long for my Arrow, differently, trusting that our break has more to do with his addiction, will someday soon result in restoration. I feel more in control of this fracture, knowing that if I gave in on boundaries and rules, we could be in contact daily, he could walk into my door. What mother would stop that from happening and then say she misses her children? The mother of an addict, the mom who has visited her child in rehab and hospitals and prison, a mother who knows the peril of enabling. Arrow gets clean and sober and sees the light, touches base again and the glorious light of his presence fills our home and my soul again. Our break is only a splinter, one along well worn tracks. Every day that he is away, I pray for his safety, I beg for him to make the turn into a life with sustaining colors, to find the little boy who delighted in God and then rest there, find peace there. Then he will come home and dig through the treasure chest to show his children who he was, before this long detour.

Chef and I watched the movie Lion last night, a profoundly moving story of a child lost and found, the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. Even though he was established into a new life, he never stopped aching for his family of origin, his mum. I know these children of mine, I know their hearts, I felt them beat against mine. Without reservation, I know they too are lost and can’t find their way back home, the call too hard to make, the gap seemingly too wide to bridge. As I sobbed watching the movie, seeing this young man make a trek finally to find his mother, seeing the support and encouragement of those around him to go on the journey, I could only wonder who in my children’s lives are planting those same seeds? Who tells them to go, to reach out, to try again? Anyone? My children know the way home, they know where I am, like the mother in the movie who 25 years later had not moved, just in case her lost boy ever came back, I am here with the cedar chest, holding our lives and our history, waiting.

The calendar has flipped not just for me but for my children as well. They too know that the day to honor your mother is fast approaching. While they are currently committed to a position of separation, I know that they do so only with full knowledge of the luxury that stubbornness affords them. They have a mother who will wait. They have a mother who accepts their scraps and bits and saves their plaster handprints and baby clothes. They have a mother who has always championed their success and held them during their struggles. I know in the quiet moments of their honest souls as the tv shares another ad about honoring your mom, they know what I know. I am still here loving them regardless of the month or holiday. They are playing the odds, as many friends know, that they will always have time. They ignore the memes and the reminders on social media that you are not guaranteed tomorrow.

Being a mother, having a mother is soul work, more than a day on the calendar. Women across the country will be celebrated this Sunday for the achievement of having sacrificed their bodies and their souls. Women across the country will be ignored even though they too made those same offerings. Other women want nothing more than to have the chance to make those sacrifices. Ultimately, we all have a mother, many are a mother. The current state of our relationships do not negate what we know, that we  have a cedar chest full of tissue paper butterflies and old crayon scribbled cards, to remind us of who we were and who we are. If you are longing for your mother, if you are aching to carry babies, if your children are lost and your soul cries out for them, if your family is whole and this year is full of celebration, I will being praying for you this week. Let us remember all those who will get cards and flowers this week and those who won’t. Those who will sift through the treasure chests and remember when sticky fingers brought breakfast and crumpled handfuls of dandelions. Sometimes memories are all we have to sustain us, until the calendar flips again.

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.