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.

What Does It Mean to Pray For Another?

Often when news of health crises, family discord, employment or financial unrest or the ultimate, the loss of a loved one travels through social media or is lifted up in our church,  the response is a quick “sending prayers.” One never can be sure that the words aren’t empty, that the promise of prayer is truly acted upon. Is the phrase tossed out as a way to make the speaker feel less helpless, is it said in haste, as a reflex like “bless you” when someone sneezes? I am guilty of repeating this assurance, knowing there is little else I have to offer to someone who is in my heart and is carrying pain I cannot ease. Is it enough to say I am praying for you, does it make any difference? My wonderings about the power of prayer, my own especially, wax and wane as the results I want don’t immediately appear. Yet as we have continued to breathe and eat and muster the strength required to get out of bed each new morning after the horrific news that came two Fridays ago, I am a believer in others faithfulness, if not my own ability to carry out the assurance. I know when friends and family say they are praying for us that someone is hearing those prayers. I am convinced because I can feel the pleadings to God from all those around us, I am the evidence of their power.

Sometimes prayers are more like wishes, as in a snow day request from a child, a winning basket or touchdown for our favorite team. These prayers are like our lists for Santa, have little to do truly with spirituality. Maybe our hopes are realized, maybe they aren’t this time, yet we have shared our desires with God in the midst of hopeful desperation. I have little belief in the words we lift up during these fevered moments, I think God is too busy with starving children and war torn countries for His intervention in sporting events. Still it seems significant that we turn to Him even with our wishes.

Some prayers come from abject fear, like those I spoke aloud to God each morning many year ago, as I drove to work before most others were awake, begging for the safety of my son as he experienced homelessness and seemed lost to me. I ranted and cried each morning in the silence of my car, begging God to do what I couldn’t, keep my child safe and bring him out of his addiction and home to us. Left with nothing else to do, no where else to turn, I sought out the One who I believed loved my child more than me. He eventually came back to us, extremely under weight, eyes clouded with experiences we would never fully know, bringing his broken body and deep misery to the safety of a new start with us. Whether it was my petition or just the next step that was always in the plan, I felt better for taking the only avenue left as a mother of an addict, I trusted God to hear me and I think He did.

I am better with the lifting of joys, the celebratory “Thank you God” that easily escapes my heart and lips when life is going well, when our Plum is bringing laughter and joy to our bruised souls. I firmly hold with confidence that those moments are from God, I carry the conviction of all good things are from Him during the realization of blessings that I certainly could not have engineered. Yet it often feels as if there is not enough joy to carry me through, to keep my firmly in the embrace of this God. Another blow comes, another round of troubles that I didn’t expect, and my joy blows away with the winter wind or the summer storm, elusive fleeting fragile.

We heard immediately that others were praying for us as the news spread that our 26 year old son took his last breath surrounded by pill bottles, as questions arose about our involvement in caring for his body one last time, as a cruel obituary was published in the local paper. We read the words on the cards that came, during the hugs we received, promised in texts and emails and social media messages. My anger, my exhaustion, my grief caused me to repel those words as useless. Where was God when my child started using again and I wasn’t given the opportunity to help him? No I wanted to fling those words back at those who offered them up, to exclaim loudly and forcefully that the God they were trusting had left me and my son when we most needed HIm. I didn’t want to be told to draw near to Him, this God who could have intervened and didn’t, what could I need or gain from seeking to bridge the divide that felt permanent? Still, something has been happening around me, within me during the darkness of my unbelief, something I have sought to deny and ignore. Your prayers are holding me up, as I resist being lifted. Your prayers are reminding me to breathe when I am removed from any desire to carry on living. I want to proclaim that your words are hollow, that God is not for me anymore, but even I cannot ignore your faith and trust.

As I entered church yesterday, the building that has been a true sanctuary during all of our upheaval all these years, I wanted to be invisible, I didn’t want others to know that I was studiously rejecting the very premise of our gathering. I wanted to shout that we had all been taken in, that this man called Jesus was a scam, that the Holy spirit was a figment of our imagination. Instead, I was greeted with hugs that held me up, with the kindest eyes that sought to free me from some small bit of my grief, with complete freedom to sit with my disbelief and even verbalize my inability to pray. I was given permission to question time and time again, told my lack of faith was welcome among these friends who understood my ache and promised to keep surrounding us with their faith. How can I argue with these generous grace filled people who seek not to change me but to provide a cushion as I fall, to offer words to the God I no longer believe hears me? My inability to pray, a broken connection I am nurturing in my anger, caused not one sliver of judgement among these people. They accepted the little I had to give, the minimal effort of just showing up, a doubting Thomas in their midst. They simply didn’t care that I was not joining in the singing and praising and worship. They offered their gifts to cover my inability to pay up, they covered my debt to God as if my blasphemous heart mattered not. I sat alone in the front row, our normal place inside the sanctuary, as Chef taught his Sunday school class and Plum puttered at my feet with his play doh and donut holes, fueled by my rejection of this God they began singing about. Then a tap on my shoulder, a hug of welcome. A dear friend who refuses to leave me alone sat with her family behind me, not in their usual row. Then worst of all, another sweet dear friend and her husband chose the seats on either side of me, ignoring the wall I was erecting between God and His followers. They held me as I cried, they sang the words of praise and desperation I refused to utter. What kind of God allows such heartache to shatter me and then pushes His people to offer His grace?

I cannot pray these days. I don’t want to, I prefer to yell at the One who was supposed to save my son for a glorious testimony one day. I want to reject and repel all those words of prayer that just keep coming at me. Alas I cannot because this God who knows I am silent and turning my back on Him is sending His promises through the love of His people. One friend told me it was okay with her that I couldn’t pray, she and others were doing it for me. She said she knew one day I would do the same for others, but not today. How can I deny the grace of God when I am accepted just as I am amongst these people? I can feel their intervention, their intercession inspite of myself. While I may not trust God right now, I find I am able to trust His followers. I think that is the point of us gathering to share our true hearts. God is surely rejoicing in His children at St. Andrew UMC, those who feel compelled to send messages and cards from all around the country. Faith in action, acting as his hands and feet, offering up His embrace through the arms of those who know words are not enough and will never be again, this is how I will learn to pray again one day.

In the midst of my darkness I can feel the warmth of all the tiny candles of hope that are offered. Someday I will tell you all how grateful I am, when I can feel thanksgiving once more. For now I hope it is enough to tell you I am still breathing because of you. I know your words are not empty, I trust what you say to me. Surely this God is rejoicing in you. Prayers offered are life giving, not mere wishes. I am blessed by you all, you light bringers, you burden lifters. Someday I may again be able to tell Him of your faithfulness and celebrate the rising of the sun again. I think though that He knows, that He is sending His children to us and will reward them all for hearing His voice and reaching into our darkness. If I ever begin talking to Him again, I think He will rejoice with me in you all. For today just know that I believe in your belief and have chosen to rise again to greet the new day. It is enough and it is huge.

 

When You Parent an Addict

I know there are stages of grief, I haven’t bothered to research where anger falls, should I have already been depressed or shocked or is the anger that is consuming me right on time? I lost my son last friday morning, the truth is that he was lost to me when he began using again and we had to make him leave our home, again again again after all the years of prison visits and commissary money and daily phone calls. We welcomed our sober son back into our home, took him to get his license reinstated, got his teeth fixed, got a car for him and a job. We bought new clothes for the new man he wanted to be. We welcomed home this humble, grateful young man who so deeply desired a relationship with his son, who wanted to do projects around the house and lift anything even slightly heavy for me, he sought ways to repay us for our steadfast support. He was surrounded by those who loved him to health, loved him always enough to say no.

My beautiful son who wore a tattoo proclaiming, “mama’s boy” met a girl who brought him a bottle of wine for dinner, he wanted to impress that girl, he wanted to be the guy who could have a drink and not lose himself. Yet he quickly disappeared, became the secret-keeping, bottle hiding, angry addict who neglected his child and forgot that he was so much more without substances clouding his beautiful blue eyes. We lost our 26 year old son Friday morning and have been dealt indignity after indignity by those who are clinging to the fantasy that young men die naturally at home with pill bottles around them. That is was normal for an opioid addict to get a prescription for Oxy and take it with no issues. My friend reminded me that successful addicts require equally determined enablers to practice the dance with their demons. My son was nothing if not a skilled manipulator of those who wanted to believe his lies, wanted to drink and use, some able to walk away, go back to work, leave him in his misery.

Parenting an addict means you dread that phone call, you beg God to protect him when you no longer can. Parents of addicts rarely get to say yes, we have to say stop, no, you cannot do that here.  We have to drop them off at rehabs and call the police and then pay for lawyers when they finally get arrested, a desperate last hope to save them. We too had a dream for our son, one that included his reality, that he needed to be held accountable, that one slip up could be his last one. We dreamt of his reconciliation with his son, for his silly goofy laugh to fill our home again. Staying strict to the plan we were given 11 years ago during his first stint in rehab, the one that said we cannot enable or we will contribute to his death, we had to say no. Yet his charm allowed him to find others who would say yes, others who would hasten what we sought desperately to avoid.

My son lost his battle, one last high after a night of using and shopping for gifts for his son, spending an hour on the phone with Plum’s mom who could hear him slurring more and more as the call progressed. He wasn’t planning to die, he just wasn’t planning to live. The truths that I will carry with me always is that my son loved his family, he adored his son. He loved his mama, he had the deepest gratitude and respect for Chef. His heart was the biggest part of him and he was big.  He was a forgiver, his sensitivity was unmatched. He would be appalled knowing I walked into a ghetto store front crematorium to identify him, days and days later, my final goodbye too horrific and callous to comprehend. He would be furious that his son has been relegated as an after thought, he would hate that Chef wasn’t included in the obituary and I came after the dog. Yet it all makes perfect sense, knowing that addicts have to keep the parts of their life separate, telling one story to one person, another to someone else, building a sandcastle of lies. He died using, but he was more than those final moments.

My son died Friday morning and I am angry. We owe him no less in death than we gave him in life, the truth. We owe the truth to all those who are struggling with their own children, with their own addiction. None are guaranteed one more high. To all who are living out the anguish, remember, you can choose the hardest road and find it is filled with laughter and raindrops and starry nights and the sweet smell of your child’s hair. My son chose wrong. We didn’t. I would do it all over again, because when you are the parent of addict, what else can you do? While we will never heal from the loss our son, we will wake each morning with no regrets. His demons won out Friday morning yet now he will smile his beautiful without agony or fear or shame, he is safe back with the One who shared him with us 26 years ago.

What our Elf Brings to Us

For those who are on the sidelines of the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon, I get it. They are creepy as one of my friends suggested. They are extra work during an already hectic season. Each year we scour Pinterest and look for new and ever more enchanting ways to bring delight to a month that holds the promise of Santa and the birth of Jesus, do we really need an elf to add chaos and joy to our little ones? Like Starburst flavored candy canes, are we missing something by distracting from the real flavors and reasons for the celebrations? The answer could be yes and yet we have an elf who visits each night when Plum is here, an elf who wakes up each year the night after Thanksgiving and goes back to sleep on Christmas eve. Elfie brings magic, Elfie bring joy, most of all Elfie is a dear sweet friend to a little boy who one Christmas season several years ago had a wounded soul and a broken heart.

I can’t remember how I first discovered our elf, I purchased him online rather than the ones available widely in stores. That one did seem a bit clown like, a bit more creepy to me. What we sacrificed in bendability we gained in a sweet face, more along the lines of a stuffed animal really. I do remember that my sweet Plum was in the midst of time away from his parents for an extended period, he was broken and his little eyes had lost their sparkle. As his grandma, of course I would do anything to bring that back, anything to show him the joy of Christmas when he was lost at such an early age. So Elfie joined our family. Each night Chef and I would strive to out do the night before, back when he was here every night, the challenge was great. Plum grabbed onto the idea of a special friend who was all his, someone who came to visit him and bring him silliness and make messes and sometimes a trinket or some candy and cared so deeply about him that he flew from far away just to be with him. Plum reconnected with his playfulness, he found an outlet for hope.

I have discovered along the way, even as I have sometimes struggled to find the next adventure for Elfie, even on the nights when I was too tired to mess with creating some mess I knew I would have to clean up again in the morning, when I would have preferred to go on to bed, that Chef and I have rediscovered our childlike wonder as well. Most nights I set up something, generally pretty lame I’ll admit, I am less than creative after about 3 in the afternoon so by 8 or 9 at night, I am toast. Then Chef takes over and blows us all away. Over the top fun ensues, he always takes it to the next level. Then we sleep and eagerly await, along with our Plum, the first light of morning if he sleeps that late, when he rises and rushes about the house to find his elf and see what mischief has happened while he was snuggled and dreaming.

As the Christmas decorations are stowed each year, totes filled with bulbs and garland and nativity sets, Elfie stays on Plum’s dresser. He is a reminder throughout the year of the importance of relationships, even ones that pop in and out of our lives, that we are to take our blessings as they come, even in the shape of a toilet paper strew bathroom or a frozen lego blocks, that laughter matters. This is surely our last year with the elf, already Plum has come home from school announcing someone in his class told him that there is no Santa, that the presents come from your parents. I will miss the little guy, in spite of the extra work. Next year we will talk about the joy of discovering an elf each morning and how God wants us to rejoice at discovering His Son each day, not just during the Christmas season. Our elf has become an important part of our story, bringing the spirit back to a sorrowful child. I think that is holy and a bit less creepy.

Sounds of the Season

Tonight at church we will celebrate the Sounds of the Season, an annual opportunity for gifted members in the congregation to share their musical and dramatic talents with the rest of us who are great at being in the audience. A pot luck dinner will proceed the festivities, we are Methodist after all, and I was charged with making the main dish. Pulled pork feeds many and seemed like a great choice, until I realized I had to run in to the church at 6:30 am to get it started. The temperature has dropped, it is dark and only a few cars joined me as I drove in my chilly car to complete this task, I was I was less than excited about. Yet the quiet surrounded me, I found myself considering the real sounds of the season.

Actually the day began with the thud from a boy jumping from his bed onto the floor, the rustling of the search for slippers and his robe and then the slap on walls as he hit light switches, searching for whatever his elf had done while he slept. “Oh gran, look what elfie did! He is so rotten!” He followed the path of all his matchbox cars as they snaked through the dining room, over chairs and under the table and then into the living room, making car noises that little boys seem wired to create.  Giggles of delight filled the morning quiet of our still sleeping home as he found the tiny wind-up car, twisting the gear, raving it up to race about the table and fall to the floor, eliciting ever louder chortles. This is the sound of the season.

But maybe the sounds began last night as we traveled across town to see a living nativity  displayed by another church. Slurping hot cocoa, nestled under a blanket, wearing pjs and a robe shared with us by a dear friend, he asked about each scene and then told us, “This is true.” I can’t imagine a more beautiful sound than a child professing faith. He asked where other characters were, where was David, where was Goliath. He knows bible stories. The sounds of his Sunday school teachers joined us as we meandered through the scapes, the teachings have settled into his soul, they come forth when he needs those examples. Those are the sounds of the season.

Still with all of this, I was tired and a bit cranky, not enough coffee and there were toy cars all over my house, these issues were clouding my mind. The drive is only 10 minutes, barely time to let loose my thoughts of home before I reach the turn in for the parking lot. Yet the solitude of the drive made my travels more meaningful, I more quickly realized the quiet was refreshing, was welcome. I forget to list out my tasks for the day and instead considered the peacefulness of early mornings, the focus required for dark driving. As I neared the church, the lights, strung all along the circle drive and up to the busy road that leads into the parking lot. The front windows were awash with light, welcoming warmth on this cold morning. Awestruck, I followed the illuminated path, diving deeper into the silence as the gentleness of the spirit guided me. The quiet is the sound of the season.

Entering the building, fumbling with the key I have been entrusted with, the smooth slide into the lock, tumblers falling, rotating, each meaning that this church is home to me, isn’t home where you have the key to enter? Beeps, chirps as I push buttons to set the temperature of the oven, the soft separation of suction as the refrigerator opens, the crackle of foil as I remove the pans and the scratch of pas as I push them onto the racks. A quiet catch as the oven doors close, the sounds of this season when later tonight this meal will feed many who gather in communion and fellowship, the sounds of laughter and chatter echoing about the room, silverware clinking and children racing with spontaneous games of tag.

Retrieving the wooden tree filled with handcrafted ornaments made by a group of friends to sell for our first alternative Christmas market, proceeds benefiting two local organizations, I listened as the keychains rattled against each other, as the last bit of the string of lights bumped along the ground. The pop of electrical connection, the tree lit up,  shining months of dreams and hopes for those less fortunate, our desire to bridge some gaps between our congregation and our neighbors, I feel in love with the ministry of this church all over again.

Snip, snip, chop, drip, I heard the only other person inside the walls of the church at this early hour, the woman who hosts our coffee and donut/fruit bar each Sunday. alone under the glow of all the Christmas lights, she busied about making coffee and setting up trays of grapes that will be accessed by the littlest hands and the oldest alike, she is a mainstay, a fixture that most may not even see anymore. Yet, here on this morning I witnessed her ministry, a radical hospitality that begins each week in the quiet and solitude of this building that will soon be bustling. I heard the sounds of the season as she set out creamer and sugar, as she arranged napkins.

I don’t know what tonight will bring, I can imagine the music will move my soul and that the children will delight in the puppet show. Yet already I am awakening to the sounds of this season, the reminders that a baby was born in the chaos of a stable and brought us peace. May you find peace this season in the midst of the noise, friends.