Blessings Faith and Responsibility

Carrying the remains of the popcorn, two drinks, the blanket we rightly thought was necessary given air conditioning that is always a bit too high when wearing shorts, and holding my Plum’s hand as we crossed the street away from the movie theater and the matinee we watched during a rainy morning, I distractedly dug into my purse for the car keys. Years ago my daughter attached a lanyard so that wherever I reached within the dark confines of the big bags I prefer I would be sure to snag a bit of the keys. But this time, digging, searching, reaching, I was coming up empty. That sick feeling of knowing I had locked the keys in the car was just beginning as we reached it, I hadn’t even looked inside the windows where I usually (yes, I have done this often) find the keys on the seat mocking me. Instead, I found my keys waiting on the ground, right next to the car. In the parking lot of the movie theater. Where many people pass. My car with my laptop sitting on the front seat. Is there a more inviting scene for a thief? Yet two hours after I dropped them, my car and laptop and keys waited safely for our return. Plum stated quite matter of factly as he climbed into his car seat, “Well Gran, you worship God so He protects You.”

The excuses of stowing the blanket, arranging the drinks, securing the bucket of popcorn gave me time to consider my answer. The easy one is yes, yes aren’t we blessed. Maybe even a reminder that angels watch out for fools like me. Still I know that had I come back and the car had been gone through my own negligence, my God would not have failed to protect me. Is Plum too young to begin understanding that the God we are teaching him to trust and love doesn’t prevent bad things from happening? He believes in Santa Claus and we are awaiting the first visit from the Tooth Fairy even as we read about the magical exploits of another little boy and his friends. His pure and innocent and immediate trust, his FAITH, felt too sacred to destroy in that moment and yet gave me pause. How do we teach free will and personal responsibility that intersects with knowing a God from whom all good things come? My quick answer was yes we are blessed and gran wasn’t careful and also grandpa is going to kill me. All quite true but not enough. Something was calling me to dig deeper.

His friend arrived on my porch without him, announcing she was his slave and needed to retrieve something for him, take some toy back to the play site down the street. I wanted to race upstairs and grab one of my t-shirts from the Women’s March and throw it over her head, pull it onto her body before sending her on her way but instead just sent her back with the admonishment that she is no slave for any man. I may have frightened her with my ardor, she clearly preferred her master to the one who was freeing her. Later as they played together at our house, the slave play began again as my sweet kind wonderful little grandson ordered her to come here, go there, get this and she complied. Child’s play maybe but as damaging in my mind as if he were hitting her, as if she were calling him stupid or breaking his toys. I again said no slave play but I couldn’t figure out how to put it in terms that 6 and 7 year olds would care about, would understand.

What I am sure of is that we are entering the years where concepts matter, where teaching the “whys” is now our job. All of the easy stuff is done, he can walk and talk and cut his own food. More and more he is interacting with others who will help shape his future, the days of establishing his foundation are running out. Getting it right the first time because often the second time only comes up years later or so subtly with a tween or teenager that we miss the real opportunity. Right now things are still clear, the questions he asks are to me, the play still happens in front of me, he still listens for my answers and expects his friends to as well. This is the time for impact, even as I thought we were entering a freer time, I realize now our job went from physical demands to the truly tougher mental game.

During bath, when he is trapped and most receptive, I talked to him about boys and power and the almost first female president and the slaves in the bible. I reminded him of all the women in his life who love and nurture him and work twice as hard to have any real power. We talked about blessings and protection and our job to be blessings to others and how bad things happen because we aren’t careful, like when we get so distracted racing in to the movie on time that we drop our keys. Is God still God on a bad day? Is God still God to the slaves or only the free?

My charming little blue-eyed boy at first tried to hedge and say they took turns being slaves but then admitted he had never been anything but the master. He knows this little girl will do anything he asks and he is learning about his charisma. His father has that strong streak as well and hasn’t always used it for the Kingdom. I think I just thought he would, I don’t remember telling him outright how he could hurt women if he didn’t.  Our God of second chances who does send angels to guard car keys left on the pavement also gives us an opportunity to get it right sometimes. Plum and I are learning about faith and personal responsibility together. Only time will tell how right we get it, but God will still be God and with each sunrise we get another chance to get it right.

As he drifted off to sleep, he asked me why girls only have boy’s last names. Why can’t boys take girl’s names too. Yes, my sweet, I said, that is an excellent question. Let’s talk about that tomorrow. With that his breathing became regular and I knew I had laid another brick in his foundation. God is still God and sends the angels to protect and guide us as we take responsibility for our choices. I will be calling on those angels when  I have to admit to Chef that I almost allowed the car to be stolen.

 

Fathering Day

As a woman, I have vast experience with mothering and childcare and babies and nurturing. I get when to dip in and when to butt out, even though my history is littered with mistakes on both of those accounts, I still basically understand the role of mother. My own mom and I were close and distant and conflicted and loving and generally a somewhat normal mother-daughter team. We weathered horrors and we sought shelter when we became those horrors. Through it all I either learned to do what she did or eradicate her behaviors from my repertoire. Alternatively, the “dad thing” has really always been a mystery to me.

Given the abuse at the hands of my father, I learned not to trust men, not to become vulnerable with males. Is it any wonder that when my children appeared I protected them from the danger in our own home, their father? But what if he wasn’t dangerous? I couldn’t comprehend the difference even though intellectually I knew he was never the monster that my own father was. Later after a divorce and remarriage, I was even more unable or unwilling to make room for Chef to have free rein with my most cherished gifts. Excluded from decision making, from special conversations, allowed in but only to the edges, I didn’t nurture that relationship, build in true dad trust. It is often only in the looking back that we can really see, isn’t it?

My faith walk has followed the same rocky stumbling path, how much easier would it have been to trust a God who was referred to as “Mother?” A Father God who loved and forgave and nurtured, was and probably is a bit beyond my comprehension, the language at the beginning of the sentence clouding all that comes after. The wonderful book by William P. Young, “The Shack” while critiqued by many, opened my eyes to choosing the form that God will take in order to reach me, to not frighten me. A God that would become a woman to draw me close and gain my trust, a mama God. I found my way in to the beginning of relationship. Harder yet though to trust the earthly men who cross my path, the one who lives in my home. I see that God is offering me opportunities to take what I have learned about mama God and offer up some grace to the man I have condemned wrongly unwittingly merely because of his gender.

The children are long gone, I cannot re-parent them, no do-overs will be forthcoming. Yet a special little boy appears in our home about every other day, has toys and a bed and clothes and a full life within these walls. I have another chance with this child to enforce listening to Chef, to follow what grandpa says. I have more chances to ask questions myself and to include him in the decision making. I have been given the grace to try out some trust and see if the horrors of childhood will be repeated or if that is where they will stay, just memories. Fully knowing that Plum requires no protection from Chef, I watch their relationship and know that I robbed my children of this gift. Plum leans on gramps, he lays on him, he has to be touching him all the time. They battle and laugh and learn and Chef pushes him to keep going when he wants to stop too easily. Chef has been the father to this child when no one else was showing up for the job. His performance has been outstanding.  As mama has taken over any need for my own mothering with this child and I am more and more just gran, I know that plum and Chef  will always have that deeper connection.

Father’s Day rolls around each year with the duty to honor those who have parented us. With each passing year I am better able to honor my own Father, who has not given up on me and is teaching me to honor the father in my midst. I might still have a shaky image of God as masculine, not entirely female either, sexually ambiguous is currently working for me. Progress, maybe, but the real growth is the trusting, the leaning. Like my Plum at bedtime when he wants his gramps to snuggle and I walk out of the room with confidence, we are all getting closer. Happy Father’s day to the One who lets me lean in, get close, who tells me not to quit. Happy Father’s day to the man who lives this out with our Plum. You make a great dad.

Safe Room

If you hover around the church office often enough, especially if you let the staff know you are comfortable preparing food, the chances are great you will be called in to assist with a funeral meal for the family.  I have hovered, I have let it be known, I have made the requisite salads and set the tables. The call that came in this Friday though was different, would I be able to set up a hospitality room for the family, a place for them to gather before the service? This was no ordinary service, not the anticipated prayed over passing of a long-standing member of our congregation. This loss was of a woman who died so suddenly none of us had yet caught our breaths, a woman who was so incredibly alive and loud and vivacious, it seemed unnatural to consider her gone, even within our faith where we expect to find better questions if not answers. I said yes.

Her children and my children are the same age, they schooled together, teamed together, the girls had sleep overs and parties and studied together. While this woman and I were not close, we worshipped together. As I shopped for fruit and pastries, I wondered at the absurdity of it all and at my first thought when hearing the news: what will Stella be thinking? Please God let her be feeling the freedom to mourn. She doesn’t do death well, which seems an odd statement, is anyone good at it and then that takes us down a dark path. But still, she lost a teacher very early on and then a friend from high school committed suicide in college and she lost a grandmother and then another and she holds it all  in until she bursts forth with wordless tears that my heart was aching in advance for her when I heard this news. The mom in me went straight to my daughter, immediately wanted to comfort her, a luxury no longer available in the brokenness of our relationship.

Arranging tables, finding the cloths to cover them, an angel, a plaque, some flowers, only enough to disguise that the room is normally the setting for junior high youth group, I realized the walls and couches had probably already held a wide range of emotions and God would surely transform what I had been unable to. Boxes of tissues and pots of coffee, a bowl of fruit and some danishes, what could I possibly offer to this grieving family that would bring healing or allow space for their anger and shock? The busyness of it all reminded me of an old sociology class when we discussed death rites and I learned for the first time that funerals are for the living. I knew these tasks gave me something to do, a means to show love and respect back stage, I didn’t want to wander to close, this one was dangerous to my sanity.

I forced myself to stay within the sanctuary walls to listen as the daughter gave an eulogy, I couldn’t fill any more coffee pots or arrange any more chairs. Her words of cherished memories and lost dreams of the future and aching times of laughter and absolute brokenness of not having her mom available to process this, the hardest thing, those words destroyed the barrier I had established in order to lay out crosses and find the coffee cups. I wanted to hear about their relationship and I so did not. How many times have I lain in bed and imagined a cancer diagnosis or even my death and then the children come around, when it is almost too late or really is? Wondering what extreme measure it would take for them to recall our cherished memories, to fall back into times of our laughter and joy, to consider that I never missed a single event of theirs, what in God’s name will it take? So watching this family absorb a horrific shock, I could only selfishly wonder if my own children were watching also and wondering, considering realizing that they are wasting time that is not guaranteed.

My phone stayed silent, I received not the first text or email. These children did not heed the warning, this close to home reminder that moms are not permanent and are not perfect. As I grieved with this family, I grieved for my own as well. We have what they don’t, what they would give any thing for, we have another chance. We have time together to fix what is broken and to create new memories for later reflection, we can laugh again. All of their stories now will included wishes that their mom was present to witness this, to hear that. My children could have that and won’t. If a death around us makes us consider our own mortality, I considered the dying breaths of my family and realized yet again that only God can save us. My fantasies are useless, merely the desperate last attempts of a mother who has tried everything else.

As I stowed away tables, emptied carafes of coffee, exhaustion overcame me, not from transforming a room but from holding out hope. The weight of wishing on the backs of other’s sorrow is so ugly, so sick, such a clear sign of disease, shame washed over me like their tears. How could I have been so hopeful that this time of their greatest loss could be a place of reconciliation for me and how could I not? Wondering at what God wanted me to hear, wanted me to see, what deeper message than the one I was seeking on my phone, surely there is more because I was asked to serve as a witness, to be an observer. What God, what do you have for me?

Sometimes loss is senseless. Sometimes it is a horrible shock and takes years to absorb and we fight against the truth of it. In the end, all we have to rest on is our faith.  I wrote on the whiteboard in the junior high room these words, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18.  I thought it was for the family, if they happened to glance in that direction. I now realize it was for me as well. Families caught up in the long death of estrangement never experience a funeral, are not given a comfortable room to grieve. There are no pots of coffee and friends gathering to share memories. We take our last breaths alone, as all the dying really do, with God.

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.