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.

Right Here

The sound of his feet tromping up the stairs, down the hallway reached me before his voice, calling out, “Gran where are you?” Those feet that no longer fit into little boy sizes, are reaching into adult numbers with each new purchase of shoes. I remember those baby feet, how I kissed his soles and sniffed the very infancy that rose up, never musty never dirty. His feet are large now, often filty and filled with bits of sock and smelling of the day’s sweat and gym class and time spent at recess. School is out though now so shoes are only for going to the store or church so toes are most often covered in mud and bits of grass and always something under his nails. Those feet were carrying him upstairs to find me as I was hidden away on my balcony for just a few moments to read the  chapter in the latest book I had downloaded.

He was searching me out to ask if he could have a cup of shaved ice, the equivalent of any other child asking for ice cream. His grandfather sidestepped the decision, unable to give a firm no to those blue eyes and that smile. Those eyes are wicked enticing, he moves his eyebrows just like his father, it is a terrible wonderful combination when unleashed on those who don’t have a shield in place. Already the girls in the neighborhood gather and swarm and jockey for his attention. I want to warn them, I know what a boy with that kind of charism can do to a girl. I watched them ride their bikes back and forth in front of our house, looking craning trying to get him to come play or issue an invitation to join him but he ignored them, preferring to sit on the trampoline with me and roll balls of play doh in a game where points are scored in a system rigged against me.

I said yes to the shaved ice as we made a deal about dinner, I was somewhat drunk on the book I was reading and the momentary peace I had experienced and the birds and those eyes and that smile. Lost in the moment of just being gran and not worrying about vegetables and protein, I said yes. Anticipating that he would take those large feet and his prize back down the stairs and out the door to rejoin his grandfather in victory, it was an easy deal to make. I didn’t want to get up yet to make more food and clean the kitchen again and disturb the Saturday evening. He didn’t scamper though, he climbed onto my lap, ignoring the other chair on the balcony and wiggled and nudged and scooted until he found a way to fit his growing body onto my shrinking one. His feet reached almost to my outstretched legs, as I rested them on a stool, his head no longer nestles under mine but blocks my view.

He complains that I get more screen time than him, that I can “always be on my phone” and he can’t. Taking that opportunity to show him what I was doing, that I wasn’t playing games or killing zombies, he still wasn’t impressed. He saw the words and so offhandedly said, “No gran you were writing and you posted that.” In turns wowed that he understands that I write and had mistaken the John Irving novel I am reading for something I could ever do, if only because he read none of it and only saw a flash of it and at this point in his literacy has no taste for good books, and then dismayed that he equated gaming and reading as endeavors of the same measure when completed on a device,  I explained the difference between books and games.  I told him that he had unlimited time on my iPad if he is reading. My phone was snatched away with his sticky fingers as he searched for the book apps we downloaded, apps he ignores to instead kill zombies and race monster trucks. While he explored the possibilities, I noticed the day streamed along his arms and  legs, the moments of marker that left the pages and touched his skin, the places where water fights had removed patches of dust blown up by bike skid-out competitions. I smelled the boy in his hair as his head rested on my shoulder and remembered that these moments are moving as quickly as the images on the screens. How many more times will he choose to ignore the kids who come calling in order to play with me?

After another water fight that I did not agree to and absolutely lost and then his bath where he got to warm up in bubbles with more battles of guys who are missing some limbs because the beasts like to sneak in and eat bath toys, we read another chapter of Harry Potter. I wanted to read the books to him first before he saw the movies, to entice him into the world of magic and reading just as his father was lured in but Mama showed him the first movie and who can stop there? So we were backtracking and the gift of a lovely illustrated volume given by a former babysitter who knows the power of JK Rowling and also how special this little boy is was our vehicle into the story. Curled up next to me, growing more limp with each paragraph, he listened as the day eased away. Impossible not to remember reading this book to his father, not to remember saying, “Last chapter” and hearing, “NO! one more!” until he chose to take over reading by himself. Hooked, the child who wouldn’t read, mastering the task because he had to know what would happen next. Plum already knows though and wants me to get to the part with the snake and the part with the girl in the bathroom. We won’t get there tonight, the trampoline and the bike and the water battles and a warm bath ensured his body was betraying his words and he was sent off to bed.

I see his father most when he is sleeping, those blue eyes that are exact replicas closed to me. I see the resting face and I watch, wondering at his dreams and knowing when he wakes his feet will be a bit bigger and his fingers a bit longer and his eyes a bit more charming. While he sleeps though I can look at him and see the son I no longer can gaze at and know that each child only visits for a season, they nestle onto laps and ask before they get snacks only for a short time before they read to themselves and take their own showers. I know this gift of moments all add up to him choosing different playmates and one day kissing the feet of his own children. One day he will tell the stories of growing up fully surrounded by the love of his grandmother, his cousins will wonder that they were kept from those kisses and ice creams and water fights. He will love his friends and spouse and children and live out his faith in large part because of the moments I don’t steal away on the balcony but spend reading Harry Potter and cutting up strawberries for him.

The first weekend of summer break is drawing to a close, the burn pile is gone. I struggled to light it after too much rain had dampened it all. I wanted to roast hot dogs and make s’mores but just couldn’t get it going. Knowing he was going to be disappointed, I tried to explain about water-soaked wood and that another week of sun would do the trick. I reminded him that patience is good. With his most serious face and those blue eyes shining, he asked me if I remembered our family motto.  Muttering excuses, spouting reasons, I tried with all I had to explain. Still, he asked me, did I not remember? Yes, Plum, I remember. “We never give up.”  Confident that he had left me to my task with my confidence restored, he went about playing and I called in Chef to actually make the burn pile ignite. Hot dogs were roasted, s’mores were made. Our legacy and his to us, the simple reminder that if we want something badly enough, we will make it happen. This child is proof everyday that doing all the hard work and smelling the stinky toes will bring deep joy of snuggles on balconies and giggles on the way to bed. This little boy who is ushering in summer for the 7th time with bigger feet and blue eyes that can read without my help calls me back to the moment and away from worries and remembering and wishing, “Gran, where are you?” “Right here, sugarPlum, right here.” Contact established, we are both exactly where we need to be.

Radiate

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.

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.

What the Machine Missed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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