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.

Bad Food to Good Friends

It should have been the easiest meal I have made for a church dinner, only cooking for 50ish people. It should have been an opportunity to make something with the new spring vegetables and lighter appetites in mind. Delightful salads, an enticing chicken entree, oh the dessert I should have been able to concoct. The hours I would have spent perusing recipes and considering options, then shopping for the best ingredients to fit my budget and then the prep, I love the prep. I so enjoy preparing meals for those I serve at church, a means for me to express my joy in caring for them.  It should have been like this but wasn’t. I was recreating a meal served in prison before we screened the documentary 13th to those expecting a real dinner. Everything was about this meal was wrong, difficult, against how I serve.

About a month ago, our group finished reading ‘The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and wanted to do something, wanted to take action. We agreed to watch the movie together and invite others to join us, I volunteered to organize the evening with our group leader Suzanne. As she and I met, I wondered with her about serving a meal before, a re-creation of a meal served in prison and she embraced the idea immediately. We knew that we couldn’t tell anyone, they had to be caught off guard to get the full experience, to feel the shock. We did research, printed out information from The Marshall Project that included pictures of real meals served in institutions across the country. Still, as the date drew near, we realized that we were being called to do something incredibly different, something completely outside of ourselves. We were being asked to shut down, not care, do the least, the littlest. It was powerful for us, just in the preparation, we could only pray that it had such an impact on those who dined with us.

I shopped not looking for the finest but the cheapest way to make the least tasty meal, nutrition was not even a factor. We settled on a meal of rice with peas and chicken, beans, two slices of white bread and two pats of butter, a cup of juice and a slice of cake, just like one of the pictures we found.  At each turn, we had to remember not to add seasoning, not to dress it up, no chicken broth in the rice, no homemade icing for the cake. Canned chicken, canned peas. Serving the meal without concern about temperature, trays left on the counter to get cooled, no friendly smiles as my friends walked up with surprised faces. “Juice is on the tray, grab your silverware, eat in the sanctuary.” We handed out only spoons, no knives to spread the cold butter on the white bread, no wheat or fancy loaves cut for these people I usually love through food. I felt awful, I knew they would leave hungry.

Carol, who came to help prepare the meal, and Suzanne were experiencing the same conflict as I, the realization that we were in our church, serving our people and doing so meant we had to be cold.  Normally during one of the meals I prepare for church, I wander about the tables and folks are laughing and talking, joyful sounds fill the sanctuary as communion is shared. This night the tables were quiet and solemn, I don’t know if everyone was rethinking their choice of attending or wondering if I had lost the ability to cook. Before each participant reached our counter to pick up their tray, they passed the table with pictures of real trays that inmates are served, thus I like to think they were in deep thought about what others are experiencing every day in prisons across the country.

We watched the documentary and had little time to process it after, breaking into smaller groups to answer 3 questions before we left for the night. The power of the movie is so great, we could have stayed for hours, we needed more time to hear each other and listen as those who were just learning about mass incarceration for the first time expressed disbelief and outrage. We didn’t have any time to ask about their experience of the meal portion, whether it added to the evening, how they felt receiving that tray. I wonder how their perception of the tray changed from before the movie to after. I trust this group, a very thoughtful collection of friends who care about others, that they were moved by it all.

Saturday evening late, just hours before our screening and cooking and serving, another black child was killed at the hands of a police officer. Jordan Edwards, a 16 year old black child was killed by a police while in a car driving away from a party, for no other reason that I can surmised than that he was black. He joins Amadou Diallo, Manuel Loggins Jr, Ronald Madison, Kendra James, Sean Bell, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, and hundreds of others. Hundreds, is that number enough to make us act? Too many that we no longer believe it is real? Have we become cold and shutdown our feelings so that we don’t pay attention to the rising numbers of black and brown people who are being arrested and locked away in systematic racial profiling, cold and unfeeling because it doesn’t touch us in our sanctuaries with tasty meals and mostly white faces? So Suzanne and Carol and I did something outrageous and cold and it hurt our souls with the hopes that maybe the souls of those eating and watching might be further damaged just a bit as well. Until we all hurt for those in prison, they will stay there forgotten. Until we all hurt for those who are targeted by a war on drugs that creates profits for a few and decimates communities of the black and brown, we are disappointing our Jesus who asked us to go see Him in prison.

I made the worst meal ever and served it up on little trays to people I love and respect. I am haunted by the silence in the room, the faces of those who collected their food will stay with me. I pray we are all moved by this beginning awareness of social justice that Suzanne is bring to our congregation. I pray that someday those trays are a rarity, that news reports of another child killed after leaving a party are an ugly part of our history. We can all leave such events and grab a pizza on the way home, leaving the horror of the experience if we desire. Or maybe, just maybe, we can let our stomachs rumble and our hearts ache throughout the night as we listen to what God is calling us to do for his vulnerable children. It may mean we have to do really hard things, harder than making a disgusting meal to serve our friends.

 

Real Pastors

I just read a piece by Anne Lamott in which she describes with total humility how she picked up the wrong passport and missed her flight for an incredibly important speaking engagement. Having shared awhile back how I did the same with my drivers license on a trip to NYC, I felt more bonded than ever to her. Her words were beautiful and real and they led me back into relationship with God like only a true pastor can. The key is that she doesn’t strive to be like God with all His power and knowledge and wisdom and super abilities that win every contest, she shows with each foray into the public that she is that part of Jesus that was human, the pieces that we recognize that are messy, that cause us to ignore parents and wander off in a crowd. She pastors us with us, not from above us, not at us, not to us. She is one of us and we follow.

I am drawn to leaders like her, folks that are not only unafraid to show that they are defective in getting to the airport fully in possession of all appropriate identification but also who know that in doing so, we are better able to find ourselves in each other. The very act of exposing our own weakness is holy, it requires such great trust and vulnerability, it can only come from a place of real faith. Social media posts showing our best moments may make us feel better and portray a beautiful story of our lives to our followers, but is it the true story? I love the Pinterest fail pictures, the real stories of folks who cannot make the cookies look like the easy 1,2,3 instructions, the “do this with your kids on a rainy afternoon” craft projects that turn into utter disasters of glue and feathers and tears. I get those people, I am those people. I can’t relate to the perfect family reunions, the birthday parties where no one gets hit with the pinata bat. I always feel less than, like I have failed before I even begin in those settings. I know I am not ever going to have a Pinterest post of my glorious DIY project, I know I will never preach from my successes. My brokenness is too great, I can’t hide all the scars. I can never compete with the ones who always win the races, why even try?

It isn’t that I am looking for all the wrong, the bad, the dirt on anyone. I am just drawn to the real. I can’t learn from a pastor who preaches above me, at me, who pretends to or even worse, really believes he has all the answers. That really just undermines the message to me, I know he isn’t God and therefore, isn’t perfect and must at some point trip and spill his drink or shout at his children or not win the first prize in every race. These are the stories I need, because that is where I live and where I can be guided out from, into a deeper relationship with God. What do we do when we find ourselves in those very human spots, every day, some days we even spend the whole day there? How do we find God in the messes we make, how do we hear the Holy Sprit in those moments?  I need that roadmap when I am especially covered in dirt and sin, not to see someone sparkling clean who seemingly has never fallen off the path into the ditch.

During this political and social season of screaming and hating and fear and anxiety, I think it is ever more critical that we are able to embrace each other as broken vulnerable humans who “are all just walking each other home” in the words of Ram Dass. It is imperative that we lose any sense of superiority and ego, those are not virtues listed anywhere in the Bible, certainly not characteristics of Jesus. Learning to listen, though, really listen to just one more person each day who has a story that makes them real, ways that may be different from our own realness, like being a bit smellier or unable to keep their kids in their pew at church or obviously eating all the wrong foods (you know the ones, those who eat too much candy and drive-thru hamburgers and rarely have vegetables), listening to their struggles may just put us in touch with our own challenges which we have been tucking away from view. Together we may find we have more in common than we knew, we might begin to heal ourselves and a tiny piece of the world. I love the new Heineken ad that brings people together who believe on the surface that they strongly disagree. What happens is holy, the kind that even includes beer, the kind of holy that allows people to see each other as real for the first time as they become vulnerable. This is pastoring from a most unlikely source and it is glorious.

Ultimately, I have come to see that my Catholic upbringing has left some ideas that just don’t work anymore. Well, many I have cast aside already, but the main issue that has stuck in my mind is that the person who stands before me each Sunday is speaking with a louder voice  because that comes from God. Their message carried more weight because of a divine calling. This may be true, I certainly have a pastor now who speaks Jesus to me like I have never experienced before. And I have to give a shout out to the Pope who is doing the most amazing God work ever, acting out of humility that makes me less anguished about my childhood religious roots. Still, I know more and more that the pastors who lead me are the ones who I find around me in unlikely places, the ones who can reach me where I am. They join me in the muck and then we both can climb out. They are all around me, next to me, speaking and listening and forgetting their important papers. These are my pastors, the ones who are broken and chipped and are listening for the whispers of the Holy Spirit as well. Together, we will all make it home, passports in hand.

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?

Spring Found Me

I have tried to stay in winter, cold and dormant, dark days under blankets lost in thought but spring pursued me nonetheless. The grass has greened without any effort of mine, the buds turned to leaves while I huddled on the couch. The air inside has become too warm, windows must be opened, bringing in high pitched calls of children on bikes with newly pumped up tires and the thud of balls bouncing against garage doors, the crack of bats connecting accompanied by shouts of victory and the soft splatter of chalk dumped on the sidewalk. Children know, spring is here. They recognize that days are longer, they resist going to school and wearing jackets. All that was waiting has woken, I have as well, slowly, reluctantly, not like a crocus this year ready to pop up at the first hint but more of an iris, taking time to test the air and stretch my limbs carefully into this new season.

I listen to the children in their shorts and tee shirts racing by the house, envious of the trust they so quickly put into the changes. Rushing headlong into spring, they breathe the hope and promise even before the windows have opened. Children don’t long for evidence of that faith, they don’t cling to dormancy to avoid trusting once again. Children explode into the season with popsicle stained faces before the air has fully warmed, begging for sprinklers and water balloons to cool their sweaty bodies. Hope fills their lungs at the hint of spring and they lean crash throw themselves into late nights outside for games of tag and forget homework and long school projects. Sitting on the couch, I wonder if I have ever been that child, have I ever embraced hope so fully.

A friend posted a picture of her garden already planted, I sat on the porch of another who had flowers already potted and glorious. Farmers know that spring is planting season, trusting in the assurance that summer will come with all the sun and rain and warmth needed to grow what seeds are settled into the earth. I am behind, so far behind. Why am I resisting hope this year? Why am I so reluctant to dig into the ground, to shop for my annuals, to plant and believe that what I cover with dirt will bring good things later? My heart wants to stop the seasons until my family is restored, I long to halt any more holidays without my children gathered around. Still spring arrives with lilac breezes and I cannot hold it back any longer. This is the promise of God, that faith the size of a mustard seed will grow enough to house the birds who nestle there. Thus I know God is sneaking in through my open windows with the children’s calls and the singing morning birds and the glorious sunrise, telling me to plant just the tiniest seed, allow Him to worry about the rain and sun and whether my children will come. He tells me not to notice the empty porch chairs that once held Stella’s college roommates and friends for cookouts and weekly dinners, He tells me not to focus on the extra swing awaiting my granddaughter’s giggles as she soars. Plant some seeds, the wind whispers.

It is planting time, spring is here, barrels of dry dirt beg for flowers and color. Once again I am waking up to the season, slowly accepting that God has brought a new day and another opportunity to tend to my home, trusting that He cares for the nesting robins and the sprouting bluebells and for my Arrow and Stella so far away. Days when I feel more like Job with Satan attacking, I know that I may never fully understand why I seem to keep losing what my soul holds so dearly. Yet Job trusted in God, refused to turn away from his faith, surely I am being asked to do no less. God has brought spring to me with the request that I give Him my doubts, let them melt with the last hints of snow into the earth as my daffodils rise. Okay, God, You found me, I couldn’t hide away. I will open the curtains, drink my coffee on the porch, and begin to welcome spring. Hope has arrived and it sounds like geese honking their return.

Interruptions: Opportunity or Annoyance?

Some people divide the world into haves and have nots, others into groups based on color or who we love, maybe the separating lines are which team you root for on Sunday afternoon. For me it is this: Are you an interrupter or one who listens with intentionality? Now some may argue that this is not an important issue during these times of political and environmental unrest, when it is imperative that voices of truth be heard above the forces that would shut them down. Sing it, Sista! I do hear you. Still, I know that my life has been marked by interruptions, the significant points in my journey are all places where I was stopped unexpectedly while moseying along or speeding forward with mission focus. Then, bam, slam, screeching brakes and my progress is interrupted. I know these events have given me opportunities for growth but only through much pain and most often the loss of that plan in exchange for a new one. So when I am talking with someone and I get interrupted, maybe not the first time but if it is a habit of theirs, my skin gets itchy, sweaty chills cover my body, I feel the rage building. Enough with the delays, I just want my turn to go, go, go.

My first recollection of being cut short was in elementary school when my parents divorced. Clearly as the child of sexual abuse, I can assert that my entire life plan was disturbed by the horrific actions of others, a waylaying of the dreams that God had for me. Maybe that overarching trauma is why the little and huge delays are focal points for me. Still, at my elementary school, all the grades were together with little desks and smaller chairs and access tot he smaller playgrounds, except the 5th graders. They learned and played in the new big wing that was glorious and had larger desks and the pencil sharpeners were higher on the wall and the playground had no fence.  The goal of every child was to be a 5th grader, to own that school with our evident importance, to be the ones allowed to walk through the halls delivering notes and passes and look condescendingly down at all our poor small brothers and sisters, to collect their wishes as we walked by, knowing we were at the peak. I longed to be in that wing, I just couldn’t wait to have those teachers who seemed to dress smarter and have better supplies. I wanted to have the confidence I knew came with an assignment in that hallway. Then my parents divorced and we moved the summer before my 5th grade year and I lost my school. I am sure my mother had no idea of the gravity of this move, how changing schools systems interrupted my reaching those dreams. I almost made it, I did the work, I suffered the withering looks of older kids, I never reached that wing. Matters were made worse by the completely alternative school setting I then attended, I have written about that and the saving grace of my friend Lisa. Still, I didn’t recover well, my progress was interrupted and it took some time to regain my footing.

Later, in high school, I had to graduate early and enroll in college classes in order to maintain Social Security benefits that would pay for my education. The final semester, the one I had intentionally left full of fluff classes, having taken everything I actually needed to complete all the requirements during all the packed semesters before, gone in an instant. I no longer went to school with friends who were skipping out and planning prom, I was thrust into college courses with people who drove to school and then went to jobs, not my dream of college either. A long delay that broke my spirit and left me out of step and alone. The haunting of 5th grade, I knew these ghosts but couldn’t find a way to make the change good, to see the opportunities afforded me.

Later, I married before I graduated from college, seemingly unable to now finish with the same group I started with, an unconscious force requiring that I break it off with education just when things were getting really good. I got pregnant during grad school, and chose to delay my studies, a 3 year program turned into 4.  I have written much on how I derailed my career, but through the lens of interruptions, I can see that I have a certain inability to cross the finish line, at least on time.

I know also that my most important, most dear life plan ever has been critically interrupted. It could be argued that the suspension came when I sat in jail and my children waited at home. It could be argued the interruption came when I couldn’t sing to them at night or hold them on my lap or make snacks or carry them on my hip as I busied about the house. I can see now that the line was just fuzzy, that I was not accepting a disconnection. I maintained all routes of communication and was blessed with weekly visits. Still, 2 1/2 years were lost. The real interruption wouldn’t come for 20 years.

It is clear to me now that when I am speaking, I just want to be heard. I value those who listen without preparing their response before the words have left my mouth. I crave the presence of those who are comfortable with silence, who can allow space for thoughts to form and ideas to percolate. I find solace in relationships where careful consideration is given to the message, where effort is expended in determining meaning. How much is missed when we stop another short in our quest to ask a question, force our ideas into the air that was carrying theirs? Like a fan that circulates the dust particles around the room, nothing ever lands, nothing is heard when everything stays swirling. Conversely, the quiet, the listening, the actual hearing, that is grace. Holiness happens in the moments where truth can be spoken, when we meet each other at the altar of our own hard stuff and find there is room for all of us. No need to push or shove aside to get our truth spoken, we find many truths can co-exist, we find the answers to questions come if we wait.  So folks who practice interrupting or have trouble with silence are hard for me to be around.

Lately I have been so taken with the concept of being present, really aware of the moment I am in. I want to look forward to the 5th grade hallway or the day my children and I are reconciled. I want to rush forward to when everything will be better, trying to get through this long interruption and back to my real life. But what if this IS my life? This very moment when Plum sits on my lap and I type around him, his long legs now almost reaching the floor, his wiggling bottom indicating he needs to pee, the smell of little boy filling my lungs and soul as he rests his sleepy head against my chest. This is my moment right now, my life within the interruption, my opportunity to detour and find a new path. Because the truth is that the new school in 5th grade brought me a life long friend. Going to college early may have saved my life, I was drinking and driving and on a poor choice path. I left grad school to spend a year with my daughter, one I will never regret. Those interruptions were also opportunities for me to check my trip outline, to see that other options were better suited for me.

Maybe my battle with interrupters is not completely fair. I may have lost sight that sometimes I need the air to be circulated, I need someone to help me pause. Because my thoughts can go on for too long in the wrong direction, a gentle “Um, Lisa, can I get a word in?” may be just the thing. I sat in on a meeting a few days ago and listened as my good friend who is quieter seemed to struggle to be heard in the larger more vocal group. My own Chef repeatedly jumped in when she was speaking. Later as we processed the event, he had no idea, said he was supporting her words, her truth. When he apologized to her, she was completely unaware and did not experience it that way. Her take: maybe I am just a bit sensitive in that area. Ouch. So the jury is out for me and interruptions. I don’t have resolution on my big pet peeve, except to know I am working on being here right now and hope that you can join me in this space. I am really curious how others experience interruptions, how conversation flow affects you.  Thoughts, comments, go! Are interrupters an either/or bad/good deal breaker or necessary to keep the conversation going?

How Much is Our Share?

I buckled his seat belt, I kissed his check then the sweet spot on the back of his neck and told him I love him. He said he loves me too while distractedly drawing on his new pad of paper with a green gel pen, I was not his focus. Onto the other side of the car to kiss Sweetness goodbye, usually I do this first, he gets the last kiss but today was just out of order, I didn’t give it a second thought as I walked away from the car. Almost there, I heard Mama’s call, “Come Back, Plum is crying!” He was sobbing, wailing, so quickly things had turned. Rushing back I found a very jealous child, one who no longer remembered our “goodbye exchange,” who no longer remembered all the times I told him he is my favorite, including earlier that morning, a child who thought this new baby had taken his place in my heart. His heart was the color of the gel pen, his eyes could only see green.

More kisses, tender listening to all of his fears, a reminder that he will always be my favorite best big boy. Like the cracker crumbs from snacks eaten while he rides, my words and affection mostly all fell on the seat around him, mostly never reaching inside of him for nourishment, to fill his hunger. The damage was done.  Too tired, too emotional to hear what I tried to explain to him, that God makes our hearts expand when we add in more people to our lives, we don’t have to share limited space, he could only accept more kisses and strike out in his hurt.  He is sure that this new baby sister has taken what was his for 6 years and he is wondering what is left. As adults we can smile knowingly, shaking our heads and assure each other that he will grow out of this phase, but I wonder. I wonder if any of us ever really do. Maybe we grow to understand that our siblings are not our enemies, but do we ever fully grasp that the same equation that allows the hearts of our parents to expand is the same for our God?

The meat of it all is the jealousy, the insecurity that we feel when we think someone has more than us, has a better pathway in than us, got the last kiss, that is what troubles us and causes the flailing about, the striking out, the competition for attention. Yet if we were sure that our kiss even if it was the one that came about way before the door closed was meant just for us, held all of the love and joy and power of our God, would it really matter what anyone else received?  If we rested in the glory of the sunrise and knew that was our God telling us we are His favorite, wouldn’t that be enough? Would we have the need to fight over blocks and Lego and new cars and territory if we understood that we can sit secure in the expansive love of our Father, we do not have to compete?

We teach children to share by modeling sharing: here honey, I have an apple that I am cutting into 4 pieces, one for you, one of me, one for you, one for me. That is a wonderful exercise but only works when we begin with the willingness to share the apple. What if we begin with a piece of chocolate cake? Umm… maybe you should get your own, right, this looks really tasty and I actually would like to have it all. Maybe I can be generous enough to give a taste but there will be no splitting this delicacy into 4 pieces. So modeling sharing works in controlled circumstances but do we actually model it without such exaggerated awareness? Most mom’s are bad at this, we don’t share. We give the kids the whole apple, the last apple.  I remember one conversation with Arrow when he hit his late tweens, early teens and began to see me as more than a mom. He asked if I really like only the toast edges that he and his sister left behind, if I truly prefer just the burnt pieces of popcorn. Of course I didn’t always want those, what I came to prefer when my children came along is that they have the best pieces and parts and choices and I would always accept the scraps, if there were any. Thus I missed that opportunity to model sharing with me, that I was worthy of a piece of the apple as well. A mother who will sacrifice all for her children is easily sacrificed, I have learned. I taught them I was less than them. They have graduate degrees in this philosophy now. But I digress.

Do our rights as Christians mean we have to protect our turf? Are we obligated to ensure that the pews never get too full, that we always get the last kiss and don’t allow someone who is not in our family to join in and displace us? This fear of others is our insecurity about whether or not God can love us all, that His love is so big and can get bigger to include more and more and we will not feel less. Maybe Mom didn’t provide for us, Dad never said the actual words, we didn’t feel that love in our homes of origin, we just keep grabbing onto more and more than is our share, trying to make up the lack, taking extra portions and never getting full. We can’t get filled when we feed off of other’s portions, we spread hurt. Insecure adults who say no you can’t worship here, you can’t live here, you can’t go to school here, I need this space.

In truth, God’s orchard is limitless, He never runs out of apple slices. If we understand the idea of an expanding heart rather than a dividing one, oh the rest, the peace! No longer competing, rather we savor the kiss we got and notice not the one that came before us to our neighbor or the one that came after to our new baby sister or the LGBTQ teenager who is loving differently than us.  Love everywhere, big bigger expansive. Soon our apples look like too much for us to eat alone, we notice the juice is sweeter when we see it running down the chin of a hungry child. So what does it take to become so secure in our Father’s love, to trust completely in His expansive heart that our insecurity vanishes? I think the key is to no longer look back to what was, to not spend time in what we want for the future. This moment, this apple, right now. We have a choice to know and to seek out whether we are enough, we have enough, right now. Absolutely in this very moment, was this kiss meant for me? Staying with that one, hearing God whisper that I am His favorite, this can fill me up, millions of granules of sand pouring into all the cracks and broken places, filling me with God’s wholeness.

Becoming whole in God’s love is the ultimate healing of the broken love we inflict on each other, erases the worry about toast edges teaching the wrong lessons and who to kiss goodbye last. Knowing we are going to mess up and hurt each other and others are going to miss that we wanted an apple slice also, we have to turn to the only source of complete love. Poof, just for a moment, calm restored. The next moment is coming though, what will we do with that? Can we allow room for others, can we accept the second to last kiss? I pray we stay right is this place, where the apples are sweet and juicy and God is serving us all. Getting there and staying there are hard work, certainly not any more difficult than battling over who can pray with us. Let’s just share our apples, friends, and our pews and our hearts.  Let the only green we see be that of the orchard. And of course, gel pens. Green gel pens are our favorites.