A Return to our Love books

“If you’re still my small babe or you’re all the way grown,
my promise to you is you’re never alone.

You are my angel, my darling, my star…
and my love will find you, wherever you are.”  Nancy Tillman


Each night as we settle in, PJ’s on and snack at the ready, we read books from Plum’s ever growing library. Three to six downstairs, then as sleepiness begins to overtake him, we move up to his bed and read a couple more as he eases into the night. For many years, our routine was strict, we read our “love books,” a beautiful collection by Nancy Tillman. Rolling over, snuggling in, he would drift off to sleep as I quietly read, moderating my pace and volume until his eyes closed. Completely conditioned, the words that expressed how deeply and widely he was loved were the last he heard each night. Deep peace filled me as well, I cherished the opportunity to speak words of love, knowing the last that he heard each night was how special he is to me.

Sadly, this routine got destroyed when he began to read by himself, he chose books about battles and Pokemon and ninjas and resisted the “love books” enough that they sat neglected on his shelf.  He preferred to chatter and tell some deep truths and horse around with grandpa, fighting sleep and too many cuddles. I often revisited the books, suggesting we read those, at least one but was unceremoniously told no. The child was growing into his boyhood and didn’t want the mushy stuff. Recently though, I won the book selection choice and I read words of love to my grandson and also to myself. I heard not my voice as I read but the relentlessness of God, who loves me on good days and bad, when I am playing and sleeping and think I’ve been bad. Pease entered my soul again, I realized how much I had missed our nightly routine of centering ourselves on unconditional love. As I reached the point in the book that says, “If you are still my small babe or all the way grown, my promise to you is you are never alone,” I found I was speaking to Nick. That I had spoken this to Nick, when he sat on the bed and listened to me read these books to Plum, back when he joined our home again. When he first came home from prison, he eased into our routines first by watching. Then he took over reading the books to Plum as I sat on the bed, listening to the sound of his voice speak love to his child. The circle was complete.

This night when I read the words aloud I was reminded that I needn’t fear that my son doubted my love, that he was alone as he died. My love has followed him everywhere, through the misery of his drug use to the fear and anxiety of imprisonment to the glory of his recovery. He knew my love was ever present, even on days he knew he had been bad. Plum and I speak often about the difference between accepting bad behavior and unconditional love. Plum, just like his father, knows that I love him at his worst and at his farthest away. Peace filled my lungs with each breath, each word I spoke. Grief can bring doubts and fears and regrets that rob us of the joys that abound. This night, I was offered a sweet memory that settled the raging worries, offering truth and perspective, highlighting forgotten joys.

Sneaking the books in to our routine several times since, I can admit that I have picked this particular book up several times to read just to myself, even though the words are etched into my memory. God’s love will find us wherever we are, when we are grieving and broken and filled with sadness.




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.

Communing Sunday

Our two rather large dogs were terrifying to our little house guest. No amount of reassurance would convince him that he was safe. As they drew near, he screamed. They are so protective of my Plum that the screaming told hem they must comfort this small boy, so they tried to go closer. More screaming. So our beasts were stuck outside, confused and barking. A dance began, moving the dogs either in or out, depending on where our new friends were. My Chef entertained while I sat with the dogs, our home divided. I prayed that I could find some solution, I wondered about the wisdom of opening our home to strangers. Beautiful in theory, complicated in the execution. We seemed to be offering a bit more misery than hospitality. I searched for a solution, wondering if a different home would be a better fit. Fearing permanent traumatization, I knew something had to change.

Chef informed me that he had invited our housemates to church, I was appalled. This act of evangelism felt disrespectful to their pathway to God, I worried they would feel pressured as our guests to go. Given that the beast dance was wearing me down, I had little energy or even time to chastise my husband. I hoped they would assert themselves and politely decline, I worried how I would attend and leave them with the beasts. I worried, got more and more tired. Finally the dogs and I escaped to my bedroom, fatigued ruling wisdom. I gave up. I forget that until I get so tired of trying to steer the ship, I don’t let God take over.

Before the sun even rose on our sabbath morning I asked Chef for the day’s plan. He confirmed our guests were joining for church, I was taking everyone to meet at the late service as he leaves early to teach Sunday school.  While I slept, he  and God had been busy with details I now had to implement. Escaping to my porch sanctuary with beasts, I drank coffee and talked with God. I drank more coffee, tried to listen. God whispered. Realizing I had the perfect interpreter, someone who could communicate to a little boy that these dogs were harmless. I called in my Plum, this almost 6 year old bundle of compassion who wrestles the beasts and spreads joy. While it was mama’s weekend, she graciously allowed us to pick him up to join for church and play time after. Mama understood non-beasts loving people. What ensued was such beauty that only God could have been messing around with this.

We walked into church, my Plum, little Jesus, Mary and Joseph and I. I’m not sure anyone even greeted me. The children were too adorable, the adults immediately welcomed, shepherded to the coffee bar.  My worrying couldn’t find any place to land, pushed aside by joy. “Yes, I am among friends, friends who will carry this yoke with me.” For a time I could just rest in the house of God.  How often I forget that I don’t have to do this, any of this, alone. Coffee, tea, water bottles in hand, we entered the sanctuary, boys racing around as little boys do.  I will only attend a church that allows little boys to race around.

I assumed we would sit in the back, inconspicuous, as much as any one could be dressed in such beautiful scarves as Mary. Chef told them we sit in the front row and guided everyone up there. His boldness is ridiculous sometimes. The children and I sat on the floor, dumping out the baggie of cars I had brought. Plum searched my purse for the snacks he knows Gran always has. Packages of cookies were opened, divided. One for him, one for Jesus, over and over, as they sat on the prayer kneeler in front of the entire congregation.   Communion in the purest sense.  Music began, the boys danced. Jesus danced just as my Plum used to so freely do until he got a bit shy and aware that he was dancing alone. We go to a Methodist church after all.  When the children were dismissed for Sunday School Jesus went also with some coaxing but soon returned. Back to the floor I went, rolling matchbox cars to and fro, until it was time for communion when I retrieved my Plum. He loves communion. He loves the bread the juice the lining up with everyone to participate in something he knows is special. Jesus was ready to partake as well. More worrying, how to stop a child from having “snack” that everyone else gets?  Anxiety spiking, searching for a quick solution, the voice of my pastor broke through.

Pastor Chris reminded the congregation that everyone is invited to the table. He spoke God to the people. The people heard. Joseph rose to join the line, I could barely breathe. Mary sat still in her chair, the boys rushed ahead. As the communion steward tore a piece of bread and handed it to little Jesus, she told him it was love broken for him. Is there anything more pure, more magnificent?  Finally, Mary rose, unsure, haltingly, to join the line. I walked with her although I had already received this sacrament. Arm in arm, we walked to the table of grace.

After church Plum played with the beasts and spoke confidence into little Jesus. By the end of the day we had harmony in our home, no more separation dance. Our guests cooked a meal for us, stepping around beasts in the kitchen. We communed again. I may never write these words again, pay attention. I was wrong, my Chef was right. He sent out an invitation because he was listening to God’s call. I pray that I can be so fearless when given the chance. I pray that I can trust that when God brings us someone to love, he doesn’t leave us to work it out on our own. I pray that I remember communion is little boys dancing to worship music, Muslims taking bread and juice with a group of Christians because we have shown the real face of our One Father. I want to always remember when Pastor Chris said, “Let’s pray,” Jesus stopped playing cars and ran to me, enveloped me in a hug and didn’t let go as we rocked on the floor of the sanctuary. Hearts beating together, wrapped in the arms of Jesus, is there anything more glorious than that?

My soul is overwhelmed, brimming with the love and light God has shown me. This lesson of trusting God is something I relearn everyday,  easier with the example of children.  Bread and juice and cookies become sacred. If I just keep showing up, our One Father will supply the miracles.  The table is set before me, open for all who seek to lead a life of peace and love. I come to it broken, like the bread. I pour out my pain, just as the blood of Jesus was poured for us all. Shared, we become whole.

  • If I am bold enough to issue invitations,
  • if I am silent long enough to listen to the whispers of God,
  • if I am transparent enough to rely on my faith community,
  • if I am honest enough to acknowledge that quite often my Chef is right,

I will find communion. I don’t ever have to wait for Sunday. Grace and light will meet me there. Thanks be to God.