"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning,
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
-Psalm 137:5-6 (King James Version)
To begin, a funny story: When I was preparing to go to Israel for the first and only time 17 years ago, my encouraging but slightly freaked-out parents did everything they could to prepare me for such a trip. My electrician father researched the receptacle shapes and power converter needs for life in the Middle East. My extroverted mother sought out the best phone plan that would allow us to call each other with as much regularity (and as little cost) as the not-quite-cellular-American infrastructure would allow.
Neither of them had travelled abroad beyond Canada at that point, so they didn't really know what other things I might need to be equipped for the adventure. To remedy this, they took me to the abode of experts who might know better: a fancy-schmancy travel store "over the hill" in Portland, where a VERY happy-to-clean-us-out salesman sold us a bundle of stuff: multiple luggage security locks, a personal handbag, a secret passport stasher, and a large navy blue rolling duffel bag.
This duffel bag, for reasons still unknown to me, had a miniature stuffed monkey keychain attached to it. I wonder now if that's what sold me on it. (Look, a cute little monkey! Hey, it's free with the bag, I should get THAT one!)
For reasons even more unfathomable, the stuffed monkey had a name, as all of the monkeys attached to this kind of bag did (I suspect it was a kind of Cabbage Patch Doll approach to beguiling sentimental customers like me).
As it happened, I liked a dark blue bag the best, one that a stuffed monkey of the same colour attached to it like other bags of the same make and brand. And this monkey's name was...
My parents teehee-ed over this to no end. "Maybe you'll meet your husband on this trip and his name will be Matt!" they joked, the salesman grinning in response and waiting for us to finish our purchase. I shrugged and grew red, trying to appear indifferent to such a possibility (I was a 20-year-old evangelical woman, so meeting my future husband was frequently--perhaps TOO frequently--on my mind.)
We paid for the bag(s), the locks, the secret passport holder, and left, content that I was as ready as I could be for my first real trip abroad.
Upon my arrival at the Jerusalem campus I learned that there were not one but FIVE Matts there (out of only 100 people altogether). Five Matts! This was too ridiculous and tempting to obsess on and overthink, so I mentally set aside the monkey and focused on better things: exploring, studying (on occasion), and spending hours and hours with some of the most interesting, beautiful people I've ever had the privilege of knowing.
And in that last, super normal and ordinary activity, I did fall in love. While I ate and drank and travelled with many truly fabulous people there was, ultimately, just one person I woke up wanting to see in the morning; only one whom I thought of last in the waning moments of wakefulness at night.
That one person was, of course, my Matt. The Matt I would pine for, first as a secret, unspoken crush and then as a publicly proclaimed and claimed boyfriend while we finished our undergraduate degrees. The Matt with the dark brown hair and the chocolate brown eyes and the deep, cavernous crinkles in his cheeks when he smiled. The Matt that, if such superstitions and oddball signs are to believed, a blue monkey keychain on a blue bag in a luggage store in Portland foretold I was going to marry.
In honour of our 15th wedding annniversary, Matt and I are returning to the land where it all began. Airline tickest proved affordable just when they needed to in order to make such a plan, and booking lodging in all the cities we plan to visit while there has afforded me an extra portion of joy.
Lots of people dream of going, or returning, to the Holy Land for the reasons that make it a precious place for faithful Muslims, Christians, Jews (among others). The three main monotheistic religions of the earth have all staked their claim on it at one time or another, and still do today with varying degrees of success. Our miracles happened there. Our prophets spoke and healed and brought back the dead there. We expect to meet God there.
But I'd be lying if I said it was mostly the claims of faith that make me want to go back, or historical sites, or even (as it was the first time) the chance to bear witness to what a resurrected People could do in a land they saw as their divine right. My reasons are much more plain and personal. Yes, the limestone buildings of Jerusalem glowing in the fierce, Middle Eastern sun are beautiful on their own. But they are also the buildings I walked past as I got to know the man who teased and challenged and listened me into love with him. Yes, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan river have their own power over me because my Saviour swam and stood and walked in them. But, if I'm honest, the power is even greater because I swam in that lake and stood by that river with good friends, with remarkable souls, including the remarkable soul who asked me, less than two years later, to be his wife.
I am going back not just to the Holy Land sanctified by divine deeds and places of memory for the faithful but my Holy Land--a land sanctified by friendship and love and places of memory from the best year of my life.
The author of Psalm 137 warned himself against forgetting Jerusalem. For me, such a warning is almost laughable. I have never really gotten over Jerusalem. Which it makes it all the more wonderful that I am finally going back.
The same image has come unbidden to my mind every day this past week:
I am either in the basket of a hot air balloon or, more oddly, I AM the basket of a hot air balloon. My perspective is downward. I'm just a few feet off the ground, which is not too alarming, but the ropes that should tether me safely to it have come loose.
Am I floating away? Am I trying to land? I'm not sure, but I know instinctively that the ropes should not be untied. I need them to serve as tethers; I need them to keep me connected to the ground.
I spent the first part of this Friday night past in despondency. Nothing much had happened, but the weight of two weeks' worth of bad news piled upon bad news finally took its toll. Jeff Sessions had been revealed as the attorney general in the cabinet of the president-elect. All I knew about him was what I remembered from an article written a month before in which he, a United States senator, declared that a man grabbing a woman's genitals wasn't really sexual assault.
When my husband came home I was sitting at the table with my head in my hands.
"I feel dead inside." I declared, still staring at the table. "Of course what he said doesn't matter to the next president. How could that kind of statement matter to a man who actually assaulted women? How can we live in a world where such a man will be the next president? How is that is even possible"
Matt rubbed my shoulder and listened as I continued to speak, up to the point where I said, "Everything seems upside down to me. I feel lost." At that, he gave me some badly needed straight talk that helped pull me out of my gloom:
"Of course you feel lost. You've been stuck in the house all week being blasted with Donald Trump news on Facebook. You need to get out and connect with real people again."
And with that, he helped me make dinner and I started to come back to life.
I know what the first rope is, the first truth that will tether me and keep me grounded in a season that frequently sends me reeling: Call it community or something else, I--we--were created for real life lived with the real, flesh-and-blood people in our homes, our streets, with those we see at school and places of worship, in the grocery store and at the bank.
Reductivism is tempting and all too possible in online engagement: my family, friends and colleagues become the sum of their opinions and images.
I become the sum of my opinions and images.
Real life is less particular, less intense; opinions are but one sliver of the complex pie of shared existence. That which connects us--food, children, weather, holidays--that is the stuff that dominates our days and unites flesh-and-blood neighbours and friends with each other.
I can see myself again in the balloon, looking down, taking hold of a rope: flesh-and-blood, rooted existence in this space and this time. Here I am. Here are my people. Here is my place. And it is good.
I tie the rope to the ground.
I began reading Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland a few weeks ago. I found a mint-condition copy at a thrift store and bought it because my daughter loves the shorter version we have in the house, and because it seemed odd that I had never read the original before.
I'm finding it a serendipitous guidebook, as classic fiction often is for me. All that Alice knows must be altered, to make way for the wisdom necessary to navigate the strange Wonderland world. This is a world where a girl can fall hundreds or thousands of feet and not be harmed, where rabbits talk and worry about punctuality. It is precisely in the bizarre that Alice discovers her bravery, bravery she hopes to take with her back to her real home in the real world.
Speaking the truth has become an act of bravery for me. It doesn't feel like it initially, but it always does afterward. Speaking the truth about sexual assault. Speaking the truth about PTSD. Speaking the truth about God intersecting with my life (or me intersecting with His, as it's probably more accurate to say). Speaking about the first two subjects, necessary as it feels at the time, gets paid for afterwards by me and, to a degree, my family. There is a reason "spilling your guts" is so appropriate an idiom for the act.
But it does something else, and this relates to community, too. Throughout this past year I have had people who have experienced similar events--sexual assault, faith displacement, PTSD--reach out to me. Sometimes they share what they have experienced; sometimes it is as simple as, "you helped me put my story into words." That, far more than the act of writing, helps heal what is broken within me. When people reach out to me, I reach back--and when we join hands (metaphorically or physically) something inside whispers, "Yes. Good. This is the way it is supposed to be."
I am looking down again at the ground, one rope tied and the remaining three corners of the basket rocking dangerously in the wind. I throw down a second rope and someone--I cannot see who--tethers it to the ground for me.
I will keep choosing to speak the truth. I will not give into cowardice. I will not appease and please through silence and whimsy.
I will tell the truth. And so, the second rope is tied.
On Sunday morning, Matt woke up fighting a bit of the cold that my children have all passed around to each other.
"I don't want to go to church today," he said as he reached into the cupboard for his coffee mug.
"It's Christ the King Sunday!" I exclaimed. "I would DIE if I didn't go to church today."
"That's the difference between you and me," he responded flatly.
"No," I said. "It's a sign that I'm getting well."
This is the year of all years that I know, deep in my bones, that I need a calendar to live by beyond the political one of primaries and debates and elections. Hope pushes for involvement in those things, but it does not rise from them (nor should we expect it to).
I need to live by the calendar I have followed since I became an adult 19 years ago: the calendar that begins with the anticipation of the birth of Christ and ends with his crowning as King of the Universe. I need a reality rooted in God-become-human, in power prefaced and encased in humility. I desperately need the eternal Christ child in the manger to remind me the bluster and fear-mongering of kings (and president-elects) is not forever. I need to journey with the Holy Family to Egypt to remember that, whatever policies are enacted in the future, God knows what it is to be a refugee and calls us to welcome Him through welcoming others.
I need the once-and-always proclamation promise of Peace on Earth. And I need it, as the song goes, to begin in me.
This then, is the third rope: the ancient way of telling time through stories, good stories, of God and His people. This holding onto Good News that began with a good God creating a good world and that will, in His time, end with the full redemption and healing of that world. I don't demand that everyone sees it in exactly the same way, but for me, at this time, holding onto the Good News is what will keep me alive; it's what will keep me upright. The Good News is what will keep me from being utterly displaced by an era that is unfamiliar and yet all-too-familiar.
So I tie it, firmly, tightly, and let myself be drawn steadier and closer to the ground.
Once a month in my congregation (and every week or day in many others), we celebrate Eucharist (Thanksgiving); a meal instituted by Christ of bread and wine. In my faith tradition, we call this meal a means of grace; a way in which God feeds and nourishes not only our bodies but our spirits.
Eucharist, Communion, the Lord's Supper: these are all names for the same meal, based on the same Good story recorded in all four of the Books that describe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is my favourite part of worship, both as a leader and as an in-the-pew participant. The last part of the liturgy that I would say as the leader was this strange line: "Drink this cup, in remembrance that Christ's blood was shed for you, and be thankful."
Thankfulness and gratitude, are central to the Eucharist, and they are central to the life of faith. But gratitude is a grounding practice both for those at home in a faith and those who make their home outside of one. It forces us to account for the good in addition to the bad. Thankfulness is the recognition that there are gifts we have been given and enjoy--gifts of people or health or work or the beauty of the day.
As a culture, we North Americans have a whole day set aside for an annual practice of gratitude, of thanksgiving. But that isn't the only time available to practice it, nor is it best to save it for just once a year.
When I came home this morning, my four-year-old neighbour greeted me with laughing and pointing--not at me, but at the sun, which we in Vancouver see too rarely.
"The sun is out, the sun is out!" he exclaimed joyfully.
I'm sure I knew that subconsciously, but I hadn't factored it in with my long list of things to do. But here was my neighbour, pointing and calling me to look. So I did. I set my bag of groceries down on the stairs and turned to look with him at the face of the sun. It was covered by white clouds, but the light was streaming through and touching both of us as we looked.
These things, gratitude and thanksgiving, will be my fourth rope, tying me not only to the ground but to God (Whom Tillich wisely titled "The Ground of Being.") I know gratitude can happen outside of God, but for me it happens now to Him, in concert with Him and the creation in which He has set me and those I love. I lost my ability to practice God-directed gratitude when I lost my ability to read the Scriptures. But it has come back, and I no longer have to limit my thoughts to the good things that happen. I can be thankful for them. With a smidge of panic (as comes whenever I consciously connect things to religious obligation). But I can be grateful. Thank God.
I am looking down again, in the balloon. The wind is gentle, barely blowing. I reach down and easily and firmly tie the fourth and final rope to the ground. Gratitude. Thanksgiving.
Still in the balloon. Still looking downwards.
I am aware that, just outside my field of vision, nothing has changed. What is uncertain remains uncertain. What is terrifying remains terrifying.
But if and when I look beyond me at a world that is good but breaking, a world that even now breaks hearts and bodies and sends nations into disarray--I will look with eyes open and with the strength and stability of the four things that anchor me in place: the flesh-and-blood people in my life; the truth I will continue to speak; the Stories that I know and shape my life around; and gratitude for the good that I know will arise.
It is enough.
It will be well.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May we find our footholds in what is good, and right and true
That we may not fear
Or grow over-weary,
But rather be glad,
And even, on occasion, rejoice.
This post is an expansion on an entry in my journal, written in a low season of my life following a soul-crushing miscarriage. May it be a word of courage and encouragement for those who need it.
Went for a walk.
Looked for God at a waterfall.
Heard Him in the damp, ancient forest
of trees with half-stretched
broken branches, covered in
I walked until I felt compelled to stop in front of one old tree in particular. And heard,
"This is you, Kadee."
I notice the tree's branches,
their frenetic, top-to-bottom reaching out.
There is no fruit. It provides no shade.
What good is there in a tree like this?
"It stands," I hear.
"Just stand, Kadee."
But is it good enough just to stand?
"You are good enough. Just stand."
Psalm 1 has a line that I returned to often after my father died:
[S]he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,
that bears its fruit in season.
Maybe this isn't a season to bear fruit.
Maybe it is enough just to stand.
If God says it's true, it must be so.
A blessing for you, and for me:
If you can run, may you run with strength and speed.
If you can walk, may you walk with dignity and purpose.
If you can stand, may you stand in confident trust that it is enough.
And if you can only crawl, sit, or lie down,
May you, in so doing, partake in the Divine dignity of weakness.
And though we long with you for the gift of strength,
I rise up even now and call you blessed.
Here is something I didn't see coming: I didn't anticipate what it would be like to admit publicly I had been sexually assaulted in the context of a larger national conversation on the subject, and then have friends and family vote for an admitted sexual assaulter.
I knew, of course, that it would happen. But I didn't know what it would do to my heart.
I didn't expect that it would feel like dementors circled me and sucked all hope out of the air in the early morning hours of November 9. (Yes, I know that dementors aren't real. But sometimes it feels like they are.)
I didn't know that I would feel betrayed by my people, the white American evangelicals, 81% of whom voted for an admitted sexual assaulter (among other things; and God Almighty, what a long, terrible list of other things!)
I didn't know that the voice so recently returned to me would scream for hiding and protection and safety again in the wake of the election; to sit out the next four years safely and silently here in Canada, ignoring what is happening in the country of my birth and around the world.
I didn't know silence would be so tempting after finding the courage to speak. How could I?
But now I know. And I have faced and rejected the temptation to quiet down and go away.
I have faced and rejected (thought failing sometimes) the temptation to simply keep the peace and ignore what remains troubling and disturbing about this New (i.e. Very Old) World in which we live. A world in which naming misogyny and xenophobia and racism is treated as whining, and denouncing those things earns one the title of "poor loser." A world in which riots are rightly denounced while attacks in and on churches and schools and human beings are minimized or ignored.
I have faced and rejected the temptation to give into the safety of despair and turn away from noisy, irritating, painful hope.
No. It is in hope that I want to live. It is in hope, and its twin sisters, faith and love that I, as a person of faith, am called to live. And in this new season of knowing that all is not well, hope will continue to require work on my part and on all of our parts.
Hope requires turning away from the temptation to despair and cowardice. Hope requires turning away from the temptation to demean and withdraw from those who voted differently than me, especially those who share my faith. It is hope, not optimism, that is necessary in these days. Hope, not cheery naivetè must remain the oxygen of the brokenhearted and the inspiration of the weary.
As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, "Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that, if we work hard enough, we can make things better. Between them lies all the difference in the world. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It needs no courage, only a certain naiveté, to be an optimist. It needs a great deal of courage to have hope."
Well then, may God give me courage, for I. Will. Live. In. HOPE.
In hope, I will work for a future that is just, not the savage now that elevates the rights of those of a particular skin colour, orientation, religion or gender. I will speak when that future clearly remains to be realized. And I will rejoice when it seems to break through.
In hope, I will live into a Kingdom where it is the poor and the mourning and the broken who are declared blessed instead of reviled as losers and whiners. I will speak when that Kingdom is rejected for a kingdom of the mighty being right because of their might. And I will celebrate when that Kingdom advances in peaceful victory.
In hope, I will live into a Kingdom of grace and mercy and humility and love, where, as Mother Mary sang, "God casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly."
In hope, I will reach out my hand out in friendship to those who disagree with me, even though it may be slapped away or spit upon. (God help me. God help us all. That is the part I dread most.)
And I will screw up sometimes. I will fail at love and I will give up hope and then grasp it again. And I'll probably irritate people (no, definitely will! Kadee, shut up already about Donald Trump!). And I'll probably be a Debbie Downer or, I flatter myself, Gandalf Stormcrow (no, definitely will!) and get muted or blocked or ignored, even by people I love and people who love me.
But thank God, so much of what used to keep me silent--the agony I put myself through because of what others think of me and my words--has been crucified and buried. And may it lie dead, amen and amen.
I expect to be hurt, and I expect to be ignored. And I expect myself to tell the truth anyhow.
Because hope. And only hope.
A blessing for you, and for me:
Be brave, beloved:
Use the voices God has given you to speak the truth, and to speak it in love.
Live courageously in hope, clinging to faith tinged by hope,
And I will do the same, with His help.
Note: This post was originally an entry in my personal journal, written less than two months after I went on medical leave and about a month after I started running per my doctor's recommendation. It is about running. It is also about much more than running.
Every time I run, I have the same memory play in my head as I start to get in my stride: when I was in grade 4 or 5 and the only girl to volunteer to run the 800 meters at our annual track meet.
A few years earlier I had been declared the fastest girl in class after a race around the field for P.E. For some reason I thought I was still fast enough, and that running 800 meters would be no problem for me.
It's strange how much I remember about that race. I remember my dad telling me I needed to be practicing in the weeks before, couch potato that I was. I remember him telling me that I needed to start out slow, or I wouldn't have enough energy to speed ahead and win at the end. I agreed to his wisdom, eventually.
But on the race day itself, the need to prove myself quickly voided Dad's good wisdom. As we were lined up, another, older girl talked to the boy from my school running in the race ahead of me. "Who's running the 800?" she asked. He nodded in my direction, and she sized me up She had permed hair and cool accessories, and an athlete's solid build. I was skinny and awkward and had thin, straight hair (anathema in the late '80's, early 90's).
"Is she any good?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders and somehow (I don't remember if in words or whispers) informed Miss Amazing that I was the only one who had volunteered, and thus the only one running from our school who had not qualified by trying out.
By the time we were lined up, it was desperately hot outside and I was equally desperate to prove to everyone that I deserved to be there. So when the "Go!" was given, I set off in a blaze of speed, ahead of Miss Amazing.
But only for a moment. Very quickly I could feel that it would be all I could do to finish the race--winning would be the least of my concerns. As we made the first round, I saw my dad parked with his work truck on the other side of the school fence, watching me race.
I knew I was going to disappoint him. I had not practiced, and I had not paced myself. I was going to lose, and badly. Which, of course, I did. I believe I came in dead last, which was bad enough, but I was so exhausted that I fell on the ground after crossing the finish line, panting and sweating and in agony. I looked to my best friend for sympathy, but she just looked horrified and mostly embarrassed.
Looking back, I have so much compassion for that little girl, alone and in last place, heaving on the ground. If Dad stayed, I don't remember it. If anyone came to help me, I don't remember it. The only funny thing I remember--and this can't be right, but I'll say it anyway--is my foster brother running the boys' 800 right after me and not only winning by a long shot but doing so after initially missing a turn and having to backtrack to the right course for the race.
Whenever I run now and am tempted to race ahead to look faster--more fit, more worthy of respect and admiration--I think of my Dad by his truck, watching and saying, "Slow down or you'll have nothing left at the end." I have to tune out the lifetime of other voices that say THIS moment, THIS impression is what you must kill yourself for.
Run the long race. Listen to your body. Pace yourself. Slow down.
Words to live by, if I've ever heard any. And now, finally, I am learning to listen to them.
T is for Titillating Tales of Terror (or Real-Life Scary Stories my Family Tells, in honour of Halloween)
A certain sparkly vampire family made its fictional home in a temperate rainforest town, 250 miles north of the socked-in coastal village that my own family calls home.
There is a marked spookiness that descends on all coastlines along with the dark. The only horror movie I could tolerate watching as a kid was called "Lady in White", which was about a grief-stricken ghostly mother who jumped from a cliff into the ocean every night she re-realized her daughter had been killed. (Goosebumps are popping up all over my skin as I write this...do you know who hates thinking about scary things? ME!!!) While that story was set on the other side of the country, it laid beautiful ground in my childhood imagination for strange things to happen on the coastal cliffs of my adolescence and adulthood.
When I was in my early twenties, my brother (born with considerable more nerve than I) reported spooky happenings to which he and his friends had been witness. They would purposefully go to get themselves scared at a nearby state park, complete with misty, dramatically descending cliffs, a non-working lighthouse, and a tree (known as the Octopus Tree) that was rumoured to have housed the bodies of recently departed First Nations people for the first night after their death.
The strangest part of this already strange and beautiful place were the deer (at least in his experience), because the deer there did not act like ordinary deer. The park and its surrounding area is not well lit and prone to fog, so trips there at night were always made with caution to not hit any wildlife.
But, five or six times, the cars in which my brother and his friends travelled were not so much dangerous as endangered. When they came upon the deer that roamed the misty forest by the cliffs, the encounters were anything but normal. Instead of freezing up or running away out of fright, as deer tend to do, the deer would get aggressive. The drivers would have to move their cars away from the deer, getting out of the deer's way (!) instead of the other way round. It was, as he says, "like the deer were trying to defend something."
One night, this Warrior Deer behaviour reached its pinnacle when, with about ten people spread between two cars, one lone deer came out onto the road. As the headlights of the car flashed into the face of the animal, it stared into eyes of the driver of the first car for a few seconds before running into it, throwing its body against the front of the car as if to say "Get out, you don't belong here!"
It was with these strange encounters in mind that I went at sunset with my newly engaged fiancé to this same state park to take pictures. Matt hadn't heard any of the stories or local legends, but they weighed on my mind as we passed through the open gate of the park. I thought for the briefest of moments about telling Matt what I had heard. But something held me back; I thought that talking about the stories might make both of our imaginations run rampant.
The sunset was beautiful. To watch and photograph it, we descended from a spot in the park affectionately nicknamed "Suicide Point" by my siblings and I (!) and carefully traversed a narrow wedge of land to a cliff that juts out to the sea. Once the sun set, I started feeling anxious about getting back...and again, opted not to tell Matt, as he was still taking pictures of the last crimson and orange streaks on the horizon.
By the time we came back to Suicide Point and clambered through the brush to the official path, it was dusk. As we approached the Octopus Tree, my skin began to crawl: not because of its appearance, but because I thought I heard groans coming from the woods around it.
But I am the scarediest of scaredy cats, so did I say anything? No sirree, I did not. Because as long as I didn't say anything or draw attention to the groans, I could keep on believing it was all in my head.
Two or three moans and groans later, Matt's ears picked up the sound. He looked at me and grinned. "Sasquatch?" he asked, jokingly. I gritted my teeth in a nervous smile in response and pushed out something like a laugh.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"I'll tell you later," I replied.
Even at this point, with Matt hearing groans near a tree that probably didn't but maybe did house the corpses of the dearly departed of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, I was trying to talk myself down. Maybe there were people in the woods being goofy and playing tricks on us? Maybe there was a family nearby and the kids were hiding and groaning, trying scare us? This was nicer to believe, so I just walked a little faster, holding Matt's hand and trying not to squeeze it as hard as my fear compelled me. Someone else was here. Someone was being silly. It was all in my head.
The path away from the Octopus tree descends gradually into a large parking lot for tourists wanting to see the lighthouse and the tree and the beautiful views.
But there were no cars there. Not a soul. And at this point Matt, naive as he was to the legends and mysteries of the place, started getting nervous too. He had heard the moans and groans. If no one else was here, who was making them?
The gates to the park close at sunset, or so a sign affixed to them says. We drove out as quickly as we could to avoid being locked in. As we passed safely through the still-open gate, I began to tell Matt what I had heard about this place. He tried to make light of it, and I tried to relax as we got back out onto the main road.
But, as we turned onto it, a deer emerged from the woods and came onto the road.
And stared at us.
And didn't move.
And I can't tell you how long we stared at it or it stared at us, but the standoff ended when the deer ran at our car!
And then Matt and I collectively freaked out, he in his calm, cool way and me in my frantic, noisy screeching way. Somehow we got around the deer, somehow we made it back onto the highway, and somehow we drove as quickly as the dark would allow back towards town and home.
If you can believe it, we have never gone there at night again. Because maybe the tree is just a tree and maybe the cliffs are just cliffs and maybe the deer are just deer but...
Well, who really knows?
Note: This post was inspired by a similarly-themed column published in Bill Bryson's hysterical book, "Notes from a Big Country." Thanks, Bill!
The Bridge Jump (a tale passed onto me from my friend Mike)
I went to university in Idaho. Nobody outside of the Pacific Northwest of the United States knows where Idaho is (and even then, people can be foggy on the exact location). Upon arrival I was told that Idaho is comprised of two parts: the northern, green, forested part teeming with white supremacists (!), and the southern, brown, tumbleweed-ridden part in which my university is located.
Thankfully there was more to southern Idaho than that (not much, but some), and one thing that we university students did when the weather was warm was go bridge-jumping at a nearby river.
One warm afternoon, a poor, nervous lad made his way down the side of the bridge to the narrow landing from which he and his friends were to jump into the river below. The drop was greater than he expected, so it took him several minutes of hemming and hawing and his friends' encouraging before he finally got up the nerve to jump. At that critical moment, he made the leap. And as he did, his friends noticed in horror that a large object was floating down the river and would be intercepted by their friend precisely when he made landing.
The large object was the corpse of a dead cow (!)
Gravity of course is real and unflinching even if situations like this. So Poor Laddy continued to plummet down, unable to change velocity or direction, and fell straight through the bloated, blessedly squishy and soft and thus not lethal body of the dearly departed Moo Mama.
Laddy survived, thankfully. But I would venture to say he never jumped again.
One fall morning, I woke up early to take our dog for a much needed walk in the neighbourhood. It was dark and cold for the thirty minutes or so we rambled, and I was glad to return to our warm home at the end of it. When I came in, I saw my oldest two children (then 7 and 5) sitting on the couch watching cartoons, but could not find my 15-months-old youngest son.
"Where's Ephraim?" I asked the two boys.
"I don't know," the oldest one answered, his eyes and his brothers' glued to the television set.
I went into the bathroom where my husband was just getting out of the shower.
"Where's Ephraim?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" he replied with slight alarm.
"I can't find him," I said.
We looked at each other for a few silent seconds before Matt scrambled to get clothes on and I left to do one final check under the beds and tables and inside the closets of our tiny attic suite.
No Ephraim. Matt and I opened the door, went down our steep flight of stairs, and went opposite directions down our street, calling his name as we ran.
As I approached the park at the end of our block, I saw a tiny figure in a t-shirt and a diaper peeking out from behind a bush. It was my son, of course. I ran towards him and he ran towards me, laughing and excited to be "found" and so unbelievably unafraid and unbothered by the cold.
I kissed his little cheeks and warmed his feet in my hands while chiding him for running away. Then we went to find his dad and returned back to our house. We still don't know how long he was alone at the park, but our guess was anywhere between ten and twenty minutes.
That is life with my third son in a nutshell. Always on the edge of panic while he rushes headlong into the next big adventure. Now that he's older and his impulsiveness has mellowed, some of the beauty of his fearlessness has been revealed. In fact, I often wish I could take a smidge of it for myself.
January 2005. Matt and I have looked through our bills and our bank statements and realized that we just don't have enough money for me to make it through another semester of grad school. When we go our separate ways, he to put our son to bed and me to clean up from dinner, I shoot a quick prayer up to God.
"Lord, if you want me to stay in this you're going to have to do something to make it clear. Because we can't do it on our own."
The next day an older friend stopped by with a belated birthday present for our one-year-old son. Isaac opened the present, throwing the tissue paper around the room and excitedly removing the actual gift. I thanked my friend for her thoughtfulness and she replied kindly but still sat there, smiling, as if waiting for something else to happen. I was tired and unfocused, so I thanked her again for the present and we chatted until she left.
I put Isaac down for his nap and went to clean up the living room, including the gift bag. Only then did I notice a card inside that I had failed to see before and thus left unopened.
When I slipped the card out of the envelope, a cheque floated down onto my lap. I picked it up and when I saw the number, my stomach dropped.
$500.00. Five-HUNDRED dollars.
In a note also enclosed, my friend explained that after the recent death of her parent, she and her husband had received a small inheritance. They had prayed about which people or charitable organizations to give the money to, and Matt and I kept coming to their minds.
I started to cry (I swear I don't cry all the time, even if my posts seem to indicate otherwise). I had asked for God to do something about our financial shortfall and, believe what you will about the timing, a cheque was in my hands within 24 hours. The next day I wrote a thank you note and told my friend about my evening-before prayer. And I stayed in grad school, graduating two years later with a Master's degree, two babies, and no debt from that degree whatsoever.
יהוה יראה (the Lord provides)
A month after my father died in 2005, my sister called me.
"I'm pregnant," she declared.
"You're what?" I asked in astonishment. Her daughter was only eight months old at the time, and as I had managed (gratefully) to remain unpregnant for the 13 months following the birth of my son I assumed she would like to have some non-pregnant time as well.
"I'm pregnant!" she said more loudly. "And I don't know how! I swear this is an Immaculate Conception kind of thing."
I wanted to ask more questions but she was in a bit of a fury and said she had more calls to make. I got off the phone, thanking my lucky stars that it was her and not me.
Two months later, as I have written about before, I found out that I was pregnant as well.
Let us fast forward to the strange part of all of this (besides the aforementioned Immaculate Conception of my nephew).
When you are in your first year of mourning for a loved one, there are several days that are bitter and brutal and that you just need to make it through: The first month anniversary of their death. Then the second. The sixth month anniversary that kicks you in the gut and the yearly anniversary that wallops you in the teeth (that anniversary is called yahrzeit in Yiddish, as our Jewish brothers and sisters have the good sense to have a proper name for that horrible day). The first anniversary of marriage sans loved one is hard for the spouse; the first birthday without them is hard for everyone. The yahrzeit is agony, and there's no good way of getting around it.
A little consolation on these days is always welcome. A little extra joy is a stark and life-giving contrast to the months and days cut deeply by the sharp, unrelenting force of loss.
So imagine, if you will, the consolation of welcoming my nephew into the world two days before what would have been my dad's first birthday away from this world.
Imagine, if you will, the consolation of welcoming my son into the world a week and a half before what would have been my dad's first yahrzeit.
And imagine, if you will, the consolation of both of these events being completely unplanned, completely unexpected, completely "wrecking" the timing of so many things and yet resting as a balm on our family's broken hearts when a balm was just what we needed. Because that, of course, is what their births were.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May hope catch you unawares,
May consolation bleed through the breaking of your best laid plans,
May laughter lift you from fear,
May God provide.
When I was 20 years old I was sexually assaulted by a stranger. I had never seen him before. I have never seen him since.
I told a friend about the incident immediately after it happened, using vague, uncomfortable language . When I did, he asked me why I hadn't said anything during the event to make the man stop. I looked at him, speechless for a moment, before mumbling something about being too shocked at the time to be able to speak.
I didn't talk about it again for 15 years.
It was only when the Canadian icon Jian Ghomeshi was accused of sexual assault that I first told my husband about my experience. Even then I did what many women do: minimized what had happened, shaving off the sharpest edges to make it seem less troubling than it was. This self-protective charade lasted through the first few sentences. Then I started to cry. "It wasn't like it was a big deal," I insisted in a shaking voice, tears running down my face. My Matt said nothing, but took my hand in his.
In the days that followed, he struggled to understand why I obsessed over the topic. If there was so much personal pain involved, why was I following the public conversation about Ghomeshi and his victims on Twitter and on Facebook and in the deplorable comments section? What was it that I needed to see?
Fortunately at that point, a friend reached out to talk me about the scandal. She too had known assault, and was also keeping vigil over social media conversations. We talked about the feelings the articles and discussions were eliciting, hinting at memories awoken with every new twist and development. It was then I learned that where our loved ones cannot understand, there is a sisterhood of sufferers who can.
When Brock Turner was given a judicial wrist-slap and national attention for his assault of a fellow student, I felt the same obsessive need to make sense of what was happening. My body began to ache, demanding that I not only pay attention to the articles and conversations and my own memory but name the wrong that had been committed against me.
A day or two into it, I called my twin sister--my best friend--to tell her what had happened to me all those years before.
"He did what????" she screamed into the phone. "Why did you not tell me before?"
I responded sharply and she quickly apologized before saying the only thing I needed to hear.
“I’m sorry that happened to you.”
I'm going to give in again to the temptation to minimize: If you had asked me before the Ghomeshi case if the first assault I experienced affected me, I would have said no. I barely remembered it. If anything it was locked into a windowless chamber in my mind, bothering neither me nor anyone else.
But in the two years since, with that case compounded by the Bill Cosby rape trial and the Turner travesty of justice, my answer would be different. Not only has the memory of assault demanded my attention, its cellmates have as well: memories of street harassment; physical intimidation; being followed down streets in multiple cities; being groped by a drunk man who stumbled along the curb only to stagger towards a wall where he could block me in and lay his hands on me.
There are other memories that I will not talk about, but which also share that miserable cell in my mind. And they too have come out into the light.
The day the recording of the current Republican presidential nominee was released, I began sinking into a heavy sadness. I accidentally saw his words on Facebook and was so overwhelmed I promptly blocked the post that shared them, warning myself not to read them again But by the next morning my feed was filled with denunciations of and conversations about his comments, and I felt I might need to know what exactly he said.
I read the whole transcript. And instead of moving further into sadness, I got mad. Hella mad. I posted a statement denouncing the recording as a confession of assault. I scoured my news feed and jumped onto every thread that seemed to paper over the seriousness of what had been admitted.
And in what may sound like no big deal, I--the consummate Bernie supporter and undecided voter--donated money to the Hillary Clinton campaign. I did it as a giant "fuck you" to her opponent and to every man who has assaulted a woman and pretended like it was okay or no big deal. I wasn't sure I would vote for her, but I sure as hell wouldn't vote for him.
Let me get this out of the way, as a woman, a Christian, and pastor:
Rage. Anger. Outrage. These are all appropriate responses for victims of assault. We sometimes cannot access them for years after the event, but when we do, it is not a shameful reaction but a healthy one.
Rage is an appropriate response to people who excuse or minimize the assault they commit against their fellow human beings.
Anger is an appropriate response for victims forced to relive their worst memories every few months because one more powerful man is found to have harmed women.
Outrage is an appropriate response when the disturbing choice is made by bystanders to focus on the status and welfare of the assaulter while ignoring those who have been assaulted.
Anger saves us just when we feel we might be destroyed.
Rage burns our guts, so that we no longer stomach or excuse rape culture when it is exposed.
Outrage gives us feet to stand and fight even as it forces us to face difficult memories.
Together, they return the voices our assaulters took that we might raise them on behalf of ourselves and others.
And with my voice given back, I want to say this to those who are watching and discussing and deciding what to do in response to this latest chapter in a tired story as old as sin itself.
Do not malign the victims when they come forward.
Do not crucify them for their courage.
Do not question their honesty, their timing or their motivation.
And above all, do not pretend they are uncomfortable inconveniences to be cast aside or overlooked for some mythical greater good.
Those who are wronged deserve the common decency of acknowledgement and sorrow. As do all of us in the unchosen sisterhood to which we belong.
A blessing for you, and for me.
Help us, Lord, for Your name's sake.
"Doctors?" said Ron looking startled. "You mean those Muggle nutters that cut people up? Nah, they're healers!"
-J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix
I both love and hate these words of Ron Weasley evaluating the limitations of Muggles like me and our ability to get each other well. On the one hand, I like his recognition that not all healing comes at the edge of the scalpel or the sharp end of a needle.
On the other hand, I love my doctor. I do. She saved my life twelve years ago when she diagnosed me with postpartum depression after the birth of my son. She immediately started me on anti-depressants and referred me to a postpartum psychologist for a follow-up evaluation. And she always included my mood as part of the postpartum checkups after I gave birth to my three subsequent children, keeping close tabs on me to make sure things weren't going sideways. Thankfully, they didn't.
This year, my doctor was my healer in so many ways: putting me on medical leave; making sure I was on the right dose and type of medication; getting me into a free, provincial cognitive therapy program. And, at every follow-up appointment, she asked not only about my mood but my ability to manage things at home, ensuring that I had what I needed to cope with my life as a mom of four.
So yeah, I'm going to disagree with Ron and assert that my doctor is a healer. But as much as I think my doctor is a healer, I know that healing doesn't end with her, nor can the praiseworthy title of healer be given only to her. There are other people, professional and otherwise, who have brought healing in my life not only in this past year but throughout my life. So in their honour, and in honour of the many other healers at work around the world, I'd like to offer up this poem of thanksgiving. See if you can find your own healers in it or even, yourself--not for me, necessarily, but for someone else.
For all the Healers We Give Thanks
For all the quacks, Lord, we give thanks:
The counsellors and coaches, therapists and clinicians.
For those who staunch our wounds with quiet attention,
Witnessing our departure from one path and embarkation on another;
For those who cheerlead our progress and give us eyes to see it
O Lord, we give You thanks.
For all the concerned, Lord, we give thanks:
The friends, the family, the neighbours, the clergy.
For those who bring hot meals and sugary treats;
Who call to check in or take our kids to the park.
For those who declare, "I understand," and those who admit they never will
O Lord, we give You thanks.
For all the communities, Lord, we give thanks:
The schools, the workplaces, the neighbourhoods, the congregations.
For those of the fixed presence, the webmakers of life together;
For those who greet us with joy and ask after us with compassion;
For those who give us space to heal and grace in our absence
O Lord, we give You thanks.
For all the companions, Lord, we give thanks:
The spouses, the girlfriends, the boyfriends, the best friends.
For those startled from sleep by the sound of our tears,
Those who reach out to hold our hands in the dark;
For those who bear with our weakness and accompany us into strength
O Lord, we give You thanks.
For, all the Healers, Lord, we give thanks:
For those who prize our health above their own desires or expectations;
For those who hold fast when we are broken, who speak hope into our despair.
For those who patiently bear with our sickness,
Trusting we will, one day, be well
O Lord, we give You thanks.
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, friends. Richest blessings to each and every one of you.
It's the beginning of September and my body knows it. For the past three years, September has been an oddly complicated month and my mind, heart, blood and lungs are practicing for any complications that might arise now.
To explain: Three years ago I was preparing for a final month as lead pastor during my boss' sabbatical, as well as anticipating my daughter's birth and going on maternity leave. Really weird stuff had happened during that time, but I had managed it without too much personal cost (so I thought). The cooling air and the changing leaves invigorated me, heralding both the temporary break from my job and my daughter's arrival.
Two years ago I was preparing to return from maternity leave to lead my parish through transition and (though I didn't know it) some taxing inner turmoil. I was excited and nervous, feeling competent for the task after having lead short-term a year before. What beautiful, blessed naiveté! How quickly my sense of competence was replaced by bewilderment and anxiety!
September of one year ago was when I handed over the reins to my new senior pastor and faced the reality of my own failing mental and physical health. It was September that the building burned down, so to speak; September that I stopped sleeping and eating and finally was put on medication and medical leave.
This September, God willing, will be more peaceful. My panic is now mostly suppressed by pills (let's take a moment to thank Him for antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicine, shall we?) I keep my anxiety in check by limiting caffeine, running, going to counselling and doing the things my therapists and doctors have told me to do. I have more weapons at my disposal to fight the beast that turned my world upside down a year ago and still haunts my steps.
Peace, as an ideal, tempts and troubles me. When someone has (as I do) a faith that commands "Don't be anxious about anything" and an actual, clinical anxiety disorder, it's hard not to fixate on the promise of peace: what it can be, what it can't possibly be. I have preached two or three times on peace (and its nemesis, anxiety), and was always honest with my congregation that peace is a hard sell for me. The Seer of Lublin, one of the earliest Hasidic masters, was said to have preached joy in between bouts of depression. I have done that myself, as well as preached peace during seasons of panic.
I had a conversation with Jesus about this the other morning, very early in the day. I woke up agitated and unable to go back to sleep, so He and I talked or, more accurately, I practiced a spiritual exercise where I imagined Jesus writing a letter to me. We didn't get very far, really, but far enough that I received some...well, peace, on the subject. That letter is below, with love and the hope that it will help comfort similarly afflicted, similarly frustrated peace-seekers.
What up, girl? (Just kidding. It's not yet five in the morning and you're awake again. So YOU'RE what's up, right? Ha ha!)
So you keep thinking you'll write about peace but you're not getting very far, yes? And you've come to The Master to see what I can say on the subject? I get you, I get you. Let's talk it out, shall we? Just you and Me.
What's that? You're getting hung up on the "Peace I leave you, My peace I give you, Don't let your hearts be troubled," bits that I threw to you and My other disciples? Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have said that. Just kidding. Kind of.
But seriously, what else could I say? What kind of Jew would I be, let alone Messiah, if peace, if shalom, played no part in the Way I had for you all? What kind of Saviour overcomes the world but can't give His children peace?
I know, I know: peace doesn't seem near. I know, I know: your heart IS troubled.
Don't worry, dearest: My heart was, too. It still is sometimes. Any fool could see that in Gethsemane, and if they couldn't they did when I ended up screaming on a cross. That whole "became flesh" thing was legit, and I know too well the straining for peace, and the suffering that follows when it just can't seem to be found.
Are you with me so far? Good. I know where you have been these past months. Don't think I didn't see it. I did, and I'm sorry for it. If there was a way to bypass it you know I would have found it.
[Interrupting Jesus here to say that the elusive "peace" just flooded my heart and sent small tears rolling from the corners of my eyes.]
So thank you for not giving up on Me. We have a ways to go still, yes? But we will go together. I will seem to be lost and wandering, but you will find Me again. You will seem to be lost and wandering, but I will always find you.
That is the peace I give. That's it. I will find you, and you will find Me. The road will narrow and the darkness will fall; but I will be with you, always, to the end.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May peace drip down,
Slowly and often;
Restoring anxious hearts and
Calming ravaged minds.
May His peace be our peace,
Now and forevermore.