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.
My doctor recently requested that my husband keep an eye on me while I sleep, whenever possible. I have been struggling with exhaustion for months despite eating well, exercising, taking my medicine and sleeping well, so she wanted him to observe me from time to time. If I snored a lot, or seemed to stop breathing (!) she would refer me for a sleep apnea test at our local hospital.
This past week Matt reported on his findings with the following observation:
"You sleep like a dog."
I raised my eyebrows at him, my unspoken way of letting him know to tone it down before all hell broke loose.
"I mean, you know how a dog whimpers and looks like it's running in its sleep? That's what you did. For like an hour."
I thought back to the night's sleep he was referring to, and realized I had a series of terrible nightmares that night. This has always been part of my sleep--having vivid dreams is normal, having vivid nightmares equally normal. Since going on medication last fall, my nightmares have gotten more intense, more frequent, and even weirder than usual. And you, lucky reader, get to hear about them now! But have no fear, I will focus more on the weird than the intense so that these serve for enjoyment and amusement.
Church Shenanigans (CS)
I've been having church dreams for several years, and they only metamorphosed into nightmares the last few months. In the beginning they were normal clergy dreams gone awry: I was scheduled to preach, but when I got to the pulpit my sermon notes were missing, or my Bible wouldn't open to the right passage, or I would be scheduled to preach and someone else would be called in last minute to replace me as I stood on the platform, overlooked and aghast.
More recently the dreams have been nightmares: I am stuck in the church at night, and the doors are being broken down by local drug dealers (this has roots in reality, not because the church has been broken into but because our church's location on a major thoroughfare makes it a workspace for drug dealers, prostitutes, and pimps at night). Last night I had one that blessedly downshifted to something between a nightmare and a dream: I was waiting to be served communion and noticed that the servers were using water on one side (instead of wine or grape juice) and milk on the other. I was preparing to break up the service with a lecture on sacramental theology when, horror of horrors, the servers on the milk side SPILLED THE MILK on the church carpet and weren't cleaning it up! So then I was mentally torn between the theological lecture on using wine/grape juice and a mommified scolding as to the importance of not having milk on the carpet! (I did both.) Nightmare of nightmares!
Spousal Indifference (CS)
This is what it sounds like: my nightmare is that I am trying to communicating something to Matt and he responds with complete and utter indifference. These are the dreams that I wake from ready to smack him--so far I haven't, but since it's a "serial" this requires ongoing discipline. These are, it must be said, not rooted in any reality beyond my cool and composed husband remaining cool and composed when I, invariably, have arguments with him and do not remain cool and composed.
Sample SI nightmare:
Two of my kids have just been killed in a war (it's complicated). I am mourning their death (obvs). I get home and find Matt packing and getting ready to leave for a Steve Carrell comedy festival. He tells me he's had a stressful week at work and just needs to get away. To this, I respond, "Okay, honey, I believe that you've had a stressful week at work, but our KIDS JUST DIED. I am kind of having a stressful week myself and would appreciate it if you would stick around."
At this point, Matt becomes worn out by my nagging (!) and goes to another room to continue packing for his weekend away. I try to call him on his cell phone and he answers but pretends he can't hear me. I realize that I need to pick up one of our surviving children from school, so go to the room and yell at the top of my lungs "Please don't leave until after I get our son!" He kind of nods, and gets back to packing. I get in the car and start to drive away, when I see in the rearview mirror my scandalous husband climbing on a motorcycle, and riding away, bright red feathers streaming behind him (apparently this is standard Steve Carrell apparel). The terrible man couldn't wait for me to get back! I woke up immediately after this and just glared at Matt for the first ten minutes of the morning.
War/Holocaust/Tsunamis (WHT): I've had Holocaust nightmares since I was a child (long story). They were always bad, but have become so much worse since having children. Invariably I am trying to get them out of selection lines, out of lines to gas chambers. When they go missing I know they have been killed. The war and tsunami dreams are new, but the intensity always centres on the same subject: trying to find and save my children, and not being able to. There is, as you can imagine, nothing funny about these dreams.
Family Abandonment/Antipathy (FAA)
These are very closely related to SI dreams, except that they involve various members of my extended family. Usually Matt has done something terrible (i.e. had an affair, insulted me publicly, shirked his general spousal duties) or someone else has done something terrible and I get ANGRY. But then, instead of whatever wrong I have suffered being the nexus of pain, it is that my family turns and criticizes me for my response!
Sample FA dream:
Matt has decided that he is not going to put any more effort into our family; he is moving out without any financial support, communication, etc. I am angry (obvs). I then go to a dinner with my in-laws, and while standing announce loudly and in a high-pitched voice, "MATT IS A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE MAN!" They all keep their faces straight and look at each other like, "Oh my goodness, she is a total psychopath." I begin to explicate my argument, recounting his terrible, terrible deeds, and my sister-in-law (who I adore in real life) stands up, puts her hands on my shoulders, and without saying anything walks me to another room and SHUTS THE DOOR SO I CAN'T GET BACK IN! Meanwhile Matt is lounging on a chair at the dinner table, rolling his eyes and ignoring me, not even remotely fazed by my shouting or his own sins.
Here is an interesting fact: my sister and I have multiple serial dreams/nightmares different from each other, but one is about the same thing from our two different perspectives. In it, we are both enamoured with one of our childhood crushes (same person, because this whole thing isn't weird enough already). But said crush is enamoured with OUR TWIN SISTER, not us! And when said crush falls in love with and runs away with said twin sister, we (the one dreaming) are angry and judgmental and like, "Um, excuse me twin sister, you are ALREADY MARRIED." And said twin sister is like, "Um, I'm sorry, what's the problem?" and goes anyway, leaving us (the dreamer) not only angry at her rapscallionism and left with the task of informing our heartbroken brother-in-law what has happened, but also heartbroken OURSELVES because our amour (childhood crush) prefers our sister to us!!!! And then we wake up and fight the desire to call and berate our sister for her imaginary infidelity. THIS SERIAL NIGHTMARE HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR ABOUT TEN YEARS. TEN YEARS!!!
And now for a slight shift in tone...
My family love hearing another of "Mommy's weirdo dreams", or sharing some of their own with me. I can't make the nightmares stop, so I like to think there is some good in telling other people about them; laughter is always a welcome gift, yes?
But I am equally aware that, whether amusing or heart-wrenching, my dreams have a root in reality--not always mine, but often someone else's. So, if nothing else, they serve to remind me to pray for those who are living the realities I only meet in the dark, or donate to organizations that help alleviate those realities for those really suffering them. Scientists have various ideas on the purpose of nightmares and dreams--they are a way we face our deepest, unrealized fears, or a way of helping us deal with our realized traumas; with the cover of night we face them in ways we can't in the light of day. But I think that they are also, as most of the ordinary stuff of our lives, avenues for redemption; paths to empathy and compassion. Dreams have helped prepare me to walk with friends and family through the valley of the shadow of death. Nightmares have pressed in my body a trace of the terror our neighbours around the world face, whether in Aleppo or Japan or Fallujah or Baton Rouge. Surely there is some good in being connected to their sorrow, don't you think? Surely there is some redemption in having our hearts broken, even while we sleep, if it means we can care better for our brothers and sisters thousands of miles away.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May dreams be sweet,
And rest complete.
And if not,
May dreams widen wounds
To form and transform
Wounded givers, and
Wounded lovers of a wounded world.
KADEE'S HANDY-DANDY GUIDE TO FIGURE OUT WHO TO CHEER FOR AT EACH EVENT IN
THE OLYMPIC GAMES (WITH SPECIAL LOVE TO MY FELLOW EXPATS/IMMIGRANTS)
1) Is your country of citizenship in this event? If yes, go to number 2. If no, go to number 3. If you have more than one country of citizenship, go to number 9.
2) Is your primary sense of loyalty/attachment to your country of citizenship? If yes, go to number 4. If no, go to number 3.
3) Is your country of residence in the race? If yes, go to number 5. If no, go to number 6.
4) Yay, you get to cheer for this country!
5) Is your primary sense of loyalty/attachment to your country of residence? If yes, go to number 7. If no, go to number 6.
6) Do you have ethnic or family heritage represented in one of the competitors, or a strong attachment to one of the competitors based on having lived/traveled there that supersedes your sense of shared heritage? If yes, go to number 8. If no, or if there are several countries competing that are part of your heritage, go to number 9.
7) Yay, you get to cheer for this country!
8) Yay, you get to cheer for this country!
9) Is there one particularly inspirational and/or good-looking individual/team that stands out of these choices? If yes, go to number 10. If not, go to number 11.
10) Yay, you get to cheer for this country!
11) Cheer for the underdog. Especially if said underdog is from North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, or any other country that seems hell-bent on making life difficult for a large number of its citizens. That is what we call the Olympic spirit.
Did I miss anything? Happy Olympic-ing everyone!
P.S. Yes, I know, I SKIPPED the next-in-line "N" post in order to write about the Olympics while they are happening. Bad me! But I promise to get back to N soon, and it will be AMAZING. Or something.
The three words that got me out of pastoral ministry were the three words screaming naked through my brain while I listened to a parishioner share her prayer requests one morning on the phone:
I. DON'T. CARE.
I loved this parishioner, as I loved all my parishioners, and always before had been happy to take her calls, happy to hear her concerns, happy to promise to pray, happy to pray itself.
But that day, I gave neither flying flip nor two cents’ worth of consideration to what she was telling me. It seemed devoid of relevance, an irritating ping-ping-ping on the windows of my brain. I wrote down everything she said, but may as well have been writing the ingredients from a box of detergent for all I cared about them.
I say sometimes that anxiety got me out of pastoral ministry—and in a way, I’m sure it did, because the anxiety rushed through my veins for months and anxiety, for me, has a heat that burned my insides and mocked my need for sleep or food.
I say sometimes that PTSD got me out of pastoral ministry—and in a way, I’m sure it did, because the traumatic circumstances were external, meeting the anxiety from the outside and confirming it was legit. The trauma transformed the sanctuary of my church into a burning building; a danger zone; a place from which to be rescued.
But the anxiety had been ongoing and the PTSD had been long-building and I had managed to stay in pastoral ministry in spite of them.
No, it wasn’t the anxiety, and it wasn’t the PTSD.
What kicked me out the door was a simple recognition that I needed to care to do my job, and I didn’t care anymore. The anxiety (internal) and the PTSD (external) had finally killed that ability in me.
A week or two before going on leave I wrote in my journal that I didn’t think I could be God’s under-shepherd anymore. I thought—and know this now to be true—that if I pressed on toward whatever the hell goal I thought I was pressing on towards, I would commit some form of spiritual malpractice on one or all of my parishioners.
So I stopped pressing on, and instead went to the doctor. I took her note to my senior pastor and, with his acceptance of my leave, left the building for the last time as a working employee. Then, as I have related here a few times, I went back to my therapist and back to my doctor and back again to my therapist. And I took my medicine and put on my running shoes and I stayed home with my kids and I read books and books and more books and watched The Office. And, in all that, I let everything I had been fighting to uphold in my call and vocation shatter around me.
My burnout, if that’s what we can call it, was so complete that even after six months away from my parish and my Christian faith I couldn’t go back. I did try; but in the end I couldn’t do it. I don't know if I ever will.
I tell you this to bear witness to a reality common to me and other clergy and to say something to those who at the end of their rope:
Sometimes you just need space to fall apart. And it’s okay.
Sometimes you just need time to let everything crash to the floor. And it’s okay.
Sometimes you just need to let your life unravel. And it's okay.
Not because falling apart is fun—it’s not.
Not because crashing doesn’t hurt you and those around you—it does.
Not because watching your life unravel is painless--it can't be.
But because—as I have discovered here at the bottom of everything I thought to be true--
Falling apart is sometimes the most reasonable response we have
to burdens beyond our ability to bear.
Crashing to the floor is sometimes the most reasonable response we have
to being pummelled and broken by life.
Unravelling is sometimes the most reasonable response we have
to others yanking and ripping out the threads that make up who we are.
That is a good enough truth to rest in, but thankfully, there is another. And it is this:
There is mercy on the cold, hard floor.
There is hope that companions the unraveling.
There is love that seeps through the night.
There is joy that comes in the morning,
even if the morning looks like none other you have ever known.
A blessing for you, and for me:
God’s love to us,
His peace to us,
His joy to us,
His healing to us,
His hands holding us,
Now and forever.
He was in grey and white, I was in red and gold. He was on the stage, I was sitting in the audience. He was calm but predictably tinged with goofiness while I was upright in my seat and crumbling inside.
A small part of me anticipated that the day might be hard. The rest of me worried mostly about what he would wear and what I would wear and how he, his dad and I could look fabulous together on this day of celebration. And while we did look fabulous, and while it was a day of celebration, I felt pieces of me falling and cracking against each other as I watched this big, beautiful child of mine cross the stage and receive a graduation certificate from his teacher.
It is such a terribly tired cliché, but I could swear just yesterday he was in kindergarten. He made his mark there the first day by tackling his best friend, a tiny little girl who was used to his antics. His teacher, however, did not know their connection and swooped in to correct this behaviour, which promptly sent my goofy son into tears of shame and remorse.
I thought of the teacher at the ceremony, and I thought of the little girl. The teacher still teaches at the school and we greet each other with smiles and inquiries after each other's well being. The little girl, on the other hand, was not there. She died of cancer nearly three years ago.
I couldn't stop thinking about her through the rest of the ceremony: Wondering what she would have looked like as she stretched and grew into adolescent beauty along with the others girls graduating that day; wondering which award she would have received, not whether she would have received one; wondering, as I have wondered ever since it happened, why in God's name she had to die.
There was a celebration of food and dance for the students in the gym after the party. When I got ready to leave school with my other kids, I went into the gym trying as inconspicuously as I could to check on my son. When I arrived I found most of the graduates sitting in groups looking at their phones, while out on the dance floor were several girls and just two boys. One of them was my son, hands raised above his head, body jumping and leaping in time to the music blaring from the gym's speakers. It wasn't until he left the floor to try and get others to dance that I was able to ask him if he wanted to leave. He didn't. He stayed and danced until the end.
There is such joy, tinged with such sweet, barely bearable pain in watching your children grow up. Having had four, I've almost always enjoyed the consolation of having one, two, or three more kids yet to reach the same milestone as the one reaching it now. It helps a little. My daughter has two more years until she begins kindergarten, while my third son finishes kindergarten today. Knowing the milestones will be repeated steadies the joy and lightens the pain.
This third son keeps asking if they're going to have a graduation for him and the rest of his kindergarten class. Preschool set him up for pomp and circumstance with every year's end, so I always disappoint him when I answer "no." But, I always add, "One day you'll get a big graduation like your brother is getting now."
If the present is any indicator, that day will come before I am ready. Other milestones will be achieved, increasing in familiarity and intensifying in rapidity. This thing called time, to use another cliché, does pass in the blink of an eye. This life we are so privileged to live moves too quickly to catch or clutch as it passes by.
Thank God it is a beautiful life. Thank God we have it, for as long or as little as that may be.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May God strengthen us for this season,
However sweet or sorrowful it may be;
That our eyes may see and know what is good,
And our hearts be consoled through what aches and breaks them.
One day you are moving on, ready to close the door on childbearing and child-losing and open a new one that places far fewer demands on your body and soul.
You give away your crib. You give away your boxes of baby clothes. You give away your baby toys and your baby bedding, your bibs, your teething rings, your rattles.
It all gets packed up and dropped off at a local thrift store, hopefully blessing some other family who wants to enter the season you so badly want to leave.
And you move to a new house, and you set up rooms for a family of five. You plan a trip abroad. You look forward to a less complicated future than the past you are leaving behind.
And then one night, you get ready to order sushi and, because your period is just a few days late, take a pregnancy test just to be sure.
And it comes back positive. Unbelievably positive.
And you stand in the bathroom and cry and cry because the door you shut has been re-opened; the loss you hoped so badly to avoid remains an awful possibility.
But then your husband--your good-natured, steady, immoveable husband--comes in and gives you a hug and smiles and tells you it will be okay.
And you try believe him. At the very least, you stop crying.
Thirty-five weeks later, you give birth to a perfectly perfect, light-haired, big-eyed baby girl. A girl you can't bear to put down, a girl from whom you never sleep apart for the first 17 months of her life. A girl who goes to bed at night cradled in your arms. A girl who loves her daddy and her big brothers but who saves her biggest smiles for you.
A girl without whom you can't imagine life. A girl who transmits sunshine and steadiness from the palms of her tiny hands.
And one day, your baby girl isn't a baby anymore. She is a golden-haired, delicate toddler whose courage and tenacity surprise those who judge her by her fragile frame. A girl who misses nothing: not the subtle changes of your mood or the drama-ridden conflicts of her siblings. A girl who by 18 months old can identify every article of clothing in the house and to whom they belong. A girl who comforts herself by climbing up into your arms and lap and fingering the tiny folds of skin on your neck.
She still transmits sunshine and steadiness, but she bundles them up in words--lots and lots of words, clearly communicated, easily understood. She hears and comprehends; she speaks and you understand. You know what frustrates her and what gives her joy. You know what she wants and why she wants it. You see how attentively she follows the conversations and quarrels of her brothers because she uses their vocabulary to press her own case against them, and you.
She still goes to sleep in your arms. She allowed her daddy to put her to bed for a few months, but when he went away on a trip she staked you out as her permanent night-time companion. And you mind...but you also don't mind, because you have medically closed the door on childbearing and child-losing, and she is--and always will be--your baby.
And people tell you that it will be difficult someday, that girls have more attitude and drama than boys and you will have to worry more about her than her brothers. And you know, already, that the world is less safe for her than for them, that in many ways her thoughts, her perspective, her very life are measured as of less worth than these three brothers who came before her. And this strikes you as the most foolish of all follies, because how on earth could such a beautiful, remarkable person be less valued than any other?
And you determine, each and every day, to let her know how precious she is. How loved she is. How carefully you pay attention to what she says and what she does; how seriously you mind what she wants and what she doesn't want. How much her voice, her thoughts, her feelings and her perspective matter to you and to the rest of her family, and how this will be true whether she is a toddler or a teenager, married or single, gay or straight.
And you think back to that moment in the bathroom, when you wept over what her impending life meant for yours. And you thank God that your fears weren't in any way realized; that rather than losing her, she lived; and that her life, far from impeding or disrupting your own, has made it utterly, gloriously complete.
"When the great, sweet Rabbi Zusia of Hanipol was on his deathbed, his students gathered all around him. The Teacher said to them:
When I get to the Next World, I am not afraid if God will ask me, 'Zusia, why weren't you Moses...?' I can answer, 'I did not have the leadership abilities of Moses.'
And if God asks, 'Zusia, why weren't you Isaiah...?' I can answer, 'I did not have the eloquence of Isaiah, the Great Master of powerful and dazzling speech.'
And if God should ask, 'Zusia, why weren't you Maimonides...?' I can answer, 'I did not have the vast intellectual skills of Maimonides.'
No, my students, I am not afraid of those questions. What I fear is this: What if God asks me, 'Zusia, why weren't you Zusia?'
Then what will I say?"
-A Hasidic tale; this version is adapted from Danny Siegel's rendition.
Since I was a very little girl, I have enthusiastically engaged in hero worship of one kind or another: finding and fixating on people whose lives inspire mine, whose courage or wisdom compel me to live more courageously and wisely. A few of these people I have found in real life, but most of them have come out of books (books which, naturally, carve and curate the lives of their subjects in such a way as to make me feel my own life will never measure up).
For the most part I've been okay with that. Having another moral mountain to climb or a new character flaw to conquer--these just seemed part of being human, and even more part of being Christian. In his letters to the ancient church, St. Paul was always setting up ideals towards which to aspire, extolling virtues that were already present in communities while listing what they had yet to perfect: love, harmony, peacemaking, truth-telling. In other words, Spirit-life in all of its beautiful, exhausting breadth and depth. When Paul talked about individual believers, it was much the same: good job, but there's more to be done! And then he went on about us running our races, throwing off whatever entangles, pressing on towards the goal.
In the Bible there are many heroes to choose from, but for Christians there is only One who rises above the rest and demands our worship: Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Christ who forgave his enemies, Christ who re-established the law of love, Christ who was obedient to the point of death, even death on an awful old cross.
As I have long understood it, Christ is our Hero-with-a-capital-H. And we are to worship Him, to emulate Him, to BE like Him, even if it kills us.
A few months ago my therapist, after hearing me justify some awful (i.e. destructive) experiences I had put up with as a pastor and public Christian, finally quieted me with a wave of her hand and these words: "You have over-identified with Jesus."
I stopped talking and stared at her. Over-identified with Jesus? How can a Christian over-identify with Jesus? How is that even possible?
Before and since then she has elaborated on this statement with what I as a Christian feminist believe to be true but apparently forgot to apply to myself: "Jesus died so you wouldn't have to."
I have to believe--I must believe--that Jesus does not need me to spend my life killing myself in order to be like Him. I have to believe that, while Jesus is my Hero-with-a-capital-H, I am ultimately not called to be Jesus. I am only called to be ME. Thus when I, like Zusia, am called from this life and made to stand before the celestial throne, I will not have to explain why I wasn't Jesus or Mary or Deborah or some other of my endless line of heroes--because I am not them--but rather whether or not I was me in the best way I know how to be.
Beloved reader, we will not some day have to explain why we were not _________ (fill in the blank with the hero/family member/colleague/deity you aspire to be or beat yourself up for not being).
We will simply have to answer if we lived our lives as ourselves--our beautiful, imperfect, unique, confounding and contradictory selves.
Nearly nine months into this season of my life, I am accepting this to be true. Jesus is my Hero, but He is not me (and I most certainly am not Him). And with that truth accepted, so much that is good (and a fair bit that is not good) is settling into its proper place.
Not that I am learning a bunch of new stuff; most of what I am "discovering" I probably always knew to be true about me. But as I learn, I am trying, with God's help, to shape my life by what gives me life. I am embracing what is real and true in and around me, not just what I want to be true or my ego needs to be true.
And what gives me life? While I will always be learning and relearning that answer, I know it has to do with putting words on a paper or a screen; with having heart-to-hearts conversations with my children and helping them navigate their own beautiful, chaotic, unique lives. I know my life is real and given to me through adoring and connecting with and fighting with my husband; through seeing my family and talking with my friends; through feeding the people around me and myself with good food. I know my life has to do with prayer and connecting with God in the ways that He allows me to (and I will probably write on that again and again); at some point it may again have to do with helping others connect to God as He allows them to.
I know my life has to do with being careful with my words and considering others' feelings, including my own. I know it has to do with recognizing injustice and doing my part to correct it. I know my life has to do with soaking in the words of a well-written book, and learning how to speak with others in a language different from my own. I know my life has to do with sinking my feet into soil or sand and feeling the sun, the wind, or the rain on my face. I know that for me to be well I need some quiet and solitude, and that I have to literally pay to get either of those things with four kids in the house (and if I don't pay in one way, I--and they--will pay in others).
I intend to keep finding out what gives me life, and who I am in light of who God has made me to be. Sorrows, hurts, disappointment and loss will come, as they have never ceased to come all the days of my life: I just won't go running after them now.
My dear Jesus, I think You--the One who came that we might have life, and life to the full--are perfectly okay with that.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May I be me
And you be you
And we be us
With God's help,
and with an abundance
of love, peace, joy and strength,
for His Name's sake.