Monday, November 28, 2005

Later, on That Same Monday Night

And, lo, she did have a good bath. And God looked at it and saw it was good.
And, lo, she did have a good cry in that bathtub. And God looked at her and wept with her.
And, lo, she did call her friend Lee. And he did reassure her and this reminded her that God acts through community.
And, lo, she did decide that if she wasn't pregnant in a year or so, she would just get another dog.

And then God laughed. God laughed really, really hard. God laughed so hard that She almost wet Her pants. And God said, "You can do that, but it'll piss R. off. And besides, you haven't been all that successful in the potty-training with the one you have. So, maybe you'd be better off if you just kept trying to have that baby."

And the woman sighed. And wiped her tears. And took her dachshund with her into the family room and watched some reality television. And the woman was comforted.

Why Don't I Listen?

It's a Monday night. I have a love/hate relationship with Monday nights. On one hand, the optimist in me, loves the quiet that our house is on Monday. R. teaches on Monday night and I love, love, love the stillness here...which is odd, because it's not like R. is some wild and crazy guy, not like he fills up space in a room, in fact he's inclined to hide-out in his cave, I mean, office. But, there's something about the utter stillness of an uninhabited home. I putter. I read. I knit. I journal. I light candles. I take a bath. Mostly, it's just all about me.

But, Monday night can also be a lonely night. As Anne Lamott says about her own mind, "it's a dangerous neighborhood that no one can go in alone." And tonight I did the worst thing one can do with "bad mind." I...get ready for this...are you braced? on the frickin' internet.

Now, I had the best of intentions. I recently learned that one of the weblogs I read regularly (see had some links to other weblogs and found that, lo and behold, they were women who had struggled with infertility and were, at long last, bringing to birth new life (be that through biological parenting, or adoption, or finding new outlets for their parental urges). It was filled with light and hope and joy and I thought, "Ah, yes. I need me some of that."

And so, when one of the inferility blogs I check posted her list of links I thought, "Ah, more women who have fought the good fight, who have found hope. Let me refresh myself with these good words." And, No, not so much. Instead I read, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of infertility I will not be afraid...and yet I am afraid...and I will never get pregnant forever and ever, Amen." And I got, well, how shall I say? Freaked out.

And so let me say this, and let us put it aside and pretend that it doesn't exist. Oh My God. I am afraid that I will not get pregnant. And, that by not getting pregnant I will have missed out on something HUGE.

When R. and I started this fertility odyssey (isn't that a nice literary analogy? Sort of makes it feel like a grand adventure?) Dr. B. the ferility-guru of the midwest said (without even knowing my hypochondriacal tendencies), "Christen, whatever you do, don't get on the internet. It'll just make you crazy." And R. looked at me with a stern look, and I all but took the boy scout oath that no, I would never, under any circumstances google the words, "Infertility women blog."

Drat. Damn me and my inquisitive mind.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Heavy Things...

This morning I attended the first funeral for an Iraq war veteran. I hope it will be the last.

I was struck by the power of the marines, keeping vigil over the body from the moment he left Iraq throughout the long days and nights of travel, and until burial. I was struck by the minister reading the verses from Psalm 139, of God following us throughout our journeys, not unlike that Marine, keeping watch.

And even for this bleeding-heart liberal, left-leaning pacifist, the beauty of that faithfulness was striking.

I ache for the family of this young veteran. I simply ache. I ache for the wife of almost 11-months that he left behind, and the parents who will never hear their child's voice again.

War is hell.

I wonder what would happen in our culture if more high-ranking government officials were required to attend these funerals and listen to these stories.

War is simply hell.

I believe this very young man, the one with the dazzling smile, and contagious spirit must rest in the very lap of God now.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Oh Jepthah...

This is the text of the sermon that Jim the Father and I preached this morning (a remix of a sermon initially preached at Manchester CoB lo those many years ago). I wish I had the guts to call it what I think it's real title should be..."Oh Jephthah, you Slimy Bastard." Somehow, I don't think the Brethren would like that so much. But it would make me feel better...The text is based on Judges 11:34-40, one of those scary texts which make me glad I'm not an ancient Israelite woman. We preached it together, side by side, sort of like the dueling banjoes.

Here 'tis...

CHRISTEN the daughter:
Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah;and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her.
--Judges 11:34
I know something of what it means to meet a parent with timbrels and dancing, for I, too, am a daughter. I too know what it means to have a father away on a journey, perhaps even a
dangerous journey, and to await his homecoming.
When I was young, my father took a trip to Israel. He was gone only for a few weeks but it felt like decades through my eight-year-old eyes. When his plane returned several weeks later on a cold winter evening, I was at the airport to greet him. It was a long wait. The night was windy, and the runway was covered with a slippery sheet of ice, and each time the plane would try to move, it would slide and twirl precariously. I waited expectantly in the darkness, squinting out at the inky black.
It was a couple of hours before they finally pulled that plane to safety. I watched my father disembark, looking haggard and worn--his suit wrinkled, his tie askew, his beard having grown in more fully than when I had last seen him. I remember the euphoria of having a parent return home, the absolute euphoria of knowing everyone in my little world
was safe and accounted for. It’s easy for me to imagine Jephthah’s daughter, watching for her father to come over the hill. It’s easy for me to imagine her relief in knowing her own small family was reunited at long last.

JIM the father:
She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her.
--Judges 11:34
The writer of this story wants to make sure we get the point. “She was his only child,” the writer states, and then goes back and says it all over again: “Except for her,
he had no son or daughter." It was just Jephthah and her. The book of Judges gives his daughter no name. Tradition, however, has named her—Sheila—and that’s the name we’ll use for today. Jephthah and Sheila, Sheila and Jephthah. I can imagine the relationship they might have had because I also have only one natural-born child, and that child is a daughter. I can imagine what it might have been like for Jephthah when Sheila was born, because I remember when Christen was born. It happened one Wednesday, about noon. There had been difficulties during labor and she was finally delivered by Ceaserean section. Everything turned out
well—both mother and daughter were fine.
But 34 years ago hospitals had a rule that any child delivered by C-section was immediately placed in the intensive care nursery and kept there for several days. The first time I laid eyes on Christen was through double plate glass windows.
I stood there that evening, stretching forward as far as I could, trying to see all of her I could see. I became aware of someone standing beside me. I turned to see that it was a nurse.
She said, “She’s a real cutie, isn’t she?”
I said, “She sure is.”

She said, “You’d like to hold her, wouldn’t you?”

I said, “I sure would.”
She said, “You know it’s against regulations, don’t you?”
I said, “Yes, I know.”
She looked me full in the face for a few moments before she spoke her next words.
“When visiting hours are over tonight, and you’re about to turn right and head down the stairs, don’t turn right. Turn left. You’ll find a laundry closet, and the door will be ajar. Step inside.”
At 8:30 I did as I was told. After fifteen minutes of standing in the darkness of that closet, there came the sound of approaching footsteps and the door was nudged open and this saint of a nurse deposited into my arms my newborn daughter. With a finger to her lips which reminded me to be very quiet, she said, “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”
It would take several hours to adequately describe those fifteen minutes. I held my daughter in my arms and I told her for the first time her name: “Christen.” I introduced myself to her, I said, “I’m Jim. I’m your father.” I touched her soft cheeks, her tiny wisps of hair, her perfectly formed little toes. And I marveled at the utter miracle of her. She had come from nothing, and now she was this: a living, breathing soul. Her soul and mine were linked, and the thought of it took my breath away, and we were bonded for all time. I can imagine Jephthah had his moment as well. I imagine all of us have our moments. Maybe it was when we as parents bonded with a child, or when we as a child grew especially close to a parent, whatever our age.
Maybe it was when we connected with another person as we had never connected before and they became our mate or our spouse, our matching half that made us feel more whole. Maybe this joy of our life was one who joined our family by choice rather than by birth. The story of Jephthah and Sheila is the story of love, and inasmuch as the story of love is a universal story,
than their story is our story—your story and my story and Christen’s story.

CHRISTEN the daughter:
When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter!” You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me.
--Judges 11:35
What bewilderment, what confusion must have crossed Sheila’s mind. Her father was acting very strange, tearing his clothes, yelling loudly. I imagine her looking around nervously at the servants who must have followed her out of the house, the sound of timbrels still echoing in the air. Here stood a blameless young woman, an innocent girl, who had no idea what her father had done.

JIM the father:
Jephthah said to her, “You have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.
--Judges 11:35
With these words we begin to get a handle on Jephthah’s anguish. To truly understand that anguish, we must first understand Jephthah himself. He’s introduced in the book of Judges just a few verses ahead of this one. He’s described in three ways, and in this order: first, he is from Gilead, just south of what would later come to be known as the Sea of Galilee. Second, he was a “mighty warrior”—he was aggressive, strong, scrappy. Third, he was the son of a prostitute.
His father later had three more sons by his wife. Once they had become adults, Jephthah’s brothers disowned him, all because of who his mother was. So with no family, no inheritance, no home, Jephthah struck out on his own and he ended up forming a gang of ruffians. Imagine Hell’s Angels on camelback—that was Jephthah. A man who found it hard now to trust; a man who needed to control in little ways, because he had lost so much control in large ways. Along the way he married and, of course, he had a child. One day his former kinsmen looked him up because they had a problem: their enemies, the Ammonites, were threatening war. And the Israelites needed a no-nonsense commander for their army, someone who could beat a few heads, someone like Jephthah. His response to them was this:“I’ll lead you into battle on one condition:if we win, I automatically become your leader in all other affairs.” His kinsmen thought a moment and they all high-fived. And Jephthah, nervous now about this upcoming battle that had so much at stake, decided he wanted to increase his odds for winning.
So he made a vow with God. He said, “If I can have just this one victory, I’ll promise this: when I return home, I will offer as a sacrifice whatever or whoever first comes out of my house to greet me.” Well, Jephthah led the Israelites into war, and they soundly defeated the Ammonites, and Jephthah was proclaimed a hero. And returning home, he rounded the bend to find someone running to greet him. Someone he didn’t want to see at that moment. And what did he do? He shouted, “My daughter, you have become the cause of great trouble to me.”

CHRISTEN the daughter:
She said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites. And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander the mountains, and bewail my virginity,
my companions and I.”
--Judges 11:36,37
In light of this unimaginable horror, Sheila made a simple request. She asked to be surrounded in her final days by only those who could give her comfort and support, she sought out those sisters the ones who could most purely demonstrate God’s presence in her life. She chose to retreat to the mountains, which the scriptures regard as holy places. I can easily imagine the circle of women who journeyed with Sheila, the women who must have held her hands, and wrapped their arms around her, and wiped away her tears, and allowed her to rage, or to curl into a fetal position and not move if she needed. The women who offered her the comfort and stability that Sheila’s own father could not provide, safety that he may not have even been able to understand. All the while, I feel sure that it was these women, these sisters, who represented God’s presence to Sheila, God’s ability to journey with us when we feel the most alone. I understand Sheila’s request for I too have been sustained by my sisters. At various times in my life I have been cradled by the loving arms of a group of seven other women whose bonds of communion and sisterhood have run strong and deep since we were in college together.
Throughout the past twelve years, it is this circle of strong and compassionate spirits whose very presence reminds me: “You will not be alone. Not ever. Know that you will never be without our love.” I have seen in their eyes the depth of God’s love. It is a depth I’m sure Sheila could identify in the eyes of her sisters as well.

JIM the father:
“Go,” he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions,
and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made.
Judges 11:38
The father in me wants to understand the father in Jephthah. Why did he make such a foolish vow? Didn’t he know what could happen? And why—why in heaven’s name did he persist with that promise? Didn’t he realize that maybe God wouldn’t want that promise? Didn’t he see that God never spoke, that there was never a sign that God even recognized that promise?
The father in me wants to understand the father in a man who could say, “Go.” Did he wish her to run away and never return? Did he ever accept responsibility for blaming this on her, of all people? Did his heart break as she turned to go with her sisters? And did his heart break even more when she returned two months later? The father in me wants to understand the father in Jephthah, and the father in Jephthah is silent.

CHRISTEN the daughter:
That, our friends, is the story of a daughter and a father, Sheila and Jephthah, as seen through the eyes of another daughter and father. And now the question becomes, “So what?”
What do we do with this story? How do we bring it forward in time? Dad and I have struggled here. This is not an easy story to tell, or to hear. And, we have this problem: we just plain don’t like Jephthah. We don’t like what he did or why he did it. So how do we salvage this story? And how do we make sure this is a sermon? We’re going to suggest three ways, because every good sermon has three points (!), this story can speak to us today.

JIM the father:
The first way is simply this: We can allow the story of Jephthah and Sheila to serve as a reminder for all time, and the reminder is, “Never again.” Never again should anyone be allowed to think that God wants a father, in any way, for any reason, to take the life of a daughter. Therefore, this is a story we dare not forget, and that means even us, especially us.
For we live in a country where every day an average of four women die at the hands of the men in their lives, men they know well. We live in a country where, if you totaled the number of all women who had been killed by their intimate partners, that number would be greater than all the soldiers killed in the Vietnam War. We live in a country where one in four married women has been or will be battered, where women are ten times more likely than men to be victimized
by someone they know well. I believe our story today can be a starting place to send a message,
and the message is, “This must stop!” For the sake of women, for the sake of men, for the sake of our children, for the sake of our children’s children, the hurting of women in all its various forms must come to an end.

CHRISTEN the daughter:
There is a second lesson which goes hand-in-hand with this first. It is essential that we be in touch with our own rage,and with our own propensity for violence. In a seminary course I took several years ago a professor who impressed me with his gentle and quiet manner spoke of the power of nonviolence and pacifism in his own life. He said, “I am frightened by people who talk of nonviolence as if it were an easy thing. It has not been for me. When I delve deeply into myself, I have found my own capacity for violence. And I now know the radical power of nonviolence in a new way.” Both you and I need to search out the violence in our own beings,
whether it comes from a deep anger or hurt, whether it manifests itself in striking something or someone, or in verbally lashing out, or in silently sulking and brooding. If Jephthah can teach us anything, it is that we must attend to this psychological violence demonstrated in his need to control, and his need to bargain. I often imagine God shaking a head and saying, “Oh Jephthah, you’ve misunderstood.” And the awareness has dawned on me that God has probably shaken a head at me as well. At all of us.

JIM the father:
There is a third message our story holds for us today. And that’s the message that’s carried by Sheila and her sisters as they lived their days to the full on that Near Eastern mountaintop,
as they cried and sang and hugged and danced and prayed. Across all these centuries, they send us an unequivocal word of hope. That when God’s face seems hidden to another, it is people like us, it is we that can help bring that face to the light. And when God’s embrace is most needed by another, then our arms can serve as God’s arms. And when God’s presence is what is yearned for more than anything else, by offering our companionship we can be a sure sign that God is there, and has been all along. Sheila and her sisters remind us that when we truly care for one another, we can look to our left and our right, and there is God. When we truly prize one another, we can reach before us and behind us, and there is God. When we truly want what is best for one another, we can link our arms in one giant daisy chain of life, and right in the center of it all, God is there.

CHRISTEN the daughter:
So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out and lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite
--Judges 11:39-40
Isn’t it interesting that, of the two people in this story, it’s the one who’s unnamed who’s best remembered and most loved?

JIM the father:
Isn’t it interesting that, of the two people in this story, the one who’s depicted as stronger is, in the end, not necessarily the one in whom the most strength resides?

CHRISTEN the daughter:
Isn’t it interesting that, of the two, father and daughter, it is the younger who has so much to teach the older?

JIM the father:
It is these realizations that lead us today to wonder: what if more of the daughter had rubbed off on the father?

CHRISTEN the daughter:
What if more of the feminine way could have mixed more readily with the masculine way?

JIM the father:
What if they could have lived their time on earth—especially their adult time—more together,
more side-by-side, more hand-in-hand?

CHRISTEN the daughter:
And even if they could not, could not we? How? By condemning violence powerfully, including any hints of violence in our own lives.

JIM the father:
How? By cherishing our children tenderly, both those near and those far, those who know by name and those we don’t.

CHRISTEN the daughter:
And by honoring the presence of the God who dwells in all of us, in all seasons of the year, and in all seasons of life. Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2005


I was away for the past few days...the Church of the Brethren women (for further CoB info, or if you're wondering from which occasionally wacko sect I speak, check out our website at had their big hooplah. Lots of amazing hymn singing (with inclusive language [which wins way bonus points in my book]), lots of incredible connecting with other CoB clergywomen, and lots of insightful ponderings from Jan Richardson, who was our leader (check out her amazing books on Amazon). I roomed with Tracy, one of my closest friends...and I know what good friends we are because our cramped quarters at Casa D'Cottonwood Lodge didn't seem at all painful to this highly sensitive introvert.

The food was adequate. And, our bunk beds in aforementioned lodge were a bit, how shall we say? Ummm...wanting. Lots of dead ladybugs. Ventiliation and heating inadequacy.

While being Brethren, alas, I am a middle-class girl who, we must remember was raised United Methodist. My prayer on the way to the retreat was, "Please, God, let it have decent bathrooms....please let it be nicer than other YMCA camps I've stayed at..." And I know this is not a Brethren prayer. But, forgive me, I do have my Episcopalian moments (where they have wine and cheese as their pre-worship appetizer). My prayer, sadly, was not answered.

However, the workshops were lovely...the leadership was amazing...and despite YMCA standards (with chicken nuggets and tater tots as the "healthy fare") I came away nourished and thankful.

I missed you all. And passed this website along, like the weblog whore that I am, to others. I panic that I have been too bold...

Friday, November 11, 2005

And, And, And...

I finally figured out how to change the @#$% settings on this blog so you can leave message even if you are not an eblogger! Yippee! Comment away!


A few times a month I visit Bridgette. I sit on the floor next to the recliner where I can usually find her in the locked Alzheimer's unit of a nursing home. I sit on the floor, and rest my chin on the arm of the upholestered chair, and touch her arm gently and talk to her softly. Sometimes I sing hymns to her, or hum quietly. Bridgette mostly spends my time with her staring into space, or fidgeting with her right hand, rubbing her palms up and down again and again on the leg of her polyester pants. She sits, her shoes laceless, the remnants of her chicken stir-fry lunch dried on her shirt, seemingly oblivious to this well-meaning Hospice chaplain.

I've heard tell that she has family, a sister from California who comes once a year or so, but whose health is also on a downward spiral. The nursing home notes don't mention other visitors, so I suppose the Hospice nurse, social worker and I would be the only dates penciled into her hypothetical daytimer.

Bridgette has a particularly debilitating form of Alzheimer's. Bridgette is more than just "pleasantly confused." Her dementia has alienated her even from her language, from the common grammar and syntax which she has known for a lifetime for when she tries to form sentences, her speech comes out in a backward and stilted way. In the past six months, I have never heard her form a complete thought, or even string a few words together in a coherent fashion. Instead, in the rare instances that she does speak, her verbs and nouns get all jumbled and she'll say, "Yes..said.. that.. we.. here" or "I.. think.. don't.. so..he...well." The words are a random mix...jumbled...tangled. Thankfully, Bridgette doesn't seem to notice after one of her proclamations is met with confusion by others. But I simply smile and nod. And then Bridgette goes back to wearing a hole in the fabric of her pant leg.

Today seemed to be no different than any other visit. The Jamaican nurse who cares for Bridgette greeted me in the hallway and said, "You here to see Miss Bridgette today?" And then to Bridgette, "Miss...look, your friend...she's here again." Bridgette kept at the task at hand of fidgeting. I sat on the floor, greeted her, hummed my hymns, rested my chin on the chair, ran my fingers gently up and down her wrist. The Jamaican nurse and I talked about how pretty Bridgette's hair looked. The man who smells like urine sat behind me and poked at my head while asking, "Do you have any 3/8ths socket wrench?" It was sort of a typical Friday with Bridgette in the Alzheimer's unit.

I got up to leave after about fifteen minutes. I leaned forward to kiss Bridgette on the forehead as I always do, but this time Bridgette stopped me. In an effort that required eye-hand coordination, Bridgette took both her hands and cradled my face as I got about six inches away. I stopped, shocked at her reaction, startled even further to notice that she was looking me in the eyes, training herself on me. I paused and just watched her, five or ten seconds passed, and then in a clear voice Bridgette spoke, "This is all good."

A full sentence. A human connection. The words of God spoken through an ailing woman's lips. I have never heard a more beautiful benediction. It is, for today, all good.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

People Ask Why I Don't Post...

And I say...

I know, I know, I know. I am truly glad I'm not one of those reporters who have a weekly column that they have to write each week, or egad, a sermon. Instead I prefer to be one of those, "when the mood strikes" kind of writers and when you've had a few days like mine, the mood hasn't struck.

First, there's been the insomnia. The wacky "I want to sleep, God, please let me sleep, and yet I'm awake and staring at the digital clock numbers" kind of insomnia. This insomnia has been enhanced by the wildly alluring "Cat Race Around the House/Boy-0n-Boy Cat Porn Tease" which is my two male (and neutered) cats. Add to that mixture, the crazy dreaming about the home I lived in when I was seven but which was surrounded by a toxic waste dump which was threatening to pollute me, but which my spiritual guru was just walking through without being burned by the foamy red ooze (huh...figure that one out? I mean really, I actually did have a really relatively sweet and innocent childhood despite the tremors of divorce which erupted when I was eleven or twelve, and which even then was relatively rational and calm).

On top of the insomnia has been the partner insomnia...that is, my sweet husband's insomniac issues which leave a lonely spot in our bed and which, for some reason unbeknownst to me, cause me to bolt upright, out from under the quilt, and search for him in the mess of covers on the left side of the bed. He, meanwhile, is watching exciting documentaries about the Bubonic plague on the Discovery channel in the family room, documentaries with soundtracks of people coughing ominously. What can I say, this kind of stuff soothes him.

Second, the family issues. Things have simply been hairy here. Emotionally. Really hairy. And I'm spent, absolutely spent. I find myself (true confessions here) sitting with my jaw dropped and drool pooling on the pillow next to me watching some truly inane reality television on MTV which involves lots of bleeps as sultry language is edited out, and lots of teenaged girls obsessing about their hair extensions and prom dates. And what's worse...I like it. I like it because I don't have to's like handing Cheerios to a toddler in a highchair. I'm a drooling toddler, only moments away from a complete meltdown if my whole grain goodness is taken away.

Third, the "what-if's" of fertility treatments. I cannot get my brain around the notion that I simply have to just shut my mind off and allow things to simply be. As the wise and wonderful fundamentalist Christian Dr. B the fertility master (who limits his listening choices in his office to strictly Christian rock [so the refrains sound like this, "Oh, Jesus...Oh, Jesus...Oh, Jesus...I love you" sung by breathy female vocalists...not the most, ahem, "appealing" music to be played in a reproductive doctor's office if you ask me, in fact I think studies would show that sperm actually swim more lethargically when exposed to Jesus music])told me in a perhaps costly three-digit-phone "consultation" this week, "Remember, this is in God's hands." Dammit, but I've never been good at taking my sticky hands off the controls. And frankly, that's easy to say from a man who has four pictures of strikingly beautiful blonde-haired, blue-eyed genetically perfect children sitting on his desk.

So, that's why I've not been posting...spent, grumpy, sarcastic, spiritually dry, searching for meaning. Yep. That sums it up.

And, to be honest, no one really asked me why I don't post more often. But I like to pretend I have an imaginary audience who reads this and clamors for my attention like I'm the White House Press secretary.

And, now, how are you feeling? (She asks in her best chaplain voice, all the while making meaningful eye-contact and nodding her head compassionately).