Friday, December 22, 2006
But, the thought has also occurred to me that the nature of blogging in general is to continue to post, even when the news isn't all that thrilling and to discipline myself to write, even when I don't think I have all that much to say. Thus, today's post. Ta Da!
Grayson continues to paw around in my belly like a little squirrel and I find myself closing my eyes and simply resting my hands on my formerly flatter belly and marveling at the tiny movements that his little hands and feet can make. However, he has already revealed himself as a tricky little turd because while he'll kick and punch like crazy for a full hour or more while I lie on the couch, the moment I invite his daddy over to rest his hands on my belly and finally get to feel his son, Grayson will stop. Immediately. R. believes that Grayson is pausing and listening to hear whether R. is near, and then laughs devilishly to himself at making his parents look like imbeciles.
The holidays unfold before us, before each of us and I am humbled by the gift of new life--new life of this son who I carry, and new life of the son who makes his way to each of us once again as a babe in the manger. In case I don't post again before the 25th, may the holidays fill each of you with joy and peace. Thank you for reading. Thank you for becoming part of my circle.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
C: (Poking at her ever-expanding belly) Wake up, baby. You haven't moved in 20 minutes. (Poke, poke, poke--walks into R.'s office where he is busy working at his computer). I think the baby is dead. He's not moving. Quick, talk about something that makes your voice rise, get riled up about something, he always moves when he hears your deep voice.
R: (With a calm look on his face as he turns from the computer screen) I can't get riled up over nothing.
C: What about the Patriot Act? Loss of free speech? C'mon...that stuff can really make you mad if you let it.
R: (Gently speaking) Christen, let the kid sleep. He's just sleepy.
C: I hate sleeping babies.
I have a sense I'll regret that last statement in about six months.
Friday, December 08, 2006
We did what we could as good neighbors. Offered safe haven, blankets, water, coffee. But, Elmo and Lucille needed little more than to huddle together in the womb-like warmth of their Ford, their watchful eyes squinting against the onslaught of smoke.
Miss B., our more pyro-phobic child, slept soundly through the ordeal, despite the fact that her window faced the lights of the firetrucks. But, R., Miss T. and I sat in the library watching the drama unfold as the night progressed. It seemed impossible to sleep.
After the first trucks pulled away, and Elmo and Lucille were left with only a few soot-covered firefighters rolling hoses and carrying out mattresses, R. went out to check again on whether they needed anything. They were leaving to stay in a motel, they were shocked--but fine. They thanked us.
Miss T. and I watched from the window as R. talked with them. T. said, "That's it? The firetrucks are leaving? What do Elmo and Lucille do now? They're just standing out there! And they can't go back in the house!" I explained that they would sleep elsewhere tonight. And T. said, "I know, but where are the chaplains? Don't they come in to help now?"
I could have kissed her on the lips. She understands my job. We've taught her well.
When I got home from work today, Elmo was standing in his driveway near a mangled pile of his blackened furniture and drywall. I stopped and said, "I'm so sorry, Elmo. I don't even know what to offer to do for you...just know that anything you need, we're happy to help with." Elmo shielded his face from the bright afternoon sun and said, "You know, we're blessed. My family is fine. That's all I needed."
Oh that we might all learn from Elmo's wisdom this year at Christmas. Oh, that I might ponder all of this in my own fragile heart.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Thursday, November 30, 2006
I still am a bit shocked, as I really was pretty convinced that it was a baby Ella rather than a baby Grayson kicking around in my belly. It is still so foreign to me that my body, my female body, my feminist-with-every-inch-of-her-being body, could create a male. I'm not sure I know how to "do boy."
And then I realize, that by creating this kind of stereotyping, this sense that boys are that much different than girls, that I am perpetuating the kind of wretched stereotyping that believes that boys care about things like monster trucks and WWF wrestling, and that girls care about things like Barbie dolls and hair salons. What kind of namby-pamby feminist is that?
I can't wait to look into the eyes of my son and see the sensitive soul that lurks within. And today, I am humbled by the chance to welcome and adore him. Advent feels very fresh this year.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
However, (and you knew there was a however, didn't you?), as I lay awake last night a baby kicking away in my belly thanks to that MochaJava frozen drink I requested from Borders (note to self: no more caffeine for the kid) I am especially mindful this year of all that I have to be thankful for and that makes this holiday especially poignant.
And so in the spirit of the season, here is a mere sampling of the Contemplative Chaplain's Gratitude List (in absolutely no particular order):
- For advanced fertility treatments and the kind staff who administer them who give hope to those who may not be able to have biological children on their own "naturally."
- For health insurance that covers a $40 anti-nausea pill for morning sickness.
- For maternity clothes which neither cling too tightly, nor billow in the breeze.
- For kind neighbors who make baklava for you, and other kind neighbors who volunteer to come over and move television sets for you without even knowing your first name.
- For growing girls who are wise beyond their years but who still like to lie on the couch and tell fart jokes with their (step)parents.
- For sweet clementines in season.
- For parents who cry in joy when you talk about their newest grandchild, and for parents who kindly offer much-needed funding when it seems that financial burdens are too great.
- For a husband who accomodates pregnancy cravings without mumbling, tells me "You're not fat, you're pregnant and you look fine!" and who still looks at me with eyes which light up when I walk into a room.
- For a democratic house and senate.
- For dachshunds whose feet smell like cornchips who burrow under the afghan near me and snore softly and sweetly while I watch movies.
- For friends both near and far who call me when they hear I'm sick, and throw me impromptu baby showers, and drive five hours with two children under the age of three just to help us register at Babies R Us.
- For peanut M&M's.
- For elderly patients with wizened faces and soft hands who call me "Honey" and tell me they love me when I say goodbye.
- For term limits on the presidency.
- For extended family who graciously open their homes to us and cook us steaks and bake us brownies and know my favorite brand of scotch.
- For Nature's Miracle enzymatic cleaner and cat litter deodorizer.
- For spring hyacinths.
- For hope.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
At the last doctor's appointment, when the doctor smothered the Wesson oilish stuff on my belly and rubbed the Doppler machine over my already swollen stomach, we heard the quick swishing, swishing of the heartbeat, punctuated by lots of static. The doctor said, "Those are kicks you're hearing. You've got a pretty active baby in there." So, whenever I get anxious about not feeling the baby myself, I just repeat Dr. S.'s mantra, "It's an active baby in there...it's an active baby in there..." over and over until I feel better, or imagine I feel something.
And then, yesterday morning, whilst lying in bed on my back, Cooper, the 22lb. tomcat decided to come a calling. He's learning that he can no longer pounce on my belly in a desperate attempt for some human lovin'. But, he still seems to feel the need to slowly explore with his front paws my growing belly. He'll come up next to me and with an exploratory paw get ready to navigate my middle section. Usually, it's at this point that I stop him in mid-pounce and redirect his efforts. However, yesterday morning I was a little sleepy, a little slow with the reflexes, and Cooper's paw landed a little too heavily on my belly, at which point the baby gave a resounding kick back.
So, for the record, that would be baby: 1. Cooper: 0. Let the games begin.
Friday, November 03, 2006
And then, sometimes, I have visits which remind me of the absurdities of life, and I giggle helplessly and imagine God winking at me with bright sparkling eyes.
My visit with Violet was one of those times, one of those times when I remembered that we as hospice workers must have a quirky sense of humor to stay fresh and balanced.
Violet has been on service for over a year. She is in her late 80s and when I met her, she was a firecracker, filled with spark and life. Violet was a housekeeper and she kept the homes in an urban environment of the wealthy and polished. Violet, being from a proudly working-class background, regaled me in that first visit with tales of the rich and famous and she told all the stories with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. She was an old lefty. Founder of a house church which practiced social justice. She had made the decision to come into a facility on her own, because she didn't want to burden her children. And she had carefully researched this specific facility. She liked it because it was geographically in between both of her children's homes. Violet had a practical no-nonsense streak to her. We hit it off right away. "Come back anytime, honey!" she called as I left that first day.
In the past year, Violet's become frail. Her mind wanders into places where she can't and won't lead me. She sleeps quite a bit. She's wasted away to less than 75 lbs. and we recently had to order a child-sized wheelchair to accomodate her shrinking frame. It makes me sad to see her. I often don't stay very long, which is okay, because she never wakes up to greet me anymore anyway. I leave my card on her bedside table and call her daughter after I leave to report that I was there. Violet hasn't been Violet much lately.
A few days ago I went to the nursing home to see Violet. I expected our normal routine. She'd sleep. I'd call her name. She'd sleep. I'd hold her hand. She'd sleep. I'd sing. She'd sleep. I'd leave.
But when I arrived in Violet's room, her bed was made and she was nowhere to be seen. I confess that my first thought was that Violet had died, and no one had called me. I asked the nurse in the hallway, "Where is Violet?" And she smiled a slow smile and said, "Guess what? She woke up today, so we took her to exercise."
The word "exercise" at most extended care facilities is a huge overstatement. And, this facility in particular has an "exercise program" which leaves a lot to be desired. It is run by two Women's Fellowship volunteers from the local Lutheran church who play praise music on a Jurassic boombox and sit back to back with their charges in wheelchairs circling around them. The "teachers" then recite a well-rehearsed litany in a monotone that goes something like this, "okay-now-m0ve-your-fingers-and-one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-now-circle-your-wrists-and-one-and-two-and-three-and-four-and-now-wiggle-your-toes-and-one..." all spoken in the same droll monotone which says, "I really could care less about doing this, or about you." It was depressing to watch. And I immediately scanned the circle of white heads for Violet's.
I found her, slumped in her wheelchair decidedly asleep. I tried to wake her. No good. I tried to touch her hand. No response. Violet had opted for the easy way to tune out "exercise," and who could blame her.
I sat on the floor next to her and began doing my own version of the Lawrence Welk on Sedatives Exercise Plan led by Tweedle Dull and Tweedle Duller, the Jane Fondas of resident exercise plans minus the leg warmers and communist sentiments. I let the demented patient on the other side of me pat my head and say, "Good puppy." I considered panting happily and looking at him with begging eyes. "Exercise" (and I use that term lightly) went on for another ten minutes or so. As I was doing a head turn for a count of four, I was shocked to see Violet's eyes were open. "Violet! Hi!" I bubbled. Her eyes focused on mine and she smiled.
And then she leaned over and said to me with that sparkle in her eye and a smile on her face in a slow conspiratorial whisper which punctuated every word, "I... hate ...this ...crap. Get me out of here." Never had I seen her more lucid. I laughed and she said, "Really. Let's go. This is crap." And she spoke her second request a little louder, but still with the smile on her lips as if she knew she had found in me a kindred spirit. I couldn't have agreed more with her assessment. I happily excused us from our work-out session, feigning a pulled pinky finger muscle and wheeled her back to her room.
She fell asleep on the way there. But her moment of lucidity made me giggle all day. And as I planted a goodbye kiss on her sleeping forehead, I quietly thanked her for reminding me again how much I love my job.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
My reason has simply been this: the vomits have been back in full force, after a glorious five day reprieve which coincidentally occured right smack dab in the middle of my women's retreat in Michigan two weekends ago, ah, but the God/dess does smile upon a coven of laughing women. But lately it seems, I've again spent way too much time on my knees in worshipping the great white basin (or in the case of one of our 1970s style bathrooms the harvest gold basin). I have been completely uncreative, apart from my ability to combine a wide array of colors in my pukeage ("Look! Those specks of color swirling around in the water are the SweetTarts I had to soothe my nausea!"). And there has just been nothing to say, unless entire entries like the previous sentence provide you with vivid images upon which you'd have liked me to expound more. So, trust me, dear readers, I was sparing you.
However, there has been a sea change. For now, now dear readers, I have sucumbed to the power of my new drug of choice...Zofran. Zofran the wonder drug, able to keep short women from tossing their cookies for an entire day! Zofran. Say it with me. Zofran! It sounds like the name of a superhero. Zofran. Zofran, queen of the universe, a superhero whose superpowers may be, oh, I don't know, projectile vomiting great distances to gross-out her evil nemesis? And I love Zofran so much, that I can almost forget that it costs, hold on to your hats, about forty bucks a pop. Forty freakin' dollars a pill. So, there's incentive to keep it down, maybe that's why I've been puke-free since Monday night, because at heart I am a cheapskate afraid of wasting a single yellow tablet.
Seriously though, it feels good to feel good. I had so little energy for so long. I hadn't gained any weight in five or six weeks. I was weeping constantly and worrying that I was starving my child and then all the anti-choice Republicans would come after me and slap my wrist for harming a fetus and I would be hauled away to Gitmo or somewhere until I gave birth to a child who would be adopted out to a fundamentalist Christian family who could teach the baby "family values," and skeet shooting as I am probably an unfit feminist who will leave my husband, kill my children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become a lesbian.
Sometimes my mind wanders when I've been so isolated, as you can see.
So, where've you been?
Sunday, October 15, 2006
While R. and I are relatively independent, and by no means one of those couples attached at the hip, we really don't spend that many nights away from one another, and often the one who is gone is usually me. It's lonely in this big rambling house without him, and while I confess there was an excitement at the thought of some truly "alone" time, time when I could do all those things which R. doesn't like...wild and crazy things like ordering out chinese food, and burning incense (to which R. is allergic), and letting the cats sleep in bed right next to my head (another allergy no-no), and loading the dishwasher the way I want to (and the way God intended), and letting the dachshund squeak her Ellie the Elephant squeaky for as many hours as she would like, and, well, I guess that's as wild and crazy as I get, for I can't think of any taboo things I would need to do without R. here, the luxury of all that "me time" was short-lived.
Mostly it's just been quiet. There have been a few catastrophes, of course, there was the afternoon when the temperature dropped to below 30 degrees, and I realized the heat wasn't working, and had to take the girls to their mother's house to spend the night while I packed up the dog and my toothbrush and drove north to my parent's house to sleep on their couch. And, there was, of course the multiple vomiting incidences but those have become par for the course in my world.
Now it's Sunday afternoon, and the evening is slowly crawling upon us, and at 9:15 I get to drive out to Fort Wayne International Airport and see my sweet love, the weary traveler make his way back to a wife who loves him, and who realizes how lonely life is without her anam cara.
Saturday, October 07, 2006
The day will come when I am actually a consistent and contemplative writer again. I will pause thoughtfully before typing the first thought that comes in my head. I will write enlightening stories about the human spirit and the ways in which the divine and profane intersect in poignant exchanges. I will try to be worthy of my ordination. I will actually meditate.
But in the meantime...
That brief nausea reprieve mentioned in the last entry was just that. A brief reprieve. Damn you, morning sickness. Damn you.
All the pregnancy books say (and I quote from this morning's peppy advice in my daily pregnancy book), "Right around this week, your pregnancy sumptoms might have spontaneously disappeared. This typically--and thankfully for mothers who have experienced extreme morning sickness--happens at the end of the first trimester. For approximately the next three months, you should be feeling wonderful!" The operative word in the previous passage was the word might. And that jaunty exclamation point simply mocks me, me the woman who can now simultaneously vomit in a bag and drive.
So, now you all know why I'm not typing. And there's so much to say...the tale of the missing diamond ring, the madcap adventures of R. and I in Ann Arbor (a.k.a Nerds in Paradise), what it means to sleep with the enemy (and I don't mean R.), the three hour visit to the OB-GYN, the outcome of the Nutcracker auditions, choosing God-parents, new family traditions. Sigh. So much to say, but now I have to go throw up again. So, you'll just have to wait in breathless anticipation.
I'll be back soon.
The Contemplative Chaplain
Saturday, September 30, 2006
And, I just had to tell my little blog community first. Because, well, because you're all so sweet to me and it was about time I had happier words to share.
I feel like it's Easter morning. Christ is risen, risen indeed!
Friday, September 29, 2006
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I've become pretty accustomed to the whole routine by now and my staff have learned that when I walk out of my office door toward the bathrooms with my toothbrush in my hand and "that look," that they should all be really nice to me. I am blessed to work with colleagues who are empathatic in the extreme, and I came out of the restroom the other day, with my make-up smeared and a toothbrush in my hand only to find one of our nurses standing with a wet washcloth, a glass of ice water, and some crackers. I could not work for a more flexible and giving agency.
But enough about the 'ole emesis. Since I've already freaked you out with my vomitspeak, let me enlighten you on the most wondrous tool in the history of humankind. The legendary neti pot.
Now I know, when you click the link it's a little frightening, what with the blue nozzle shoved up the nice lady's nose and all, but let me tell you that as a life-long sinus sufferer, I have become a neti-pot devotee. And now that I can take absolutely NO sinus medication for the foreseeable future I am have become an apostle of the neti-pot. I am, dare I say it, a neti-pot prostitute. Lo, I remember the day when the neti-pot first came into my life, my ex-husband and I were in Washington D.C. visiting friends and happened upon a natural food store, and having read about the neti-pot in some obscure naturopathic literature which my ex-husband was often fond of reading, and being neti-pot virgins, had our first glimpse of the beloved pitcher. We took it back to our friend's home that night and poured salt water into our noses with wild abandon and never looked back. I would guess that no one else in the D.C. metro area had such clean nasal cavities that night. When we divorced, there was actually a Very Serious Talk about who should get the neti-pot. I still worry about poor K.'s sinuses.
R. is not a neti-pot devotee. He refuses to try it. He refuses to talk about it. He refuses to accept that the neti-pot is clearly the finest piece of medical technology ever invented. And I'm sure his sinuses cry every night in frustration. In fact, when I told him with glee that I was writing an entry on the neti-pot he said, "Oh, aren't the vomiting entries enough?" To which I say, "Hell, no!" And, I say it with clear sinuses and only a little bit of water dripping out of my nose.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
In the first trimester, I have learned, it is a crapshoot. Eat what you can. Fend for yourself. Who knows what will stick (case in point, the greasy Quarter Pounder with cheese and large fries from McDonalds did NOT make me puke. However, the healthy watermelon and green beans barely hit my esophagus before they were rejected...go figure!). I am actually at a negative weight gain in the ten weeks of this pregnancy, despite the fact that I can no longer squeeze into my favorite jeans. So, dammit, I'll eat the Quarter Pounder, prissy pregnancy book. So there.
However, there is a larger truth here which I need to address. And I speak it in all seriousness and with all vulnerability. I am afraid of gaining too much weight. Throughout my life I believe I have flirted with an eating disorder. I have never starved myself, or exercised to oblivion, or thrown up purposefully. But, I have learned that sometimes eating disorders come through an unhealthy obsession and focus on what one eats, and perhaps I am like many other American women who struggle in this realm.
I am a feminist. I hate what our culture does to dupe women into believing that they have to be a certain size. I hate the airbrushed images which flood through the television, and magazines, and other print media. I hate that food has become an object to which we assign moral values (how many times have you heard someone say, "I'll pay for this tomorrow. This cake is so sinful!"). I work tirelessly at reinforcing positive self-image into my step-daughters and in hiding from them my own "body issues." Frankly, It embarrasses me that I care about weight and body shape. And it shames me that at a time in my life when my body is nourishing another life I worry about being too "fat."
This pregnancy is an utter gift from God and I am blessed to be able to carry a child. I know this. But the broken and damaged parts of me need to be reprogrammed through grace and I am slowly, and carefully learning to embrace my body as it is, rounded and whole. But, again, my confession to each of you is that this is still hard for me.
It is time for me to practice a radical acceptance, because this is no longer just about me. But sometimes I don't even know how to begin.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
To that end, it now appears that I will be haunted to the end of my days by the following items:
Golden Grahams cereal, lime jello with pears, peanut butter toast, Ginger ale, Zesta saltines, and assorted other foods.
In the last week, I have tossed my cookies more than I have in the past twenty years. On top of which, I have a nasty virus, a temperature, a sniffly nose, aches, chills, and other related symptoms. I have been out of work for too many days to count and am living in fear of being fired, or worse for this people-pleaser, not believed.
I simply want my health back, even if it is just for long enough to feel like less of a burden to my sweet husband who has been patiently catering to my every whim. He is a Mensch.
My doctor prescribed an anti-nausea drug which seems to keep the pukes at bay, but which also seems to keep my ability to stay awake at bay...but for now, it's a welcome relief.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Why do I have to love animals so much? It just hurts. Even animals who don't own me end up affecting me.
This morning I left to go for a walk in the neighborhood and noticed that our friendly neighborhood stray cat, the tom cat who drives my cats to distraction by sleeping on our lawn furniture directly in front of the living room window where Cooper and Moses perch like sharks, tails wagging and voices yowling, was curled up in a ball in the neighbor's yard. "Ah," methought, "Mr. Tom is having a little siesta this afternoon." And with that, I began my four mile trek through the neighborhood (which isn't nearly as invigorating now that I've been banned from running).
You can see the end coming, can't you?
At the end of the walk, Mr. Tom was still curled in his kitty fetal position, and I wandered over slowly, not wanting to touch him because all the pregnancy gurus say, "If you're pregnant, stray cats are the enemy...beware of toxoplasmosis...danger, danger!" I got near him and whispered, "Hey, kitty..." and poor Tom opened his blood-matted eyes and stared at me with a pathetic look. I realized that Tom was a sick boy. He was breathing quickly and shallowly. It wasn't good.
I asked around to some of the neighbors whether anyone knew where Tom lived, what happened, what should be done, and from a conglomeration of sources learned that Tom was fine yesterday, but apparently had been hit by a car (the report of a four-year-old), and had been curled up near that same tree for the past day. No one seemed interested in pursuing the matter further.
R. and I chatted. It was, after all Labor Day, where could we turn? We didn't have the money to invest in getting Tom taken care of at the Emergency Vet, nor did we have a home for Tom to return to (my cats are fiercely protective of their turf and would attack a weakened male in a heartbeat, not to mention spray every conceivable surface with urine in the process). I called the SPCA, who had a nice holiday message saying to call the Humane Shelter and Animal Control. I debated. I hemmed and hawed. I went out to check Tom again. Still sickly. Not opening his eyes. Poor baby.
I called the Animal Control folk and explained the predicament. They were very helpful, said they'd send someone out to "help." And, they did. Three hours later. Which turned out to be fine, as Tom was in the exact same position, with a few leaves which had fallen out of the tree resting gently on his little yellow back.
Mr. Cat Catcher showed up with his cat catching paraphenalia. I showed him where Tom was sleeping. Tom didn't even wince or put up a fight when the cat catcher picked up mama-cat style by the back of his neck and placed him in the rusty cage. I began to cry. "What will happen now?" I asked the nice man. He smiled sadly and said, "I think you know. We just don't have the resources to help each cat."
It took everything I had not to interrupt him and say, "I changed my mind. Nevermind. I'll take him. Give him to me."
But I didn't. And I'm not sure I can forgive myself for that. I feel like a traitor. I feel like a skunk. I feel like I took the easy way out.
I came in the house and lay my weary body on the couch and continued to weep, and out of nowhere I felt tiny paws kneading my side. Moses had jumped onto the couch and offered his own little brand of cat sympathy. But I'm not sure I deserve it.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The bottom line I suppose is...I'm just going to keep writing, and sorting through feelings, and trust that if someone doesn't want to read, they just won't read. Who knows where the Spirit will lead us.
[I just wrote a whole paragraph here about the fatigue factor and the seasicknessy queasies, etc, etc, and somehow accidentally erased it, or the mystery of the blogging universe somehow deemed it unaccepatable...so imagine it here...moan, whine, moan, thankfulness for it not being worse, sigh...there, it's as if it was never gone.]
This evening I took a tepid bath (pregnancy tip: the pregnancy gurus are not so keen on those scalding hot baths I really like...) with some sweet smelling bubble bath (or, it was sweet smelling until I became a little green at the thought and smell of all things soapy). I lay in the bathtub, my neck perched against a bath pillow and took a few deep breaths, and then out of nowhere began to sob. I cried and cried, biting a washcloth to keep from having the girls hear me downstairs.
My tears were nostalgic ones for I realized, in that soapy abyss some of the truths of my existence anew. I come from a long line of women bathers. My grandmother took a bath each night, often with lavender bath oil and I still remember the clean smell and the fogged steaminess of the bathroom on 38th Street after she'd come back out to watch 20/20 with me on Friday nights, trailing talcum powder with each step she took, her hair a little wet on the ends. My mother recently acquired her dream...a whirlpool bathtub where she can soak in her Apricot bath salts until her toes and fingers get pruney. When I was a little girl I would come in and sit on the toilet while my mom took her bath. And it seemed as if our conversations were somehow more sacred as our words reverberated off the tile walls and drowned out the noise of splashing water.
As I lay in the bathtub this evening, with my belly just beginning to poke out from under the bubbles, I thought about this new life I'll usher into the world. I wonder whether she'll be a bather too, or whether he'll make bubble beards on his chin. She or he is another link in the chain, another piece of the genetic puzzle, another step closer to the divine as this world continues to unfold and create itself with the Spirit's urging.
I miss my grandmother. I miss her profoundly. She would have loved this time. She would have loved the waiting and the anticipating and the baby showers and the offering of advice. She loved babies, and she loved me, her baby, with unconditional acceptance. This baby would not exist, in part, without her--not only for the obvious reason, that I would not exist without her--but because the fertility treatments I have undergone have cost money, money which R. and I did not have. Money which was ultimately an inheritance from my grandmother, but given in an act of tremendous generosity from my mother and step-father. If the baby is a girl, her name will be Ella, which is, in addition to being R.'s mother's birth name, a derivation of my grandmother, Ila's name.
At night, the light which shines in our upstairs hallway was the nightlight that shone at my grandparent's house from my earliest memories. I like to imagine her leading me through the darkness, and I recognize that somehow she still surrounds me, as soothing as the water which I soak in every night.
But it doesn't ease the sense of emptiness I sometimes feel at knowing she'll never hold my baby in her arms. And tonight I miss her fiercely.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
My reasons for not blogging are myriad. The first is my utter EXHAUSTION (personal aside: in those pregnancy books that you can buy at your local bookstore, those ones with reassuring pictures of duckies and contemplative pregnant women sitting in rocking chairs looking saintly, they, the wise gurus of maternity, talk about how, oh, you may feel a little fatigued in early pregnancy. This is like saying that George W. is a little bit inept as a president. Get the picture?).
But more than the exhaustion, is that I don't know what this blog will be right now. I began writing as an outlet for my spiritual quest as a hospice chaplain, and I'm finding myself feeling a little sheepish at how little attention I feel I have for anything other than our family (those who are here, and he or she who will be arriving in April). And, I don't know how interested this readership is in hearing me wax poetic about the changes which pregnancy is bringing. There's part of me that says, "You know, women have been dropping kids into this world for ever and ever, it's not that revolutionary just because it's you, Christen."
I hesitate about becoming a "Mommy blogger," not because I don't find the blogs of Mom's to be phenomenally insightful and downright hilarious, but perhaps because I don't know if my writing is ever in the league that there's could be (i.e. dooce and amalah, etc.). Or perhaps because this role is still so new to me.
And on the contemplative front, I guess I feel like a contemplative sham. Perhaps I don't think I'm worthy of writing under this title, when I feel as if I have become the anti-contemplative. I'm simply too overwhelmed to do any reflecting.
So, there's my rambling wanderings which I've been playing with in my mind...and it feels better to have them in print. Even if I don't have any answers yet.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006
Q: What is...the event which combines the characteristics of a Spanish Inquisition, a therapy group, a job interview, an ordination committee, a spiritual direction session, and the most intense CPE supervisory session?
A: INTERVIEWS TO QUALIFY FOR BOARD CERTIFICATION AND AFFILIATION WITH THE ASSOCIATION OF PROFESSIONAL CHAPLAINS.
That's right, friends. I spent my morning in a chaplaincy conference room in Indianapolis being interviewed, grilled, understood, challenged, weakened, strengthened, stretched. I was prepared for a grueling experience, but I'm not sure I was aware of how exhausting it could be while six weeks pregnant. I walked into the meeting repeating, "They won't make me cry. I will not cry." And, lo and behold, when challenged on whether or not I "hid behind my words" in my spiritual autobiography, I found myself choking up a bit as I spoke of my reluctance at times to feel secure offering spiritual support to my patients when so often I feel untethered myself. Sometimes, or often, I don't touch that sadness or doubt within. And, well, that's when I had to swallow some tears.
I am not good at allowing myself to be nurtured. This amazing group of chaplains saw through my bullshit, and claimed me as one of their own. They heard my doubts and fears, and named me as worthy. It made me ache, but it challenged me to grow.
Oh, and I now get to add those three magic letters B.C.C. after my name, because the certification committee "passed" me. But moreover, they made me feel not so alone. And that made all the difference.
So am I now the Certified Contemplative Chaplain? Nah...too wordy.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
If you are the peppy activity director at a nursing home, it would be wise for you not to snap and crack your gum in such a way that it irritates the highly sensitive pregnant lady seated three feet to your right, lest she do something with that gum which would render you an identical twin to Dumb Donald in the Fat Albert cartoons. Just a thought.
But really, for all my bitching and moaning and grumping. I am doing well. And I am utterly thankful for doing so well. I promise I'll be back to more routine bloggage soon, and won't become someone who is so utterly transfixed on her pregnancy that she forgets the rest of life. It's just for now, I'm called into a bit of a quieter place...and for some reason I feel as if I've lost any vestige of creativity I once had, so writing feels a bit laborious. God save the poor Huntington congregation which I fear are hearing some mighty shitty sermons of late.
More soon...thanks all, for your prayers and kind words. Even if I am a little testy.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
I do seem to have one clearly discernable symptom of pregnancy though...grumpiness. I am Grumpy (note the capital "G"). Today I had to deal with an asinine nursing home who weren't giving a patient her Ativan on time, and thus the patient was noticeably and understandably edgy and scared. I found myself clenching my fists in rage as I tried to be oh-so-polite to the nurse who was gossiping with her co-workers instead of doing her job and who made my patient wait 50-fucking-minutes despite the daggers I was staring at her across the dining room as I spoon-fed Betty her oatmeal between her panicked sighs. And then, there was the driver who was tailgating me in the Hummer as she talked on her cellphone incessantly. I refrained from giving her the, what I deemed appropriate, gesture. And instead demonstrated my wrath by driving really, really slow in a no-passing zone. Take that, Hummer-Lady! And I won't even go into the fact that my Martha's Vineyard salad at Arby's was lacking in red delicious apple slices. I realized I was muttering under my breath, "Where are the damn apples?" only because my colleague started laughing at me.
All this is to say that hell hath no fury like a newly pregnant woman whose scared out of her mind that she won't stay this way.
And now, dear readers, I'm off to soothe my mind with a bath and a cup of chai. In the meantime, be well, do good work, and keep in touch.
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Sorry. All is well. Just contemplative. Lots to digest this week.
Forgive me for not talking more about the big news that we dare not name. I promise in time I will spill all the "he saids" and "she saids" and details of the drama that is unfurling even as we speak within my body, but it still is just so early. And I am such a nervous Nellie that I worry about "jinxing" it by saying more. Once we hit that golden milestone, or hear that first heartbeat perhaps it'll feel more comfortable to write freely.
So...I hold hope. And I marvel at feeling so good.
Thank you all for your kind messages and greetings. You calm me and nourish me with your words.
Other big news at Chez P-M. The dog got a new middle name. Every year it has become a habit in our family, I believe a tradition gleaned from another branch of R.'s family, to add a middle name to the dachshund's already elaborate title. It's sort of a rite of passage. She will officially be crowned with the full name of "Maisie May Weinerschnitzel Butt-whirler Frito Feet Pettite Miller." The newest name aquired for the penchant she has of smelling as if she just tiptoed through a bag of corn chips. And you're wondering how it is I've kept this news from you for so long!?!
I promise more bloggage this week. I'm just now getting my brains back after a week long mind lapse as I sat in slack-jawed wonder meditating on how much has changed in one week's time.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
And these words were spoken and heard in my house tonight.
Conversation (or rather admonition) recorded at 7:56 p.m. on Strathdon Drive:
Contemplative Chaplain: Moses! Moses, STOP IT! No...Moses...quit messing with Mommy's hope...(30 second pause)...Moses. Leave Mommy's hope alone. Leave it. Moses! (Loud hissing noise made by me)...Moses. You are a bad, bad boy for messing with my hope. That's Mommy's hope, that's not your hope.
Explanation: On Monday I decided it would behoove me to have a few more visual cues to represent my need to hold hope when I feel desolate. To that end, I bought several beautiful polished stones with the word "hope" etched into them. I've placed them in strategic places...above the sink where I can see it washing dishes...on my worship center in my sanctuary...next to my bed...by my computer...on my desk at the office...
The problem is that Moses, my gray-and-white spitfire of a cat believes that these stones were created especially for him as cat-styled hockey pucks to knock down with his white paws at random and try to scoot across the floor.
Hope, apparently isn't hard to come by when you're a 20lb. tomcat. All you have to do is knock it around a bit.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
The not crying has it's many positives. I actually do my work, rather than fretting about my work. I actually step out of myself and stop panicking about what I would do in this situation. I actually make it the way it should be, less about me and more about the patient, imagine! I actually get up on mornings when I used to wallow in the dark and ponder the dark existence of the ominous scary things awaiting me in the world...student loan interest rate increases, butt saggage, possible infertility, the step-mothering angst, not fulfilling my potential, global warming, and the chance that somone may not like me or that my Greek neighbor's dementia will become so severe that he and his adorable wife will have to move out of their home, thus disrupting the rightness of the universe on Strathdon Drive (see, it is all about me in my non-Lexapro induced state, isn't it?).
BUT...and you knew this was coming, didn't you sweet blogees? The tears, I miss them. The tears connected me to so much of myself, and I feel like I lost parts of me to find parts of me, if that makes sense. I get homesick for my tears, and while I know that I will return to that part of myself in time, that there will be a wonderful time when life feels stable enough to reenter my non-medicated state (like when I'm not struggling with infertility woes), it still gets lonely on this side of the veil.
So, I wrote all this, and what I really wanted to write was: I cried tonight when I read the Church of the Brethren's account of their every-four-years National Youth Conference where 3,000+ youth stream into Colorado and do what youth do best...exude, shine, brighten. Y'all, I am a cynic. I am such a cynic, and yet when I read the accounts of what the future of the CoB holds I find myself whispering, "Yes, oh my God, yes." And the tears feel good on these dry cheeks.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Lynn and I took her son Eli out for lunch and a few hours of galavanting around tiny North Manchester, which is the home of my college alma mater and short 40-minute drive and I still can't get over the utter joy of having her so close, a mere 40 minutes away (which sure as hell beats that expensive plane ticket to upstate New York and the cost of the Xanax I need to take to get on the freakin' plane). I still can't get over the delight in having someone who knows me so well that they roll their eyes when I order the same exact thing I always order at Subway.
My women friends have been scattered across the country for so long now, that I forget the easy comfort that comes with someone who I simply feel that easy familiarity, the comfort in having someone you don't have to hold in your stomach around, the understanding of someone who can finish your sentences and who can properly identify exactly what small object of which you are referring when you say, "You know...hand me the 'doo-hickey'..." The person with whom you lie awake laughing hysterically at 3:00 a.m. and the person who holds hope for you when you feel utterly hopeless and barren.
As we were finishing our North Manchester adventuring, we drove by my old house in town, a beautiful brick English cottage built in the 1900s where I lived for six years. I prided myself on the cottage garden which had been started by the former owner, and which I enhanced. I spent hours pulling leaves and pruning trees, and lying on the ground under the french Lilac tree in the spring waiting for a soft wind to blow those deep, deep purple blooms down into my hair. A church (a fundamentalist church which doesn't allow women to be pastors, not that I'm bitter) has bought the property now after my friend Lee (who bought the house from me) married and moved out a few months ago.
I mourned when I drove by the house today and saw that my beautiful day lilies and my fragile lady's mantle, my butterfly bush and my wild roses have all been torn out to make more space for what I can only assume will be pavement, else why would my plants be so cruelly treated?
I said in a dramatic fashion to Lynn's almost-3rd-grade son, Eli who sat quietly in the backseat, "Eli, can you believe what happened to my beautiful house and my beautiful gardens? Do you remember coming here when you were little?" Eli looked out the window solemnly as we crept past and said, "Look how different it is!" "I know, Eli," I said. "And I hate it...it's so ugly now..." There was a moment of quiet mourning until Eli, who had just received a new pad of drawing paper piped up, "Kiki! [his nickname for me], I know...let's start a demonstration! I have paper here already, all we need are some sticks and we can make some signs. We can stand outside on the sidewalk and tell them how unfair it is!"
I looked at Lynn and said, "You're raising him right, Lynnie. How's that for a nonviolent response?!?" Lynn smiled knowingly. She's not surprised. She's supermom.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Sunday, July 23, 2006
Saturday, July 22, 2006
The book of Mark is the most terse of the gospels. Mark is a writer who believes in getting to the point. He doesn’t spend much time elaborating on the details, he doesn’t tarry over the small touches. Instead, the book of Mark reads like a grocery list of healings and sayings, moving quickly from story to story, almost as if Mark wanted to make sure he didn’t miss out on any point of his inventory. Mark is a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of writer. He’s not prone to fancy flourishes.
In the midst of Mark’s retelling of all those healings, in the midst of all the activity, after Jesus had commissioned his disciples and John the Baptist has been done away with, there is this beautiful little interlude before Mark launches into the next section of miracles. Some commentaries call it a “transitional point.” There is a space of about four verses that seem very “Un-Mark-like.” They are verses that share a bit more intimately about the quiet side of Jesus, about the more contemplative side of this prophet, and so often they seem to be words we spend very little time pondering.
In the sixth chapter of Mark, in the thirtieth verse, there is this line: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all they had done and taught.” When I hear this verse I am reminded of how excited my step-daughter, Brynn was coming home from summer camp last year. There were so many important things to tell us, about the wind storm which knocked over trees, and about the tie-dye shirt she made, and about how if you got more than five letters a day you got thrown in the lake. We spent all evening listening to every little detail of the week, and she replayed all the funny stories, and retold all the camp legends. No tidbit was left behind in her excitement. And this is how I picture the apostles gathered around Jesus. Children around their caregiver who don’t want to miss out on sharing any of the juicy details of their wanderings and seeings.
And then, the writer of Mark tells us, Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile,” because there were people all around them, coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat a meal. I think perhaps we should rename this, “Jesus’ first commandment of self-care.” Come away. Come away by yourself. Rest. This man of action, this man who gave of himself constantly, knew the simple need of rest. And so, Jesus invited them all into a boat, and he moved them away from the shore to a deserted place, a place alone.
But the pericope does not stop there, because the action continued on the shore. The people continued their searching for this one who they had heard about, this one who offered miracles, this one who traveled with his own posse who could get things done. Word got out about where Jesus and the apostles had retreated to, and the crowds arrived there, and Jesus saw them and offered his compassionate wisdom.
The action, of course continued, miracles filled up the verses that followed, but that’s not where I want us to go this morning. Not yet. Not for now. Let’s save that for another Sunday. Instead, I’d like for us to pause on the words given to the apostles about finding quiet places. For it seems that sometimes we’re so busy looking for the action in this story, that we forget to tarry on the quiet pronunciation right before it. The call to come away. The call to rest. This quiet simple vignette is a critical one for all of us to discover.
When I began to look at this scripture last month in preparation for this Sunday, I was sitting on the porch of my in-law’s quiet retreat-like farm in Texas all by myself, my family inside having breakfast, and I looked out across the field and realized that it was the first time I’d settled myself in quiet in months and months, I realized that the quiet moments, the sabbath moments, the “come-away” moments are few and far between in so many of our busy lives, and so perhaps this was a scripture on which I needed to preach.
One of the things I learned in seminary was that we shouldn’t take words out of context, we shouldn’t preach on only part of a text without elaborating on the rest. And so, I’ve often felt as if I shouldn’t simply preach on this encounter with the apostles, without then telling about how Jesus came back and fed all those around. But, I was surprised to learn that in the lectionary, these verses are listed alone. The story of the feeding of the five thousand, which occurs next in the scripture, are to be preached about at a different time, on a different day. And I marveled, that I’d never heard a sermon about this before. It seems as if being commanded to find a quiet place, the command to “be” rather than to “do,” isn’t as valued by the church. Taking care of ourselves, reconnecting to the quiet presence of God can sometimes take a backseat to all of the action we are called to do in our service to the world. Finding our way to reconnect in the silence seems self-indulgent perhaps. Feeding ourselves, when so many others cry out for our feed may seem selfish. And yet, this story gently seems to ask us, “How can you feed others when you’re not fed yourself? How can you speak a words of God’s peace and love, when you have no connection to it in your own life?”
I’m not implying that there is a dualism between caring for ourselves or caring for others. I believe to be whole that both are necessary. I’m simply inviting each of us to follow Jesus, the one who has called us clearly to come away to deserted places when we need to be refilled.
There was a moment when I was reminded of this call quite clearly, and the image has stayed with me for several years. It happened one afternoon when I was pastoring at the Manchester Church of the Brethren. I was driving on a country road near South Whitley, Indiana, taking a shortcut, on my way to visit one of my parishioners at the hospital in Fort Wayne. I was tired. It had been a long week and it was a Thursday afternoon, the day before my weekend began. That trip to the hospital was my final task before I had time to rest and, as someetimes happens when I drive on a country road, and no one else is around, I was going a teensy, tiny bit too fast. Now, I want to be clear about this. There was no emergency I was hurrying off to, this wasn’t a desperate situation that I had to attend to immediately. I was just feeling frazzled. I was just feeling frantic. And, as often is the case with me, that can translate into my foot pressing itself with a little more force on the accelerator. You can imagine what happened next. As I sped over a hill, I quickly noticed, the presence of a black and white police car waiting patiently on the side of the road with a radar aimed directly at my Honda. The police officer hadn’t even needed to turn his lights on and start the engine of his cruiser before I had pulled over in a confession of guilt. I knew I had been speeding, and I knew I had been caught, and I knew that it was completely and utterly my fault. The officer sauntered over to my already rolled-down window, and I had already gathered my license and registration and I held them out the window, practically forcing them on him. He greeted me, took my documents, quickly scanned them for my name, and said politely, “Mrs. Miller, why are you in such a hurry today?” I said, quite bluntly, “Actually Officer, I’m on my way to visit someone in the hospital, but it’s not an emergency, and I had no business driving this fast on a country.” He asked who I was visiting, and I told him it was one of my parishioners. And he said, “Oh, you’re a pastor?” And not wanting to exploit my status as clergy, as I’ve seen some other pastors do, said, “Yes, but I want to be clear. This isn’t an emergency. I’m just speeding.” Perhaps that was my cry for help. The officer smiled at me, handed me back my license and registration, and looked into my eyes and said gently, “Pastor Miller, if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be there to take care of anyone else. If you have an accident, who will visit your parishioners? I’m not going to give you a ticket or a warning, just take care of yourself.” And with that, this saint of a man turned and headed back to his car and I rolled up the window and burst into tears. Tears which lasted all the way to Fort Wayne, and tears which I can easily conjure as I recall the grace I was granted by that officer who acted as Christ for me that day. The Christ who reminds us to come away, come away and rest. The Christ that reminds us that we cannot feed others, unless we slow down and feed ourselves too.
My fervent prayer for this body of believers is that we may be Christ for one another. That we may understand that to do the work of God demands that we quiet ourselves to find God first. And that we might come away to those quiet spaces to breathe deeply of the God who calls us to renewal. So, come. Come away to a deserted place. And may you find in that rest, strength to fill others from your own abundance.
Friday, July 21, 2006
As I've often alluded to, I'm being treated for all sorts of invasive fertility procedures. And, I've become accustomed to them, so much so that I have become a mainstay in 'ole Dr. B's office and can call all the nurses by name and even know the names of their children, and animals and favorite local eateries. My favorite nurse, though, is Shelby. I love, love, love Shelby not only because she seems to be the one who does her work with the least amount of pain, but because she is always so hopeful, and because in a private conversation, she has confessed to me that she changes the doctor's choice of radio station music from the contemporary Christian variety to 80s rock on the days he's not in the office. Shelby's a rebel. We speak the same language. And our language doesn't have any breathy "Oh Jesus..." refrains, nor does it use the words "majestic" and "Lord" in the same sentence.
Well, this morning, after downing the good drugs, and lying on the paper-covered doctor's table, Shelby and I started chit-chatting about her life. Seems she's getting married soon. Seems she's looking for a minister to officiate. "Do you ever do that kind of thing?" She asked, while snapping on her rubber gloves. "I'd be happy to for you, " I said. "Really?" she asked, clearly pleasantly surprised, "That would be so great! I'm so touched!"
The procedure went as anticipated. Shelby left the room so I could lie quietly on my back and contemplate the wonders of the universe, and enjoy my Xanax induced calm for the next twenty minutes. And then something occurred to me with clarity, a moral lesson society repeats to all its responsible youth in issues of sexuality, and I turned to a loving and devoted R. who sat holding my hand and slurred assertively, "Hell, if Shelby knocks me up, the least I can do is marry her."
And, damn if that comment still seems like the funniest thing I've ever said.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Sunday, July 16, 2006
I have accepted that I am not the "alpha dog" in this house. This was further reinforced by Maisie walking across the kitchen table in full sight of me, even though she knows that toy dachshunds are strictly prohibited in this home from setting even one paw on the kitchen table. And the whole time she merely looked at me proudly as if to say, "Look at me, aren't I so tall up here on the table, where the alpha dog won't let me be?"
I have accepted that I am not the "alpha dog," but I still grapple with the fact that apparently I am, yay, merely the "omega dog."
The most commonly heard phrase in our house is this, spoken by one weak and flailing omega dog voice..."R., will you call/tell/yell at/inform/punish/ Maisie? She isn't listening to me, instead she is peeing in her bed/chewing her bone/sniffing the cat's butt/eating a spider she found on the floor/chasing a fly." And R., the one who wasn't entirely sure about having a dog in the first place merely has to enuciate the word, "Maisie..." (he hits it really strong on the "M" sound...)and she submits. Literally, she pauses and cowers at his voice.
Secretly, I whisper to her sometimes, deeply into her soft floppy ears. I murmur, "I'm the one who wanted you. If it weren't for me you wouldn't be here...I can be both alpha and omega to you, for I am a minister and understand these Biblical phrases." But this seems to do little to reinforce my status in the dog hierarchy.
I simply get no respect here on Strathdon Drive.
Saturday, July 15, 2006
When I was a seven or eight year old, my bedtime ritual seldom strayed from the routine. And the routine was this, both my parents would come upstairs with me to tuck me into my antique spindle bed in my pink-painted bedroom, each sitting on either side of me. My mother would kiss me goodnight, remind me of the special events the next day, and tuck me snugly under the covers. And then she would leave the room, graciously allowing my father and me our Daddy/Daughter time. And thus, the highlight of my evening ritual would commence, the telling of the nightly story. Now, I know many of you probably had people read bedtime stories to you, but I would wager a bet that few of you could say you had a bedtime stories as outrageous as I, for I had stories of the Finkelstein family. The Finkelstein family was my father’s own creation, a brainchild perhaps of his hippie seminary years, and what was fascinating about the Finkelsteins was that each and every one of the family, right down to the family ferret, Farcus, had names that started with the letter “F.” Moreover, the family, that would be the parents, Frank and Francine and their children Freddy and Freida, and we dare not forget the fluffy Farcus, only ate foods that began with the letter “F,” which limited their tastes to frankfurters, Froot Loops, Fritos, and the occasional bowl of fettucini. Each evening I waited in anxious anticipation to see what those funky Finkelsteins would be up to, were they going to a football game, or playing Frisbee on the front lawn, or learning to dance the Funky Chicken? Often, I would contribute to the Finkelstein story, inserting my own dialogue, or adding a few more colorful details to the Finkelstein epic. Through this continuing story, a story which grew richer and more complex each evening, my father and I would weave a world, a world where we could work out the problems of my own life, such as the day Freida was made fun of by friends at school, or the day the family ferret got sick and they had to take it do Dr. Flugelheimer to be put to sleep. I learned in that nightly ritual what it meant to allow a story to shape you, and I loved a good story.
The fourth chapter of Joshua tells a story of its own. It is the story of a posse of vagabonds looking for a home. It is the story of a people making their way toward the land that their God has promised. And while it doesn’t have the illiterative appeal that the Finkelstein Fables had, it has a hearing far broader than the writer of Joshua ever could have imagined.
Ever since I first read the story in Joshua I have always enjoyed it. How Joshua came back from chit-chat with the Lord, how he had each of the twelve tribes send out one man, how he gave those select men special instructions. He said, “OK, men, I have an important assignment here so I want you to listen up good. What I want you to do is, I want you to put on your hip boots and I want you to wade out there into the Jordan River. Now, I know you’re all busy, and I know the wife and kids have other plans for you, and I know you don’t want to slop around in all that mud, and I now you’re going to get all wet, but you have been chosen for something special. I want you to go out there and bring back a stone. Now, I don’t want something that looks like a wad of chewing gum. I want something large. I want 12 big bruisers. Now Know that there are some nice-looking specimens right here along the shore. But I don’t want them. I want stones from right out there in the middle of the river, where the water is the deepest and the current is the fastest. And I don’t want 11 and I don’t want 13. I want an even dozen. And once you get back to shore, what I want you to do is, I want you to plan on carrying them around with you every day as we travel. Now you don’t have to carry these pet rocks around with you forever, of course. I’d say it wouldn’t be more than, say 20 or 30 years.” Now you and I know from our perspective in time that Joshua new what he was doing. He was creating a memorial. He was creating a ritual. He was coming up with something to tell around the campfire at night, as the people sat with their heads perched against those rocks. Something that became part of their history. Something for the little ones to notice. Something for them to point at and say, “Why do you always lug those things around with you?” Then the elder could say, “Well, these stones are memorials. They help us remember something. One time a bunch of bad guy were chasing us and we came to this very wide river and we didn’t know how we were going to get across…” And the tale would begin to be told and the children’s eyes would grow wide.
The stones served as a reminder to the people, never to forget, never to allow themselves to dismiss the story of their lives, and the one who gave them that story. The stones served as a Godly whisper which said that it was not just a matter of wisdom to remember, but a sacred duty, a trust to hold on to the stories of the past, for by retelling them, by honoring them, the people could be brought forward into the new creation. And those stones stood, ultimately, in that new land…the Israelites lived within sight of those stones, a constant reminder of their past, and of their good God.
Part of the reason that I am a preacher is because I love a good story. Henri Nouwen claims that the great vocation of the minister is to continuously make connections between human stories and the divine story. Eugene Peterson, one of the foremost writers on the vocation of pastoral ministry, writes to all new clergy, “Your task is to keep telling the basic story, representing the presence of the Spirit.” And as the interim pastor here, I want to hear your stories. I began ministry, and I stay in Hospice ministry, because I like to listen to the stories, and because I long to tell the story of God’s love, and of God’s mystery, and of God’s compassion, and of the presence of the sacred in the profane. And it is such a sacred task for us all, for we are all called to ministry. We are called to hear our brothers and sisters into speech, to know the twists and turns of their own journeys, to find out the ways in which their story intersects with the story of the Huntington Church of the Brethren, and the larger narrative of God’s story for our world. Each of you have been given the holy vocation of listening, and it is our duty as brothers and sisters in this community to minister to one another by telling the story, and asking the questions, and pointing to the stones, and asking what they mean.
It is said that when the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the great Rabbi Israel Shem Tov saw misfortune threatening the Jews, it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, he celebrated Maggid of Mezritch had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the sacred fire, but I am able to say the prayer,” and again, the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go to the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire. I do not know the words to the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient, and the miracle was accomplished. Then it fell, four generations later, to Rabbi Israel of Rizhin to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God: “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer, I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient. For it is said, God made humanity because God loves a good story.
In time, when your children ask you, “What do the stones which created the Huntington Church of the Brethren mean?” What will you tell them? Will you tell them of the faithful hours spent rolling out cinnamon rolls in the kitchen? Will you tell them about the light in the eyes of the children of Nicaragua when you took that trip to Tisma? Will you tell of the countless hours spent in this sanctuary? Or of the way someone embraced you after church when you were feeling so lost? I invite you to begin to tell those stories again, to one another, or to me, or to God in prayer, remind one another of the stones which sustain this faithful body of believers, for in telling the stories you begin to cast a vision of what you want as you continue the journey together, and you uncover anew the faithfulness of the God who has accompanied you.
Our call is clear. It is the same call Joshua pronounced as the words of God thousands of years before and the call is this: wrap yourself in your stories, each of you and all of us, and know that it is the stories what will call us home, right smack dab into the arms of our faithful and loving God.
And all God’s people said,
Friday, July 14, 2006
- I am a pessimist. I assume many negative outcomes so that I don't have to be disappointed (See objects A-E)
- Object A: "I'll never get pregnant."
- Object B: "My step-daughters will never think I'm a good parent."
- Object C: "R. will forget to tape 'Footloose' despite the fact that I think every pre-adolescent girl should idolize it and memorize the dance steps and love it forever and ever and remember the night their stepmother introduced them to the wonder that is Kevin Bacon as Ren at 20ish years of age trying to act as if he were 16. "
- Object D: "My Alberta dwarf spruce which we planted just last weekend will die."
- Object E: "Cooper and Moses, my fat boy cats will forever pee on the floor right next to the litter box even if there is only one measly turdlet in the litter box to which they seem to object even after I have saturated the @#$% floor with Enzymatic cleaner."
- Object F: "My dog, who is no MENSA candidate, will never learn to drop the freakin' ball and let me throw it so we can play catch like a real owner/master, but instead will forever treat me as if I were the heathen trying to collect the holy grail from her sacred jaws."
- Object F: "I will never score over 15,000 in Snood."
Today, someone said to me, "I think it's time you have faith in something. You're a minister, right? That's what you do?" Oh, yeah.
But I see so much bad shit...people dying young, children left without parents, beloved cats dead on the side of the road, panicky old women who feel powerless in their nursing homes, sad old men left to wallow in their disposable diapers. It's hard to feel hopeful.
Rabbi Kushner says in essence, that if you expect God to make all these things better, if you blame God for all of the wretchedness in the world, that you disconnect from the compassionate and all loving God who desires intimate communion with you in your pain.
Can I bear to give up my fascination with the negative? Can I leap off the cliff and assume that God's compassion is enough to nurture my fear?
I'm counting on it. Because I'm tired of being sure of the worst.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
I dunno. I'm in a slump. Not a big slump. Not a "I hate my life slump," not a "Oh-woe-is-me-kinda slump," not a "I wish my life were different slump." As a matter of fact, I like my life quite a lot, and life is pretty generous to me which is why the slump is so mysteriously slumpy. I firmly believe that fallow time has something to teach us, and so, I'm waiting patiently for what this fallow time has to tell. I'm sitting quietly and I'm pausing thoughtfully and I'm wondering, "Hmmm...what am I needing to learn here."
And hopefully it will yield some sort of fruit.
Monday, July 10, 2006
My most common Freudian slip topic is the wedding/funeral one. I often confuse the two. I'll say, "Yeah, I'm officiating the funeral for that delightful couple..." and then pause and say, "Whoops..." And it's weird, because I don't think of marriage as a death. I adore being married. In many ways, a new world opened when I married R. (yes, join with me now in the Disney theme, "A Whole New World..."). It's weird, I tell you. Weird.
And it happens in reverse too, I often confuse a Hospice patient's funeral for a "wedding." I like this slip better, though, as it's sort of like an ethereal wedding and there's union, and bliss, and good stuff...
Today, as I was driving to yet another funeral (where, egad, the church WASN'T air-conditioned), I was thinking on the number of weddings vs. funerals I've attended or officiated. I'd say, given my profession, the ratio is about 1 to 30. I was thinking today, how much I'd really like a few more weddings...so much more celebratory, and so much more good wine. I was lamenting on how now that I'm a ripe 'ole 34, most of my friends are married, and there just aren't that many more weddings to attend. I was calculating how old I'll have to be until their kids get married, and there is a whole slew of weddings as there were that summer of 1994, when on one Saturday in June I was invited to 3 weddings!
I sighed a big sigh in the car (where else can you get the satisfaction of a really big sigh without getting an eye-roll from someone?). "Alas," I thought, "I don't know when I'll dance at the next wedding." And then I went to work and went to another funeral (where, did I mention, it was hot?).
AND... I got home, and wonder of wonders, there was a wedding invitation in our mailbox! For Labor Day weekend! A wedding I completely didn't expect to be invited to! A wedding where I'm actually so-very-happy for the couple, and not thinking, "Well I hope they can make it!" Ah! The joy! The rapture! R. said, "Do you want to go?" And I said, "Yes, yes, yes!" And he said, "Good! Me too!" And I almost danced a little jig on the kitchen tile floor for the delight of it all.
And now, I should say something witty and connected to the Freudian slip thing so I can draw this essay all full-circle...but, nothing is coming...and there's part of me that thinks perhaps it's appropriate with an essay on Freud to not come full circle as he deserves that, because his whole "penis envy" thing...well, utter shit.
How's that for a closing line?
Saturday, July 08, 2006
The story, for those of you who are not familiar with the musical based on the novel by Victor Hugo, centers around a man named Jean Valjean who has been arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child. He is convicted of the crime and forced to serve nineteen years in a grueling chain gang. Because he is unable to begin a new life with the stain of his “crime” on his record, he breaks parole. He disobeys the rules which govern the land. A prominent man in town, Javert, the parole officer and constable, a man familiar with the law and a man wanting to follow the rules, searches for Valjean, eager to do his job. Valjean eventually, because of his changed identity becomes mayor of a nearby village. His government is characterized by kindness and justice. He rescues the child of a factory worker who has been killed. He raises the child as his own. His loyalty to his adopted daughter, Cosette, is tender and true. He follows the call of his God, a God of love and grace.
And Javert, the constable, loyally searches for the parole-breaker. He follows the call of his God, a God of justice and righteousness who wants laws upheld, who wants every “t” crossed and every “I” dotted. While it is easy for some to point fingers at the constable Javert and to exclaim passionately that God’s love is more powerful than the legalistic rules of a government in the midst of revolution, I find myself wondering if there might be more to the story than this.
Listen to the words of Javert from the musical, “There out in the darkness/ A fugitive running/ Fallen from grace/ God be my witness/ I never shall yield/ till we come face to face/ …Mine is the way of the Lord/ And those who follow the paths of the righteous/ Shall have their reward/…God is the sentinel/ silent and sure/ keeping watch in the night/…Lord let me find him/ That I may see him/ Safe behind bars.”
Both men in this story struggle to do what they deem morally right. Both men want to please God. Valjean take risks, impulsively resisting arrest and yet rescuing and freeing those imprisoned in their own lives in various ways. Javert stays the course, compulsively follwing the rules of his job and his life. Two men. Two different ways of being loyal. Two different ways of interpreting what God they believe God asks of them. Neither is wrong.
In the gospel of Mark, we find a story with similar tensions. On one hand, we have the disciples, who appear, at least in this story, diligent and earnest in their concern over the teachings of Christ. They yearn for the God of justice. The trust the God of justice. On the other hand, we have the unnamed woman, who in an impulsive moment of love pours a jar of expensive nard and anoints Jesus with a spontaneous act of great sensuousness and reverence. She trusts the God of love. Two followers of Jesus. Two different ways of being loyal. Neither is wrong.
Jesus was traveling in Bethany two days before the last supper. This pericope, in fact, is set right before the writer of the Gospel tells of Judas’ scheming with the high priests to have Jesus silenced. And so, the writer of the Gospel of Mark is preparing us for Jesus’ death. Jesus was sitting at a table in the house of a leper. He was perhaps finishing his meal, with his disciples close by. And the gospel recounts, “as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard.” The gospel doesn’t tell us whether she is a guest at the home, or whether she has a previous relationship with Jesus. We are not even sure of the woman’s name. What we know is what she did. The woman took the jar and poured the oil slowly and sacredly on the head of Jesus. In the Middle East, where the weather is scaldingly hot and dry to be soothed with oil is a luxury beyond measure, a loxury this woman wanted to extend to her teacher and friend.
The woman in the story took a risk. Did she think about the implications of what she was doing? Did she imagine the uproar and the upbraiding that she would receive for her act of love? Did she wonder how Jesus would accept her gift? I sometimes wonder what would have happened if the woman would have carefully and compulsively analyzed the repercussions of her act. Would she have gone ahead anyway?
As I picture this unnamed woman in my mind’s eye, I see a woman of passion, a woman perhaps stirred by the heat of the moment, a woman who could think of no more fitting way to demonstrate her love for this prophet than to provide him some small measure of relief. And the fact that the woman did this in front of others is stunningly brave as well. She seemed to instinctively trust that Jesus would understand her gift. She trusted that she would be accepted and understood completely. I wonder if I would have the courage to seek Jesus out in this same way. Could I walk before the followers of Jesus, men well-traveled and articulate? Would I be too intimidated? Would you? This unnamed woman seems brave beyond mention.
As she broke the jar and poured the oil there was surely murmuring and muttering around the room. And some sort of chaos must have ensued. The scriptures say, “But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’” A point well-made indeed. Wasn’t Jesus preaching the upside-down kindom? That the first should be last and that the responsibility of his followers was to minister to the outcasts? Did Jesus not call his followers to serve a God of justice? A God who wanted money and resources equitably distributed?
I can almost imagine myself sitting at that table quibbling and muttering with the disciples myself. Those compulsive disciples who wanted clarity on the rules, who wanted Jesus to verity who’s right and who’s wrong. Perhaps their words to the woman were said lovingly, as they patted her on the shoulder and whispered discreetly, “Ma’am, we’re afraid you’ve misunderstood. We know you want to support Jesus. We welcome your support, but how about finding a more appropriate way.” Perhaps they scolded out of concern, maybe they even wanted to protect her, assuming Jesus would be angry. We can surmise, of course. We can postulate, but we will never know for sure what happened in that room over two thousand years ago.
Two different factions. Two different ways of viewing the teachings of the Christ. Neither is wrong.
I see myself often as being in two opposing camps in this story. These words have become personal for me. For there is a part of me, earthy and passionate who resonates with this woman. It is this part of me who runs in the rain with no thought of being soaked to the skin. It is this part of me, who, craving freshly baked bread, starts baking at eight o’clock in the evening knowing full-well that with the rising of the yeast it will not be done until the wee hours of the morning. It is this part of me who weeps sometimes when I watch my step-daughters dance, and who takes long baths by the light of candles, and who pauses in awe while noticing that her lilies have bloomed. This impulsive woman with the alabaster jar who lives within me. She teaches me to experience the creation of God. She connects me to the root of the root and the heart of the heart.
And with my other foot, I am firmly planted in the land of the disciples, for they have a voice as well. I understand their conventional practicality and yearning for the disciplined way to adhere to the social teachings of Christ. I understand their need for a God of justice who makes complete sense at all times. I have learned, especially as I continue to age, that there is nothing wrong with the heady, compulsive part of myself that searches the scriptures for truths. It is this part of me that budgets money to be given to charity and makes sure that my elderly neighbors have their prescriptions on time. It is this part of me that googles Biblical interpretations as I attempt to exegete the gospels. It is this part of me who appreciates the way committees can make things happen and understands the importance of some forms of bureaucracy so that hungry bellies can receive food, and hurricane victims can receive FEMA trailers. The concern that the disciples raise is often my own when I ask, “Why should we have a community beautification project if people in the community have no food or work?” The disciples questioning lives within me. They connect me to the wisdom inherent to critical thinking and logical questioning and thoughtful investing.
Two ways of being. Two different interpretations of life. Neither is wrong.
The New Testament is filled with parables which offer hints at “right living.” Jesus is full of tidbits of advice for those seeking the kindom of God. We have the sermon on the mount as our guide. We all have tattooed on our brains the saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kindom of God. One would think these rules for living were rigid and secure. But then a story like this bursts into our world and we are reminded that the importance seems to lie more firmly in the spirit of what we do. The unnamed woman here was not “politically correct” and yet she was understood and she was praised.
After the oil was poured, and the muttering of the disciples had quieted. Jesus spoke. His words were these, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for it’s burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
And here the story ends. We are left wondering what happened to the woman, or how the disciples responded.
Surely Jesus was not saying that we should not continue our outreach to those less fortunate than we. Surely Jesus was not admonishing the disciples for their concern for the poor. Rather, I believe Jesus was addressing the narrow and rigid rules that the disciples were using as a yardstick to judge the woman. Perhaps if there is a lesson to be learned from this story, it is that there is more than one way to express ourselves as followers of Christ. There is the way of deep passion and personal relation and there is the way of community outreach and social action. Two ways. Two approaches. Neither is wrong.
Within all of us there lies the Javert and the Valjean, the disciples and the unnamed woman, the two interiors of our own lives. As a church, we have too often ignored the extravagant deed of this woman, too often ignored the spontaneous sensous gifts of the mystics. Jesus’ promise is that wherever the gospel is told, she will be remembered for the conventional way of the disciples is not enough. There is more to embrace. And we are called to fulfill the promise of remembrance.
It is not too late to honor the unnamed woman in our own souls. By balancing the impulsive with the compulsive, the passion with the logic, the grace with the justice, we find that true path to discipleship. May we learn to integrate the two ways within ourselves, for neither is wrong, and in embracing the whole we find that it is absolutely right. Amen.