Monday, May 29, 2006

An Open Letter to My Immune System

Dear Immune System,

First of all, thanks so much for taking such good care of me this past flu season, what with the amazing job you did protecting me from that nasty stomach flu that little miss B. had during Nutcracker season, and that hacking cough that was going around the office. Props to you and your minions for working so hard night and day to keep the cooties away. You guys rock, really.

But, it's time we had a little talk, I.S. (can I call you, I.S.? I mean, we know each other pretty well by now, right?). Dude, you need to chill a little with this whole poison ivy thing. I mean, I know you're just doing you job, protecting me from the vile weed and all that, but, just between you and me...the weed is gone, man. It's been pulled out of the yard, and it's in the trash, on it's way now to a certain death in a landfill hidden under mounds of coffee grounds and eggshells.

I know, I know, you were mad at me for touching it, even with the gloves on...and it probably wasn't a smart thing for me to do, but I don't know the difference between poison ivy and poison oak very well, so you'll have to forgive me for that. And I know, you're just doing your job by responding with the redness and the oozing sores and the itching, my God the itching. But, seriously, it's been almost six days now. You're being a little hyper-sensitive. Really, I mean no disrespect, but it's time to go back to fighting the real enemies, bird flu and West Nile virus and all that, those are the ones we've got to look out for, my friend. This poison ivy/oak thing, it's nothing for you to get so worked up about.

I apologize for the prednisone. I know there's nothing that hurts your ego more than having yourself suppressed, but rest assured it's only for two weeks or so, and believe me, this will hurt me more than it will hurt you. I'm the one who has to struggle through the insomnia and twitchy eyelids. Just consider it a little break...take a nap, take the kids to the beach, lull around in your pajamas. Relax, immune system, you deserve it.

Your ever lovin' partner in the fight against evil,
The Contemplative Chaplain

Friday, May 26, 2006

Read This

Quick post...more this: entry for May 25th (entitled "Class of 1996). Beautiful, beautiful writing, this.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


It is hard for me when one of the sisters is aching and we all can't be there in person. I know the Spirit holds those who need Her, but sometimes it would be nice for the Spirit to have skin. One of the sisters hurts tonight.

For those of you who haven't followed this blog, or to explain the ways in which I haven't been as clear as I could have been...the sisters are my spiritual home. The sisterhood, the women who name me and teach me of my place in community, even though I am an ordained minister and love my denomination, provide me with the most honest and authentic space in which I feel God's presence and peace.

The sisterhood has morphed from a group of college friends who had fun drinking Boone's farm wine into a profoundly and deeply connected group of sisters. We wear rings, wedding bands for some, reiterating our ties to one another. We gather once a year for three or four days to reconnect and recommit ourselves.

I count the statistics of who we are: six weddings, two divorces, three children, three miscarriages, two struggles with infertilities of sorts, eight college degrees, five graduate school degrees, currently living in seven different states (two in California, one in Indiana, one in Michigan, one in Ohio, one in Maryland, one in Colorado, one in Kentucky).

These are my sisters and they are my home. And tonight I hate how many miles separate us.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Pantyhose, Part Deux

In the interest of offering point/counterpoint in my blog, in looking at all points of view...I offer this take from a concerned reader, who shall remain nameless. He writes:

Feisty, aren't we? Taking on the powers-that-be over the issue of pantyhose. Can't say that I've ever taken on that battle myself. I've never let pantyhose bother me. Me, I just tough it out with my pantyhose. If my boss should ever want me to wear pantyhose, me, I'd toe the line. Me, I'd say "what color and how many layers?" and jump right into them. Me, I'd probably fudge just a bit, if I needed to, and cut off my pantyhose just about 4 inches up the leg and then I'd tape them up with some duct tape and then I'd sure be meeting the letter of the law and there could be no complaint at all. Me, I'd rally to the cause and make my boss see the seriousness of this situation by organizing a "pantyhose lineup" at the office each morning, everyone standing at attention with one leg stretched out, so a rightful inspection could be made, and I'd have commendations for "the most hospicey pantyhose" and "the oldest pantyhose" and "the pantyhose that have traveled the farthest." I'd carry this to the logical conclusion and have been signs made up, signs that people would wear taped to their backs, making it clear that the world was safe for dying folks, and the signs would say, "Me and my pantyhose are doing our part!"

But I understand that you are choosing to take a different approach, a more rebellious one. Me, I'd just start turning up for work with my pantyhose over my head and if anyone accused me of anything, I'd just say, "I'm wrrrng mm panfthofe like I'm sppossfd to."

Gentle reader, be forewarned. To quote the revolutionary lyrics of Les Miserables, "Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!...Will you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me?...Then join the fight that will give you the right to be free..."

Bare legs unite! Now I gotta go build my barricade...and find some duct tape.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

That of Which I Do Not Speak

I am a woman who is divorced. This is part of my story.

I am a woman whose parents divorced. And this is also part of my story.

A pattern? Some would say.

Yesterday would have been an anniversary of sorts. And it is strange how far one comes in eight years. I noticed the date, not because it held special ceremonial influence for me, but because there was something in the familiarity of it as I wrote it that day which made me pause. May 16th. I would be lying if I said I didn't recognize it immediately. It was far more than "Armed Forces Day" in my dayplanner. Yes. May 16th, when in 1998 I stood in front of several hundred people in a white dress in front of a stained glass window and promised things I could not do.

My ex-husband and I are both happily remarried. Perhaps we had one of those "starter marriages" that sociologists talk about now. We were married for less than four years. And yet, we were together for far longer. We began dating my senior year of college, when I was just 22 years old and he was 24. It seems to me that when one is in their 20s and early 30s development happens rapidly, and so the years that Ken and I spent were sort of like "dog years" (and I say this with no disrespect and loving my dachshund...). We grew rapidly and constantly. We changed often and to the delight and detriment of one another. And so those years, less than a decade seem like far longer in my memory, in my dog brain.

Life with Ken was sort of like living in a college fraternity (or sorority) house. I laughed often; I shared myself freely and deeply with someone who knew me as I was at that time; I grew up with a peer. We shared bottles of wine and meteor showers and dinner parties and exhausting conversations. We shared backgammon games and cat parenting and mortgage payments and hymn sings. We shared bike riding and NPR listening and bread making and Barbara Kingsolver loving. We shared incense burning and Indigo Girls listening and Washington D.C. visiting and candle lighting.

But somehow I was not myself. And I could not find myself. And I missed myself. And as much as my sweet Ken wanted to assist me, there were callings apart from him, and journeys on which I could not allow him to go, journeys of which I had to travel alone, even though I knew it hurt him.

I tell these stories because there is no one to tell them if I don't, in the same way that there is no one to tell the stories of the happy years of my parents marriage if I don't tell them. Ken and I lived in that time. And there were good days. And they should not be forgotten.

A few months ago, in a late night of deep conversation and more than one open bottle of wine, a friend asked me whether I would reconsider marrying Ken if I could. I took a sip of my second glass and said, "Never. Not ever. We grew up together. We told one another our stories."

And then we moved on. And it was good too.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Recently, a memo circulated in my office. Essentially, writ in black and white among other dress code rules this new addendum, "Direct Care Staff need to wear panty hose or socks."

Being of the "don't ask, don't tell" persuasion, I decided that a chaplain did not qualify as "direct care staff." I decided that I was instead, indirect care. Yeah. I don't directly come right out and say, "So, you gonna get to heaven?" Nor do I directly administer morphine or Ativan from my own hands. I don't directly change adult diapers. And due to my inherited directional disability in driving, I often don't even drive directly to the patient's home with out getting lost. I am, however, an expert in justification. And so, my direct care directives for myself were satisfying, um...well, me. I figured if my bosses didn't like my indirectly satisfying personal code of dress (a code of honor of sorts, if not indirectly), then they could talk to me about it directly. And again, you know, the Bill Clinton approach would be followed, "Don't ask if I'm direct staff, and I won't confess to being direct either." Sort of an indirect way of handing it, I'd say (proof, once more, that I am indeed indirect).

I noticed that others seemed to be following my philosophy. And all was well and good in the world of hospice care, as we wore our professional long skirts with bare legs and attractive leather slide-back shoes or penny loafers or pumps (God forbid, no open toes, as that is verbotten as well). It was if we all had an indirect secret. But no one was talking about it.

And, wouldn't you know...someone brought it up in a staff meeting with those at the top. Someone who shall remain nameless, but who, would probably be more of a direct type person.

And all hell broke loose. Boss-type people disagreeing about appropriate dress. Human resource type people throwing their hands up in the air and sighing in exasperation. Nurses and social workers feeling that direct care staff was being discriminated against. One worker saying she felt like, and I quote, "a clown in my white socks." A clown, friends! Something had to be done. And that had to be done by someone with an English major. For the something which had to be done, had to be done in writing, nay, not just in writing, but in a MEMO.

And a self-proclaimed savior and prophet rose from their midst, a hero of the people, an unwitting observer who was minding her own business, oh so indirectly, but who heard the cries of her people and realized that this was about justice...this was for a cause, and she could never walk away from a cause, especially when that cause related to sticky pantyhose in 90 degree heat.

And it came to pass that a letter was written, by someone who shall remain nameless. And it was respectful. And it used quotes like, "Perhaps the managerial team might consider..." and "I recognize that there may be objections, of which I am not aware to having bare legs."

The letter was delivered to the human resources office. An uprising has begun. Justice will be done. I'll keep you posted on the movement, indirectly of course.

I can tell you that as I walked out of the office this afternoon our human resources director, who was wearing pantyhose, whispered, "Rebel!" when I walked past her. I turned to her and winked (although perhaps the black power gesture would have been more appropriate? No, too direct...).

Sometimes you just have to kick the dust off your feet as you leave, even if you're only leaving for a half hour to ride over to Office Depot for a new ink cartridge.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Mother's Day

Yesterday my Mom and I spent the day together. We went to our book club, then after loading up my step-father's SUV and, donning our gardening clothes and our baseball caps ( I was wearing the lucky Manchester College hat that, toward the end of his life, my Grandpa took to wearing to protect his balding head from the sun), looking like a renegade Hoosier version of Thelma and Louise, armed only with spade and shovels, we descended on my former home (where my dear friend is living now, and actually moving from in a few weeks). The reason for our trek--to rescue all the perennials I tended and nurtured while I lived there from the certain fate of being torn out and paved over to become yet more parking for the nearby (fundamentalist) church which bought the house. You know the line, "paving paradise to put up a parking lot..." and all that.

On the way there it rained, and it was cold, cold for May--temperatures in the 50s. We watched the sky ominiously, and my mother, ever the optimist would say periodically, "Look, it's clearning over there, I think..." I'd furrow my brow and say, "Well, maybe..." (thinking, "Yeah, clearing sort of like the sky did before whisking Dorothy away to Oz..."). But, lo and behold, we pulled into North Manchester and the stopped. My Mom said, "See?" as if she were not the least surprised..."It stopped." "Yeah it Did!" I replied dubiously, waiting for the next shower. Didn't come. Until WE DROVE HOME. I credit my Grandpa, the consumate lawn man, for watching over us from his lofty perch atop some cloud somewhere, and his daughter, who is ever so hopeful, and sees the glass half-full on a regular basis.

We pulled out perennials--yarrow, hostas, lambs-ear, lady's mantle, phlox, daisies, poppies, coneflower. We were, oh-so-ambitious. We hauled big-ass stones to edge my new flower beds (picture two very short women in baseball hats, covered in mud trying to pick up boulders..."Bend from the waist...Okay, um, Mom...we can't lift this one." General laughter as we imagined what the neighbors were thinking). It was a day. We were exhausted. We came home and celebrated with carry-out dinner from our favorite local Italian restaurant, and then retired to separate bathtubs to take steaming hot baths to wash off the dirt and ease our sore biceps and backs.

On the way home, we said to one another, "Aren't we having fun?" (which was my Grandma Soderstrom's stock question whenever we took her for an outing). We were. We did. And somehow in the midst of that day, intermingled in plant roots and raindrops, my grandparents were alive with us again, a true Mother's Day gift.

We are from hearty stock. Formed from my Grandpa's love of nature, his consumate craftmanship of tending plants and shrubs (which were often a perfect circle, like little balls dropped by a benevolent God in a straight line in front of his house), and from the optimism of my Grandma, who believed wholeheartedly in the goodness of the universe, and of people, and of her God, my mother and I live and breathe their lessons as naturally as we inhale oxygen.

It was a perfect Mother's Day.

I love you, Mama. I'm proud to be your daughter.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Oh So Random...

You's one of those random days. I like to call them Tuesday. Random Tuesday.

I promise you'll get more from me soon...but I've been busy, hell I didn't call Jim the Father for 3 whole days and that's unheard of in these parts...(by the way, have I plugged his website lately... How cool is he? I mean, really...look at those meditations?!?)

What else is random that I can share with my sweet blogosphere...

  • Anyone know of any good weekend rental condos or cottages for a group of amazing women who need a place to stay in the fall? The sisterhood is desperate...we're also procrastinators.
  • Have I told you my house is naked? I tore out her front bushes...or rather the nice folk from Treescape did. Now, I'm going to be a wild and crazy (read: boring) old lady who plants hostas and impatiens (did you know they're not called "impatients?" Not me...I thought one was Impatient growing wrong am I?)
  • So after gettting emails from a few (two, select) students which said, "Dear Professor, you suck. I learned nothing in your class. I think feminist theology is stupid...." (from two students, who ironically have two of the lowest grades...and who said essentially "I wanted answers to religious questions and you just posed more questions...this ruined my G.P.A."), I had the wonderful affirmation of several students who contradicted the critique. Monday night, I met with multiple students as they talked about their final projects, one of whom wrote later, "This class has changed my worldview. Thank you." Ah....that's all I needed. I have to remember that there are folks who want answers, and when I pose questions in class it is especially disheartening, and thus there are the aforementioned critiques. Thank you, fundamentalist movement.
  • Ah, but the fertility quest continues...Big sigh. Big, big sigh. If God is all loving, than certainly God/ess is anxious for me to bring new life into his world...She's just taking so long...what's up with that?!?

Alright...over and out...R. and I have big plans tonight...mostly catching up on TV shows we've missed...Big Love, Sopranos, West Wing. Ah...that's blessing in itself...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


End of the day visit. New admit.

I drive to the house in the North Central neighborhood, only blocks from where we lived when I was a little girl (I'm a sucker for anyone who lives in this neighborhood...). I cross Kentucky Avenue and find the house, a two-storied glory with a beautiful old iron fence. Someone in this home gardens. I see coral-bells and tulips in their last moments of wonder.

Inside I find a man in his 50s. He sits, amidst the hardwood floors and antique pieces and rocks ever so slowly in his recliner. He is the caretaker of a Catholic cemetery. "Best work I've ever had," he says slowly. He has a brain tumor, a glioblastoma. It makes him talk quietly; he is reflective as he speaks, weighing each word.

"You know," he says, "I feel awful for Susan (his wife). I couldn't have it if she died before me. The good Lord is looking out for us, seeing as I get to go first. She's stronger than I am. It's better this way."

Joe talks about his three sons. He talks about the joy of parenting, about how we raise them to be independent, it's the most delightful and sad task in the world--this letting them go.

I say, "It sounds as if you are at peace." He nods--an affirmation. "Today is a good day," he says. "I can't complain. Look at this sunshine?" I can only nod.

We talk awhile. And then the doorbell rings...

I pause, remembering the two boys in white shirts, navy pants and ties that I saw wandering from door to door as I drove onto the block earlier this afternoon. Mormons, perhaps? I usually shoo them away gently. "I'm a minister," I say. "I know about Jesus." Then I smile, and thank them for stopping. I pride myself on my gentleness.

But when the doorbell rings, Joe rises slowly. With his shuffling gait he makes his way to the door while I wait, assuming he'll send them on their way. I hear the conversation.

"Good afternoon, Sir. We're from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. How are you?" Joe speaks softly and I can't hear. There is the exchange of words. I sit, expectantly, waiting for Joe to emerge from the front porch. It's okay, I can wait.

Five minutes pass. I have finished the paperwork on my initial assessment during Joe's front-door encounter. I pause and listen carefully to the conversation around the corner, wondering why Joe isn't back yet. I hear the mormons, these fresh-faced young boys say, "Do you have a few moments so we can speak our faith to you?" And Joe responds openly, "Sure...why don't you sit down with me here on the sun porch."

I emerge after the first few questions they ask, quietly from the living room. Joe is sitting on a wicker chair listening to them explain the book of Mormon. I walk over to say goodbye and tell him I'll come back early next week, when I can spend time with both him and his wife. He smiles, and introduces me to the "Elders." These elders who probably reek of Noxema.

Joe says, "I'm not so good with names anymore, can you introduce yourselves before you go?" I tell them my name, that I'm Joe's hospice chaplain. I hit the word "hospice" hard. It's my code to these boys...a code that says, "be gentle with him," or "listen well to him," or "he has wisdom that you're 18-year-old spirits have yet to know." Mostly I want to say, "Listen. Listen. Listen. You are in the company of one who can convert you."

Joe smiles up at me from his wicker chair. "Come back," he says softly.

Wild horses and evangelistic mormons couldn't keep me away.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Christian Suspense

I have noticed an alarming trend among some of the book groups I read along with online...there's this new genre called "Christian Suspense." I keep does that work? Is it like, "Oh no, John-Boy isn't saved. He lives a hedonistic lifestyle. Will he ever see the error of his ways? Oh no, now he has a terminal illness...will he ever find his way to Jesus Christ so that he doesn't burn in hell? What will happen...will John Boy ever see the light...let's wait here in the dark, creepy night... and scare the beJesus out of ourselves (because we certainly wouldn't scare the hell out of ourselves, or maybe we would?) until John Boy accepts Jesus into his heart...will he get it done? Will he make it into the eternal kingdom?"

I'm telling you being a former English major, the future of the literary canon concerns me. Sometimes I lay awake at night thinking about it (but not very often).

I could handle the Christian romances, what with the no pre-marital sex stuff and the vowing to honor and obey and the wives submitting and all that. It wasn't my cup of tea, actually made me a little queasy, but I could see the market (I mean, I do live in Indiana, home of Dan Quayle)...but suspense? This is a whole 'nother country.

So now you know what's happening at bookstores near you. Don't say you haven't been warned. But wait...what is that creeping up stealthily behind you? Is it Satan?!? The Christian suspense is killing me...