Tag Archives: life

Full Mind, Full Heart…

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There are a lot of things in my head right now. The song is “I Can Her the Bells” from “Hairspray Jr.” which we saw at the middle school four blocks from our house on Friday. Several alum from our elementary school plays were there and in good form. The steps under my feet and in my head are for “Make ‘em Laugh” which we will choreograph this week.

I’m rereading Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, a fantastic novel that throws together everything that interests me into a lovely disastrous science fiction salad, languages, medicine, with some alien life forms thrown in. I am emotionally tired from our community group’s project on Saturday to feed breakfast to seventy five people through City Hope, our church’s community center in the tenderloin district of San Francisco.

I met a young lady named Ari. When I had talked her inside off the wet street she left moments later with tears in her eyes. She had been looking at my kids. Out of prison for five days, her seven-year-old son is with his father in Alabama, her two-year-old daughter is in Petaluma with friends. We talked about being mothers, she talked about the weight of the family she was raised in, the weight of caring for children on her own, the weight of her addiction that led her straight back here to the streets of San Francisco.

She came in again, she ate, she met my children, I connected her to our pastor there. We found out where she could get clothes. She went to use the bathroom. I sat with her bag.

When she came back she said, “I’m glad you watched my bag. It would’ve been too hard not to — if I had had it with me.”

“You have drugs in there right now?” I asked.

“No,” she said after the slightest pause.

And this is how far I’ve come, I’m still naive enough to be surprised that a drug addict has drugs on their person. But, as it turns out, I’m not naive enough that I didn’t recognize that she was lying to me in the second instance. So, that’s something.

The emotional response in my body brought to mind another instance of similar discordant realization. We were in Manila on a mission trip. We were touring lots of areas and different ministries. One night we went down to the slums to meet some of the thousands of orphans left on their own to form families. We had a group of about twenty boys, six to ten year-olds. We told them Bible stories, learned their names, fed them. We had been there for hours when I began noticing that they were leaving one by one and coming back after a while. They would come back a little happier, red eyes, a little less attentive, distant.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked one.

“He’s high,” the boy answered succinctly.

As it turns out these beautiful brown boys were taking turns leaving to huff glue out of discarded glass jars.

One of our set up guys at church has been clean for two years. He posted on Facebook. “Two years off the needle by the grace of God.”

Another time in college a young man, long blonde hair in a ponytail, a smattering of tattoos, was a friend of a friend of someone in En Christo, our ministry to the poor and homeless in Spokane, Washington. He showed up for a month of Saturdays, handing out bagged lunches to the residents of the hotels we had established relationships with. He gave a powerful testimony of God’s saving grace to release him from his addiction to heroine. He was witness, it could be done. He didn’t show up one Saturday. We heard the next week, through a friend of a friend, he had died of an overdose. I don’t remember his name. I remember thinking he was cool.

I am thinking of the second grader, a little brother, who told me he has begun reading the Bible when he’s bored at home, mostly the story of David and Goliath.

I am thinking of my volunteer who has rekindled her years of ASL and is practicing the story for this next week so she can communicate with two deaf boys who have been coming to our program.

I am thinking of two third grade girls who haven’t had a friend in their all-boy children’s worship class. Two Sundays ago they finally found each other and told their mothers about their new friend.

I am thinking about the two first grade boys who are a little intimidated about transitioning out of their comfortable Kindergarten class where their little brothers are. One is autistic and finally yesterday didn’t look like a caged animal when I gave him another tour of the “big kid” room.

I am thinking about all the slogans I have read off the posters of all my friends who went to many women’s marches all across the country. I didn’t think about going. I served breakfast with my community group to seventy-five inhabitants of the tenderloin and met Ari and was tired and went home and thanked the Lord for whatever combination of grace, provision, chance, will, or wisdom that has allowed me to have a house and the right to mother my children.

I thanked the Lord for a rug to vacuum, dishes to do, so many bananas that they had gotten old, and the baking space, that no SRO hotel room has, to make banana bread. There was so much joy in making banana bread for my people, so much flour, so much sugar. I thanked the Lord for the bathroom I had to clean even though I swore on Tuesday that anybody but me was going to be scouring it this weekend. I was grateful for the fridge full, the laundry basket full, the arms full of my children.

I realized that I was being domestic even while I was admiring signs, even while City Hall was lit up pink. I laughed at myself.

My favorite quote, the last sentences of Middlemarch by George Eliot. The great heroin Dorothea, who is described as having the energy and righteous ambition of another Joan of Arc, spreading out her energies into domesticity like the delta of the river Cyrus. “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I think about how distasteful it is sometimes to my ambition to rest in the small things, how difficult to be satisfied in diffusion.

I think of the one hundred sixty-nine kids in the school play that I get to know and encourage. I think of the eighty-five to one-hundred fifteen kids that we have in children’s worship on Sundays that we get to know and welcome. I think of the three who I kissed awake this morning with many kisses, the little one’s cheek smelling like his sweet mouth from falling asleep sucking his thumb.

This morning I don’t feel so far away from every other woman in the world. This morning I see more parallels than differences between me and Ari who is somewhere just outside this coffee shop window, maybe still trying to find her cell phone so she can see that last picture she took of her little girl. I feel my energies splitting and irrigating many tiny fields, for each of which I am very grateful.

Two Illustrations from Nature…

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It is the weekend my Dad died nine years ago. It is the week a dear friend died one year ago. A coworker just had a miscarriage. A close friend is going through a divorce.

Illustration number one: This week I was at a work retreat up the coast. There was pine, dry grass, and dirt that acts like chalk on your shoes. The sunrise was obscured by a heavy fog being blown over the hill. As I climbed the hill I stepped into a copse of pine. I turned my head into the breeze to catch the wind in my ears and I caught another sound. It was so loud I looked around for what could cause this “pat pat pat”. Droplets had formed on the tip of every needle of every pine. I thought of the fog, how like grief, heavy, pervasive, and obscuring the view at three feet. And I thought of the trees, every day reaching out and into; by will and persistence making tangible something good and life-giving, watering themselves.

Illustration number two: Today we drove down the coast. We stopped just south of Linda Mar at a battery held aloft still by a truculent chunk of granite. High above the water and rocks, the walkway around seemed to drop out of sight with a certainty that made me hold my three-year-old’s hand tighter. Surely it would mean death to ever step past that edge. And yet, as we walked closer, we were surprised to find slopes, not gentle, but like many things in life, surprisingly survivable.

 

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My Fault…

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I thought I could go back to bed and lie there for a bit without incident. So, technically, I suppose it was my fault. But I heard everyone helping each other get breakfast. It sounded peaceable.

So, forty glorious minutes later I walk out. The weather’s perfect. It’s sunny. Even the introvert in me is charmed.

“Let’s go to the park,” I say, “Shoes on.”

At this moment in the hallway the little guy passes me holding a spoonful of milky cereal in front of his belly and marching into his bedroom. Curious, I follow him. Then I watch as he stops, calculates, throws said cereal onto the carpet, touches one foot on top of it delicately as if to evaluate his success and turns, I’m assuming, in order to get more.

Well, I stop that nonsense and on the way to the kitchen with the spoon I notice several other arrangements of cereal on the floor and realize this is an installation piece, probably entitled “Scourge of My Mother”. There is also one very wet towel lying in a square on the floor.

“Hey guys? What’s with the wet towel? Did he have an accident?”

“No, Mom, he spilled a cup of milk,” said the eldest.

“He did it on purpose. And it was my milk,” said the girl.

Mixed media.

(There are many moments like this when I’m glad I don’t have a nice place. I can’t stand how my kids treat my two-bedroom rental. What on earth would I do if they treated my dream-house this way?!)

I proceed into the kitchen. And the baby has tried to make a smoothie.

Here is a picture of that baby:

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I sigh and scrap my plans for the park. I place the baby in the tub (the only place he will remain contained) and wipe counters, do dishes, unload dishwasher so I can load dishes, start laundry from last night’s pee debacle(another long story), scrub and baking soda a square of carpet, sweep the kitchen, vacuum and four hours later it’s nap time and I’m sucking down coffee and eating some Go Diego Go cereal. For some subliminal reason I wanted some.

The first baby, that’s not anyone’s fault. You’re naive; you’ve never had a baby. You don’t know. The second one, well, that’s not technically your fault either. You and your husband have seven siblings between you. Let’s blame family culture. But three, well- the third one’s on you. You asked for three. This is on you.

Left Undone…

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“Is that why you do it?” my husband asked.

I had gotten a large envelope from a friend who had found a few things of my fathers in a work file. His large handwriting looped smaller where he had run out of space. There was also a script and a program from a play he had done when we had been living in Florida. I had said something under my breath about wishing he were here to ask him about the school play.

I considered my husband’s question. Do I do drama because my Dad would be proud, because he would do it, because he’s not here to do it anymore?

I remembered after he died how I tried for a month or two to get on top of all the marketing for his self-published book, how I vacillated about painting the last bits of his painting. Something in me was a-flurry to finish what he had left undone. I still struggle with the idea of leaving things undone; but shouldn’t an artist, if they’re doing it right, be still working on something when they die? I had to stop. I didn’t have the heart necessary for the marketing. I left his painting to the few base layers of hue that makes it still, to this day, rather, a misty suggestion of a landscpe.

I decided I wouldn’t have been able to continue with drama fueled solely on the love my father had for it. But it was a healthy process to realize where some of the credit is due. My love of drama is my own but the habit of drama is something that has been built into me.

As I told the students in rehearsal, “A successful painting is interesting to look at. A successful sculpture is interesting to look at from every angle all the way around. A successful play is interesting to look at from every angle all the way around throughout the entire play, a sculptural collaboration of artists existing in a single moment of time.” I doubt the elementary students quite appreciated the image, but it explains what I love best about theatre.

I have never known a time when my Dad wasn’t rehearsing some production, when there weren’t curtains and call times to be planned for. My early years are marked by my sneaking backstage and begging to be onstage. My later years are marked by productions of my own and the productions I missed (My brother’s Nathan Detroit and his narrator from Our Town! It still stings a little bit to think about today.)

It feels natural to be on the roller coaster again. I do it because I love it. I do it because it’s a gift to give others. I do it because it’s a habit of creation that was built in me by my father. And I do it because it’s a habit I want to build in my own children, his grandchildren.

I miss him so much. But new things, even piddly little things like elementary school plays, are still coming out of his life.

And as far as actors go, my little one is showing promise… 😉

Trigger Warning: Contains Profanity…

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I told myself I’d write a blog post today. And all I can think about is my dear friend’s father, who is dying. Less than a month and the stupid tumor has stupidly doubled and is stupidly squatting all over his pancreas squishing the life and all possibility of treatment out of him.

And I am remembering when my Dad died, suddenly, with a phone call and a word to finalize it. After eight years I can watch the actions of the day with something solid and apathy-like in front of me acting as a filter. And they are all there, this family. I remember them standing next to us in the room, exclaiming out loud when we told them, crying with us seamlessly as one family.

I remember this man’s daughter coming to me in my backyard and saying the only thing in the whole week that was any help at all. “What the fuck?” she said. Exactly. What the fuck.

And my siblings are driving up right now, managers notified, half days taken. Our only plan is to walk in and stand with them because we have been stood with.

I find myself wondering how different it is, watching it happen, not knowing exactly how many days you will have to live in this limbo. When my Dad died the world stopped. The suddenness of it was gratifying to my grief. And the whole church showed up at the memorial. How gratifying that was. It was as it should be. The world should mourn with me.

I know what they will go through. Yet, I wonder at what they are going through. I want to bear witness to the life. I want to bear witness to the grief. I want to bear witness to the voice of Mary in me that cries, “If you had been here, Lord!”

And I bear witness to Jesus’ own tears. Because that is how the goodness of God was proven to me in that week. He wept. When my Dad died Jesus wept. There was no trite pat on my head. There was no image of a “Footprints” meme impressed into my brain. Jesus wept. He was with me.

Even now, Jesus nods with my husband when he says, “This is fucked.” Yes, fucked up. This isn’t how it was supposed to be at all.

Even though Jesus knows better than anyone that the resurrection is coming, that Lazarus will be walking out of that tomb in two hot minutes, still he weeps.

What the fuck? This isn’t how it was supposed to be at all.