The occasional ding, ding of a heart monitor. Halls mostly quiet. Patients waiting behind drawn curtains — dozing off. Nurses, doctors, the social worker (me), we are upright but mostly sleepwalking. A rather demanding case has been completed, I quickly grab free clipboard and head for the next challenge, room 32. Knock knock I say as I slip behind the curtain into dimmed room. Slight frame shivers under the white blanket.
Working in the trenches changes people. It has changed me. I once lived in an Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories world — identifying all persons as either good or bad. Things done right or done wrong. Christian or sinner. As a kid, I heard it everywhere. The message simple. People who choose rightly and act accordingly belong to the kingdom of God. People who make wrong choices and act wrong belong to the Darkness. Kind of a Yankees — Red Sox rivalry, never to be blurred, each with its own uniform and identifying ways. It’s understandable why adults tell children these things. The hope is to prevent the child from doing something that will harm them. Still, the overall message is a lie.
From the vantage of a congested urban emergency room for about 20 years as a psychiatric social worker, hours of interviews with people, teeth black from meth, bodies covered in abscesses from heroin use, faces broken and deformed from domestic violence, infected by prostitution, my view has been close up. An hour or so of taking history, huddled on cot and head down, the tears and shame of it all, I end the interview by asking, “How have you managed to survive?” and many times I’ve heard the same answer, through tears… “I never would have made it without Jesus.”
We have this idea that when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, there is a certain something about us that is different from what I just described above. I know Jesus stabilizes our lives. That’s the hope we all have, isn’t it? Why, then, after I gave my life to Jesus, do I still have a temper? Why do I still use foul language when I’m stressed out, even though I try hard not to? Why do I say unkind things to my children though I’ve taught my kids that Christians don’t want to be unkind?
God HAS changed me over the years. Cleared out much of what kept me stuck. At the same time, I’m not being kicked and hit and torn at. I’m not being raped. I’m not being lied to. I’ve had resources. I have strong friends, many for over 30 and 40 years. Friends who love and support me. I have a safe and loving husband. I have a job, and food and shelter.
God describes how we can tell if a person is a Christian or not “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. Love is different from addiction-free. Love and a cycle of hell sometimes coexist. If the church today were to write a list of Christian identifiers, the list would most likely look like this: “By this everyone will know you are Christ’s disciples, if you are strong, do well financially, dress well, are emotionally healthy, have a stable group of friends, are not addicted to meth, not shooting heroine, not living on the streets, not living with an abuser, etc..” Love and disaster in this life are not mutually exclusive. Love and human weakness. The best of us and the worst. Who we want to be and who we really are.
The God I’ve come to know while sitting alongside emaciated human shivering under thin white blanket on hospital cot is a God who does not abandon when we are too weak to get out from under the hell we’ve found ourselves in. God reaches into our darkness and holds onto us. In reality, not one of us fully escapes this sordid life till we step to the other side. The wretch we distance ourselves from has been made in God’s Image, very well could be my brother in Christ, my very own sister. Our mansions in Glory just might be parked side by side. Eternal neighbors with the hooker I turn my face from when light turns red on my way to work, good girl that I am, bad girl that she is. Sisters.
A fantasy, really, of us and them. The Bible teaches of the saved and the lost. Still, scripture reminds us that we as humans must not be the ones to determine who is lost and who’s saved. The sad reality is that if Jesus held hand and walked broken little prostitute into church this Sunday, I’m certain we wouldn’t recognize Jesus, and wouldn’t accept his company. I’m guessing your church would do as poorly as mine. No room in the inn. What would we do with her language? Her habits? With her reality? With his lack of discernment? We’d have difficulty making sense of her life. We’d question His love for her. Because Christians are liars. Our problem is not that we don’t believe that God cares for broken humans. The problem is our refusal to come to terms with our broken human self. We lie to ourselves about ourselves. We quick turn away from who we really are, causing us to quick turn away from anyone whose wounds are showing. Ultimately causing us to hide from Jesus. “Adam, where are you?” The question bounces off the emptiness of our lonely existence, God still searching for our hiding selves.
”Oh, it can’t be that bad!” “Praise God in all things” and on we blather, using God’s Word to shut each-other up from speaking truth about our real and messy lives. So much evil in denial. God Himself is the most solid model of seeing all, telling all, and loving, even-though. Scripture is full of stories — stories of what really happened. God’s people were often up to no good, he corrected them and yet continued to own them as His, His own broken kids, even when they were despicable.
There has been a lot of talk recently about churches and why women in domestically violent situations are less safe at church. It’s true. And the reason, Christians have fine tuned pretending. Telling a woman who is being beat at home ‘…all things work together for good’, ‘men are wild at heart, honey’ — yes, words spoken to battered women — words that kept her in a dangerous situation far too long.
When my patient’s arrive for therapy, they need help. They are willing to own what is. Every person who sees real change has a single thing in common. They are done pretending. There is a willingness to lay it out there, even despite the consequences. Because they want wholeness more than face saving. They want to get well more than to avoid pain. They also realize on an intuitive level that face-saving does harm, and so they pursue honesty.
Jesus Powerful Cross leaned hard on the wall between God and us and broke that wall down. The Cross tore the curtain from top to bottom, the wall that separated us from the Presence of God…. drawing us closer, still closer to himself. Not the pretend part of us. But all of us. Even the disgusting parts of us.
I think the sin of the church in our century is the sin of pretension (deceit).
Lying to ourselves about who we have been and who we really are. Minimizing our stories. Holding up the wall between us and them by pretending about us. The people hurting and wounded will never be accepted until I replace pretension with a good hard look at my own compost pile of a life, I embrace my actual story, I see the way God’s grace has met me in my pain. When I do, I am filled with love for others like me, with messes like mine, and there is acceptance.
Street Sheep. Jesus precious kids.
Baby girl born to house of drugs, molestation and rape since age 4, a runaway at 10 who became a prostitute for the safety of the thing, now trapped. desperately needs me to see her not as despicable but as made in Holy God’s Image.
Woman deformed from years of domestic abuse, I’ve seen her again, and again, every fresh visit to the ER, I work hard to provide her a hiding place, she always returns for more of the same, and is broken again, and much worse than the time before. Silent and tears, and shame. She repeats in a whisper “Jesus, Jesus, ….” She is my sister. Walking through this life alongside each other. Both needing Jesus to save us from ourselves. Both hopelessly stupid. Both clinging.
Man with abscesses from heroin. All the warnings in the world and he’s at it again, and worse off than ever. The PTSD war horror that he tries to manage in ways he knows how, and finally the needle is the only thing that stops the pain, and it will kill him. He always asks for prayer, tears streaming. My own brother. Together we strive to survive, letting Jesus hold us.
I can see them, the masses. The despicable. The broken down by life. The ones I distance myself from. Unbathed. Teeth mostly gone. Faces hardened by life. Bodies stiff from life under the bridge. Oh when the saints go marching in…. The lady who pulls eyebrows out and most of her hair – since the rape, forever pulling. The man stuttering his answers, face red from shame. The child covered in blood, still alive, saw it all. The young boy had never used a drug, talked into it at some festival, word salad and parts of words is all he can manage, and the rocking. His heartbroken parents with no answers. The confused Grandma who lives alone with her cats in a trailer. The dirty woman who just can’t get clean – life in the shelter, safer than home… I see them all together – moving forward, full of muted love for a Jesus who knew it all, never left, and refused to let go – they move together forward…. Oh when they march around the throne, when they march around the throne, I want to be in that number, when they march around the throne.
Oh When The Saints Go Marching In: Black Spiritual
Thanks to Ian Espinosa for image.
Yesterday Bill died. Bill, our friend. The Bill with a smirk, always a wonderful smirk on his face. The mischievous tinkle. The face I always looked forward to seeing, I’d search for Bill across the crowded Sunday Morning service. Worried he’d someday be gone.
What will the world be like without Bill? Our kind-hearted friend. The guy always with time to listen. Who loved to see me. The smile he’d get when he saw our kids. The stories he and Ted shared, standing out in the church parking lot, unhurried – they would talk. A car where they were standing needed to back out, they would move to one side, and keep talking. They’d have to move again. And still, so much to say. Never too busy to share another story, he and Ted could talk about anything at all. Bill holding onto his stick (“It’s not a cane”, he’d say) – his son had carved it for him. He’d tell about the trips across the states. All about the adventures. About the wind at one of the rest stops so strong someone had to help him to the restroom. Into his 90’s, he was still on the go. He’d tell about his flying days. He was a flight instructor during WWII. Ted and Bill both loved airplanes, they had that in common. Ted knows which planes he flew. I can never remember.
Bill would come along on church campouts. He’d join the kids for the campout bike parades. He’d decorate his bike up fancy too. And always the twinkle, the smirk.
Bill, such a thoughtful guy. I remember telling him one Sunday that Marty, our son, who he was fond of, had graduated from H.S. I invited him to the graduation party. I really didn’t expect him to make it. His wife had passed away and doubted he was getting out much. He came walking up, a bit unsteady on his feet even then, but came to congratulate Marty.
Losing his wife I think was so hard on him. He’d tear up anytime he talked about her. The wife he’d spent a lifetime with, raising so many children that at her funeral I lost track of the count. Their children, birth children and foster kids. A lifetime of giving love to each other, and to their many kids and friends. Grace had a stroke and for years Bill took care of her, bringing her to church in the wheelchair, his patient easy-going ways. It was definitely true love.
Bill would steal purses. You’d be chatting with him, and get distracted. A few minutes later you’d realize your purse was gone. After scrambling, you’d notice across the room, your purse and a few others hanging from Bills shoulder. He did this enough times that the church finally presented him with his own purse, which he faithfully wore with his Sunday best.
This story, it happens everyday. Good people are born, live, then they die. He was 96, after all. And still, I can’t make it OK in my head that it will work for Bill to be missing. I suppose that would be due to the significant lack of Bill’s in this world. The eyes that see you from across the room. The sideways smile. The twinkle. The dry jokes. The smirk. The trust to share a story. Taking the time to do so. The interest in others. The caring questions. The lifetime of giving and loving. A man whose choices benefited so many.
I suppose he stole things other than purses. Like hearts. It’s a habit. Whenever I find my seat in church, I hunt for the site of Bill. Bill died yesterday. Finally with Grace again. The twinkle. The smirk. Though he’s gone from us, he’s where he’s been headed all along. A little support through the windy patch, and he’s arrived.
All I Ask
by Gordon Jenkins
Beautiful girls, walk a little slower when you walk by me
Lingering sunsets, stay a little longer with the lonely sea
Children everywhere, when you shoot at bad men, shoot at me
Take me to that strange, enchanted land grown-ups seldom understand
Wandering rainbows, leave a bit of color for my heart to own
A quote from Google:
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Exploring forgiveness might take many moons to cover. Most of us have heard the way the body benefits from forgiveness. How dangerous cortisol is. Though there is much to explore on these points, I will be taking another direction.
When I think about forgiveness, I think of why we are afraid to forgive. This might seem like a rabbit trail, but what I’m about to say relates. In my work with clients, often I will get a question about whether trauma treatment warps memory or not. I am an EMDR therapist, and the client asking is trying to understand what will happen to their thinking by receiving the treatment. What I’m being asked is ‘will this process change the way I feel about what happened to me?’ This question is not saying ‘I hope I don’t feel better when the treatment is all over’ It is really asking ‘Will I become nonchalant about things so horrible that currently I hardly have words to? I don’t want to be OK with the molestation, with the beatings, with lies. I don’t want to agree with all those who wouldn’t take seriously what happened.’
This desire to honor what has happened is related to the struggle with forgiveness, and is misunderstood by those who either distance themselves from people in pain (as a way of distancing themselves from their own pain), or misunderstood by those who have never been harmed (since there are very few of these types, I’m guessing it’s usually the first.)
Comments will be made –
you love to live in the past
just a wallowing in your pain, aren’t you
get over it
And so we work hard to get over it.
Many of us who have been hurt have not realized it, but we have agreed with the one who harmed us by working hard to “get over it”. We also agreed with the perpetrator by taking on the blame ourselves. If I had just acted differently, if I had said something, if I had been quieter, I should have known he was in a bad mood. I should have left the house. When I make excuses for the abuser, I am living dishonestly.
A person who is living dishonestly about what has happened becomes what we call symptomatic. When I lie to myself about what I’m feeling and experiencing, my body decides it has to get my attention. The body turns up the dial to my feelings — trying to get my attention, hoping I’ll notice I’m off track, kind of like the way I feel when I start to veer over the line on the freeway — my anxiety may go up, my depression may increase, my sleep becomes troubled, I overeat, I drink, I use drugs, I become angry, I become resentful and hurt — and still, with all these symptoms, don’t allow myself to identify clearly what I’ve been experiencing. It’s at this point that someone sees my misery and suggests that I forgive my abuser.
Some would say its never wrong to forgive. It seems to me, however that forgiveness can be premature. In other words, for me to say I forgive you, I need to first tell myself the truth about what you did to me. My body is trying to remind me of the harm by the triggers I’m experiencing, the anger I feel, by the anxiety, by the sleepless nights, my body tells the truth, however, I haven’t told myself the truth. Encouraging a jump to forgiveness is often used to avoid the messy steps of dealing with what has happened. The power of forgiveness is knowing the full ugliness of what actually happened, and from that place forgiveness is strong. I become strong when I forgive the fullness of what you have done.
Forgiveness is not forgetting.
It is, in fact, quite the opposite.
Forgiving is admitting that a wrong has been done.
To forgive you is for me to admit that what you did was not ok.
Like so many things in life, the idea of forgiveness has been misused as a way of diminishing the harm done. A quick, get over it, forgive kind of gesture we give to each other. When really, forgiveness honors the harm done by its very nature.
An important reminder. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness does not mean I will ever see you again. Reconciliation is possible after forgiveness, however, it takes both parties to reconcile. We won’t go into reconciliation at this time, still, just remember forgiveness is not necessarily contacting the person who has harmed you. In many cases, it is not recommended that you contact that person. Forgiveness is a choice you make in your own spirit about the harm done.
A few additional details about forgiveness:
When I forgive, I remind myself I also need to be forgiven (I admit to myself that I have caused harm to others at times, even if I hadn’t meant to.)
When I forgive, I am sending the message to myself that I don’t have to be perfect. I give myself permission to make mistakes. Because I forgive, I can be forgiven.
When I forgive, I don’t need the other person to apologize and ask for forgiveness. I forgive even when the one who has done the harm won’t admit guilt.
When I forgive, I am not forgetting, I am not condoning and I am not excusing offenses.
When I forgive, I’m able to live in the present. That provides me with a chance to grow. When I don’t forgive, I’m stuck. Holding onto pain, resentment, anger, hurt does not harm the offender. It harms me.
When I forgive, it’s not a gift to another, it’s a gift to myself.
When I forgive, I am allowing myself the opportunity for future healthy relationships. It’s easy to see why I don’t want to forgive a monster, however, when I don’t make a habit of forgiveness, all my relationships suffer, even the ones I care about the most.
When I forgive, I don’t have to feel like forgiving. I simply have to choose to forgive. I might still have rage, loathing, even hate, and can choose to forgive.
Each time the feelings present themselves I can choose to forgive again. That’s about the time joy peeks itself around the corner of my life.
When I don’t forgive, I have a narrow view of life. When I forgive, my view becomes broader. Both for others and myself.
In conclusion, the very thing that prevents us from forgiveness, an attempt at honoring the truth of our experience, is the thing that will dishonor ourselves the most. Because not forgiving causes me to re-experience the harm again and again. I shouldn’t have had to experience the harm once, let alone over and over. Rather than forgiveness causing me to dishonor the harm that has been done, forgiveness gives be a wide and high view, allowing me to honor more deeply the meaning of what has happened, and allows me to have a better understanding of the perpetrator and myself.
Thanks to Luke Porter for the image.
The dance with God is a dance with the invisible. It’s like I’m up in my room, house empty but for the dog, and I’m folding towels. The giant trees out below my window along greenbelt are heavy under the weight of rain that won’t slow. I hear it strong on the roof above me, and against the windowpane. The giant mound of laundry. The relentless rain. The bowing trees. And I sting to the bone with the goodness of God. There between the bed and the bookcase, me and the white towel, we dance. We dance with God. It’s a celebration of all that is. And I know He is. I’m alive with God, celebrating the gift of the laundry, the rain, the bowing trees – the song playing in my veins.
God and I could be different. I could be mad I’m stuck with all these chores. I could be mad about the carving across my neck, twice. Or my missing breast. I could be giving him a list of what isn’t right with my life and what I want from him. But I have. I have been mad and angry and said four letter words – and yes, said them to God. But last time I couldn’t pray – for days – … I had no strength and couldn’t think a clear thought, He prayed for me, and let me lean without words, didn’t offer up a thing. And so this is how our relationship has become much more. I’ve learned to receive.
Yes, I know if I love God I will do x, y and z. However, I’m not sure that matters as much to God as my receiving his love. And so this round of cancer has been just goofy. Neck all swollen from ear and down across the front like a crime scene, I’ve been singing every chance I get. Compiling every good jazz standard I can find, fighting the dead numb slab of left face-crazy feeling of wanting to crawl out of skin, I am learning lyrics. Reading stories of the writers, most of them immigrants. Old movies. Talks with friends. Gluing wooden flowers with one. Coloring with another. Dutch Blitz with the kids. Holding my adored husband close. Up much too late talking. Exploring who might be hanging from my family tree and his. Laughing about my latest cooking attempts. Just being together. And taking in these kindnesses of God.
If I have to do some horrid repeat three times, it means I’m suppose to be learning something. The thing I’m learning third time round is that my love for God, really loving anyone is so much more about receiving … take in the beauty, the presence, the treasure of another more than anything else. And no, receiving is not being a selfish taker. That’s different, and for another blog.
C.S. Lewis once said:
“…you must have a capacity to receive,
or even omnipotence can’t give.”
The rain, it comes. The heaviness – bending the life beneath it. And in the bowing there is a receiving. God gifts, they come sometimes in a rugged downpour. It’s just right that I give nothing much and lean. Just right to just lean. And so I do.
Ann was my blind roommate. Not blind. Just set-up. You know, like a blind date. I think I might have met her once, for about a minute in some cafeteria in Upper State New York a summer before, but that story is for another time. Other than that, I’m sure we were complete strangers. Her sister Barbara was a friend of mine (still is!). I’d been to Barb’s apartment before and remember thinking ‘wow, how amazing to live in such a nice place’. It was a second story flat set back off the street, above a shaded grassy patch and home to a large tree or two (ok, I’m not a details person). The apartment was just across the street from the Walla Walla College campus where I attended. If you could have seen the apartment I was “wow-ing’, you’d chuckle, but for a college kid who had lived in some motley places, you’d understand. One spring day while I was visiting Barb at her apartment she asked me if I’d like to live there, and room with her sister Ann the following year. Barb was leaving/graduating, and Ann needed a roommate. Barbara was one of those people super easy to be around – and I imagined her sister to be the same, so took the chance and said I’d do it. With no small amount of anxiety, I agreed, knowing sisters can be as different as night and day.
What I don’t think I told Barbara was that I was holding my breath – hoping everything would work out. Not just regarding Ann, but due to my own situation. Although I wanted to live in a normal apartment with a pre-arranged roommate, and make plans for the year ahead, my actual life never looked like that. Every quarter I’d find myself sitting in the financial aid office an hour or two waiting my turn, hoping and praying that Cassie or Doug – the two persons managing the financial aid office – would pull out of a hat some random grant or loan, making it possible for me to attend college yet one more Quarter. Every nickel I made working on grounds, vacuuming the halls of the girls dorm, and all other income went to paying for college. I didn’t make enough to afford it, so every Quarter they let me in felt like a giant miracle from God. Housing and roommates came last.
Over the summer, I remember looking at my things, a few ratty Norman Rockwell pictures torn out of a calendar for the walls, some black-bottomed pans, a thinned cotton bedspread but white and cheerful enough, no dresser but a mattress for the floor, … I wondered how Barbara’s sister would feel about moving in with Miss Nobody.
For no particular reason Cassy or Doug, I don’t remember which, decided they had the money for me to attend, and that I’d be fine in that nice apartment, and so there I was unpacking my few well worn things when Ann arrived. I don’t remember our first words, or even remember when she arrived, but one of the first sweet things she said to me was exclaiming how much she loved the (thumbtacked) Norman Rockwell pictures on the wall. I couldn’t believe it. She could enjoy simple unconventional ways of decorating, of being, and could find beauty all over the place in things that didn’t cost a dime. The relief nearly suffocated me. To be accepted is one thing, but to be enjoyed as is, now that’s another.
The blind roommate turned out to be a very good one. Not only did she not care one bit about my worn out things, she enjoyed my ability to make something out of nothing in the kitchen. I enjoyed her ability to read a recipe and bake. She was adventurous, was willing to do crazy things like camp out last minute on some country church grounds (because it sat beside a river). I think the sprinklers came on, and she was a good sport about that too.
Ann loved having friends over, and was quite the host. Because of her, our apartment was filled to overflowing with friends and friends of friends and a few others. Engineering guys from across the street would smell the chili in the crock pot and meander across the road, up the stairs to see what’s cooking. Students whose parents had been missionaries – Ann had grown up in Bangladesh. Her former classmates from a college in England she’d attended. Ole friends from Blue Mountain Academy in Pennsylvania. I added my collection of grounds worker pals, class mates, a few friends from Mount Ellis (Bozeman, Montana)…. Between the two of us, our apartment was a preverbal zoo!
Ann was an unusual mix of fun and studious. I struggled with college, good grades did not come easy for me. I had to read and re-read anything I took in. I had already decided that I couldn’t have fun and do well in college at the same time. This was due to that fact that the students I’d known up to this point were either fun or or did well in school, but never both. Not Ann. She knew how to shift gears from fun times to getting things done, and back to fun again – as needed. I was inspired. Ann did need less sleep then I, but she was always respectful about her sleepyhead roommate and studied late into the night without disturbing my rest. Ann was also more tidy than I, and was just gracious as I struggled to keep things up, as we had to – we had company morning to night.
The year I met my husband and fell in love, I was rooming with Ann. She listen to all my star eye’d feelings months on end. We listened to each other. She was gracious when the guy I was in love with reciprocated. Didn’t matter what the challenge in life was, when things were going well for me, and not for her, she was gracious. That’s a great word for Ann. Gracious. Just a gracious and dear friend.
Thirty some years have passed. Ann is more dear to me then before. She has been the best auntie to our kids, though not a blood aunt. She’s been in our lives a couple times a year their entire lives. Although she eventually moved to Cambodia, she flies in to see her folks, sisters and brother and comes to see us – and often. Which means the kids have years of memories with Auntie Ann.
I would have never picked Ann out myself. We are as optimist as two persons can be. She has traveled all over the world her entire life. I’ve been nowhere other than the US, Canada, Hawaii and Tijuana, but mostly stay home. Book learning comes easy to her. She flies through books and tests well. I struggle to get through part of a book. I test poorly. She likes numbers. I like words. Not true. She likes words too… and reads more books in a year than I will in a lifetime. She bakes. I dump cook. She is single. I’m married with four kid. She is a saver. I’m a squanderer. She reads music. I play by ear. She’s Adventist. I’m not.
How does one choose a roommate? Although Ann and I are as as different as wind and sea, the things that matter most we have in common. Ann gets how much I love God, how much I hate pretension, how much I value simple hospitality, how much I love vulnerability and authenticity. We both love to grow our spirits and shrink the ever-toxic “self”. We both love family and friends, love something from nothing, both love learning and exploring new ideas, love color, love to laugh, love a spontaneous adventure. I have a memory of one of my very grown up kids being talked into a shopping cart by Auntie Ann, her pushing said child speed of light through a parking lot, both howling with laughter.
My blind roommate. I think I was the blind one. Would never have thought she’d consider a friendship with me as she was traveled, smart and capable. You know, I’ve never seen my face, and you haven’t seen yours. Only a reflection. If the reflectant is warped, all that is seen is a twisted view of ourselves. That makes each-other that very important mirror. Ann has been one of the kindest mirrors I’ve ever looked into. A mirror that smiles at my burnt attempts at soup. Listens when I’m miserable and self-centered. Is able to separate her own opinions from her heart – a heart that cares for me more than cares to be right or have the last word.
The wind and sea.
Which one are you?
Which one is me?
My blind roommate.
A kindly mirror.
Thank you gracious friend
Church campout marks a summer that has come, will soon be gone. Only a few weeks and school will start again. Here I am, sitting on the edge of summertime, at the edge of wild, sitting out of doors in blue collapsable chair at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. River passes by on one side, can’t be heard for the breeze that messes up the leaves above my head, grand mountains on the other. The wind, it hints at cooler days coming. And still no leaves have fallen. The kids whiz past me on scooters, bikes and feet. The couples pass by, a dog on leash, lazy like, they walk about, talking to each other. Some stop here and say a hello. Almost like we matter to each other. As if we do.
And then I stop the writing for she arrives. The girl on the edge, the wild one. The one whose internal stimuli keeps her lips forever moving, with no words. The searching eyes. The difficulty tracking a conversation for the ever-conversing voices in her head. I matter to her, I know I do, though she keeps me at bay, holds me at a distance, paranoia yanking her about to the ones who care for her most. She asks if she can join us early next morning for the hike. I don’t know if she will make it, it’s 10 miles round trip, an entire day of mountain-goat work. In morning we will see.
Sun comes up just now, camp mostly quiet, she arrives, pink cheeked and tentative. I want her to come along and still I think it’s too much. So do her voices. She backs out at last minute.
All day long I hike, me and my 8 year old Butterfly. Friends along too. All day long I climb higher and higher. Legs and lungs they work to move us along ridges, beside fields of flowers, tree tops and shifting stones. All day long, searching for bathroom among the hiding places. All day catching a glimpse of the sanity a mountain-top brings.
A hike to heaven and back, that’s what we do. End of day picked up by adored husband and lanky son of boredom. Down an hour of washboard road, we stop along the way to buy some ice cream for little miss who managed the 10 miles of all day. Back at camp, sticky peaches are my pick-me-up, and a hot shower to wash the layers of dirt off tired body.
It’s Sunday Morning. I’m in the park block-house freshening up again, the community place of washing. The place that smells of soap and mud. Caring friend comes in, too, looking rather tired. She sees me, needs just a minute to talk. Shares how the wild one we both love screamed terrifying into the night. Voices, forever the voices. Tired eyes tell of the many who gather in the night to pray as she struggled on. Said they had almost come to find me in the night.
I am sad. I hate the struggles of mental illness. Mind that convinces the tormented one that those who love her are not safe. Convinces mind that medicine is not safe. That doctors and therapists are not safe. Nothing we can do now. We say a prayer and off to outdoor church service.
Pastor is real. During service shares his struggles with depression. At one point in the sermon he asks all those who have experienced depression to raise their hands. A few raise their brave and vulnerable hands. Me too. While we sit listening to a sermon on mental health, just beyond the crowd sits a mentally ill girl, tent collapsed with all her belongings inside the tent. Caring friend comes and finds me again, tells me wild one is frozen in place, sitting criss-cross applesauce staring at tent full to the brim with no poles, caved in upon her things. I slip away with caring one, hoping to help.
Talking does nothing but make her lips move with no sound to match. When I tell her I can’t hear her, she shouts that she loves us and needs her space. I tell her “No rush, we don’t have to check out till afternoon, will help in any way I can, if you want me to help.”
There she sits, all through the sermon on mental illness. Still like death in front of downed tent. There my heart sits, beside her, but far across the expanse. After the sermon I find a friend who hurt for wild one, too. Sometimes we say “lets pray” with the thought that it’s not really doing anything. Our prayer beside handsome mountain, our prayer along wide river – the river we can’t hear for the noisy trees above us, we pray our prayer anyway – because God has good hearing. And as our prayer comes to a close, from a distance we see caring heart as she makes her way across the grass. She gets closer, we see the tears on her tired cheeks. She tells us what God did for wild one. He sent a small red headed boy, a boy much like the boys wild one once taught in Sunday School in days when her mind was well, to ask if he could help. And she let him. Together they set up the tent, emptied it out, packed up her things, packed up the tent, and she was righted enough to make her way back home again.
Here I am, sitting on the edge of summertime, at the edge of wild, sitting out of doors in blue collapsable chair at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. River passes by on one side, can’t be heard for the breeze that messes up the leaves above my head, grand mountains on the other. The wind, it hints at cooler days coming. And still no leaves have fallen. The kids whiz past me on scooters, bikes and feet. The couples pass by, a dog on leash, lazy like, they walk about, talking to each other. Some stop here and say a hello. Almost like we matter to each other. As if we do.
Today is laundry day. I’m rich.
I have more clothes than I can wear in a month.
I have a wash machine. Push a couple buttons, it does it all. Gently, and without shredding thin the garments.
I have a dryer – not a rope that hangs among the trees in our backyard.
I have a dresser to put stacks of pants and PJs in, drawers that shut just nice, and a closet.
I have a bug and moth free home, most of the time:)
An indoor sink with plumbing (ashamed to say, but 5 of them).
Sweet tap water for drinking down.
Barefeet cool on hardwood while I fold towels, pile up the socks and shake the shirts.
I sometimes complain about laundry. And why?
As a kid, it was bags and bags to the laundromat.
The generation before that, Grandma used a wringer washer.
Before that, hours at a time, hands in boiling water, washed in tub and on the board.
Great Great Grandma Amanda lost her soldier husband Peter in the Civil War. She had two little girls Margaret and Melinda to raise, alone. Despite the kindness of the extended family, nothing could be done to provide Amanda and the girls an easy life. At first, Amanda was a single mom with two small children. I can’t imagine tackling the wash, let alone having to track down enough wood to keep her little family warm, pack the water alone, manage it all, and grieve. The 1860’s were hard. The 1860’s life was even harder as a single parent no matter how effective the latest wash powder.
It was wintertime. Amanda’s youngest, Melinda made her way toward school. Up the steps in through the door, she removed her wraps. She was a tiny 4th-grade girl. Her feet still cold from the walk, she took her seat and waited for the teacher. In the hustle of morning-time, somebody bumped the teacher’s desk, the kerosene lamp swayed and toppled to the floor, shattering into pieces. When the teacher returned, she went into a rage. Who had done it? The students pointed to Melinda. The teacher rushed at her, grabbed hair, pulled her to the floor and bashed her head against the metal shoe scraper that sat beside the door. Repeatedly smashing Melinda’s head, the teacher ripped out handfuls of her auburn hair. The attack caused Melinda to go to bed, and remain there for over a year. She had difficulty reading and learning.
Melinda’s Father, a good man, had helped his brother through college before the war. After Peter died, his brother, Uncle Charlie as the family called him, decided to give back to Peter’s girls what had been given to him. Amanda’s oldest Margaret went to live with her uncle and family. She was given an education through college. This was in a day when most men were unable to attend college, and rarely a woman. Melinda stayed home with her Mother and Stepfather and learned to be a housekeeper and cook. No telling the tole the brain injury had taken, and the opportunities lost. Her education had stopped with the 4th-grade thrashing.
I don’t know how Melinda managed her life as a woman. How had she washed clothes, baked before sunrise, and through the long hot days? Had she managed to wash from her spirit what the Civil War had taken? Had she let wash away the brutality of a monster teacher – enough to raise four daughters and send them off to school each day? A young bride’s fear of marriage, honeymoon night hid in darkness under bed, husband finding her and pulling her out? Had she been able to scrub hard against the shame of being simple when husband was smart and able, educated, Justice of the Peace, blacksmith, Sunday School teacher, ran the theater and performed Shakespeare? Oh, did I mention his handwriting looked like art?
Some stains run even deeper. What did it take to get up and do another day with the guilt she carried – she too had allowed their 16-year-old daughter Grace to attend an evening Vaudeville play at the downtown theatre – on way home was raped by No-Name Vaudeville actor – left pregnant – Melinda’s oldest daughter’s fiance and his brother late of night tracked down the No-Name, a murder, a body thrown into the swirling darkness of the Missouri. Vigilantes left town for months – just in case. Small town. Questions asked. It was too much for capable talented husband. He walked away, too. For good. Too much for their daughter Grace. She fled to places far from home, except for a visit 40-some years later. The Grace they knew never did return.
Melinda, alone in Brownville to provide for her daughters was offered a job by a family friend to be the hotel cook, feeding the men who came down the Missouri on steamboats. Single parenthood in those days meant poverty. Melinda’s youngest, Muriel, told how she owned one dress for ever’day, one dress for good. She and her sister Alice and their Mother Melinda lived above the hotel. No electricity, no indoor plumbing, no toilet, tub or sink, no wash machine, no buggy, bike or car, no bug spray, I could go on but you get the idea.
The childhood injury referred to in those days as brain fever, left Melinda tired much of the time. Despite her deficiencies, she was a very hard worker. She was remembered for working well past exhaustion, insisting that everything be tidy, making the following day a new start. She didn’t let the hard things that had happened to her harden her. Brownville though rural was not all small-town loveliness. Prostitutes provided services for the men who came through. The townsfolk wouldn’t speak to the girls or have anything to do with them. Great Grandma Melinda reached out, they lived just down the street from where she was. Knowing there was talk in town of her visits with them, she did not let that stop her. She took the girls food. When they became sick – as they often did, she would tend to them. I suppose she had learned that life can either stain you hateful ugly or shine you. Muriel once asked her “Momma, how did you keep going?” Melinda thought a minute and then said “When there’s something that has to be done, God gives you the strength”.
For Grandma Muriel, the Wringer Washer was a huge improvement but still required handling every item. Wash was scalded clean, sent through the ringer over and over, then hung on a line for the breeze to toss about and the sun to brighten. Years before, she washed on the board for ‘rich folks’ leaning heavy over the hot tub for hours, hands all-day-long in abrasive brine and boiling water… one of the many ways she managed to make a living for her and her four children as her husband was out staining up the world, and eventually abandoned the family to his carefree ways.
Laundry day for Mom with all it’s update conveniences was still exhausting. For a couple years there, she had three babies in cloth diapers and plastic pants. And no wash machine. I call my sisters and I the Irish triplets. 3 girls in 2 1/2 years. I can not imagine. Mom was a teacher and had to grade papers when she wasn’t at the school. As my sisters and I got older we’d work the laundry together.
For all the laundry days
for times this life has rung us out
for the swirling darkness
the abrasive cleansing
hung out to dry
for all to see
we take our form
and find our place once more
It’s laundry day,
Early morning light, the words I’m reading give me a bit of a start.
“Then the entire council took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. … ,..Pilate sent him to Herod Antipas, because Galilee was under Herod’s jurisdiction, and Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. ….. Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Finally they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. (Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day.)” Luke 23:11 and 12.
Became friends that day?! Wow. A hate bond. Bonded by mutual wrongdoing, tearing the life of another to pieces – together. Bible now placed beside me, I stop still and frozen. I’ve felt it so many times. The collaboration of darkness, and the bond it forms. I guess I’ve never noticed it so boldly stated in the Bible.
It’s easy to spot this in the shadows – world of drugs. The lonely kid at school gets befriended by the users, and before long the lonely kid isn’t lonely anymore, and is also mostly gone, sucked into the vortex of death.
I’ve seen it in friendships. An irritation if I can’t add to the hate that’s being spewed. Friendship lost because she hates and I don’t. I’m thought to be not loyal.
In marriage, I’ve seen a bond of love that circles wagons around contempt toward a common hated other. I’ve heard it said “When they’re not commiserating, they’re not happy”
I’ve seen it in myself. With a certain someone, no matter how long it’s been since we talk, it’s the same go around, it’s what our friendship consists of.
I’ve seen it in churches. What unites the brothers and sisters is the eternal spy-glass fixed on sinful ways of ‘them’, of course much different from the ‘us’.
And today I think about what that behavior is. It’s hate attachment.
Carry each other’s burdens,
and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
How does bonding over hate allow for bearing the burdens of the ‘them’? Not possible. Love means I know what your burdens are and choose to love you anyway. It’s not easy. Especially when you bond with another by your hate for me, finding my faults, pointing them out at every turn. Nevertheless, Christ’s law requires that I bear your burdens.
What are your burdens? Truth is you don’t have to trust me for me to bear your burdens. I can simply lift up what I think I see in you… ask God to lessen your struggles, tell Him I can’t get close but want to love, even from a distance. God will honor that request.
Micah was a disliked fellow who had to say hard things for God. As Micah was writing down the list of despicable things the people of Israel had stooped to, God asked the people a question:
“My people, what did I do to you?
What did I ever do to make you tired of me?
Micah 6: 3
A heart breaking question from a God who felt the disconnect, and noticed the coldness the people felt toward Him.
If I were to answer for the people as I am one of the riffraff myself, I’d say “Oh God, I’m tired of you because I’m excited by everything that’s all about me. I most like the company of others who enjoy the self centered life I enjoy. You are good and kind and stand up for wrong, and do hard things, and, well, God, you are stodgy and a bore. You make me feel dirty and rotten and very lazy.”
A truthful answer to God, and grotesque. What I really want is to put my bond with God above my bond with power and popularity. I want to notice each time I start forming an attachment with evildoers – and have the courage to do an about-face, sprinting full speed toward beauty and love, not hate, no matter how misunderstood and lonely that about-face might be. Because God has done nothing to make me grow tired of Him but love me all my life long.
Ya, I’m one of those who says Grace.
In the cafeteria.
In a fancy restaurant.
And when I’m eating food alone.
To be honest with you, it’s always been a struggle for me to make it more than just something I rush through. I’ve tried to remember I’m talking to God when I rattle off “Dear Jesus, thank you for this food, Amen”. For a long time I’ve tried, rather unsuccessfully. Until just the other day….
There I stood, cart and I, far isle of Super Supplements. I had reached out to a number of fitness guru’s, asking their best advice on how to get well. A friend had told me about a product. There it was. I stood before it, silent but shouting a prayer out to God. “God, do I buy this stuff? Do you hear me? I need your help. You know if You don’t act, I’ll have another anaphylactic reaction. You know I can hardly eat a thing already, and now it’s reactions to grains, nuts, nightshades. Please, I’m down to greens and berries… had an anaphylactic to bone broth. God, don’t let this collagen cause a reaction.” As I stood there shaking and shouting in the silence, Peace showed up. And I knew. Almighty God, He is the only one who can make what I put in my mouth a blessing to me. With peace about it, I placed the product in my cart and headed for check out.
The Blessing, for me, has always been about thanking God for the food I eat. Thankfulness is good. I guess I just missed the part about the prayer being a request, asking God to bless what I’m eating. I realize this idea might be taken too far. “Lord, bless this Mega Big Gulp Red Bull and Onion Rings to the nourishment of my body.” On the other hand, some of us react to cashews and oatmeal. Prayers aren’t magic words that give us what we want. Prayers are heart cries. Laying out the case before God who already knows about the reactivity in a body, and knows what might help.
… asking God for what I don’t have
… asking for what I can’t get
… asking for what I don’t necessarily deserve
… asking for what I don’t know how to fix.
I’ll continue to eat my spinach, cabbage, my blueberries and collagen. I am fully aware I might become allergic to these at any time. And I ask that God’s Grace might alter the contents of every bite, making what I take in a blessing to my body. It’s no chore, to Say Grace. It’s life.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all his benefits.
Blessed be God, eternal king, for these and all his good gifts to us.
Psalms 103: 1,2