Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Advent Writings: Christmas night

All the stories start with Christmas morning. But what about the night?

I am a birthkeeper. I enter those spaces in the hours before and after birth, with reverence.

I know to keep the lights dim. A baby is new to the world. Eyes used to womb light, rosy in tone, are unsure about bright lights. The time is now, these hours of imprinting on mom’s face and dad’s voice.

Voices are low and singsong. Baby’s ears have heard these familiar sounds through the abdominal cushion. The startle reflex comes too easily, limbs out, eyes wide, head arched. We fold the arms and legs into the familiar, swaddling the wee one.

Smells are important too. The salty smell of amniotic fluid lingers on the skin. Vernix rubbed into soften, the new baby smell that Johnson & Johnson can never replicate. The baby follows the unique smell of the mother, able to pick out that one mom from a roomful by 24 hours of age.

Smells draw, and instincts follow, leading the baby to latch onto the breast. The golden milk, packed with goodness, drips out bit by bit. All this baby needs is here, unique for the gestational age, the perfect balance of protein and fat laced with sweetness.

And touch. Not the myriad of painful ways a baby encounters the world today. But gentle touch, reassuring this new one that the world is a safe space.

Was it like this, that holy night more than two millennia ago? One undisturbed birth, interrupted only by some sheep herders accustomed to dark and lonely quiet spaces.

It matters how we are born. It matters how we welcome new humans. And this more than a baby, welcomed as a caravan stopped for a government rule, deserved no less.

Oh Holy Night after.

The Advent Writings: holy ground

tonight I took off my shoes….

Sitting by the tree, I was studying herbs. Latin names swirled with the lights as I reached into my memory bank for their common English counterparts. Spanish names danced through, adding color and spice. Classes, and mechanisms of action, layered with properties and contraindications. The course goes back to old Materia Medica material, looking at ancient patterns of use. This rivaled my long ago nursing school pharmacology class! Where in the world did the notion of herbalists as some sort of back woods witch come from?!

The course also invites a stretch, exploring intuition and delving into story. To be a healer, a person must be a student of their own story. You cannot go where you have not gone yourself.

We watched “The Nativity” this weekend. It is a beautiful rendition of what might have been, woven with the well known threads of the story in the ancient texts. It gives permission for my imagination to wonder. As this young man ran through the town, wouldn’t someone have whispered the name of a local healer; a midwife or an herbalist? Where were the wise women? Perhaps not, as birth in its raw and natural state is most often powerful and safe. But there have always been those who honed their gifts. And in a small town, like an inner city Neighborhood, those women are called. I have gone to a woman’s house, unknown to me, with herbs to soothe or a simple syrup to calm. I have held a woman’s hand, gazing deep into her eyes and swaying in the ancient dance; and later learned her name when words returned. Who came alongside in this holy night, in space set apart by the raw power coursing through her body?

The movie also touches on the scandal. Whispers, eyes averted, the presence of absence. These things happen in small towns. My story was hushed, silence protected at all costs. Conservative circles share similarity with small towns.

The old songbook says that the rocks themselves will cry out…. I know that is true. Our very cells, scientists now know, carry cellular memory. Trauma, in particular, imprints in a bath of catecholamines embedded in sensory markers. Until the time is right, and the story births…

After the flight in the night, the refugee years in another country, they returned. Did the whispers begin anew? Small towns have long memories. Particularly around a scandal….

In the glow of the tree, as the firelight danced, conversation flowed with another young man. Teenagers need silent spaces to talk. Then another teen came and plopped down, wanting to share her writing. I looked down, and caught the outline of my Danskos kicked off under the tree. Maybe for a reason….

Perhaps this too, was holy ground. A space, set apart on a Monday, for the herbs and the wondering, teenage talks and the smell of pine.

The Advent Writings: this time next year

It must have been the onions.

As the knife sliced through the onions, dicing them for the soup and the latkes, tears came to my eyes. Hot and unbidden, they stung and stayed. I busied myself with the task at hand. We were celebrating the second Sunday of Advent, decorating the Christmas tree, and mixing in the end of Chanukah. We are a blended family, after all, Midwestern roots blend with Bolivian traditions, Mexican tamales, German sausage….and latkes. We honor all of our family story.

I reminded myself to breathe, and really noticed The song playing in the background.

I leaned over the counter, crying into the onions.

Last year at this time, we had just told the extended family we were moving. The awareness lent sharp colors to all the celebrations. The children played, trading a few comments about Oregon mixed with “Dude, no way…”. For the grownups, especially, there were more layers to Thanksgiving and Christmas. The awareness of coming loss makes the moments especially sweet.

And so we post pictures of the hunt in the forest for the tree, and latkes, and our giant lights for the festival of Light. And facebook people say “wow, it seems like you guys are doing really good.” Or in a phone call “you sound so chipper…”.

Yes. Yes and….And I am crying over onions.

One phrase began to swirl in my heart, shimmering there.

Let the spirit go with you.

Yes. Yes and…

There is grief.

And there is Spirit.

And my heart is big enough for both.

May the new year be blessed with good tidings
‘Til the next time I see you again
If we must say goodbye
Let the spirit go with you
And we’ll love and we’ll laugh In the time that we had
‘Til the season comes ’round again.”

Song by Amy Grant. Songwriters: John Barlow Jarvis / Randy Goodrum
‘Til The Season Comes ‘Round Again lyrics ¬© Universal Music Publishing Group

The Advent Writings: watching the star

Last night I watched a star. Round and amazingly bright, it did a dance with the evergreen that tried to hide its brilliance.

I watched the star for hours.

I am sick, 3rd in the family to succumb to a viral throat morphed into bronchitis… miserable combo. Any mom of littles knows, coughing is worse at night. So finally I gave up on sleep and sat by the fire, watching the star.

photo: The star at sunrise

There were some smart fellows that did that some years back. Most people thought they were crazy. You see, they loved to get up in the night and look at the heavens. (That’s an old fashioned word for the sky). Then, get this…they made an international, once in a lifetime trip not because it got a five star rating; but because of a star.

A star.

This star, it seemed, was unusual. It moved. All stars move, in a seasonal pattern. And the stars in the Southern Hemisphere are a whole different sky. I don’t know quite where they lived, in the East. But these smart folks knew this one was doing its own dance. They couldn’t figure it out.

And they followed it.

Okay. I am identifying with this part of the story more this year. I am following a dream; or more accurately, a disruption. I didn’t invite it, and I tried to make it go away. Instead of diminishing, it got bigger, welling up in the most unwelcome places. Wise women around me began to affirm that this was not my imagination. The star, in fact, was moving.

And so we came. The star went north, where the air is clear (cloudy actually) and the stars bright. The whole group of us. And now we wait, for a sign. (An acceptance to grad school actually. It’s like a long pregnancy…September to May).

And when they came…they worshiped.

This is so often quoted it can get cliché. But really, take the churchy voice out and think about it. What do you do when you have no idea what you are doing? How do you respond when you come close to Mystery?

You fall on your face.

And maybe that is worship.

Late at night, coughing my socks up, and watching a star.

My epiphany.

The Advent Writings: of biscuits and home

My mom loved making biscuits. It was the 70s, the era of shortcuts: Bisquik and Pillsbury crescent rolls. From a young age, I did the biscuits. I loved popping the roll of refrigerated dough, scaring my little brother with the “bang”. Mom taught me to tuck things into the rolls; cinnamon sugar and raisins or a pat of parkay. Then we would put 2 in a muffin tin for pull aparts, or roll then pencil thin for skinny breadsticks. Sometimes, we had pigs in a blanket, with tiny “smokies” If there was extra time we would roll out the bisquik dough, patting it and cutting circles with a drinking glass. I loved those biscuits.

Mom was hard to predict. Her choices to stay numb at any cost meant I was always left guessing. Often, quite early on, I was in charge of dinner. Dad often had guests over, from the Bible college or church. The joke was we would find out in Sunday’s church bulletin. Or the secretary to the president (Dad) learned to call and double check that mom knew. My mom would rush off to the grocery store, and leave me in charge of the baking for 50. I would gather the neighbor kids, put 1 or 2 in charge of each recipe, and supervise. “…stir that one a little more” or “add the chocolate chips now, and then you can lick the bowl after.”

Growing up in AZ, baking is a seasonal affair: October to April. Then came the curve ball, as 9 years ago my body asked that I go gluten free/dairy and egg free. (This may be linked to the food patterns described above from the 70s?!).

I stopped baking. I ate store bought gf bread which needs to be charred to a Melba toast texture to be palatable. It was a base for toppings, nothing more. Finally, my mother in law had compassion, working with a gf bread recipe from a bakery in OR until it was just perfect. Every other week she made me bread.

Then my daughter developed food allergies, adding rice and sesame and chia to the mix of taboos. (Side note here, all gluten free bread found in a grocery store contains rice). For awhile, all of my experiments failed. I stopped baking.

But, in this new season in the Pacific Northwest, I am trying out baking again. Crackers and biscuits, scones and muffins. More fails mean more patience is required. The rules have changed, as the ingredients have shifted. I am starting to catch on, and having more yummy successes.

Untangling trauma takes time and hard work. But as the process of redemption unfolds, there are glimmers of good in the mix. One of those nuggets from mom is my love for baking. For those who choose to enter the hard work of story, and pursue the healing that happens, there is much to release. But this is something I choose to keep of my mother’s legacy.

As I co-create generational change, with the help of God, I bake. In Mom’s honor, we had biscuits tonight for Advent. With jam. Not Smucker’s grape jelly, but Oregon marionberry jam.

And it was very good.

The Advent Writings: home

I have arrived.

I am home.

I am watching a documentary called “Walk with me”about a Buddhist monastery in France. This phrase from the wise teacher catches my attention.

When we first arrived in Portland, we needed to use GPS to go anywhere, even the post office. Afterward, I would use voice commands to say “Siri, go home“. Instead of mapping to our nearby basement apartment, I would look up to see a map that said “1001 miles to Home“. Tears came often, the hot stingy kind that never leak.

Sometimes I would talk to a friend, and inevitably the well-meaning question came. “Is it starting to feel like home?!” What in the world, my dad’s phrase, was not the one that came to mind, although the first word was the same. Swallowing my retort, I would say simply, “I think that will take awhile yet.” Forty years in the desert, literally, does not easily make this magical rain forest feel like home.

And so, as summer melted into the rains of fall, I began to play with this in my mind. What is home? Often my memories are sensory in nature, tied to smells and tastes, flickers of light or the feel of the sun burning into me. What if I tricked my kids, or even myself, on purpose?

I began to create ritual. As the days shortened, and the light changed, I would rise and light candles downstairs. I would start the fire (with the flip of a switch). I put warming oils on my palms, and breathed in the smell of ginger, or nutmeg, or cedar, or black pepper. I started the diffuser. I put on water for tea. I baked, almost daily. I made soups and stews so the house would smell good.

And somehow, imperceptibly, there were fleeting moments when it began to feel like home. Or, at least, to feel cozy.

And so I choose, this Advent, to embrace this space, the space between. I will choose to breathe in the smells, to savor the tastes. I will allow the loneliness to crash over me like a wave; and like a wave, recede.

Advent is about the waiting.

Advent is the space between.

Advent is breathing in the longing.

Advent is waiting for home.