Category Archives: Grief

My Ebenezer…

In Hebrew the meaning of the name Ebenezer is: Rock or stone of help. Famous bearer: the Old Testament Samuel gave the name Ebenezer to a stone set up in recognition of God’s assistance in defeating the Philistines.

Today we were given this Ebenezer, a very heavy exact replica of a huge look alike on the property of Neighborhood Ministries. The Ebeneezer on the property holds the prayers of children. Kids like those who will converge on the property tomorrow for Kid’s Club, 500 plus a hundred leaders. The stones there are the prayers, hopes, dreams, and unnamed pain and violence of their stories. It is a beginning for them, a naming. Even this small private act gives courage to name these raw things to a person. And we know that the words written on those rocks have been heard by “El Shama“, the God who hears.

But these rocks today were placed one by one by hands dear to us. This was our goodbye. Written on the rocks were words representing a prayer for us. Courage. Risk. Adventure. As each person passed by, they placed a stone. Before it was placed, there were long hugs, many tears, eyes locked in raw seeing.

Here in the desert, in this often overlooked part of Phoenix, we have shared life together. Overlapping three generations now, these thirty years. Neighborhood started as a simple act, really. What if one group of people committed to one distressed neighborhood in Phoenix, for the long haul? We were assigned to this fledgling ragtag group to “grow up” a little. True story.

Today looks a lot like family. Bio family was there, surrounding our boys with tears. Today is Father’s Day, often a day of pain for me. Family can be messy, and this group of people is raw and real. None of the in-the-box church here.

And so I am grateful. Grateful for words spoken, and for those left unsaid. Grateful for rocks held in hands full of love. Grateful that we can carry them with us on the road to Oregon.

I talked with my kids later about why Kit used the word Ebenezer. We had heard that word sung in an old song Come Thou Fount today, a change from the vibrant Spanish melodies.

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Hither by Thy help I’ve come

And I hope, by Thy good pleasure

Safely to arrive at home

My daughter recognized it, and sang thT verse. Then she sang another line and it sounded a bit different than the one I heard in my growing up years.

And my heart says yes. Yes, to the God who Hears. Yes, to the God who Heals. Yes, to the God who goes before and behind. Yes. May it be so.

Here’s my heart, oh, take and heal it

Heal it for Thy Home above.

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The gift of presence

Leaving is like a slow grief. As we leave this place we have put roots down in together for thirty years, there is pain. Actually, counting childhood, I have been in the desert for forty years. Not sure about the wanderings….

And so we gather with groups of folks we have loved. These are people, young and old and in between, whom we have done life with in raw, bold ways. And in those places I have an invitation before me. Do I dare to remain present? Am I willing to listen with my heart?

Part of me wants to bolt! (And this from an “extrovert”)!

There is something I am startled by in this season. I have “done” many things; written curriculums, facilitated groups, midwifed women, taught classes. These are not the things I am hearing back.

From the teen moms, now grown, the take away is simple. I greeted their babies and drew on their bellies (belly mapping a baby). Greeting babies, so common to me, gives connection to that little human. And I asked permission (may I touch you?). This is life changing for those of us who have been violated.

Not the curriculum, the knowledge, the program. The things that stick are put into words: respect, dignity, permission, voice. And I offered my eyes.

This theme I also heard from my journey-mates. “You gave me your eyes.”

What is that, the offering of eyes, of presence? It is an invitation.

I also hear that I invited story, that we created places that flowed from our own stories. It seems small, really, the inviting of story. But this is radical, revolutionary stuff. When I engage my story deeply, and wrestle with its pain, only then do I have the right to dive into story-waters.

This desert landscape has been the place of my deep wrestling. Everything I thought was true about me, and my childhood, has been exposed in the light. Layers upon layers have been stripped away, until I stood figuratively naked in the arid landscape.

It is only from this place that I have the privilege to hold space for stories to emerge.

These are things that I am invited to notice. I am going to a place, in grad school, where other things matter. Titles, letters behind a name, publications, position….

And in this season of goodbyes none of those things have been spoken once.

Eyes, presence, respect, story.

This is the invitation, to my heart. Am I willing to enter a new place and offer my eyes? Am I willing to be present, in that green and rainy land, to another? Am I willing to offer my story, to create safe spaces for stories to emerge? In a more scripted, techy birth environment, will I continue to ask permission, to honor the yes and no of a woman young or old?

I am listening.

Thank you for gifting me with your words.

Not the long goodbye yet…

I sat surrounded yet alone as a journeymate was honored. Her long goodbye came far too soon, it feels to me. She lived in a broken body, but her spirit was strong and vibrant. It pulsed and moved with life as multi-faceted as the flowers in her gardens.

Her life calls to a deep place in me.

I know something of broken bodies. Right now, mine is strong and almost supple. But always there is the awareness that it could change in a day.

I am reminded again tonight that all I have is this moment. This breath, this day…

I want to hold my kids, in their teenage push-pull, a little longer than is comfortable.

I want to speak truth. Not the truth/beauty/goodness kind but the real deal. The messy, cut the cliché, truth. The kind that cuts through to harsh realities with grace.

I want to co-create safe spaces; in my home, in my world. Spaces with food that reflects artistry. Spaces where conversation flows like water.

I want to be present. Today.

It’s not the long goodbye yet.

Letting go

This place has sheltered us for 24 years. We entered it as young parents, with a toddler. Our ideas of parenthood and life were clear and strong. We were leaders, planting in the inner city. Everything was in a neat box, tied with a bow.

And so this has been in place of learning, and of letting go. The process of unraveling has occurred here. Much pain has been revealed. There has been an invitation to continue to live into the space. To continue to live into the stories of our growing up years, and the growing up happening right in our house. That is a painful road.

It has been a place of joy. Countless birthday parties, Easter egg painting, games of “ha!”, and cooking experiments galore. Five of our kids have grown up here largely. They are desert kids. We have learned how to blend of family. We have learned to love here.

And so the invitation comes to step out. We say and we hope that we will be back to this desert, to this city, full of people we love. But much is unknown.

What is known is that someone steps out with us. And in that knowledge, into the swirling mist we go. But we do not go alone.

And so far this place, we ask that it would be found by someone who would need a space of refuge. A place to call home. A place for the heart. Perhaps, in it’s very walls, lies the courage and the invitation to go farther in and farther up.

May it be so.

I am not alone

Sitting at neighborhood this morning, I felt waves of emotion. The reality is hitting me. I am leaving this community where I have woven into the lives of now the third generation of this Neighborhood.

How do you begin to form a community in a new place? I know that it starts by being willing to open my heart. And then, the risk is, I don’t know where the journey will lead.

But that is the only way. The reality is, that’s community. I have to be willing to enter with my story, to listen to the stories of others. And it is in this sacred space of story that the bonds began to form.

I am in the midst of the grief, of goodbyes yet to come in the move and now the long goodbye to my dad.

And so this morning the song washed over me.

I am not alone. I am not alone. You will go before me. You will never leave me.

And my heart says yes. This is truth.

It stands in stark contrast to the cry of evil that resonated through my childhood; you are alone.

Truth says, I am.

I will go before you.

You are not alone.

Listen to the song Here

The Lenten Writings: a time to speak

“You can tell the people that if they proceed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully , they will realize that they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish.

The church would betray its own love for Good and its fidelity to the gospel if it stopped being a defender of the rights of the poor, or a humanizer of every legitimate struggle to achieve a more just society … that prepares the way for the true reign of God in history.

When the church hears the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises.” (The Church is the people by Oscar Romero).

There comes a time when to be silent is to participate in the violence, the hiddenness.

The wise man of old said the now famous words, “there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.”

There is a movement taking place.

We watched the #MeToo campaign sweep our news feeds last fall. It gave voice to women, and men, who had experienced sexual abuse. It was a conversation starter, naming sexual harassment and sexual verbal abuse for what it is; sexual abuse.

Someone started a #ChurchToo hashtag; and slowly, the silence is beginning to break. What about the Church and sexual abuse? The Catholics led the way, perhaps not by choice. But the Protestants, known historically for protesting injustice from within, have largely been silent.

And so now we see a movement sweeping the country #SilenceIsNotSpiritual. It started with a statement. It is continuing with story. #LentenLament gives voice to the grief, which is right and good.

When girls are not safe in their homes, when boys are not safe in their churches, when women think workplace abuse is “the way it is”, when men perpetrate rape culture….

It is time to lament.

How are you breaking the silence?

How might you be invited to share your story?

What codes of silence are still being kept in your circles?

In your faith community?

It is time to speak.

This is my story. In my home. In my faith community.

I am speaking out.

How about you?

The Lenten Writings: Jesus and the disinherited

The disinherited will know for themselves

that there is a Spirit at work in life and in the hearts of men

which is committed to overcoming the world.

It is universal, knowing no age, no race, no culture and no condition of men.

For the privileged and the under privileged alike,

if the individual puts at the disposal of the Spirit the needful dedication and discipline,

he can live effectively in the chaos of the present the high destiny of a son of God.

High Destiny, by Howard Thurman. From the Lenten Poetry companion, neighborhood ministries.

I was first introduced to Howard Thurman in the Mystic Activists. His book, Jesus and the Disinherited, was our focus this fall for a month. It was not enough time to do it justice. But I am learning that theology must come from the bottom up.

We are in a focused time of prayer for our Dreamers. Tomorrow is the deadline for a permanent solution for these children, now grown, who were brought to the states before age 5. They are woven into the very fabric of our culture and society. They are our teachers, they are in nursing classes and serving in our Armed Forces. Dreamers work in every service profession. And they live in a constant state of uncertainty. They never know when their permission could be suddenly gone. And so, quite literally, would they.

The challenge of Scripture must also be read from the bottom up. This is who Jesus hung out with, which often earned harsh criticism from the powers that were in place. The validity and application of Scripture is only as significant as its application to the lowest among us. In fact, when we understand Scripture in this manner, we also see ourselves in that same way. We are the they, living in the most need and desperation.

It is only from this reading of Scripture that we can form a compassionate response to any issues of justice. Literally, the word for compassion with passion or with feeling. Compassion comes when I am moved in my innermost self by the pain of another. I must choose to enter the story. And today, the story is that of our dreamers.

I would ask you today to stand in prayer for the dreamers.

#PrayForDreamers

The Lenten Writings: Mercy

To lie back under the tallest oldest trees. How far the stems rise, rise

before ribs of shelter

open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete sentence too adequate, has no give.

Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of stony wood beneath lenient

moss bed.

And awe suddenly

passing beyond itself. Becomes a form of comfort.

Becomes the steady air you glide on, arms

stretched like the wings of flying foxes. To hear the multiple silence

of trees, the rainy

forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,

as salt water would hold you,

once you dared. To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself unabating down and down

to clenched fists of rock. Swiftness of plunge,

hour after year after century,

O or Ah uninterrupted, voice

many-stranded.

To breathe spray. The smoke of it.

Arcs

of steelwhite foam, glissades

of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—

rage or joy?

Thus, not mild, not temperate, God’s love for the world. Vast

flood of mercy

flung on resistance.

To Live in the Mercy of God, by Denise Levertov

Mercy.

Joy. Rage.

Wild. Thunderous.

Is this what I want when I ask for mercy for me?

When I pray for a friend whose heart is breaking?

When I ask that truth be brought to light?

Mercy.

The Lenten Writings: not yet…

Beginners

Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,

Hope and desire set free,

Even the weariest river

Winds somewhere to the sea—“

But we have only begun

To love the earth.

We have only begun

To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?

— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?

— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,

only begun to envision

how it might be

to live as siblings with beast and flower,

not as oppressors.

Surely our river

cannot already be hastening

into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot

drag, in the silt,

all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet—

there is too much broken

that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other

that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know

the power that is in us if we would join

our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must

complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

~ Denise Levertov ~

(Candles in Babylon)

So much is unfolding that must complete it’s gesture…

I am in a place of unfolding. The unfolding of things that are new, much of which is unseen at this time.

The unfolding also means a closing.

Why is it that grief enjoy so often go hand-in-hand?

This poem is haunting.

We have only begun to imagine justice and mercy…

At Neighborhood, we swim in rivers where we talk about justice. And sometimes, in the river, The current threatens to pull us under. The fight for justice is real. It has faces. It has stories. It is salty with tears.

And then in the invitation to step into new arenas, the questions remain, hanging in the air.

Not yet, not yet–there is too much Broken that must be mended.

Source: Levertov, Denise. “Beginners” from Candles in Babylon. New York: New Directions, 1982.

From the Lenten Poetry Companion, Mystic Activists, Neighborhood Ministries.