Category Archives: Grief

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: 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.

Becoming an activist

I think I am becoming an activist. I think I already am one, changed bit by bit.

The voices I am listening for are the voices of dissent.

The faces I am searching out are the ones unseen.

The stories I am longing to hear are those unspoken.

We are new here.

New to this land of trees and green.

New to sweatshirts and handwarmers.

New to farmers markets that close by October.

How do I find these voices and faces and stories?

The first thing we unpacked was this “Ebenezer”. An ebenezer is not a name for Scrooge, or a song by a British group. Literally, it means “stone of help”, from the story where Samuel set up a stone to remind Israel of a battle victory over the Philistines.

This Ebenezer is heavy; full of stones of remembering. The full size one lives at neighborhood Neighborhoodministries.org. The stones there tell the anguish and violence, hopes and dreams of the children in one distressed neighborhood in Phoenix. It is a place to stand, to be still, to hold space. It is often surrounded by laughter and running feet.

The stones of our Ebenezer were held one by one. They contain the prayers and love and hope and grief of the community we came from. The words were spoken to us, with eyes locked, at our goodbye.

We were deeply embedded there, in that neighborhood.

Here, in this new neighborhood, I look the same but often feel so very different.

And so this object went up first, on unpacking day, by the fireplace. (Another new thing to discover)! First, because I need to remember who I am and where I came from…

And tonight, as I listen to the wind rustle the leaves and feel the August coolness wafting through the open window, I remember…

I am held. I am loved. I am known….

in my listening, in my searching, in my longing.

And it is from this place my passion flows.

(this poem stirred me tonight, its heart cry quoted from memory by Rev. Dr. Paula Williams, a national trans advocate who shared her journey at Christ Church Portland). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q36x3x7jUSc&app=desktop

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

(By Mary Oliver)

In the middle

Life in the middle….

How often do we talk about that with honesty? Facebook shows lovely photos and Instagram a pithy phrase.

I am in the middle. The middle of all the details that make up a move: proof of address and waiting for keys to a place and new tags and new grocery stores and schools.

Culture shock, we learned in college, is made up of a myriad of tiny jolts. Each one is insignificant by itself, but together they add up. Soon the person rips between loving everything about the new place and people to hating it all. Somewhere, on the other side of the turmoil and grief brought by change, is acceptance.

That is true for me here too. I look the same. I speak the language. I have maps. I blend in.

But I am feeling the strangeness all the same. I am not used to being in a sea of white. The sound of English all the time is jolting to my ears, used to the melodic rhythms of Spanish. I am experiencing symptoms of HDD (Hug Deficit Disorder).

And in the moments between there are flashes of goodness. Walking into a Birth in the middle of the night I feel utterly at home. I know this space, this language without words.

Slowing down my raving thoughts, I notice. I notice a red breasted bird, a squirrel, a pine cone, a butterfly. The “detestable to do list”, it’s actual name, stops ticking off in my head.

And for a Moment all is well. A cup of tea, a space shared with a new friend, blackberries from backyard bushes… the limbo chatter in my head is stilled.

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.

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?