Category Archives: Suffering

In the emptiest of places…

Politics aside, there is a dire need today to fight for justice for those who have no voice. A well kept secret is that God plays favorites. The immigrant, the poor, the stranger among us are mentioned more than 2000 times in Scripture. 

Folks are setting aside the next 24 hours to pray and fast. It’s not about whether you eat food or not. Isaiah 58 throws that idea in the mud.  I would invite you to sit with these ancient words today and see what stirs…

58 1-3 “Shout! A full-throated shout!

    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!

Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives,

    face my family Jacob with their sins!

They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,

    and love studying all about me.

To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—

    law-abiding, God-honoring.

They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’

    and love having me on their side.

But they also complain,

    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?

    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

3-5 “Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.

    You drive your employees much too hard.

You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.

    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.

The kind of fasting you do

    won’t get your prayers off the ground.

Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:

    a day to show off humility?

To put on a pious long face

    and parade around solemnly in black?

Do you call that fasting,

    a fast day that I, God, would like?

6-9 “This is the kind of fast day I’m after:

    to break the chains of injustice,

    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,

    free the oppressed,

    cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

    sharing your food with the hungry,

    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,

    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,

    being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,

    and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

    The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.

    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.”

9-12 “If you get rid of unfair practices,

    quit blaming victims,

    quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

If you are generous with the hungry

    and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,

    your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

    I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—

    firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden,

    a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,

    rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,

    restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,

    make the community livable again.

13-14 “If you watch your step on the Sabbath

    and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,

If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,

    God’s holy day as a celebration,

If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’

    making money, running here and there—

Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!

    Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.

I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”

    Yes! God says so!

The Message (MSG)

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When hello means goodbye

Holding space tonight for the babies gone too soon. Sometimes hello means goodbye.

Sometimes the baby is taken before it’s life is even known. Sometimes others make choices for wee ones. Sometimes we don’t even get to say hello. Sometimes there is no space or time for goodbye. Sometimes we are asked to love a baby not knowing for how long what the end of the story will be. Sometimes there are no tears left to come. 

This concludes pregnancy and infant loss month. I have entered spaces of grief often this month, my own and others. My heart aches for my baby gone before I could know her. And for a mother who buried hers today. I hold space for a family who has been mourning for a long while. And for another whose baby changed us all. For a family daring to love without guarantees, just to bathe a baby in love. 

In the middle of Halloween and elections, may there be space for quiet remembering and loud grief.

Death screams. 

And we will never be the same. 

The dark night 

Today I am thinking about a friend walking through her own dark night of the soul.  I am thinking about how suffering marks us. It takes us deeper in.  

She  will not emerge the same. There is grief in that at times, and a sense of being “apart.” It can also be lonely. I often feel that acutely when I am in a social situation. There is a sense that I have spent long stretches of time cocooned with a Presemce. It can make it hard to “small talk.”

And there is beauty. Richard Rohr says suffering  can launch  you into the second half of life, early. Not in terms of chronological age, although some days it may feel like that. But where new tasks await and the old containers no longer serve. (Falling Upward). There is a clarity, a sense of vision, that influences even the smallest “yes and no” choices. 

There are some unknowns on my road ahead; far more questions than answers. I hold all of that uncertainty in my stomach. It feels tight, like someone gave it a quarter turn. I check my body for feelings, because I learned early on in my recovery process that my body tells the truth. Grief, sadness; that’s what sits in my stomach. I want desperately to claw for control. I slow my breathing, turn on the sparkly copper strung lights. 

And so I fold the clothes for a ten year old, halving and smoothing with Waldorf-like rhythm. Suffering opened this gift; I used to fold and listen to a podcast or talk on the phone. Double tasking is the American way, right?  Until you can’t. Usually not by choice. And when the ability comes again, I can choose. I can keep the rhythms slow, meditative. Feel the fabric, marvel at the way a ten year old slides through knees. 

Because this is the time. 

There is no other 

I have this moment. Today. 

For tonight. 

So many nights right now hold more questions than answers. Sleep beckons, then eluded capture. Thoughts and feelings tumble over each other for center stage. 

So what is true?  What is true for tonight is the Presence. It is both not enough and more than enough. 


I remember early in my recovery process in 1998 night times were terrifying. Memories often came back at night, and there was no way to know what new truth might come into full knowing. The brain works that way, processing trauma as it heals. I often would fall asleep to Fernando Ortega: Jesus King of Angels. The words washed over me, allowing me to surrender and sleep. 

So for tonight a bedtime prayer:

🌛the peace of God be over me to shelter me, 🌜under me to uphold me, 🌙about me to protect me, ⭐️behind me to direct me, 🌟ever with me to save me. 💫The peace of all peace be mine this night. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

The art of patience. 

Just for the record, I don’t have this. I was raised to figure it out, get things done, think it through, try harder. All of those well honed skills of my Baptist childhood are not serving me right now.

Healing  takes time. There are lovely supportive modalities, acupuncture and craniosacral, oils and chiropractic and reiki.  I do them, gratitude brimming for gifted practitioners. They help to support the body’s natural healing process; but nothing can rush it.

Today was a day of trying to figure it out. And after all my best efforts, it didn’t do it. If I could have the ability to do something by the sheer force of my will, I would be doing many things. It doesn’t work. 

Tonight it was a concert for the children. My brain was glitching, as my middle schooler says. More descriptive than “post concussive syndrome”. A little loss perhaps, in the grand scheme of things; but a little loss in a long string of losses.

And so, for tonight, I’m giving my brain permission to rest. Healing brains like rest; not the sleeping kind, but the kind that pulls down the stimulation and external noise and light. 

The problem is, much of the noise comes from inside me.  So for tonight, I ask for quiet to seep into my very cells. 

  Psalm 130

I pray to God… My life a prayer… And wait for what he’ll say and do. My life’s on the line before God, my Lord. Waiting and watching til morning. Waiting and watching til morning.  


 

These hands 

You have no business catching babies.”

These words, spoken by a doctor this week in about 20 different ways, have haunted me. This is the second Doctor who has made grave proclamations about my midwifery practice and my hands. 

What do they picture when those words are uttered? Sitting on a stool with the mom up in stirrups, gloved hands in the air? Do they imagine some sort of intense hand maneuvers?

Perhaps they do not picture quiet waiting by candlelight. Maybe they don’t see the mom reaching for her own baby? How can they sense the deep stillness with the only sound being the movement of the water in the birth pool. 

In this place, this holy ground, hands are still needed. But they are gentle hands. 

I was privileged to hold space to welcome a baby last night. Another midwife was there, for the strong hand movements if needed. An apprentice brought her strong and capable hands. And so we held this vigil together. A vigil for the new baby, joining us earth side. We held space in our hearts for another baby born three years ago on this night who we knew could not live outside the womb. And there was a tender knowing that the space was also sacred tonight for these hands of mine, healing still. 

No doctor can imagine what it means to be a midwife in a home. The most empathetic practitioner falls short in picturing this holy work I am called to.

It is not a business; I do not need a work release. It is a calling. And so I listen for the Spirit; for the yes and for the no.  And I am encircled by my sister Midwives, Who protect me in this fragile work of healing.  They bless these hands. 

No one knows the journey ahead. Perhaps I live more aware of that and than some. But for today, this knowing is enough. I have stood again in that space where the veil between heaven and earth is so thin it shimmers. 

  
And to this holy work I offer my hands; broken, and healing. 

These hands. 

(Picture used with permission)

The gift of pain

I believe Pain is a gift. I have lived many years with pain as a journey companion. As a child, growing up with rheumatoid arthritis, I learned many tricks for dealing with pain.
Now, since the car accident, I have not experienced pain or feeling in my arm for 3 1/2 months. The impact of the airbags saved my life; but they broke a bone in the hand and elbow and damaged the nerves.
I grew up with a mom who avoided pain at all costs. As her pain increased, body and spirit, the pain meds required began to rule her. And the cost of that was high for those around her, as addiction always demands a price. She gave me the only gift she had, the skill of going away, in order to survive the violence of nighttime. My work now is to lean into staying present.
In a different context, we learn from our brothers and sisters with leprosy, or stroke, or neuralgia that pain is a gift. Without it, skin breaks down and unnoticed injury destroys the body.
In the church, pain appears to be an enemy. We pray for God to take it away, and sing about the day when that will occur. The longing underneath is right and good, that desire for shalom to be restored. But where is the theology of suffering?
I had pain yesterday! I was so excited I did a happy dance. I felt something in my elbow, which is healing, and went and looked in the mirror. It was swollen. It worked! The pain feedback loop worked! The message came through.
This opens all sorts of possibilities. Physical therapy has been on hold because I cannot tell if I do too much. With pain, I can hear my body’s stop signal.
Last week, I felt a Drop of water on my hand. Sounds exciting doesn’t it? But it has been 3 1/2 months since I have felt that sensation. Nerves wake up in funny ways: heat, cold, pins and needles, like a leg you have been sitting on for too long. I feel more of those things now, the arm awakening after a long winter’s sleep.
And so I ask…
To hear my body talk.
For the gift of pain.

Lenten writings: changing times

My advent ran into Easter! Three months into rehab from the car accident seems long. A year is the projection, for the nerve in the arm and for the concussion. The broken bones are strengthening. Soft tissue damage takes longer, but my arm is out in the open. 

  
Today is Easter. Breakfast in the garden at Hope House, followed by baptisms. On Good Friday, Neighborhood walked the paths of Canaan in the Desert, listening to Kit narrate the story of Jesus’ last days. A weekend made for me; natural light, evening and morning. After a long period of isolation, it is so good for my spirit to remember that I am deeply rooted in the very fabric of community. 

And this journey, this week; remembering another journey so long ago. Yesterday impacted me the most. Saturday, the day we know the least about in Holy Week.  Bits and pieces in Sxripture suggest much was moving in the places unseen. Sounds like another time in the void, where the Spirit of God, the Ruach Elohim, the great wind, moved over the face of the waters (Genesis 1). 

And now Jesus. Moving in the darkness, in the chaos, in the places unseen. Bringing life, hovering, calling forth, stirring. The Street Psalms community came to neighborhood. Kris Rocke challenged us to look for Spirit in the midst of chaos. 

This has been a time of crisis for our family, a chaos in the aftermath of the accident. I am curious then, in the light of Easter, to look for Spirit. 

The Ruach Elohim. 

Here. Now. In me. 

Lenten writings:  Joy coming 

“Joy releases love and compassion. The joy comes at times when you are needing relief. It comes when you are overcoming. And it brings hope.”

  (John Perkins, Neighborhood Ministries, 3/6/16)

“How are you?”  People greet me with this question all the time. “I am here”  is my answer. And that is enough. 

How do I explain that I am in a season of healing and strengthening. There is not day to day or even week to week change. I can see month to month change, perhaps; as I look back from the perspective of week eleven. Nerves take time to regenerate. Concussions take time to heal. Bones take time to knit. Ligaments take time to strengthen. 

Time. 

“I have time.”

I say that often right now. Time to listen, time to pray, time to reflect, time to be still, time to envision. 

And that is enough for today. Enough to see the sunset changing its hue from my porch. Enough to watch the sparrows scratching in last year’s leaves in the morning light. Enough to hear the resonant snores of a pug. 

Enough time. 

Enough joy. 

Because it comes, John Perkins says. It comes when I am needing relief. It comes when I am overcoming. It comes. And it brings hope. 

Lenten writings: life 

I wonder, for you, what is life giving?  And what is life depleting?

Life giving right now looks like:

  • Walks to the canal with a pug
  • Coloring intricate patterns
  • The glow of the salt lamp
  • Hot tea
  • A tiny lunchbox of fruit/nuts
  • Listening to Adrian’s poem
  • Photos from Turkey
  • A box from Oregon
  • Stories of school
  • Cooking fresh CSA greens
  • Phoning in to the Mystics
  • Acupuncture, craniosacral
  • Chiropractic, reiki
  • A friend sitting in the parlor
  • Desert blossoms

Life depleting realities:

  • Being alone day in & day out
  • Not tolerating sunlight
  • Fluorescent lights
  • Doctors, doctors, doctors
  • Clocks
  • Predictions or prognosis
  • One handed folding clothes
  • No driving
  • Far away friends
  • Missing feeling mama bellies
  • Neurologists
  • An arm that can’t feel pain

As my own tank gets drained with this second list, I must choose.

What do you choose today during Lent…the long journey to life?