running to stand still

wp-1469413762554.jpgI don’t quite know what to do with myself at the moment. For the past month or so, I feel like I have been running non-stop. I’ve alternated things that bring me laughter and joy with not-so-fun doctor’s appointments, scans, tests, and results. I’ve been working extra hours at my day job and spending my spare moments helping with the Grey Havens summer camp plans and other volunteer business, in addition to trying very hard to exercise even more than I already did.

I’ve been running fast. And now it feels like I can stop for a while, but I don’t know what to do. My next check-up is in a couple weeks, and then a kidney specialist visit in a month, and I have to schedule another scan…but I can’t do that right now, and even when I do it will have to be for a couple more weeks out. I am waiting. I know that I have polycystic kidney disease, and thankfully so far nothing else, unless that next scan proves otherwise…but I still don’t yet know what this all means for my future. Right now, I am taking my medication, exercising, and waiting to see what comes of it…

Today, my family is pre-occupied, and my love is at home getting ready for his work week, and I am physically alone. It’s quiet outside, almost too quiet, but I wish it were quieter in my mind. I woke up early today and held my love close as my mind kept racing and racing. I’ve already exercised, twice, today. I’ve cleaned, I am cooking, but I can’t help feeling like I am supposed to do something else. I’ve been running so hard that I’ve forgotten how to just be still— and that it is perfectly okay to just be, by myself.

I know I’ve been reserving my moments of pleasure and relaxation to spend them with my love, but that doesn’t mean I can’t relax and do nothing for an afternoon by myself, right? I’m so very hard on myself. I need to just let myself be, and be alone, and rest. I don’t want to be afraid anymore. I’ve been so afraid for weeks that I don’t know how not to be afraid anymore. I am thankful that I have people in my life who help me to pull me out of this and lead me to think positively.

However, now that I am alone… I’ve tried to read; I am reading five different books. I’ve tried to watch tv; I’m watching about five different shows. I can’t slow down long enough to get absorbed into one of either of them. I want to so badly. Sometimes, it feels almost like the first year of grief all over again.

And yet, sometimes I can experience the most ecstatic joy– and a love that makes me wonder how it’s even possible to be filled with this much of it, a light so bright. I’m so glad I have that, but of course that comes with the fear of losing it. But I must push that aside (perfect love casts out fear) and enjoy the now. Yoga has helped me to think of the now; if only it were as easy to take that focus and serenity off the mat… I do love catching this echo of the Divine in the now, in human love, in natural beauty, in knowing my own body.

I know this post is all over the place. I am even typing it as I cook dinner– I can’t even commit to doing one thing at a time. But hopefully the days will get better and not worse; hopefully, I can learn to create a new normal, just as I have after losing my mom, and then my dad. This chronic disease does not have to define me. Let me go, ‘cuz you are just a shade of what I am, not what I’ll be. I want to hold on to the hope I tried to grasp in my last post. I want to do great things with the time that is given to me, but I also want to just be still– to enjoy the resting, to be okay being by myself, to reconnect with God, and to breathe, to listen and connect to the rhythm of the universe.

I am still thankful. I am thankful for the amazing friends and family in my life, for a decent job working with compassionate people, for a volunteer position that changes young lives, for doggy cuddles, for love, for today. I will try to be thankful for the quiet, for these words, for the darkness too. Let there be light.IMG_1552

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scary, stubborn hope

I am starting to get a little nervous when I make grand public proclamations of hope, because it always seems to be after those moments that something earth-shattering happens.

Thanks to Facebook Memories, I can now see that exactly one day before my dad suddenly fell into a diabetic coma and was rushed to the emergency room where he took his last breath, I wrote this on my status: “My cup runneth over.”

wp-1467665127939.jpgI don’t know what to do with that. Part of me can’t help but feel really, really bitter. Another part of me wonders if it’s some strange prophecy of hope. That even in the midst of all this sorrow, my cup can still runneth over, right? I’ve certainly noticed blessings, of course. And I have seen a wild new life grow from such tragic death that I never would have seen otherwise. But isn’t it also just a kick in the gut?

It’s so strange now because I don’t feel I have the faith I used to proclaim. I don’t know exactly what I believe anymore. I don’t know what to make of that statement. But I breathe, and I sit, and I try to still myself, to connect with my Creator, to keep my eye on the center.

Last week, I wrote a blog post over at Grey Havens YA, part of that new life I was talking about. I wrote about Gandalf’s quote in The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo laments of his burden and wishes all the darkness had never happened. Gandalf says, “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. … All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” It’s a wonderful thought, as most Tolkien quotes are. I wrote about how even in the midst of dark times, I have chosen to do something that brings light to the world. Those young adults blow me away every time and make me so glad that I chose to spend my time with them, that I could turn the shadows of my past into something beautiful.

A few days after that proclamation of hope, a new shadow swept in: I suddenly learned that I inherited polycystic kidney disease from my mother. It means that I have cysts on my kidneys that may eventually stop them from functioning properly. Some people have this disease all their lives and never notice a problem. Others have to be on dialysis or get a transplant. I don’t know what it’ll look like for me, so I’m hesitant to say much. I don’t even know what stage it’s at yet or if there’s something worse on my left kidney. I have more tests and appointments to find out, and it’s all quite unnerving. There’s a problem in my body that I don’t even feel, and that I did nothing to cause, and that I can’t do anything to change…

wp-1467665105059.jpgWhile I still don’t know what to do about my 2013 proclamation that “my cup runneth over,” I do know that I want to hold on to Gandalf’s advice, to decide what to do with the time that is given to me. I don’t know what that time may look like going forward. It may be full off appointments and medication and drastic diet changes, but I hope that it will also be full of laughter, love, and work that makes a difference.

Today has been given to me, all the time of my life has been a gift. I cherish it. I try not to worry about how many more I’ll get or if those days will be good or bad; it’s about what I do with the time, and I can make it good. I want to believe that I am strong, and that I can endure, and hopefully that I can see the glory reflected backwards at journey’s end.

I hope that this hope doesn’t come back to bite me. I’ve got to believe in the light somehow, some way, and I’ve got to write about it for my own sake. I have to put the positive thoughts in writing, otherwise they’ll just slip out of my brain. I hope I can return to this when I’m feeling dark and not let it turn me bitter. Let light guide me… <3

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Thin Places

wpid-20150923_201246.jpgI went to a Celtic-inspired church celebration of the Autumnal Equinox tonight. It was called Ait Caol, which translates from Gaelic to mean, “A Thin Place.” I’ve been slowly drawn more and more to Celtic spirituality after my last trip to the Labyrinth, a labyrinth created by this particular church. I like the artwork and the designs, the symbolism, the connection to nature. I like contemplation and sacred space. I saw an advertisement for this church’s equinox service and thought I’d check it out. It was the first church service I had been to since Easter, and it was quite nourishing. This post will be a sort of stream of consciousness of my experience there. I’ll link to pasts posts as I write, because my experience this first night of Autumn has reminded me of my first Fall in Colorado, of the hope I held onto then, the I hope I need again.

Thin places… To me, thin places have always been scary: High up in the mountains where the air is thin, you may be closer to the heaven, but it’s harder to breathe. Thin places remind me of suffocation. They remind me of the small space of breath between death and life. Ait Caol is supposed to mean a time when heaven and earth come so close together that only “a thin space” separates them.. perhaps that’s still the same thing.

Tonight, I thought about Autumn. I thought about the Harvest, about this transition time between joyous thanksgiving for the bounty of before and steadfast preparedness for the darkness ahead. How the same God brings both light and dark, creation and destruction, life and death… I’ve always been fond of Autumn, but in the last two years it has struck a deeper chord with me, and perhaps all this time I’ve been noticing the thin place without being able to name it.

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I thought about lighting a candle while the dark tries to creep in through the windows. One small flame will stand against the dark. A Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot will not, shall not, overcome it.

“We invite you to celebrate this bittersweet time by being fully present in the now,” the bulletin says.

wpid-20150923_201329.jpgTonight, I thought about Communion. If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’ll know I’m fascinated by the “big medicine and strong magic” of Communion. I’ve written about how eating the bread of Communion as my first meal of the day taught me more about the satisfaction of the bread of life. I’ve written about how drinking real wine taught me more about the surging power of the blood of Christ. This year, I got to receive Communion from a dear friend during a dark time. Tonight, the church gave Communion to each other.

We knelt at the altar in the middle of the room and passed the bread and the wine to one another. We each heard from one neighbor and said to the next, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” I knelt next to two complete strangers, but they were my sisters. It was so beautiful, so pure, so holy.

They read a psalm (126) that mentioned the Negev desert, and I was transported back to Israel in my mind. The desert helped me connect with such symbolism five years ago, and it still helps me to better understand the psalmists today. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like watercourses in the Negev.” Watercourses in the Negev-what an absurd notion! What a miracle! What life-giving power such miraculous streams would bring to that devastated desert… “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.”

A beautiful, meditative, spiritual space. I am thankful. If anything, tonight helped to remind me of where I’ve found those thin places before, of that space between death and life where, instead of despairing, I found hope – the candle against the darkness, the beauty of the dying sun. I want to dwell in the thin place.

Two.

IMG_1193A lot has happened over the past two years

I caught myself saying it had been “three” years the other day, I suppose that’s how much time blurs after grief burrows inside your heart and settles down for the long haul. I used to meticulously count the months, now I imagined I’ve been living without my dad a whole year longer than was really true. I guess that means I’ve resigned myself to this fate, that this life has to keep going now, without him.

And yet, I can still clearly remember the details of that day:

It was overcast, rainy, much it like it was on June 10, 2015 when I started this post. In 2013, I was at work when I got the call that my dad was in the ER…. I couldn’t focus and I asked to go home. I wandered around the house, I cuddled my cat, I watched episodes of Total Drama Action to distract myself from the wait. I told friends and they prayed with me. The friends I lived with made dinner. I was just about to attempt to sit down and eat –it was a sausage biscuit, breakfast for dinner– when the call came. I remember kneeling on the wood floor of my bedroom. I remember our pastor coming over. I remember sitting with a pillow clenched to my chest, trying and failing to sip a smoothie so that at least I could take in some nutrients.

That day was awful, but it was the days that followed that were worse. I fell asleep hugging my cat and I remember waking up early for my plane ride and wishing that it had all been a bad dream. I remember sobbing on the plane. I remember a panic attack in Colorado when the high mountain air fled from my lungs and the stress of making funeral plans became too much. I remember beer and sandwiches. I remember stepping outside DIA as I waited to fly back to Maryland and wanting to collapse on the sidewalk and never get up again.

I remember music. Manic Depression is touching my soul… So keep your head up, love. And the landslide’ll bring it down.

But still, a lot has happened in these past two years…

wpid-20150602_165350.jpgI’ve gotten to live alongside my family, the brother who went off to college when I was only nine years old. I get to live with him and his wife now, I get to watch them be parents to my nieces, I get to sit with them and be, and feel at home with them. I get to stop my writing, dry my tears, and go watch a documentary about music with them… which is exactly what happened in the middle of this post.

Not only that, but I’ve started chasing a new dream, a community of nerds, a friend and partner to tend this garden with, something that fits.

I’ve stumbled upon a job with consistent hours and a service I feel good about. I’ve been adopted into a work family who truly cares about me.

I’ve found another friend, one who reached out to me, one who grabbed my hand as the darkness closed in– and he steadily became more, so much more…

But yes, there was still plenty of darkness… In these past two years, I had to decide to say goodbye to my cat, because I couldn’t take her with me. She was a gift from my mom, and she’d been with me through both losses, it really sucked having to lose her too. I also reached the point in my life when I’ve been alive longer on this earth without my mother than I’ve been alive with her. She died when I was twelve, and I’ve been living with her absence for thirteen years, and the years will keep adding and adding now. I miss her. I don’t really like this math, but I’m compelled to focus on it. Grief does strange things to you.

Grief messes with your faith. I don’t know where I am anymore, and I don’t know how much of it was sparked by grief or if this was just something I was bound to encounter eventually. (I’m sure it doesn’t help that when I lost my dad, I also lost my church community.) As I look back on the posts I’ve written since June 10, 2013, I see small glimpses of hope and light– not too much, but just enough to have kept me afloat. I read them now and I sink. I feel bitter and doubtful and cynical about the words I once clung to to keep from becoming bitter and doubtful and cynical. O Lord, help my unbelief. Actually, I don’t know if it really is unbelief or if it’s just pain. I can’t hold to faith anymore because I can’t trust God anymore, because I’m hurt; I still don’t think I’ve fully recovered from the blow. I had to fill out a questionnaire recently that asked me to rate how much I agreed with the following statement: “I have beliefs that sustain me.” Two years ago, I would’ve given that statement top marks, but I didn’t know how to score it this year. I’m scared, and I don’t know what to do about that.

Deep breath. Okay, back to the good things:

In these past two years, I’ve traveled a little, visited the Great Sand Dunes, attended two concerts by my favorite musicians, spoken at an academic conference, won an award for working with youth in my community, taken up yoga, read widely, and fallen in love.

I truly wish that my dad could’ve been a part of it all. I know that would probably mean that most of these good events wouldn’t have happened, and I suppose knowing that his death has at least brought about a glimpse of beauty helps a little… but I miss him. I just miss him. Two years, Dad. I hope you and mom have been watching.

Skits of My Past and The Road I’m On

wpid-img_20150312_2137172.jpg.jpegI don’t know if this is still a thing, but when I was in high school youth group, musical skits were all the rage. Think of a live-action music video to a popular “secular” song with a story that illustrates the Gospel, something the speaker could use as a jumping off point for the night’s talk.

I’m actually really grateful that I came across an art form like this in those tumultuous years of grieving, moving, starting over, and figuring out high school all at the same time. I don’t remember the first one I saw, but the first one that really spoke to me was a skit written by a senior named Julia Owens set to Frou Frou’s “Let Go.” This was not too long after Garden State had come out, and I already knew and loved the song. I had just started going to a new church and thought I’d check out skit practice. I got to watch them practice this one over and over again, and I loved every moment of it: A boy scribbles in a notebook, too focused on “writing his tragedy” to notice the vibrant girl in front of him who laughs at life and dances with joy. She tries to get him to “let go,” but he won’t. It starts to rain (we actually had a bubble machine, it was pretty awesome), and the girl lifts her face to the clouds but the boy grumbles and hides under cover. There’s a scene where the boy stands center stage with his notebook and passersby each rush past him in a chaotic frenzy and rip out pages of his story. The girl tries to help him, the boy keeps pushing her away… Eventually, he decides on his own to “let go” and sit in the rain, he even opens his mouth to catch it on his tongue. It was one of the most moving stories I’d ever seen, and I said to my freshman self, I can write stories like that.

I’d been making up music videos in my head ever since I was a little kid (back when MTV was actually Music Television). I loved setting story to lyric and music. I would choreograph them in my bedroom and listen to the songs over and over again. I think the first one I consciously created for the purpose of sharing Gospel hope in high school was set to Coldplay’s “Fix You,” and I based it on myself and how I felt “broken” without my mother. The skit was about people carrying around photographs that each represented something broken in their life (relationships severed by death, hearts broken, etc) and finally realizing that they couldn’t fix themselves, but instead had to let go of the darkness and walk into the Light. It’s still probably the most personal one I wrote, and I should think about it more often.

I couldn’t do anything until I was a senior, and I pushed for the storytelling skits to make a comeback. Finally, I got to do it, and I felt like I had found my niche. I did the “Fix You” skit. I redid the “Let Go” skit that had inspired me so much. My favorite skit, however, the one that I think touched the most people, and the one that still gets me today is the one I wrote to Coldplay’s “White Shadows.” Like the seeds that fall amongst the thorns/weeds in the Parable of the Sower, this skit follows a boy who starts out at home with God and his people, full of light, then the pressures of life pull him away (literally, in an assembly-line reminiscent of Across the Universe‘s “I Want You” scene). I had the help of one of my choreographer friends, and my cast executed the moves to perfection. There was also light-dark symbolism: His colorful clothing gets covered in grey and he falls in line with the robotic movements of the rest of the people living in the darkness. He’s tossed about by the crowd and tangled in grey, but when he’s finally left alone, he falls to his knees, lost. A light shines on him, and he looks up. Slowly, he rises and throws himself into the arms of Christ, the colorful people surround him in hug, the song ends and the lights fade.

I was really good at this. That’s why it’s hard for me now in the midst of my unraveling to hear a song come on my shuffle by 3 Doors Down and think about the unfinished skits in my head. You see, just like how my youth pastor had once set a musical to all Coldplay songs, I had started devising my own musical to 3 Doors Down. I think I chose them because they were the musicians behind the first ever skit I managed to get performed at my church, “Away From the Sun.” I honestly can’t remember all the details to this one, but I remember it involved a boy (I always thought that boys were a good choice because girls tended to be empathic to the skit regardless of who’s playing the lead, and boys find it easier to see themselves in another boy. This is a viewpoint that I find problematic for a number of reasons now, in my twenties, but it seemed worked okay at the time). Anyway, the boy was again dealing with peer pressure, and I used the most after-school special topic of them all: alcohol use. He was lost in the “party world,” and I remember there was a devil character who kept tying black strings around his arms and legs… I think there was a moment where the strings came off/ were cut off and the light blinded the devil, but I can’t really remember. I know though that it was another story of the pressures of life pulling someone into darkness, but at the end Light always won out.

I think my story-lines say a lot about my age at the time of writing and my worldview that encompassed only high school. I hope they were beautiful and moving, but sometimes I fear they were a bit contrived. I really was sincere when I wrote them, though, and I really believed in the power of the Light.

That’s why, again, it’s hard for me to listen to 3 Doors Down’s “The Road I’m On.” I had started making up skits to a few of the band’s songs that I had on my ipod– yes, I even had one written for “Kryptonite,” and no it didn’t involve Superman. It was great, but I could never really think of one for “The Road I’m On” except as a transitionary song between a dark skit and a light one. I thought it was an okay song, but there was no hope in it, just solidarity–what was I supposed to do with that?

I listen to it now and it hits me, hard. Those other songs were my high-school life. “The Road I’m On” is the song I’m living now, and I don’t have an ending for it. I’m not any closer to finding a good ending for it than I was six years ago.

She said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you’re living in between the lines … He said life’s so hard to move in sometimes, when it feels like I’m towing the line, and no one even cares to ask me why I feel this way.

Much like how I didn’t understand Bono’s “still looking” notion in high school, I didn’t understand living between the lines either. That wasn’t something that made sense to me. You either stumble in darkness or you thrive in the light; grey strangles you. I remember this was even part of the youth pastor’s Coldplay musical, a theme that the people on the fence had to choose where to belong and where to stand.

He said life’s a lot to think about sometimes, when you keep it all between the lines of everything I want and I want to find, one of these days.
What you thought was real in life has somehow steered you wrong. Now you just keep driving, trying to find out where you belong…

That’s me.

I know you feel helpless now and I know you feel alone,
That’s the same road, that same road that I am on.

That’s the song’s only comfort: Life is hard. Seeing it shatter is devastating. Grey is everywhere, and I don’t know where the road will lead, but I’m right there with you.

That’s all I can have right now. It’s not a drastic transformation, it’s not a chain-breaking, darkness fleeing, light encompassing, grey suddenly flooding with color story right now. (It’s not somebody who’s seen the light, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.) Right now, it’s a long silver stretch of road that often leaves me feeling helpless and alone. And maybe I am driving towards the light, but it seems too far off and dim to be coming any time soon, though I hope it’s really there, I hope I’ll find it again someday.

wpid-20150415_175804.jpgRachel Held Evans writes in Searching for Sunday: “Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive.”

Maybe now “I’ve found myself so far down, away from the sun,” but it’s not from anything as concrete as what I used in my skit, black ropes and beer bottles… It’s something else, and the way to “fix it” isn’t as simple as I thought in my old skits. It’s powerful, yes, and divine, and hopefully possible, but certainly not quick and simple. I turn to another song:

Somewhere in this darkness, there’s a light that I can’t find.
Maybe it’s too far away, or maybe I’m just blind.
Maybe I’m just blind.
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared, and love me when I’m gone.

Hold me, Light. Love me, even when I’m gone.

Using a dead man’s library card

Sometimes, I still use a dead man’s library card… The card belonged to my dad, and I still have it on my key ring even though I have my own card in my wallet. Sometimes, I accidentally swipe his when I check out books, and I don’t realize it until I select an email receipt and the machine tells me my receipt has been sent to my dad’s email.

Well, that’s a receipt I’ll never see again. I still can’t access my dad’s email. I don’t know the password, and his security question is so vague that I don’t want to risk being locked out entirely by guessing wrong too many times. Unfortunately, Yahoo refuses to release passwords for the deceased. Apparently there’s some clause you agree to in their terms of service, which renders it pretty much impossible for your surviving loved ones to gain access to your correspondence without your exact password at time of death. They say it’s to protect your privacy, I say it’s ridiculous.

I wish I could read his emails. I wish I knew him well enough to be able to guess his password. I just want a little insight into his mind… I want to read his words again. I want to see who he spoke to… Not to mention that, in the midst of death, I needed to access emails from his various accounts.

And now I need to access my library receipt so I know when my books are due.

What a waste, a whole inbox is sitting there, locked.

I wish I had asked him more questions. I wish he had told me more stories.

The other day, my friend was telling me about the funny details of the day of his birth, and he wanted to know about mine. I told him there was no one left for me to ask for that information.

No one left.

There’s no one left for me to ask about the firsthand account of my birth. No one left to ask about the moment my mom knew my dad was the one. No one left to ask about what kind of daughter I was, or who they hoped I’d become.

I didn’t intend for this post to be sad. I mean, of course it’s going to be sad, but I thought at least it could be quirky, a clever/bitter-sweet comment on the sudden cut-off moment that is death, on the jarring experiences of surviving life, and on how we may continue for years to use the same dead person’s library card without realizing it.

I can’t believe that I’m finally referring to my dad in the past tense– not only that, but I’m even referring to him as “a dead person” and “the deceased.” For a while I couldn’t even write the word “dead,” I had to say, “gone” or “left.” I don’t like that I can say it now. I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m sorry if it’s wrong.

I sit on little thoughts like this one. I sit, and I’ve stopped writing about them, so I’m writing it now. I’m typing about death on my lunch break. Maybe it’ll become part of the book I finish one day, the book I told myself I would write about this orphan experience. To do that, though, I have to re-immerse myself in the grief fog that at times seems lighter, and I don’t always want to stay in that shadow. It won’t leave me, I know that, but I don’t always want to stay immersed in it…

Either way, I wrote this post today, about death and library cards and email accounts and lost information… I wrote what I could, and I’m publishing it now. I’m sure it’ll come back to me later, I have to return that book in two weeks… I think.

Easter won’t let me go…

It’s hard for me to go to church anymore. It’s hard for me to follow the church calendar, to find meaning in days like Palm Sunday or contemplate seasons like Lent. It just doesn’t reach me anymore, not now. Some of it never reached me… I never could quite accept a calendar when I wanted to celebrate all holidays all the time…I wasn’t good at following the guidelines, though I tried.

I’m currently reading Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar, and it’s been helpful to me as I process this unraveling period… she is helping me to understand that there is still something left after the house of cards comes tumbling down. (Though I know my shifting is intricately tied to the sudden loss I experienced two years ago and the abrupt upheaval of my life to the point where I didn’t really have a church community to “lose” anymore, the book and her stories are still helpful.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is… a lot of “religious” things have fallen away recently, but Easter keeps tugging at my heart strings. Easter won’t let me go. I’m going to go to church on Easter Sunday, or at least I’m going to attempt to do so. It’s still going to be difficult for me. But it’s a sunrise service, and there’s just something about sunrise church services that I can’t let go of.

I was trying to describe it to my friend, who graciously said he would go with me: “Well, the service doesn’t start at sunrise, it starts before. We start in darkness and we end in light.”

And that very concept is what I can’t shake from my mind. That, the whole darkness turning into light thing, is what won’t let go of me.

I wrote about Easter last year, about how I don’t know how to sing, “He is risen,” when death still feels so close and so painful, and yet I still want to hear that Christ is, in fact, risen. I still need to hear that death is not the final end, even as it feels so final and so consuming.

I wrote of eucatastrophe, a word I think of often but still can’t quite describe adequately. I don’t know fully what it is, but I find hope in its meaning, a meaning I can’t articulate. The good catastrophe, the sudden joyous turn. Like Easter, a eucatastrophe involves light reversing the darkness, but as Tolkien wrote, we can’t see it yet. It doesn’t always seem like a happy ending, “…at least, not what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end,” says Sam. We can’t see the glory on the other side yet.

I don’t know why I’m drawn to the sunrise and the symbol of a resurrection that I don’t understand, but I am… And I think it is only a light like this that will bring me back to a building that I don’t know how to or even want to be in anymore… just for one day. For one day, I can join in the singing. For one day, I can awaken the dawn. I can believe.

Light is coming. Let it reflect backwards through time, through space, through the “chinks of the universe.” Let it pierce this shadow, and let it kiss my face. Let me sing.

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on death, prayer, and phoneixes

I’m trying hard to write. I’m trying hard not to write. When the grieving thoughts strike me during my lunch break, I ache for the cathartic process of creating beauty from ashes. Then break’s over, a happy face returns, and by the time I get home, I decide I’d rather escape into Harry Potter‘s world of ashes and phoenix songs than focus on my own.

Where’s my phoenix?

I’m currently reading three books at the moment:

1) Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (I just finished Goblet of Fire) by J.K. Rowling
2) Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr
3) American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning by Kate Sweeney

You wouldn’t think those three fit together very well, but they mingle beautifully in my head.

For example, Rohr writes, “Historic cultures saw grief as a time of incubation, transformation, and necessary hibernation. Yet this sacred space is the very space we avoid. When we avoid darkness, we avoid tension, spiritual creativity, and finally transformation. We avoid God, who works in the darkness — where we are not in control. Maybe that is the secret: relinquishing control.”

Sweeney writes of Victorian mourning customs, “However, while strides were taking place in the name of modernity and expedience in other realms … mourning was designed to be hard. You had buried your brother; you would stay up nights over a candle sweating over the thinnest pins wrapped in his hair. You would wear scratchy clothes and mourning veils for months. It would not be convenient or subtle, and you would not be comfortable.”

Rowling writes many of her great quotes in the voice of Professor Dumbledore. When I stumbled over this passage in Goblet of Fire in which Dumbledore speaks to Harry about witnessing a tragic death, I cried. She writes, “‘If I thought I could help you,’ Dumbledore said gently, ‘by the putting you in an enchanted sleep and allowing you to postpone the moment when you would have to think about what has happened tonight, I would do it. But I know better. Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it. You have shown bravery beyond anything I could have expected of you. I ask you to demonstrate your courage one more time. I ask you to tell us what happened.'”

I remember that. I remember wanting nothing more than to sleep… to sleep and wake up and find that it had all been only a nightmare. Even though I know now that no amount of sleep will reverse what happened, I welcome a deep, enchanted sleep to escape for a bit.

Have I been sleeping too long now? Have I avoided telling my story? Have I been avoiding the darkness, or have I just been letting myself stay comfortably numb in the twilight?

Rowling goes on to say that the sweet song of Dumbledore’s phoenix “warms” Harry’s insides, giving him hope. I ache for a phoenix. Am I really going to be transformed, as Rohr claims… or have I already passed the incubation period? Sometimes I wish we still honored a Victorian mindset about death, where mourning was public, prolonged, accepted, where our outside appearance reflected the turmoil of our hearts. But what happens after the designated “mourning period” has ended? What happens to widow after her year of wearing nothing but black ends abruptly and she is expected to wear color again? Does that mean she no longer grieves? Does that mean she’s “over” it?

I don’t want to talk about how long it’s been.

I returned wpid-20150114_161158.jpgto my walking lake today. I didn’t walk it, because it was chilly and I wasn’t wearing the right shoes, but I just felt the urge to see it. I hadn’t been to the water in months because of the bitter cold. I’ve been hearing the geese, though, the cacophony of life that inhabits this frozen wasteland. It’s as though they’ve been calling to me, beckoning me. So I went back today, just to look. I found light again, a beauty reminiscent of the one that saved me during those toughest months of my life… Is it wrong that I haven’t been walking there? Is it bad that I haven’t journaled?

I still just want to read Harry Potter and forget — No, forget is not the right word. I do escape, that much is true, but I also find a part of myself in those books, my grief, my childhood, my fear, my hope…

Sometimes all I want to do is fall inside those pages and never come out, so I’m breaking up the wizarding world with a book about death and a book about prayer… It’s a strange little collection, I know, but I hope it will awaken me slowly, allow me to breath a bit deeper, and lead me even closer to resurrection…

Big Medicine and Strong Magic

wpid-20141111_070642.jpgI went on a mini, individual retreat these past two days.

When I walked into my room tired from the road and ready to dig into the meal I’d brought, the first thing to greet me was a painting of bread and wine. I was hungry, and there was Communion. I longed for it.

I have thought about Communion a lot over my life. It is a mystery, it is a beauty, it is at times strange and unreal, sometimes so close, and at other times I struggle to feel anything. I am determined to keep exploring this mystery…

For no specific reason, the thought of communion in my retreat center room took me back to a memory of sharing communion with my mother. It’s the closest memory I have of sharing “church” with her, and I really wish the memory would last longer. I think it came about when she had taken me to walk through one of those live-action Jesus-walk things they do at Christmas time… You know, where the people dress up like first century citizens living in Bethlehem and talk with you about this new Jesus guy. I really can’t remember much about the experience except that I loved it and there were fritters… (There’s a better chance I’ll remember something if food’s attached to it.) Anyway, after the walk, we were led in to the church where we could take communion. It’s fairly possible that I’m mixing two memories together on this one, but I do remember that it was an unfamiliar church. My mom and I sat down on the pew with our bread and our grape juice and I must’ve looked confused because she started to tell me what to do: “Just say your own little prayer and then eat.”

My mom, bless her. The most specific memory I have of her connected to a  spiritual experience, and it’s her teaching me at a young age how to make communion my own. She was teaching her obsessive-compulsive little girl that she didn’t have to worry about the right rules or the right words, but that she could simply accept God’s gift and find personal communion with Him.

wpid-20141111_065130.jpgI’m sure I’m reading too much into this memory, but it’s all I have to go on, so I am running with it. I love my mom. I wish I knew more about her life and her faith. My dad would tell me some things, and I’m so grateful that a few months before he died he told me about how my mom always liked going to church and sitting in the sanctuary. God, I really wish I knew more…

It’s not fair. I wish I could talk to them about this stuff on this side of eternity. I want to ask my mom more about communion, about God, about the purpose of life and how she got through the hard times… I want to ask my dad about eternity, about prayer, I want to share the things I’m learning (or rather questioning) with him. I want to hear him sing off key again. I want to hear my mother sing, I can hardly remember it…

I never meant for this post to turn into what it has become. I suppose I am always going to write about them, and that’s good, it keeps them real and alive for me.

I really did enjoy contemplating communion (in all senses of the word) these past two days… I read Letters to Malcolm by C.S. Lewis and took comfort in the fact that the scholar who taught me so much still could never understand the mystery of Communion, and that he was okay with it, with taking the mystery. “Here is big medicine and strong magic,” he said.

Yes. I found another kind of magic in the retreat center’s outdoor labyrinth, a winding path that leads to one center core. This one, with its Colorado rose stones guiding the way, was homemade by the boyscouts, as the nuns told me. I had no idea how much I would appreciate this labyrinth. It was bitter cold and snowing out. I had gotten up to wander the grounds with the hopes of seeing the sunrise, but it was too cloudy for that. My wandering did lead me to a garden and the labyrinth however. Wrapped in my blanket with my cup of rapidly cooling coffee, I waited for the deer to exit and then entered in…

What can I say? Trust the path, is the phrase that kept coming back to me. Yes, the labyrinth led me in some twisting ways, and at times I felt so far from the center that I felt it would take ages to get there, but the time went by faster than I thought, and the path always led me right. It was a comforting exercise in trust and a symbol that I’m sure I will harken back to many times. wpid-20141111_065152.jpg

Strong magic. Sacred space. Each moment is sacred, God is all in all, “joy is the serious business of heaven.” In God, we live and move and have our being… Even here, back in the normal way of things. Even now. Oh, bless the Lord, my soul.

thoughts on enduring.

wpid-20140829_152842.jpgI don’t want to write this.

I don’t want to write about how I left work today because I felt too wrapped in semi-conscious grief to function.

I don’t want to write about how it’s been sixteen months, and I suddenly now feel as raw and broken as I did sixteen months ago.

I think Fall is triggering something. Last Fall was pretty bad, and even though circumstances have changed and I have happier things in my life, I still have this one overarching sorrowful thing that screams inside my head.

This can’t be happening. I have to be able to function. I have a good job. I have love in my life. I get to spend time with my family. How can I still get lost in the darkness?

I don’t want to write about it because I’m afraid it will suck me back into the vortex.

If I write about how much I miss them, about all the other losses that come with it, I’m afraid I’ll go down a spiral that I can’t climb back up. But I’ve been told I need to focus on it, allow the grief to wash over me, and it will—it’ll wash over me and pass. That’s what they say anyway, but it doesn’t feel like it’s passing.

Today, I had tears stuck in my eyes. They were literally stuck at the edge of my vision, making it unable to focus on anything else, blurring my sight and fracturing it with rainbow colors. And they wouldn’t go away.

They’ve gone now. If I write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back. If I don’t write about it, I’m afraid they’ll come back tomorrow at the most inconvenient moment.

Even in tears you can see a rainbow…. Is that supposed to mean something? Even the dying leaves are beautiful…

I know, I know, I wrote a lot about Autumn last year. I can’t help it, it’s a bit of an obsession. It’s the one time of year where the Earth joins us in our dying, where we find joy in the dying.

I can’t escape this poetry. Maybe that’s what’s triggering the “relapse” of grief, I don’t know.
Maybe it also has to do with the upcoming holidays. The first round was terrible, and I know the second won’t be much easier.

Recently I saw a play based on The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion’s memoir which I’ve quoted here before. In the play, the actor playing Didion talked about geology… about the lessons of science. The earth is in a state of constant change, but it always continues.

Today I wrote on my arm: “Endures.”  I do that sometimes when I need a reminder to get me through the day. Endures. His love endures forever. God endures forever. I endure, here, in this moment. Despite it all, I have endured. I will endure. He holds me close. A dying star leaves behind the perfect conditions for new ones to glow. Life finds a way.