Saturday, February 13, 2016
“You are dust and to dust you shall return, repent and believe in the gospel.”
Wednesday was my first time kneeling and receiving ashes on my forehead, and I felt an unexpected prickle of tears in my eyes to hear the words of the benediction spoken over me. I felt like staying there, knees to the floor, and letting some of the tears fall freely, but instead got up to make space for the next person who was coming forward to kneel down.
I am not given much to thinking about my personal sins and failings. I know that I have them, I just don’t usually give them the space and attention they deserve.
You see, I really like thinking that I am Right, and sometimes I am smacked in the face with the deeper repercussions of this mentality.
Last November, we were talking to my brother Michael on FaceTime and he asked what the biggest change had been since we got married. Without thinking I blurted out, “I don’t get to be right all the time!”
Michael had a long laugh when I said that. Upon reflection, I think that growing up as the only girl in my family meant that I got to think that I was Right more often then was good for me.
Wanting to be Right also leads me to a deeper problem, it makes it hard for me to apologize. And in this Lenten season our church is encouraging all of us to look closely at places where The Church has hurt people and where we all need to ask for forgiveness.
It’s a series called Forgive Us, and each week our Sunday services (and other programs) will be focusing on an area where The Church has participated in systemic wrong or abuse against a group of people. Together as a church community, we will repent for our judgementalism, our racism, our sins against the LGBTQ community, our sins against women, our odd conflict with science, and our sins against those who do not share our faith.
This promises to be challenging, exciting and a little bit terrifying, just as it is every time I have had to say the vulnerable phrase “I was wrong and I am sorry.”
But I also feel a pull to share about this publicly. As someone who is not good at admitting wrong in front of others, and as someone who likes to have it all together, I think it will be good for me to own my part in the process.
If you care to come along, I will be attempting to write about the Forgive Us series weekly here.
And if you identify as someone who has been hurt by The Church, then please know that I’m ready to listen. It sounds really silly to say that, but I don't think I've ever said it publicly before, so there you go... I may not have the right apology or answer for all that has happened to you, but I’m ready to say that I haven’t been Right, there’s only one person who can claim that position. I’m just trying to follow Him into This Love, which was raw and real and bleeding.
Friday, September 4, 2015
Well, so a few things have changed this summer. One, I had another birthday, and two, I moved across the country. You know, not that big of a deal.
I would love to tell you all about this in a much deeper and profound kind of way but I think that will have to wait for another day. Instead this will be a kind of show and tell.
I tried to write in my journal the day after my birthday and this is what happened…
For those who can't read indecipherable handwriting, that says "can't write date, sign of aging?"
When I told Future Husband about this, he laughed and said, “But that happens to you all the time.” Which is true, I have some kind of dyslexia that causes my brain to substitute inappropriate numbers and words into writing and conversation when I’m tired. I think that’s a thing. We will just say that it’s a thing, ok?
Future Husband also laughed when I told him cheerily a day later, “Today I actually LIKE being older!”
I make my Future Husband laugh a lot, but no big deal. I am (sometimes) the funny one.
A picture of me and Future Husband. He’s the tall good-looking one.
The second week that I was out here I came up with a mini-stand up routine about driving in Boston, which I like to call “Surprise! I learned life skills in Tijuana!”
This IS true. I learned how to be sick in the middle of the night in Tijuana, how to paint houses, how to dig ditches, and how to access my alternate “Fast and the Furious” personality and drive like a speed demon manifesting.
The streets in Boston take a major beating every year from all the snow, rain and ice and things, so they have a lot of character. By “character” I mean that they have a lot of holes and surprising bumps and they are pretty hard on your shocks and suspension. Another delightful thing is that seemingly everyone feels the need to shout through car windows at other drivers just for driving on the same road. At first all of this yelling made me angry, because “Hey, I grew up in LA, and I am good at merging. Save your road rage for something that really matters!” But now I try to consider that these people might simply enjoy yelling and I try to let the waves of unnecessary frustration roll over me. It would be a very Zen experience if I was actually good at it, but I’m not.
Driving on the streets of
Tijuana Boston is a loud and
chaotic adrenaline rush, as you dodge pot holes, pedestrians, and hear voices
raised in loud cries of indignation and despair. Instead of Federales demanding
bribes, you may find that nearly every bridge demands a toll. You want 4
dollars for me to cross this bridge, really Boston, really?!?!?! I think my GPS is in collusion with the transportation authority because it always seems to take me by the most expensive "direct" route.
I’m working part time as a hospice nurse right now. Working as a hospice nurse in Massachusetts is basically the same as working as a hospice nurse in California, except for that I meet a lot of nurses named “Marie” and when things are not going the way they should be you are sure to hear about it. There is no polite “I’m fine” response in New England, which is actually something that I really appreciate. If someone is having a bad day, they will candidly tell you about it, no beating around the bush and no pretending.
Hospice nursing in Massachusetts comes with the same bodily fluids, family drama, and hilarious, soulful/tearful moments that it contained in California. But, during my first week on the job, I almost hit a porcupine that was crossing the road while I was enroute to a skilled nursing facility, and that was a completely new experience. Oh, and when they say that it is going to rain, it might actually RAIN, and you might need an umbrella.
<- learned that last one the hard way.
Things are different now, because Massachusetts comes in all these amazing shades of green, and in the summertime The Green is a living force that has it’s own sound and smell. This never ceases to amaze me.
But most of all, things are different because now I’m doing everyday life with Future Husband, the tall good-looking one, and that has been the best, most crazy “Is this real life?” experience ever.
(I assume you have seen the now famous "David after dentist" viral video, but if you haven't then you should jump on that right now. Here,go laugh a little bit)
And while we are on the subject of memes and viral videos, I would like to tell you all, that with all these changes I sometimes revert back to my crying llama ways… You know the one, the angst filled llama that cries “mememememememe” all the time?
As I grow older, I have become more and more aware that my default dysfunctional setting is selfishness and feeling sorry for myself, especially when I feel overwhelmed. But I’m working on it. Some things are different now, and other things are still a work in progress. Am I older and wiser? Maybe.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
I came home last night after another day of hospice work tired and worn.
The emotion always seems to hit me after I leave a death, after hugging the family, after calling everyone who needs to know, and after all the paperwork has been turned in at the office.
Afterwards, my thoughts take a different shape. I think about breath and the still silence in the room after it is gone, and I think about the difference that I have seen in some rooms, full of peace and tears and quiet, versus others, full of bargaining and fighting and struggle. Fear of death seems to be a part of what makes these scenes so different from each other.
I had a patient once who would ask me with every visit, “What do you think about god?” She told me that she was convinced that there would not be enough space for her soul in the universe after she died, and that she didn’t think that God was big enough to hold “all the souls of the people and animals that have ever existed.” She pictured all of those who have passed floating somewhere in the dark, alone.
I told her that I’m pretty sure that God is way bigger than we can ever imagine. If He did create us, then He can contain us.
In her mind loneliness was large enough to swallow all of us whole, but Love was not. In my mind, Love was present, ready, and waiting to embrace each one.
The fear of being alone is what makes or breaks it for me in the places where my patients are dying. When there are people gathered, loving on those who are leaving and those who are left behind, it changes the atmosphere of the place. When there is no one there to whisper “I love you” and “I am here,” or when those gathered beg the one who is leaving to stay I feel the weight in my chest.
Sometimes I think that we fear dying because we have never experienced the crushing magnitude of Love, or we have experienced it but never let it IN. We have never let Love make us feel small, and so we wonder where we will go when we die- where we will find space.
For me death is a reminder to live for the kind of Love that makes me smaller and softer.
Maybe I’m just practicing. I’m practicing living on a diminishing scale; less of me and more of the mystery, less control and more surrender, less defense and more vulnerability. I am not good at these things, which is why I need the practice.
My hospice days cue me into my role in life, which I believe is a grand rehearsal. I will die someday, mortality is a reality for me as well, so every day is a precious opportunity to practice.
Sunday, April 5, 2015
A few years ago, when I first started working in hospice, Easter felt like it took on a deeper significance for me. I cried when I went to the Good Friday service and thought of Jesus dying a physical death like the ones that I had seen. It struck me that He knew what that felt like. Then, on Easter Sunday I wept again to think of the promise that our bodies can be made like new and death is not the end of the story.
This year, the part of the Easter story that struck me the most were the days between when Jesus was crucified and when He was raised, those days that are mentioned briefly in the gospels but are not fully described.
At Good Friday services in the Evangelical church people often say, “Today is Friday, but Sunday is coming.” This year it struck me that the disciples immediately after Jesus’s death did not know that “Sunday was coming.” They were just trying to function and make sense of their lives while they endured through the Saturdays- the nebulous days between the death and resurrection.
It also struck me that when His followers did see Jesus again they hardly recognized Him. They mistook Him for the gardener when they met Him near the grave, they did not believe that He had appeared to the few gathered in the upper room, and they had full conversations with Him on the road to Emmaus without calling Him by name.
I would like to call the disciples at this point in the story The Saturday People. The Doubters and Faithless, the ones who helplessly watched Jesus die, the Grief Stricken, the Depressed and Anxious.
A lot of that sounds very familiar, and this fills me with a strange kind of Hope.
We could be like the disciples, utterly lost and confused- Faith broken and Hope scattered, hiding out in small groups for fear of discovery- and our only task is to know Him when He comes.
We must recognize Him.
Many times this year I have felt like one of The Saturday People. Faith has had new holes ripped in it and Hope has seemed like something far beyond my reach. But people have been Jesus to me this year. They have bled out their love in quiet service and by silently witnessing moments of heartbreak and despair. For all of this I am so deeply grateful. I want to continue to know Jesus as He shows me Himself in new ways this year- through words, music, nature, Love and tiny babies.
So, if you, like me, are one of The Saturday People on Easter of 2015, I would like to say that I think it is alright for us to doubt, to struggle and mourn, to loose and to hide, and to be bad at this spiritual life. And if I could do one thing right now it would be this.
I would bend in close and whisper, I still that think He’s coming. Lets keep our eyes open so that we don’t miss it.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
Grandma Penny is not my Grandma. But she is grandmother to several of my dear friends and great-grandmother to baby Lester, who calls me Tia, so that makes me feel as though we are related. On a deeper level, Grandma Penny is also a kind of spiritual grandmother. She and her husband led a Bible study that my parents went to when they were young, and so many of my memories of going to church growing up have her in the background with her hands raised and head bowed. We love so many of the same people, and, for so long, I have watched her love the same God.
Last November we were at baby Lester’s first birthday party, and there were many conversations swirling through the air. I had just come from the kitchen with my plate of food and sat down in a likely, out-of-the-way corner of the room. I was ready to eat quietly and watch all the people for a little bit when Grandma Penny suddenly reached across the inches of blue carpet that separated us and put her hand on my knee.
“How is your family?” She said, “I haven’t seen any of you since everything happened.”
This was an unexpected moment. Sometimes that is how these things seem to go. I am somewhere when a remark, a person or a name suddenly reminds me of my nieces. My breath caught in my throat. I put my plate to one side and folded my hands over each other trying to get my composure back.
I looked up, “It's hard to say really. There are so many of us, processing this in different ways, and it is still very fresh.”
Grandma Penny leaned in close, her earrings swaying forward, and eyes full of emotion. She told me how she had been feeling her prayers for us in her body, and how that heaviness brought her back to prayer for us again and again. She and her husband had been in England immediately after the girls died, but her mind, body and heart were playing that trick that they often do, of leading her back into the sorrow of other people to pray.
I felt like I was choking as I told her that so many people had told us similar stories.
“So many people woke up.” I cried, “They were woken up unexpectedly the night the girls were born. They answered the phone… They were praying immediately. It was like they were physically with us. But then the girls died…
If God could wake so many people, in so many different places, why couldn’t He also heal them?”
That last question came out of me unbidden and unplanned. But it was (and is) one of the questions that burns and hurts in the deepest places. It is this question that whispers to me that my Faith might just be a broken attempt to understand and explain. My heart reasons first one side and then another. So many people woke up, therefore God is good and loving and with us. But, Gwen and Fiona died, therefore we have only been extrapolating patterns and assigning meaning and we know nothing. And I have felt both of these sides before; sitting with hospice families who were weeping for loved ones, working with abandoned children in the pediatric hospital in Peru, and in some of the darkest memories of my childhood. When my heart is most honest it says these two things at once, and these days I find myself saying that I don’t understand more and more often.
That day in November Grandma Penny just sat with me for a long moment and then put her hand to my face. “Sometimes the only thing we can say is ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord.’” And then she kissed my forehead.
I both loved and hated that moment. I hated it because it was not an answer, but instead a benediction and a prayer. My unspoken deepest question was still there. Why. It was raw and screaming. In the same moment, I felt so much Love, the kind that is willing to enter into another persons pain. And this Love was the thing that stuck with me when I drove away and went to bed that night.
It is a Love that has never been fully understood by science but confounds our studies in hormones by being a choice. Love that is the greatest mystery and perhaps the deepest answer. God who is “Love” and then is incarnate again in Jesus, who showed us the raw and bleeding-for-you kind of love. This Love, is that which asks us for open-handed and broken surrender. The thing is that anytime my questions have been unbearable, there has also been Love there. Like Grandma Penny kissing me on the forehead, Love the thing that sticks and stays.
And, I do believe, this Love is enough.
“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships - so that we may live deep within our hearts.” – Franciscan Benediction
“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know.” –Jeremiah 33:3