Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grandma Penny and "This Love"

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Carried.

A thought hit me right before I started my evening “wind down” ritual of reading words and warm water. I sat in my room thinking of the way that we carry people, the weight that we commit to, and long term love and friendship. The thought was an image, a story and a realization all in one.


It is an image of friends lowering a man on a stretcher through the ceiling down to the sandaled and dusty feet of a teacher, the room tense and quiet as all held their breath at the audacity, and then the murmuring quickly rippling out into the crowd outside- This.

It is a story of a man paralyzed and unable to carry himself, carried by his friends only to find that there were too many people gathered around for him to be seen.  It is a story of the friends who said, “but wait,” and then brought him to the roof, and then dug through the ceiling, and then lowered him down expectant. And it is the story of Jesus- who saw “their faith” and lifted the weight of darkness and inner turmoil first, before healing the body. It is a story of an impossible and improbable healing that would not have happened without some serious cojones-This.

It is a realization that I need to be carried now, and that my friends have been carrying me with “their faith” for a while now. Like the man I feel paralyzed and unable to hope. When I see the crowds gathered around Jesus, and when I see their backs closing me out with their exuberance and quick assurance, my impulse is to tell my pallet bearers to turn around. When, instead, what I really need is for them to pass me overhead, carry me up the stairs, and hack away at the sun-hardened exterior until they find a space for me at the feet of our teacher. I need Jesus and I need help getting there- Always this.  

Suddenly, now, this catches the torn and worn edges of my heart and pulls like a crochet hook- outward, inward, knitting back together and forming a different pattern.


I would like to thank everyone who has carried me, and my family, in this time. Oh how we have needed you. There have been voices answering their telephones, hands quietly holding ours, and tears and hugs, and it has meant the world. And I would like to ask you to keep carrying us now. Carry us to the only one who can heal soul and body. Maybe the only words we need to hear are, “but wait” as you make the impossible feel possible. When we loose heart because the voice inside says that it is too dark, and it feels like the crowd outside is too heavy, will you lift us with your faith for just a little bit longer?



Luke 5:17-26, Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8

Monday, November 10, 2014

Burning Holes in Faith

This post is dedicated to my friend Gemma, who- unknowingly, I’m sure- made me ask myself honest questions. Thanks for keeping it real Pops.


Right before I went on vacation I was texting back and forth with one of my favorite friends and she mentioned that she was excited for me to have some time on my vacation to regain my “thoughts and faith.”

Hmmmm, I thought. Faith. What would I say about my faith right now?

A part of me really resented that question because I had no words, but I didn’t like anything that seemed to indicate that I had lost my faith. So, I decided not to think about it anymore and went on vacation with my brother Daniel.



In two weeks we went to three cities.

In Washington DC I was tired. Soul deep tired, the kind that knocks you out at night like a tranquilizer dart shot into an elephant. I slept a lot. Then, in the National Air and Space Museum my brother and I watched a planetarium show about dark matter, and my mind and heart couldn’t help but sing- God, God, God. The force that holds the universe together, beyond what we can explain, God.

In New York City I was overwhelmed. The crush and mania of humanity loomed in my mind with the possibility of tragic stories. I tried to turn my brain off, but I couldn’t. And then there was a beautiful day when we wandered into St. Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero, expecting to see the memorials and notes left for rescuers and family members gone, expecting to feel the emptiness of loss again... Instead, oh instead, what we found was beauty, pure beauty, an eighteen piece orchestra with a chorus of twenty voices singing the words of Bach:

The Savior knows His own indeed,
When their hope lies helpless.
When flesh and spirit battle each other,
Then He Himself stands at their side,
So that faith triumphs in the end.
-From the second aria in Bach’s Cantata BWV 109









In Boston I was safe, loved, and cared for and my favorite person was there. While I sat in the quiet of a rainy morning with my hands curled around a cup of coffee that said favorite person had made for me, I finally let myself honestly think about Faith.










Have I "lost" my faith? It was a loud question in my mind.

And then the honest answer.

Honestly, no, I have not.

I do believe in the creator God, mostly because of the mysteries and patterns that I see all around and the all things that I cannot explain. I do believe in Jesus, because He did not do what His followers expected Him to do, and because- when I practice His teachings- MORE unexpected things happen and things really do change. And I do believe in the Holy Spirit, who seems to fill this world like dark matter, holding things together inexplicably and taking up my own void silently and softly. Those three things have not moved in this time of sifting and shaking.



However, after facing such a deep loss with my family, there are chunks of my Faith that are missing because I don’t know how to describe them, and I don’t know how they fit into the Truth of what we are experiencing.

It’s hard for me to use the word Hope, and it’s hard for me to talk about miracles.

And yes, these two are deeply connected and deeply disappointing, because I always have described myself as a “hopeful” person and I always have carried the belief that miracles can and do happen.  Which is why, when the news came that my nieces had been born, I didn’t even have to think twice about it, because of course there would be a miracle story and of course it would spread hope to us all.

When Gwen and Fiona died, there was just ________. Nothing. There was no Hope in those moments, and no miracle.

I know that the theologians amongst you are gently shaking your heads, because we live in a “now and not yet” Kingdom of God, and because we are still waiting for the day when there are no more tears or sorrow. Also because our "Hope is in Him" and not in events happening the way we want them too. I “know” all of that.

But there is a difference between “knowing” and knowing.




In the spaces where my faith about Hope and miracles used to be, there is now a burning fire. This is probably what the grief experts call Anger, and they say it is a stage, but for me it is a slowly rising flicker that curls higher and higher. Swirling around like ashes are the words disappointment, disillusionment, sadness, and fear. And I think that the flames are feeding off of my deepest misconceptions about God. Like a rubbish heap in Tijuana, or the slash and burn of the fields in Peru, or the landfills on the barrier island off of the East Coast that smoldered internally for years- sometimes the ish that has filled our faith must be set ablaze.  

At least, those were the images that filled my mind that morning in Boston.
  

So, I prayed then, feet huddled in close, watching the rain outside, and I asked God to fill the holes in my faith with a holy fire. Like the color in the autumn leaves, like the tongues that descended upon the heads of those gathered in the upper room, and like the pillar that led Israel by night, this flame might eventually mean something new- new growth, new life, new places. I'm going to try to be real to that process, and let it take from me what it will.



Such is my Faith now, still here, but full of holes and burning.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Things I'm Praying Now

A week and a half ago we lost my precious nieces. Fiona Kate and Guenevere Anne were born at 24 weeks, and were only with us only for a day. 

It has been devastating to walk through this time together. But we are together, as a family and as a community, so that is a comfort. It also has reminded me of how little I know, as a nurse and as a person, and how many questions I still have. 

I wrote this as a part of my processing and read it at the memorial service last Saturday. 

Love to all,
Amanda




I’ve told a lot of people that I don’t have words this week. The questions “How are you?” or “How are your brother and sister in law doing?” don’t seem to have any real answers.

Tired. Shocked. Numb. Broken. We could try some of those words. But, they don’t seem to fit, and neither do the things that we say to try and feel better, because the truth is that words cannot touch this pain.



It seems that my “prayer life” is mirroring my real life, and I also don’t have words for God. I can’t remember consciously praying once throughout Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning. We swore, wept, sobbed on each others shoulders and our minds were full of racing thoughts. Our knees touched the floor and our hands closed into fists and went up into the air. Maybe these were wordless prayers, like the ones that “… all of Creation gives off as it groans and waits.”



But on Sunday night I found some words, as I sat surrounded by people who were weeping with me.

My hand was over my heart as I thought/prayed,

Make me soft

An echo of my prayer last year, when I realized that there are still so many parts of me that are hard, discontented and bitter.

“Make me soft…”

Softer than I was before.

Softer to suffering and to grief.

Softer to small and precious babies.

Softer to my family and friends.

Softer to those who are different from me.

And, eventually, softer to God.




This was my first prayer, shortly followed by my second.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

For the people who have been Love to us, constantly, through it all.

For hugs and human touch.

For our family and extended family.

For Fiona and Gwen and how precious they have been to us.


Sunday, August 3, 2014

In the Room

Usually when people find out that I work in hospice and at a birth center they say something like, “Wow, both ends of the spectrum. What is that like?” Either that or they start singing The Circle of Life…

I haven’t figured out a complete answer to that question yet. But, it’s a little bit like this.




Remember the days when you were a child swimming in the ocean and its blue infinity captured all your senses? Momma Rowe used to tell us to keep our rainbow beach umbrella in sight so that she could count our heads as we bobbled up and down in the waves and whitewater. But when we were IN the water we usually had our eyes turned out at the great never-ending horizon rather than looking back for the rainbow umbrella. Our attention was focused on the rhythm; sand beneath feet, approaching wave, duck under, power rolling over you, push off the bottom, take back your breath in the open air, shake stinging salt from your eyes to watch for another wall of water, feel the sand beneath feet, start again. You never knew if the wave coming at you would be powerful and crushing or soft and tender. And usually we forgot about the shore behind us. Some time would pass. Then, we would suddenly come to our senses and realize that we were covered over in gooseflesh and wade out of the waves- careful not to turn our backs to a big one- look around for the rainbow umbrella, and realize how far we had gone. Returning to the umbrella and the burning sand of the shore we would find that we had been gone an hour. Starving we would throw ourselves onto the sand, roll around in the warmth, and then ask for a sandwich.



Being there when babies are born or when people are dying feels very similar to this.

 It seems to take you outside of time. I usually leave a birth or death shaking myself at how much time has passed. Although I’ve been looking at my watch the whole time to write down times and events, it’s always disorienting. Time has a different feeling. It is broken down into hours, minutes, and seconds, but they don’t mean the same thing.  Time means drops of water, a few breaths, and a galloping heartbeat.  Just as we lost ourselves to the rhythm of the waves, now we loose ourselves in the ebb and flow of moments.

It is unpredictable. There really is no telling what is going to happen when you leave your home in the morning (or in the middle of the night for a birth). It could be something big, something scary and powerful, or it could happen so quietly and peacefully that you wonder… Did that really just happen? No one can say what kind of wave will curl over us next, of if it will it push you all the way down to the sandy bottom or float you up into the sunshine.

It puts things back in perspective. In the face of life and death, lifes problems retreat and get smaller. Sometimes, I’m able to completely forget all of my outside problems and just be there. One of the midwives that I work with calls this feeling “Feeling the floor beneath your feet.” I call it being in the room. It’s drawing all of your attention to this present moment and situation. Whether watching someone take his or her first breath or the last, the ocean is deep and powerful and full of things I do not understand. The mystery takes my attention off of myself.

I like to think that St. Paul was talking about something like this when he wrote about decreasing so that God may increase. That area of our mind/heart/body that is caught up in insecurity, doubt and anxiety and preoccupied with ourselves has to get smaller. We must feel the floor beneath our feet, breath in, breath out, and face the circumstances in front of us. When we are completely there in the moment, when we have quieted the voices of fear, we can act with a clear purpose.  Once we stop thinking of ourselves and how we are perceived, we can fully be Love to one another.



My work right now is like being in the ocean, and although that is not always comfortable, I still love the challenge and excitement. I love the awareness it brings to just be in the room.







A caveat. I have noticed that sometimes the hardest rooms for me to completely BE in are those where the people know me best. With my family and friends it’s often hard to unlearn the old patterns of insecurity. Plus, I sometimes come home tired, hungry, dirty, and ready to fall apart. The only room I want to be in at that time is a dark room with a bed, or in the shower. Shower = Magic. I hope that I am learning to be more present to them, even as I learn to be more present at work. Work should be a training ground for life and not the other way around.




And another. My mommy friends talk about these moments too, but I think we probably experience them differently. I think that once you have little babies you always keep the rainbow beach umbrella in your line of sight, at least until your little babies are grown up babies. I like to think that my mommy friends have lots of little “in the room” moments spread throughout their day, but they cannot disappear out of the time-space continuum for 10 hours because -Helloooo- their babies need them right there, right now.