every common bush

earth's crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes – the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries. elizabeth barrett browning

For my mother, who shows me how to be human, on her birthday

I have pondered the nature of parenthood for a good stretch now. I have the crease lines in the middle of my forehead, coming out of my eyebrows, to show for it. As far as I can tell from here, being a parent is simply teaching another human being how to be human, mostly by example. It is why Jesus came to earth as a person instead of simply telling us from His lofty perch, spectacles at the end of his nose, chin lifted to see through them to examine our behavior more precisely, what to do and how to be.

In a smaller but not very different sense, this is what parents do for their children every day.

It is my mom’s birthday today (i’m pretty sure. if not, it’s definitely tomorrow) and the older I get the more I can see clearly what she has shown me of true, grounded, and earthy humanity.  Perhaps it’s the distance, or the age, or the fact that I am keenly aware that I now have three little eyes on me as she once did, but my heart grows fonder towards my mom as the time passes. She is not perfect, but she is real and defined and that makes her only more lovable to me.

So mom, on your birthday, I can’t call you because my phone is in its winter hibernation of deadness and no charge is bringing it to life, but thank you for being human – so gloriously you – in front of me.  I have *learned much of love and life by having a front seat to your life:

  1. I have learned to say thank you, always.
  2. I have learned to apologize when I am wrong.
  3. I have learned that it is ok to say no, to others and to my children.
  4. I have learned humility to work on my weaknesses for the sake of my family.
  5. I have learned that to live my life in service of others is the happiest way to live.
  6. I have learned what receiving a hand written note or package in the mails feels like.
  7. I have learned that I shouldn’t and can’t prevent my children from struggling. It is enough to simply be available for them as they fail and hurt.
  8. I have learned that a mother’s cool hand on a sad or hurting body is the best medicine.
  9. I have learned that the slow, simple life is the best life.
  10. I have learned to not be so sensitive and to expect little in return.
  11. I have learned to play with my kids…
  12. that learning is play…
  13. but to let them lead (sometimes).
  14. I have learned the value of adoption, of taking people in, of treating people who need it like family.
  15. I have learned that “camp” (nature) is a healing place.
  16. I have learned the joy of being home.
  17. I have learned the warmth and value of cooking from scratch.
  18. I have learned the subtle sweetness and authenticity of a private existence.
  19. I have been opened, like a flower, in my heart by being asked questions and being listened to minute detail by minute detail.
  20. I have learned that children are precious and important. More important than clean homes, money, and most things, actually.
  21. I have learned to see the humor in life and people, even when they are not really.
  22. I have learned to stay in contact with people and to not let relationships drift too far.
  23. I did not learn to balance my check book or read a map. Sorry, mom.
  24. I have learned that being on time is possible – still working on execution.
  25. I have learned that a good second hand find can make a whole day.
  26. I have learned to see God in the small details of my day.
  27. I have learned to delight in my own mother, the older she gets.
  28. I have learned a lot about marriage. Mostly respect, friendship, and feeding.
  29. I have learned to cry easily at love.

Betchya you didn’t know you taught me all that, hey mom. I don’t think I knew it until these past few years. I know you doubt, as all moms do, if you did any lasting good in your children’s lives and if so, did the good outweigh the bad? If this list or the love I feel in my heart towards you says anything, I’d say so.

*by learning, I do not mean that I have mastered any of these things, but that they have become part of my values and goals in being human myself.

 

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in the wake of losing our beloved donna

About thirty minutes before I received the phone call from my dad breaking the devastating news that our beloved Donna had died, and even worse, been killed, my children were fighting over something so insignificant that I cannot recall it. My response to their squabbling was to grab their attention with a juicy secret. They love juicy secrets. The secret was, I told them, that they are each other’s longest friend and that they are tied together for life and nothing can change that. This thought did it’s job and they forgot about their differences and started asking questions.

 

“What if we die???”, they asked.

 

“Especially when you die”, I replied, “Cause then you will see your connection even more”.

 

This satisfied their current wrath with one another and we moved on with our day. I set out lunch while the kids watched a show. I absently checked my phone when I saw the text from my dad to call him.

 

Memories I have of my aunt are random snippets. I remember when my sister and I went to her work in a factory and I ran into the corner of a table and got a bloody nose. On a different trip the three of us walked the streets of downtown Springfield for a holiday festival. It was cold and I was still at the age where any time with my family gave me a crisp, full and glowing feeling. She worked at Fannie May in a strip mall, which ensured more chocolate in our lives for that time. At one point I stayed a week (or a weekend?) with her, just her and me. She had a waterbed that I jiggled then rode the waves for novelty. The rooms in her home were small and old. By this time in my life I thought primarily of Gidget and MoonDoggie and all I really wanted to do was watch the movies, though I had a nagging guilt about it. She didn’t say a word. A couple of birthdays she gave me a myriad of girly treasures, like makeup and lotions. I didn’t realize then that she was giving from a widow’s mite.

 

More than anything though, I left my childhood knowing that my Aunt Donna wanted to be close to me. I could feel her intention to connect with me in the intuitive way kids know adults. It was pure and kind and respectful.

 

As an adult, I don’t know if there was a time that I saw Aunt Donna that she didn’t gift me or our kids with something. A few years back she invited us to her house to go through a friend’s jewelry. I still have the string of pearls from that day. A friend asked me if they were real and I laughed. But to  me, they are better than real. They are from her.

 

Two Christmases ago i’m pretty sure she went through her couch cushions and drawers before we arrived to collect as many coins as she could for the boys. She divided them evenly and put them in two plastic bags and it surely did the trick. Our boys felt as rich as kings.

 

This Thanksgiving, like clockwork,  she came with hands full, this time bestowing old Bible story books for the kids. Giving is part of what made Aunt Donna Aunt Donna. Out of her two coins, she would surely hand you one of them and most of the time I had a sneaking suspicion she was giving all she had.

 

My dad has the same kind and gentle way to him as his sister and I do not have any doubt that he learned it from her. He calls her sissy and it seems to me that they have never had to be reminded by a scolding adult that like it or not, they are connected forever. While I am sure they had their moments like all siblings do, there was a maternal way Donna had with my dad and a childlike love that he gave in return.

 

Like with my dad, to know my sister is to know my aunt. Tonight Jen spoke in Aunt Donna’s light southern drawl, making words long and slightly whiny for emphasis like she does. Dang, it was so accurate. Jen says she can literally hear Aunt Donna’s voice in her head like she is talking to her. When God made those two it’s like He simply cut a cloth in half. That is what their relationship was like too – kindred spirits sewn together.

 

Tonight I sat with God in silence. As I opened myself up to the horrors of this week I physically felt in my chest the collision of heartache and comfort. What a godless, void of love, full of violence death my aunt suffered. And now we are both without her and left to wonder what the end was like for her. But as I sat with God wordless comfort flooded me. The words I put to it now are these:  

 

I was reminded that people are really just souls with bodies on. Our souls are what is eternal and real about us. Our souls are what are united to God both in this life and the next. The God that was sitting in wordless oneness with my soul tonight is the same God that at that exact moment was in the limitless presence of my aunt’s soul.  It was like the three of us souls were there together in full on love and unity that not even my time contained body could interfere. Such comfort I cannot express but through tears.

 

I was also given the thought that while we cannot imagine the horrors of my aunt’s death, there is a chance that we also cannot imagine the presence of God revealed to her in those moments either. It is like when someone’s worst earthly fear becomes real and it is nothing like they imagined it to be because they imagined it in fear without God. When they actually live through it there is such comfort and supernatural peace that they never imagined would be there and they are surprised at how ok they are, though full of pain for sure. Again, it is that seam where horror and comfort meet that is truly an other worldly experience. I would like to think that my aunt experienced the presence of God in her last moments. Knowing how she held onto God in life and knowing how God holds onto us in our darkest hour, i believe this is not just a fanciful hope of the broken hearted, but a deeply founded one.

Hello 35

This morning I walked to the end of our road in my slippers with a mug of hot coffee. The boys are old enough for me to slip out for an “end of the road” walk now. This was my first one and it felt like Life’s birthday present to me. It is a cloudless, all blue sky today. I shouted to our neighbor who was pruning her flowers how beautiful and cottage like her flower gardens are shaping up to be. She shouted back that this was just the look she was going for. I love it when conversations work out like that. I came home and danced in the kitchen while making breakfast smoothies.

While dancing in my kitchen, profound thoughts started flowing and for a moment I could see that reality really is as soft, loving, and safe as I hope it to be. I could see that we really all are ok: me, ben, our kids, our extended family, our friends, our community…the whole world.

While dancing in my kitchen, I also experienced profound gratitude for getting older. My twenties and early thirties were so very painful and I am glad to be shedding the wrinkle free skin of youth for the spotted, cracked skin of wisdom.

While dancing in my kitchen, this is the wisdom I knew in my heart of hearts:

*Love multiplies rather diminishes when it is spent. Unlike money, time, people, and oil that eventually run out, Love expands with use. It is the most renewable resource we have. Not only does Love not diminish like the other things we “use” to refill ourselves, it doesn’t have the nasty side effects of misused drugs, alcohol, sex, power, control, relationship and on and on.  No hangovers with Love. only more Love.

*Love is most transforming in places and people that lack it. I think of the Scripture that says that even pagans love their friends. that is easy. but real love is how we respond to people who hurt us and to situations and systems that are run by ego fueled power and self protection. This is where the absolute power of Love shines like the triumphant light in the darkness. It worked on me!

*God is Love. He really is. His spirit is all around us, filling the cracks and crevices of our home, our atmosphere, even our very bodies. He is in our cells, merging with us in the most microscopic way. He engrains with us so that there is no distinction where He ends and we begin. He really is that close.

*In this God Love, everything is connected. Separation and scarcity are a figment of our scared imaginations. I, whose drug of choice is connection, do not have to “go and get it”, as if I am not part of a great cosmic interwovenness already. This is why I embrace getting older. Every day is closer to true seeing, where my own triggered brain no longer dictates my view of reality. Death is freedom from the prison of our own scared, self preserving perceptions. Yet even still, my mind is seeing more and more what is actually true on this earth right now: “How wide, how long, how high, how deep is the love of Christ”.

How happy this all makes me to be alive. I am filled with joy at the year ahead, whatever it brings. I trust that the great flow of God Love in me, through me, as me (thank you for that imagery Ruth Reamer) will carry me into a wider, longer, higher, deeper experience of this life in God.

A Parent’s Love

Birthday parties decorated in your favorite color

Cool hands on fevered hot skin

Love notes in lunch boxes

 

Prayers said,

books read,

sleepless nights, rolling in bed,

all with you in mind

 

fights fought

rebellion caught

silence in the face of screaming

no matter how demeaning

they don’t let go

 

Love takes time,

decades even,

to catch up to the human soul

but when it does, life begins again

a second birth, born into a world that,

soft and ordered,

makes a lot of sense.

Small Packages

a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit 

The city is alive

Christmas trees on tops of cars

A mother yells for the child who has roamed too far

Twinkling lights brighten the night

Lovers hold hands in window seats

Their hearts match the horse’s beat

strolling with a family of four

Oval mouths sing deck the halls

overtop the city sounds

In Central Park there is a rare, dark corner

in it sits the stump of an old dead tree

Nobody noticed when it fell

Nobody misses its shade or smell

(If it came back, no-one would tell)

But in this dead, not missed tree

Something is happening, smaller still

A sprig of green, barely seen

Like two cells meeting inside of an unsuspecting mother

New Life

The groaning and moaning and longing of this world

answered in an inaudible sound

It would take silence and a thousand megaphones to hear

The shoot in the dead tree grows

The baby in its mother forms fingers and toes

God is here, and who would think

He would come like this

* a very quick note on where this poem came from. this christmas, we are skipping the tree, the lights, the presents, and the amazing christmas movies in lieu of well…nothing. it was ben’s idea and I wasn’t looking forward to it very much. in all of those wonderful things’ places, the symbolism of this very, very small green leaf and this tiny cellular baby holding the hope of the world, has bloomed in my heart. why did God choose to come so tiny? so quietly. “to shame the wise” perhaps.  anyways, this is me trying to assimilate that imagery and its significance in my head. God is so different from this world. so unexpected and upstream.  I love it.