Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Good, the Hard and Peeling Potatoes

I am visiting my parents in Minnesota, but not just for fun. My dad had two strokes in the last week. I had to come, even though my mother called me after I booked the flight and emphatically explained that they were FINE, that all was well. I came. 

He spent a couple of days in the hospital, but he's home now and trying to sort out this new normal. I have destroyed the clean kitchen here in my childhood home repeatedly, cooking way too much food. He tries to eat the tons of food.  And he tries not to get frustrated when we cajole him to get rid of catalogs from 1983, but he also shows me the look-book from his Army basic training in 1953 and tells stories about the people he was with  in the photos. 

It's good. And it's hard. 

I find myself folding laundry, peeling potatoes and washing dishes set to music in my head. Actually not just any music. Most of what plays along as the soundtrack to my emotional shoreline of waves washing in and waves washing out are hymns. 

I grew up in a small Unitarian Universalist Fellowship--the hymns I remember from being a kid are "Morning Has Broken" and.....well, yeah. That's all I remember. We probably sang others. But I don't remember them. As a young adult I came back to get married and then to have my children dedicated and then to just come back to church. That's when I started to build this library in my heart of hymns that would rise up at just the moment I needed them. 

The first time I remember this happening I had three young children and we were all at my parents' house, I think we were doing yard work. I remember walking through the back yard with an arm full of tree branches and hearing in my head "I must answer yes to life" over and over again. 

Hey, it was a tough time! Then the verse came to me, it's kind of a plodding hymn in some ways, but it's perfect for working to: 

Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, "Yes" to life; 
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day. 
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, "Yes." to life

The hymns came more frequently as the years went by. If you sing a hymn a few times a year it soaks into the resource library of your soul. Of course I have "Spirit of Life" which calls the spirit of love to come and sit with me during times of hopelessness and loss.

"Sing in the heart, all the stirrings of compassion."

The somg most present for me today is one we heard in our Q4M worship this week "All Will Be Well" by the Rev. Meg Barnhouse and while it's not in any of our hymnals (yet!) , it is one of the best songs for keeping on keeping on when things are hard. I have plucked my way through the chorus of this on my guitar, teaching it to groups of children and adults--and they have told me that it helps. It helps. It does. 

All will be well, all will be well all manner of things--will be well. 

No, those aren't Meg Barnhouse's words exactly, they're from Dame Julien of Norwich. But Meg set them to this tune with a beautiful haunting melody and a cadence that matches walking. Or peeling potatoes. And then she wrote verses to explain them. It really does help.

So that's what I did today. I peeled potatoes, and made a way too big batch of homemade beef stew, even though I've been a vegetarian for 15 years, no I didn't eat it, but my dad did. My loved ones here in Minnesota did. As I worked the hymns of my faith bubbled up and walked with me. They bolstered my strength and centered my soul and said:

"baby girl. you are holy" 

and reminded me: 

"though these sheltering walls are thin, may they be strong to keep hate out, and hold love in."

May it be so for me and you and my dad and my mom and my family and your family and every single broken and lovely person on this planet. 

Amen. 

Big, fat, rockin' holy AMEN! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mothering and Letting Go

I have been a mother for almost exactly half of my life. You could argue that even though I'd been out of my parent's house for six years and married for four that I was just barely an adult when that dear first child was born. My husband and I lived in an awful little apartment kitty-corner from where we'd gone to high school. Just before our son was born, my husband painted part of the apartment building in barter for our rent.

But none of that mattered. I was young, we were broke, there was a terrible recession and few jobs, our families thought we were nuts for bringing a child into this mess, and it was all meaningless because I was a mother. A MOTHER!

This feels like a lifetime ago. Now, that little baby who lived with us across from our high school is an adult man, and a fine one at that. He's grown and gone but close enough to be dragged home to help with the yard work which he hates but does anyway because, well, he's a fine man!

The next baby came along almost exactly three years after the first, and he lives most of the year in New York going to college now, at least when he's not adventuring or researching in distant lands. He's gone for months and months at a time. I can see his face on web chat, but I don't get to eat lunch or watch movies with him for absolute eons at a time.

The last baby came along two years later. He's still at home, for now anyway, but turns 18 one week from today. He's headed into what passes for the second year of high school in this house--a second year of community college and if all goes well, he's headed for either a great BFA in musical theater after high school or maybe he'll just launch into a career. If I could choose it would be school. But this has been the biggest lesson of mothering.

Often I do not get to choose.

Often I am sitting on my hands, or biting my tongue or just smiling and waiting as these damn children go off and create lives of their own.

They choose girlfriends and schools and cars and jobs on their own!

Sometimes they even go to the doctor and book haircuts and good lord-- buy SHOES without me.

There was a time that I made all of these things happen for my boys. I even had say over the food that appeared before them and the clothes they had to choose from to wear every day.

And this is just how it should be. I am happy. I love my boys like a deep wide river that powers over every boulder and cliff it meets. Today I saw this photo and thought "there's my heart!"


But look at them! They are grown! They need me, yes. But what they really need is for me to have a full and interesting life and to leave them the hell alone!

We are in the season of leaving. College semesters begin, summer fun and travel are ending, we're settling into a low-key time of school and work getting back to our simple lives. That handsome boy on the right leaves on Friday and I will not lay my eyes on his physical being until Christmas. Christmas, people! I am devastated. And not.

It's a funny thing, the work of a mother is to make herself completely unnecessary to the daily lives of her children. And while yes, I think I may be succeeding in this, letting go of my children is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. The task at hand is to rip your heart out, and duct tape it to your child as they march off to their future lives and then smile and princess-wave to all those who are watching....And I have to do it three times.

If I were not a professional church lady I would say out loud "F*CK!! THIS IS HARD!"

Oh, well, I guess I just said it.

It may be the hardest thing I have ever had to do. But I would not have traded it for anything in the world. Not one thing. Not a million things. I have been blessed with this sacred role. I am a mother. A mother.

Amen.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stigma--and the Phrase "Commit Suicide"

People commit crimes.

People commit murder and if you want to go there, people commit adultery.

We humans are broken and we screw up and we sometimes act out the past wrongs done to us by screwing up other people--some of them people we absolutely treasure.

When we humans do really bad things we use this language. We commit crimes, we commit ills against society.

But I do not believe that people commit suicide. I believe that suicide is a tragedy and a horror and should never have to happen. I wish that we would cradle one another gently when times are dark and we should never be alone when depression tries to corner us and speak its lies to us about how we are unworthy and unlovable. I also know that sometimes the pain of living gets to be so much for some folks that they can't take it and they do the only thing that makes sense in the crazy twisted moment of that reality, and end their existence on earth.

I do not believe that taking your own life is some kind of a sin. I believe we are all here in this blessed and sometimes cursed life, struggling to do the best we can. And sometimes it hurts like hell. It's awful. Heartbreaking. Devastating to those left behind. But it is not worthy of what we mean when we use "committed". To say that someone has committed suicide, unless you really believe it to be a sin against god that disallows that person from a heavenly afterlife, is old, dated, inaccurate use of language that perpetuates the stigma of mental health problems.

People die by suicide. It is a horrible tragedy. But lets not make it worse by saying that our beloved brother or sister committed something. Language matters, what we say makes a difference and the words we choose change the meaning of what we say.

Let's all say what we really mean.

I am terribly sad that Robin Williams died by suicide. I pray that his loved ones can hold the beautiful memories of his life close as they reel from his loss. I pray that we can all try to take a little more care with one another and to learn to love ourselves--especially our broken parts.

We can take a line from Williams' character in "The Dead Poets Society":




Let us use the words that we mean. Stop the stigma. And let each person on this planet know that we are all, at our very core, whole and holy and good. Love surrounds and lifts us all, even when we cannot feel it. Especially when we cannot feel it. You are so loved. You are. So loved. 

Amen





Thursday, June 19, 2014

Saved--From Nothing and Everything

I'm back at my crazy temp job, saving up to do the good work I mean to do which pays not quite as well as temp work.

Why yes, yes, thank you for asking, I AM living the high life...

At work we had three crazy days of learning a new project and getting qualified to actually DO the work--days when you start with 50 people in a group and end with 15 because those are the only ones who make the qualification test.

Why yes, yes, thank you for asking, it is brutal.

Today when we came to work the groups had been shifted around in our work space because, of course, we're have much smaller groups now, and I was lucky enough to sit by one of the first people I met in this crazy job. She's a lovely woman and I just adore her. I'm so happy to share work space with her bright spirit and kick-ass attitude; super fun in our academic sweatshop.

Today I was looking at her computer screen and I admitted that I was doing something I probably shouldn't have been doing which I will not admit now because that would be wrong, wrong, wrong. She said something about how I was going to hell.

"I don't believe in hell."

OK, pause....when you work in religion you often have a difficult time telling people what you do or did for work. People assume that you are a locked down person who never has any fun and they tick back through what they've already said to you wondering if they have incriminated themselves. I never admit it on an airplane, that makes for an awful flight. In Seattle if I say "Unitarian" people often say "Oh, I love the UUs!" so it's a little better.

At this job when people ask me what field I worked in or am looking for work in, since we're all looking for work, I say "Oh, I used to be a professional church lady" which makes everyone think of Dana Carvey on SNL. It's intentional. Laugh so you don't think I'm a freak. So, at this job it's kind of how people know me-- as "church lady". Whatever. It's fine. Everyone knows I'm somehow connected with a church.

So back to the hell incident. I said, "I don't believe in hell."

"WHAT?" she said? "But you're the church lady!" It's pretty quiet at our work, and this was pretty loud. Church ladies apparently believe in hell!

No. I don't believe in hell, or the divinity of Jesus or anything much, really.

Except people. I believe in people. I believe in people who screw their lives up and then keep going, and people who love when there is no way anyone could expect them to love one more thing because life has done awful things to them, and I believe in children because children are just so good and holy and whole--always, and I believe in the devoted love of a dog and the long love of dear friends and the moment of a smile shared between strangers in brief passing and people who help when they should probably just keep going...and all of it.

I FEEL the goodness in people. I feel the powerful force of love in this world and in just about every person I meet. People do good things because we, for the most part, are whole and holy and yes.....GOOD. Of course we're also bad and evil and so, so, so broken. But usually, if we have been given a break or two, the love is what guides us. We DO good because we ARE good. Love leads us. Love actually guides us.

From what I've seen in my few decades here on this earth, if we lead with love we are never, ever, ever, wrong. Hell is a magical story spun by someone who was trying to control people.

But love, well love is kick-ass, full-on epic-- real.

Real.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It's Magic

Sometimes you get to do something in this life that just feels so right, you want to dance and sing and roll around on the floor in a pleasure bomb of joy!

OK, there was no rolling on the floor, but holy mother of all things good and pure and whole today was a really good day.

I got to go to my LREDA cluster meeting.

What? Why would that make someone dance and sing?

Well, have you ever been with a room full of people who would understand you with no words? Or maybe two words or three...."did you hear?" "Totally" "I know" "Amazing!"

Being a religious educator is not easy work. You often hold everything from supplying glue sticks for classrooms to counseling families through the death of a parent, and literally, every thing between. It is a profound honor and nearly impossible.

This was a room full of people who also follow this call.

I was welcomed back to this group which was my spiritual home for seven years with wide open arms. It has been two years since I have been a part of the group, but it felt like no time had passed. Yes, there was a new baby who's pregnancy and birth I'd missed, but I was the lucky one who held him as he fell asleep. And yes, some of my colleagues are gone, some in less-than-ideal circumstances and it made me very sad. But I got to see people I thought I might never see again. People whom I love. It was bliss.

If you ever doubt the importance of real, true support of people who understand your life and your soul without explanation, don't. It is profound!

As I walked to the parking lot with people whom I first met in far away states at long past events, I said "LREDA is magic! Here we are, in this spot, and it's just the same!" It was. It is!

Truth. Magic!

Amen!


Monday, May 26, 2014

Held in the Heart of Love

I have been busy.

I don't mean to be a part of the churn in our culture that glorifies busy "Oh, I'm soooo busy, can't even find time to blah blah blah!"

But it's true. 

I have been, and I am. 

I'm trying to squirrel away some cash so I can do my dream job for a while. So, I am hustling nuts just about as fast as I can, or well, no nuts. I'm scoring student essays from standardized tests. It is forty million times more difficult than you think it is. Really. It is. 

I can't say much of course, because of confidentiality agreements. But the last few days I've been working lots of overtime, trying to finish a big project on time. Or less late. Or something. I've worked straight through from Mother's Day with no days off, usually 9, 10 and even 12 hour days. 

I am happy for the work and the chance to bring in some money. My goodness I work with some amazing people. But I'm starting to get tired, and maybe a little raw. 

We sometimes get a little peek into the lives of the students who write these essays. As you can imagine, the essays can be charming, heart warming and even funny--our quiet office is occasionally punctuated with a burst of giggles from a scorer, all in good cheer. 

But there are some papers that just bring me to my knees. Some young people deal with so much more than they should have to. It breaks my heart open. There are processes to get help to the kids, it's all handled well. But still, there it is. 

Yesterday after reading a heart breaker, I had to take a moment and step out in the fresh air. How can our society just chug on along when our children are all just really not OK. Really, now. How? I stood and watched the wet Seattle afternoon, the bright green spring leaves shook raindrops to the ground as the sun broke through the clouds, the fresh spring air promising growth, life and hope. Maybe hope, anyway. 

But the papers are there, and they need to be scored. It's my job to score them. So I headed back in and sat down at my desk.Somehow, I needed something, a marker to at least note to myself that I hear these kids, I see them, I care. And I do not for one moment think that the way our world works is OK at all, in particular when it comes to our children. 

I wrote a version of the affirmation we use in the Church of the Larger Fellowship's services  after our shared joys and sorrows on a sticky note and stuck it to the travel tumbler that sits on my desk all day. My prayer. My hope. My deepest wish for every being or at the very least for every single child: 

"May all be held in the heart of love."


It is, right now, my deepest prayer. 

May we work like hell to make it so. 

Amen. 


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sunshine on Grateful Days

The sun is out!

The birds are singing!

The flowers are in bloom --yes, yes, yes, they're flowering weeds and bolted kale, but who cares!

And, my son is coming home from his first year at school!



I've done the kid-away-at-college gig before. But this one didn't just go to UW here in Seattle. This one went to school in Syracuse. Know how many planes it takes to get to Syracuse? Two. It takes two planes, you have to connect. It's far, far, far away. Three time zones.

But now school is over and he's coming home and he'll be here for, well, he'll be here for chunks of the summer between his field studies. I am happy, so so happy!

This year has been a tough one for me. In July my oldest son moved a few hours away for his first career job after college. And then the middle son moved to Syracuse for college at SUNY ESF, which has turned out to be the perfect school for him. It's good but it's awful.

Then there was the job search. I had so much trouble finding the right job. (Which I did by the way, I start at CLF this August and we're going to to amazing things with our ministry to families!) That search just about took the wind out of my sales for good-- I was ready to just work at the local gas station.....well, maybe not the gas station but I was pretty convinced that the right job no longer existed. None of those are terrible things, really. But, my dad is living strong with two kind of stage four cancer, which is always stuck in my throat. That's tough. And my husband hates his job. That's tough, too. Somehow, it all added up.

So this year, for a very lucky person, I felt like crap. A lot. I missed my two oldest kids, and smothered the poor youngest kid with too much mothering.

I tried to throw myself into volunteering, but probably didn't do as well as I could have because I always felt like I was just barely keeping my head above water. Depression kinda sucks the ambition right out of you.

I really, really tried to find a job, I got close on a few that seemed like a good fit, but nothing came through. I thought all those networks I had would kick in, but no dice. Looking for work is full-time work, and it's the worst job you'll even not have. Seriously. Brutal.

It's all over now. The middlest comes home tomorrow. We rented a van and we're all going to the new whale museum on Saturday to celebrate the May birthdays and Mother's Day. I am working a fine temp job that lasts til July and then I'll start at CLF in August. My kids will be here. My dogs are always here. We even  found a good dog therapist for the crazy one. Really, all is well in my world.

I am the kind of person who usually has a self-righting mechanism. I get really depressed, but I usually turn back around like those self righting bath toys and go paddling along on my grateful days.

This time took a little longer. But I'm here. Upright. And on my way.

Amen.