Archive for the 'love' Category

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

11
Aug
10

alone together at last

Remember our lovebirds? Here’s where they were last time we peeked into their story.

Four weeks and 11 days later, the newly weds are finally off to their honeymoon cottage. They had a few things to attend to first…like house and home for 2 little squirts and 2 funny cats.

These two little lovely Misses stay with Grandpa and Grandma while Darling and #1 Son (the Captain) go not too far away…just far enough to be alone and in love together.

The cats, Pablo and Toulouse stay home to guard the house, eat, sleep and watch the birds. 🙂

07
Jul
10

a very good day

Five days ago Darling Daughter and #1 son—the Captain—tossed aside their butterflies and wed. The ceremony began as Darling, preceded by Miss Green and Miss Pink, floated down the beautiful 19th century staircase to the sonorous tones of the Pachelbel Canon, and into the waiting arms of—the Captain. It was a perfect day for a wedding and a perfect day to be back in the home and company of Virgil and Joan Vogt of Reba Place Fellowship, where Darling and I began our Christian journey decades ago—a single parent and an only child, at the edge of our rope (so to speak). Who would have thought then that one day Darling would walk down those stairs? I learned recently that as a child she imagined herself being a bride and doing just that! It was paper dolls and dress-ups then. On July 3, 2010 it was for real. Time flies, buttered or not and our journeys take us through many nooks and crannies. This was definitely neither nook nor cranny. It was sunlit tips of sparrow wings and wispy breath, blue skies. It was a very good day to say… I do.

The Captain escorted Darling and the Misses Green and Pink into the living room. The immediate family followed and took their places in a circle of chairs. The pastor spoke a greeting and the candles were lit. It was a mesmerizing experience of hope and love and unity. The scripture was read, the words were spoken, the vows were uttered and voices in song filled the air.

After toasting the bride and groom with champagne and greeting each other, we watched as they walked out the door to the porch, where flower petals had been lovingly strewn by two of Darling’s  dear friends. We threw the ecologically correct birdseed and thanked God for blessings yet to come as they walked down the stairs and toward their car.

Then came the wedding luncheon at the Persian restaurant, Noon-O-Kabab, where the chef served us personally as honored guests, and we all ate more than we should have. But who can refuse a beautiful and most delicious piece of wedding cake? None of us did and I wish I had a piece right now! It was quite a banquet and quite a day. I have a lovely new family of four and an extended family of ten. That makes sixteen…a very good number.

28
Jun
10

6 days

In 6 days Darling Daughter and #1 Son, the Captain, will exchange wedding vows. The very next day 40 relatives and friends will descend upon my sister’s home where she is hosting a reception for the happy couple. I am not much thinking about any of this just now. I have too many vicissitudes of life sprouting on my shoulders. What happened to the golden years? I am now in that time period when life is supposed to be easy and pleasant. That is what was promised back when I was growing up. My body says it should be so, but the news and the mail and the world says something very different. Ten years ago I expected to live to be 90+ and not skip a beat. Today I am wondering what happened to the beat. I think the rhythm is completely different. There are days when I do not even understand the beat, let alone want to skip along with it.

Darling and Captain will begin a new song. I pray their lyrics do not lose their sweetness…that the God who dwells within them always has a place at their table.

And to Miss Green and Miss Pink, my new grandchildren…you are the sunshine on a cloudy day.

09
Mar
10

holiness

My last posting on this blog was Thursday, March 4, 2-1/2 days before my adopted daughter, Bettina Maria Ortiz passed from this world to the next. I had been careful not to say too much about her illness and approaching death. We kept another blog going called Longing for Light where she kept in touch with all of her friends and relatives. This blog, Called by Name was where I spoke about my thoughts and feelings and those were very intimate and personal.

My partner and I met Bettina about 13 years ago through mutual friends. We introduced her to my biological daughter (Darling Daughter) and they became friends as well. We grew into a family very quickly. In those 13 years we had many adventures together—a chosen family of adults. Big Dawg and I lived within a block or two of the “daughters” and enjoyed a small sense of community—something BD and I sorely missed since leaving a Christian communal church many years earlier. Life rolled along in hills, valleys and meadows until the summer of 2006, when I was diagnosed with stage 4, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, followed 2 months later by Bettina’s diagnosis of stage 3+ ovarian cancer.

We were cancer buddies, understanding each other at a place only other cancer people can know. Sometime in 2007, when the life threatening cancer we’d both endured shook our hearts and souls, we began to silently adopt each other: adopted mom and adopted daughter. Then we all began attending church together. Walking with other Christian hearts and minds, we encountered many thin places where the division between the holy and the ordinary seem very thin. All of us grew close in this adopted family, but the bond between Bettina and me seemed at times set apart…and so it was: adopted daughter/adopted mom.

When Bettina’s cancer recurred a 4th time in January/February 2009, we asked her to come live with us so that BD and I could take care of her. We did a major revision of households, complete with turning our dining room into her bedroom and having our meals on a picnic table in the kitchen. She joined our household one early weekend in March, 2009. We hoped she would be the exception to the  ovarian mortality statistics. We became convinced she would be and dreamed of selling our house in 2 years, buying an RV with a satellite dish and a Peace sign, putting on tie-dye shirts, and roaming the country as poster girls for inclusivity, Jesus-style. We called ourselves the wild ones…in terms of Mennonite church culture, we were.

Then in December 2009, concurrent with my news of complete remission, came hers of yet another poor CA125 lab result. Her last remission was only a few months. The cancer was back and by January there was nothing left to be done. Her body did not respond to Tamoxifen and was not able to accommodate another chemo cycle. At her oncologist’s suggestion, we made a visit to a palliative care doctor on January 25th and left her office with a contract for in-home hospice care. We were already in a mild state of shock when, by the afternoon, hospice appeared at our door ready to serve. For the next 2 days, there were visits by nurse, doctor, social worker and chaplain, as well as deliveries of drugs and medical equipment. Our lives took a 180 degree turn.

Through the next weeks Bettina began a leave of absence from her job and set about putting her affairs in order on numerous levels. By the third week oxygen was required. Enter Darth Vader the O2 machine, noisily and rhythmically supplying life sustaining oxygen to her increasingly compromised lungs. After a bit of time the uninterrupted hissing and hewing became comforting to me. The morphine, Lorazepam and Remeron kept her in a relatively pain-free state allowing her the pleasure of visiting with people as well as giving and receiving love and support through her blog. In the night time hours she was fond of listening to music, especially the songs from the Sing the Journey CD, on her little Mac Laptop. Toward the end of her time she’d found Comme unsouffle fragile on YouTube and would fall asleep to it. I would often creep down the stairs to see her with her head phones and eyes closed in the blue light of her half opened computer.

During these last 5 weeks of her life she earnestly sought God and was increasingly filled with the light of God. Her last public appearance was at our church on February 28, where she shared her thoughts and insights in a meditation/sermon. The whole service was beautifully constructed around her…songs, scripture, sharing and communion. She, the pastor and worship leader served bread and wine to the entire congregation, giving each person a special word just meant for them.

By 5:00 that evening she began a serious decline that gathered momentum to the moment of her last faint breath on Saturday, March 6 at 2:15 p.m. It was a very painful, but holy day. BD noticed a flock of Sand Cranes circling high up in the sky shortly before the hospice nurse arrived. A few minutes after her arrival our pastor came too. This is our pastor’s account which she posted on our church listserve:

I arrived at Bettina’s bedside early this afternoon. Her nurse had just gotten there and turned out to be an invaluable part of the spiritual circle around her for her last hour. After taking her vitals and confirming that Bettina was in a coma, the nurse helped make the decision that she was ready to be taken off oxygen. She removed the tubes and then clicked off the noisy oxygen tank, resulting in the first blessed quiet that house had seen in weeks.

The family, along with Bettina’s oldest friend, the hospice nurse, and I gathered around Bettina’s bed. The nurse asked if she had some favorite music, and we all answered in unison, “Sing the Journey!” We put on her favorite “Sing the Journey” CD’s. Her labored breathing eased some, slowed, and at long last she simply didn’t take another breath. She had peacefully slipped away while the choir sang, “Listen, God is Calling.”

Close friends from church and work colleagues came to the house during the next four hours. At 6:00 pm, her body was carefully and respectfully taken away for cremation.

This has been a holy day.

It was my privilege to be Bettina’s friend, teammate and Mamacita…to love and care for her to the very end. I have learned and am learning a great deal about holding on and letting go, the theme of our denomination’s Lenten season. I am also learning a great deal more about suffering than I ever thought possible.

This will may be one of my last postings on this sight for a while. I will be tending to Bettina’s email and blog, Longing for Light. You are invited to visit there for more information on Bettina’s story.

Sandhill Cranes Migrating Southward

Photo by Todd Friesen

23
Jan
10

life goes on

I had a few rough days and nights as my last post reveals. By Thursday I was nearly undone from sleeplessness and despair. A phone call to my fine feathered friend, whom I shall call the Empress Bird (EB), and another to her dear partner, Queen Bee (QB) brought enormous relief. In the evening Big Dawg and I spent a couple of hours with EB, a person much like me, and through sharing back and forth, all my feelings that had no place to go were witnessed and released. One more time, the waters were not permitted to overcome me. Empress Bird spoke many life changing things to me and I heard them somewhere inside of my own silver lining.

When we left, I had two recordings in my hands that Queen Bee made for us—one for Adopted Daughter and her pain, and one for me and my sleeplessness . My recording was 100% helpful. I slept like a baby. Got rid of some nasty fears through dreams, and am now convinced that whenever I hear the sound of QB’s voice I may just become dumb-struck! AD used hers last night and says it helped her so much. We are grateful receivers of God’s gifts…the miraculous and the useful…we are open mouths for all that God sends any which way it comes.

Tomorrow BD and I will become members of our Little Church That Could in the city and AD will rejoice. Many of our friends from here and there, across the years and recent, will be there. Songs of our hearts will be sung and we will share with everyone what it means to us to have come this long, long way. We will rejoice  as endings fold themselves into new beginnings. Our good friend will come and sing Here by the Water for us…a song about the rough stones we are…stones only God can smooth, only God can make holy. That is our story, BD’s and mine…rough stones in the river of life.

Called by name….you are mine.

Cairn was built by Todd Friesen with love

Composite was made by Naomi with love..

30
Nov
09

giving thanks

My last posting was November 18. I talked a lot about time…my sense of time as a cancer survivor in her 7th decade. Whew! I made it through the looking glass and I’m none the worse for wear. In fact, maybe a bit better for the wear…a little more polished. This birthday may have been one of the most outstanding of my life. Many spots and splashes of love from family and friends, old and new…splashes of love like stars sparkling in a small universe of God-lights. It was memorable.

Sometimes I’ve gone to bed asking God if s/he loves me. Of course, I knew and know the answer, but I  needed to ask the question, just out of habit in the same way that sometimes we ask our spouse, our lover: “Do you love me?” A tiny bit of assurance after a long day’s work or a difficult day’s successful encounters. I am so incredibly human, so flawed, a sprouting mustard seed, a bird with big wings to grow into. Made in God’s image. That is a comforting thought.

It is 1:30 A.M. I’m looking back over the hills and valleys of the past 12  days looking for meaningful events to share with you. There was the evening my friend and his young family came with cookies to celebrate my birthday. How can one be sad in the presence of young, vibrant, loving children dancing and prancing about—their laughter, drawings, paper snowflakes—all love gifts…God-gifts of God-light.

There were many messages from here and there—affirmations. People appearing like open pages in a children’s pop-up book. One person  from so long ago, a fellow cancer survivor saying a private hello on face book, just because he’d read this blog and the years melted away. That was awesome, as the kids like to say.

Dinner with good friends…always a nice treat, and I had several of them, each very loving and memorable. But lunch with my daughter at a wonderful French restaurant, just she and I, cozy and sweet was very special. If you are pining away for quiche or crepes…or Buche de Noel…be good to yourself…enjoy those things at a good French restaurant. You will be pleased. The French know how to prepare foods for gastronomic happiness.

Thanksgiving day came soon after my birthday, and I had much to be thankful for. There is one little story of losing and finding my wallet that I will save for a separate posting, as it deserves it’s own place. Thanksgiving day 2009 was the first major holiday that my biological family and I faced without my oldest sister, who died in December of 2008. And it was the first major holiday that my partner and I faced since the bad old times of 2008/09. They say the first year is the hardest. I expect that is true.

As my dwindling family and I sat down to eat on Thanksgiving day, one of my young, great nephews announced that he had written a prayer of thanksgiving and would like to read it. He is a very sweet and sensitive boy. As it turned out he was overcome with stage fright and couldn’t read it, so his dad read it for him. The prayers of the young and sincere are touching in their innocence. This prayer was lovely but was missing a couple of adjectives in one of the points of gratefulness, so there were stifled chuckles from some and unabashed laughter from the younger sibling who sat directly across from the author of the thanksgiving prayer. Embarrassment, humiliation the color of red beets! My heart went out to him because I have been in that same spot as a child with adults laughing and smiling. It took many grown-up decades to really understand that they were not laughing at me, but expressing, however awkwardly, their enjoyment of my child-self singing a song, or telling a story, or reciting some verse or another. Those early experiences of perceived ridicule formed parts of my character for a very long time.

I sat at the table for what seemed like way too many minutes, feeling for him, wanting to comfort him…cover him with this understanding I now have. I sat until I couldn’t sit any longer, asked God to give me words and knelt down next to him, his red-beet face in his hands. I don’t know if what I said helped him or not. He is a very shy boy and way too sensitive for the competitive, heart-breaking world we live in. I was thankful for the glimpse of his soul that came my way to stay. I will always feel connected to this little boy from a foreign land. What I witnessed will be sacred to me. Maybe some day he will know that and be glad, as I was glad for the rather few adults in my growing up life who made a place for me, a very different sort of duck, in what I thought was a world of swans.

17
Nov
09

flying around corners

Since I last posted I have flown to many places in circular patterns as well as straight lines and U-curves. Last weekend I flew (actually) to New York for a meeting of the MennoNeighbors, a group of Mennonites currently putting our heads together to work toward securing the next step our denomination must take in social justice: inclusivity and the embrace of diversity. It was a fine weekend, met very interesting and wonderful people. Didn’t have time to see much of Manhattan, but we got a lot done (I think). Then flew home and attended a lovely party with new friends. Yesterday, I crashed under the weight of water logged wings.

Today I literally turn the corner on safety and turn 71. Those who are yet healthy and under the age of 60 may not understand what I am about to share concerning corner-turning, but hang in there with me and time-travel a bit.

My 70th birthday was bittersweet. We thought we were going to be received into membership at the church we were attending. It was to be a prodigal son  sort of thing. Dear old friends were invited to attend and were just waiting for the date to be declared. My  singer/songwriter  friend was going to play and sing for us. Significant persons in my encounter with faith were looking forward to being there with us. After 3 decades in the desert, this was an important event of covenant renewal for us. Of course, as we know, it never happened. Instead, we had some people come and celebrate my 70th birthday, including one dear old friend who flew in from Albuquerque. It was an amazing evening. On the other side of this movie screen, I was recovering from a Rituxan infusion  (lymphoma maintenance treatment), feeling ill and heart-broken. That was 70 for me…a little formidable but a cornerstone of age that I managed to slip through with more or less dignity.

This year, I turn the corner and face the east, the road to 80. There is no stopping it. The years go so quickly and cancer patients all know that time becomes a different entity in the remission stage(s). For me, it is not a loss of youth, it is an anxiety about time itself…time to do as much as I can to make a difference everywhere I go…to leave a legacy that is positive and helpful, especially to my daughter, partner and all those whom I have loved, love and maybe love me too. But even more than that—to leave the spot of the world that I stand in better off than when I arrived—better off because I chose to struggle toward wholeness without holding back. Sometimes that looked foolish to me as well as to others, but I never had a real choice. It wasn’t heroic. It was just an energy seemingly written into my DNA, completely outside voluntary action. Completely intuitive. I take no credit. It just was what it was. Chemotherapy changes DNA. Mine did in some respects, but not in this one. Praise God!

This is a sad time of year, and it is nearly Advent. I am mourning losses of my own and that of persons who have touched my life and now are gone. This includes all persons I’ve known who have died of terminal illness as well as those gone through an accident of timing. They all live in my heart. The first is my sister, who died last year of lymphoma at almost 81, 2 days before Christmas. She was like a mother to me. I talk to her often and think she is waiting for me somewhere in time and sacred space. This is a comforting thought. I am young and old at the same time because I got such a late start at 40. My young friends don’t understand my old heart and some of my old friends do not understand my young heart, but if I walk along with Jesus—the premier young/old, male/female one, I just feel like me and that is the best place to be…walking along the Sea of Galilee with all the others.

So I gather myself together, dry my wings off and prepare to circle the sky with wings of prayer. I am the Sacred Bird of the North, made in God’s image and preparing to join the great procession of Sacred Birds when called…but for now, I have so much more to do…so much more of Galilee to walk. May God grant me time enough to die with no regrets at all.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow….

I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow with Jesus…

30
Sep
09

let’s be creative for a change

I am a member of an online listserv whose purpose is promoting open dialog on various aspects of LGBTQ inclusion in the Mennonite Church (MC USA).  This subject has been kicked around for the past 30 years in this denomination—one that is not given to hasty decisions, obviously! Much of the time the members of this broad based group contribute erudite views—all very worthy and many quite thought provoking. But sometimes I get tired of the effort, because inclusion is a no-brainer for Christ followers.

For the past numbers of days the subject of focus has been homosexual desire vs. homosexual practice. The other day, in the midst of a flurry of intellectual postings, one of the members—Natalya Lowther—posted a view that totally took me by delightful surprise. She set forth a slightly unorthodox view, but reasonable nonetheless, with insight, clarity and creativity, and has graciously granted me permission to re-publish here on Called By Name. More from this author (including her profile and raison d’etre) can be found on her own blog:  http://www.pinwheelfarm.blogspot.com

Having been raised by a physics professor, when I hear the word “orientation” I think of magnetized particles orienting themselves  towards magnetic north.

Magnets are attracted to one another because of this shared alignment.

Magnets are attracted to iron because it has a potential for shared  alignment.

But whether magnets are “mating” with other magnets or with iron, they are always “practicing” their orientation. The physical force of the attraction is weaker the further they are from what they are attracted to…but it’s inherently there and functioning at all times.

People are attracted to God, and to other people, when there is a shared alignment. Mentally, intellectually, physically, emotionally.

Unlike magnets, our various alignments can be at odds with each  other…we may think that because we are aligned physically with  people of the same sex, we must be misaligned with God. But I do  not find that to be so. We can also use some senses to restrict the  alignments of other senses–the mind putting the flesh into subjection, artificially, by force. But then we are at war with  ourselves, creating chaotic conditions. Such a condition is not  sustainable, not healthy. Put the “south” poles of two magnets  together, and incredible force is needed to keep them in proximity.

In my life, I seek the natural alignment, the harmony, the sympathy  among all parts. If my life, my soul, my spirit, is given freedom  to fully express its natural orientation towards God, then the  other orientations that appear “not of God” will naturally tend  towards a natural alignment that does not conflict with that  primary orientation, even though it may not fit some artificially  imposed “norm.”

Just reflections, not clearly followed through but a beginning sketch.

Blessings,

Natalya Lowther, Lawrence, KS

Sacred Bird of the North

18
Aug
09

closure

Last weekend a number of friends from our former congregation came together to meet and greet and enjoy each others company. Nothing unusual about that, except that this is the congregation that now exists in painful division  after the effort to extend membership to my partner and me failed in the most miserable of ways—on Pentecost Sunday, the day the Christian Church celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out upon the followers of Jesus.

Our friends came to see us and each other to affirm and enjoy. Each one had something to give to the evening and each one had something they mourned, but mourning was mostly absent, except for a few forced smiles and the sense of sadness that wafted through occasionally. Gatherings like this are all about closure and they are as bitter sweet as they are comforting. Closure is what we do in our society. We seek closure, as though anything can ever really be finalized, categorized,  shelved and forgotten—not even death. I don’t think anyone went home that evening feeling good or released from the issue that fills the space where we used to stand. I think we said goodbye in a dozen different ways—all of them leaving a stain in the heart.

My partner, Big Dawg and I are making ourselves at home in another congregation, but we can’t help the sense of knowing that what went wrong went horribly wrong, and the price to be paid will come due for everyone. As an idealist, I struggle with this. As a Christ follower, I see everyone’s tears melting into God’s tears and then…

.

Do you think God goes for closure? I don’t.




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