Posts Tagged ‘Grace



17
Nov
10

today is my birthday

Today is my birthday. For the curious: I am 72 going on 59. Have been through many deep valleys in my time and weathered many storms, even perfect ones like the one at the church that didn’t really want us. Nicks and scratches, bruises and bumps—these are the marks of having risked comfort many times over in order to live an authentic life. I did not acquire this character on my own and it doesn’t come without some anxiety and fear, but it appears to be part of my DNA. I hope I am learning how to carry it more faithfully…more trustfully.

I am a late bloomer in many ways. The first 40 years were preparatory, the following 20 years were rehearsal for the next 10, and those were the refinement for the current now, when the God in me and the me in God enjoy sharing tea together from time to time. I am grateful for this and all the blessings God gives to me. This year I lost an important person—one who called me Mamacita and sometimes, Kimosabe, and made us a family. It was a hard loss. Then God brought a new family to me, complete with two beautiful grandchildren. I did not think I would ever be a grandmother, even a step-grandmother. I didn’t know how much sunshine little kids can bring to a life full of years. Last Sunday my new family came to church with me and then to lunch. The girls made birthday cards for me and we had a lovely time together.

This one is Miss Green’s card. Miss Green has recently turned 9.  Both cards fold in the middle and have little cut-out hinges so they can “stand” on a table (more or less).  Clever Miss Green has included a greeting in Japanese and says that she does not know the greeting in Korean but wishes me a happy birthday…and she likes my drawing. 🙂 Good girl!

Miss Pink’s birthday card (note the coins taped on and the kitty face inside) Miss Pink will turn 6 the day after Thanksgiving. Miss Pink is an ardent admirer of both my art and my cats. Ah, right to my heart. I like your art too…but prefer my cats as they also prefer me. 🙂

These are happy little projects made especially for me. I’m thrilled to have them. Thank you girls. I love you both!!

Thank you readers—for your interest in my writing, experiences, thoughts, opinions….and the art I sometimes add in. Thank you for being there in the forest to hear the tree falling. It does make a sound after all. For many years I didn’t know this.

I have not made many postings lately because I’ve been busy with visual/worship art projects for my little church at the edge of the city. But soon this will be complete and I will have writing time again. I have so much catching up to do both on this blog and on my Drawing Sacred Circles blog. Stay tuned.

But in the meantime, this is me greeting you today.   

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!

04
Nov
10

update and post script

My posts have been few and far between for a while now. I have been on a journey and not through yet, but thought I’d just try to bring this blog somewhat up to date before doing so becomes a gigantic, uphill climb with a backpack too full of stuff to sort out, let alone write down for public consumption.

This year’s summer was a hard trek, but in a different way than last year’s summer when I was torn into pieces by the church we were invited—then uninvited—to join. Last summer the pangs of betrayal I experienced were felt in the warmth of my family—Big Dawg, Adopted Daughter Bettina and I. We set about fitting into the little church that welcomed us in on the rebound. We were beginning to breathe, but by September Bettina’s cancer returned for a fourth and final time. She died just ten weeks into the new year.

I was completely absorbed in caring for Bettina, and completely involved in helping her to die well. For a long time afterward I was equally absorbed in the loss of her and of our family of three. There were many losses since my cancer diagnosis in 2006 and they came swarming together in a great anguished whoosh. The repercussions were enormous. By spring, I no longer knew where I belonged or why. I was a traveler on the grief road without a sense of direction…just drifting in deep pools of sadness and disconnection. Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, quite unexpectedly as if by magic, I became a mother-in-law and a grandmother. There was no time to practice. The summer wore on and still the quiet, disconnected sadness. I yearned for spiritual connection and began attending Catholic Mass, while at the same time continuing in my position as visual art maven at the little quirky church on the edge of the city. The grandchildren were pinpoints of joy—lone stars in a dark sky. I became a woman with many faces, but no mirror in which to see them.

August was a particularly desperate time and called for desperate measures. I could not relate to the little church and could not keep from receiving the sadness bubbling up within. It was a time of affirming forgiveness, 70 x 7 and then some. My path became stony and disorienting. In response, the little church said don’t leave…let’s talk, and formed a small listening group around BD and me. Many things happened in rapid succession, both inside and outside the group. Issues fell into place as we became aware that four years of losses with little time between amounts to post traumatic stress. I don’t normally cotton with these labels, but this time it is fitting, and we are glad to have this understanding as a way to make sense of our wobbly-top selves. I am grateful to the several persons who were angels unaware in this drama, for I was not always so lovable. These people were willing spiritual conduits, each with a different message, each with a different angel’s feather touch. Each bearing God’s love and grace.

In the end, an aha moment was this:  understanding that in the loose, laid-back character of this quirky little church, lay freedom and trust and possibilities, and in return, I must give it all I’ve got. I’ve been busy ever since, not with more than you younger readers are prone to taking on, but with more than I am accustomed to taking on in quite this faith centered way. There are not enough days or hours in the days, and certainly not enough weeks in the month for me. I am swimming in a rushing river to some where that I know not…every now and then caught by an eddy of old thoughts and memories that must be untangled and set out to dry. In a couple of weeks I will turn a ripe 72… Despite my good health report, I am very aware of the time I have left—sensitized to it. Insomnia plagues me lately. It’s not a workaholic compulsion that is the culprit, it is this sense that I am in transition—in training if you will—for the last chapter of my life as a doer/giver. I am such a late bloomer…I want 20 years doing and giving in the space of 10! Sometimes I feel like a child who cannot wait for Christmas morning. Other times I feel like skipping Christmas morning entirely, for surely a gift with my name on it will be much too heavy for me to manage.

Called by name…that is the word I received many times in the dark chemotherapy nights.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame  shall not consume you. Isaiah 43

So when I am not wobbling over with extremes of joy and anxiety, I generally say, Here am I. Send me!”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me! Isaiah 6:8

13
Aug
10

grace appeared

Some may wonder how I got from such deep depression to the light and airy post like the previous one. I’m not clinically manic-depressive, just an intense feeling-type with strong views and thin skin vs. thick skin. It’s a long story with many twists and turns over the past 2 years.

I have some very good friends who showed up in answer to my repetitive prayers for help. Maybe it’s because I am basically such a strong person (and/or resistant), but God often allows me to come to the very edge of the cliff—not just to see it there, but to actually dangle off the side of it before the dawn breaks and I see what I need to see. For me it’s a process of seeing the mysterious connections that light reveals. It’s not a linear mind thing. It’s intuitive…a sense of knowing that is unmistakable from my own knowing this or that. And then with the grace of sudden clarity, I see the path that I didn’t see before. Maybe the path was covered with weeds, or grass. Or maybe I was in a cluttered room that only dim light could pierce, or alone in a dark room. This is the transformative process of coming to the end of one’s self to see the God within.

The thing is, that there will be many ends of myself before my life is over…many dark nights of the soul…many transformative surgeries. The up side is that each surgery brings deeper faith…less of me and more of thee. This is a hard thing to understand. It’s not about becoming no one and nothing. It’s about becoming—one with God as Jesus was one with God. (John 10:30)

I have not yet come to welcoming these trials. Perhaps when I do, they will be less dramatic and more endurable. Now is now and this is where I am. Grace is here. I love that old Gospel hymn,

Just as I am, by Charlotte Elliot, 1840

What can I say? I’m older than you think.

10
Jun
10

family plan

Many, many months ago, while Darling Daughter was grieving over the break-up of a year long romance (a handsome man with commitment aversion). I gave her my best advice which was to pray for the right person to come into her life. I had done this myself 30 some years before with positive results. It was the best I had to offer. So what happened? One Sunday at her church, during the passing of the peace, the man sitting in front of her turned around to perform the accustomed handshake, hug or whatever, and both were smitten: love at first sight. Very romantic, I would say.

Now this is no ordinary answer to prayer because DD is in her early 40s. The baby clock had ticked itself down to unlikely and she had given up all hope of ever having her own family. I in concert with her, had entirely given up hope of ever being a grandmother. Young readers will not understand this granny thing. I didn’t until I entered my 7th decade, when I began to sense that grandchildren would be even better than cats. And that’s saying a lot!

Well, to make this story a bit shorter…this man turned out to be a widower with 2 young daughters—not divorced—widowed. Dear God, how kind of you to bring an entire family into Darling’s life. Just add water, stir gently and set in the sun to bloom. This is all very exciting for DD, the children (Miss Green and Miss Pink) and the prince…not a frog…whom I shall call #1 Son until I come upon a better name. I have several favorite youngish male friends who are dear to me, but no actual sons, so clearly he is the first and receives a crown or something.

Wedding preparations are underway for July 3. Ms. will turn into Mrs. Big Dawg and I will become grannies and except for the messed up world we live in, shall live happily ever after. We are off and running. Last week, Saturday, the girls came over for the first granny visit. We had mac and cheese in bunny shapes which they loved…“Can we have more?” Then BD and I did arts and crafts with them and had a lovely time. Immediately after they left BD and I went out shopping for supplies for the next visit and set up their own cabinet in my studio. Are we crazy or what? I will not be able to resist showing pictures, so stand by. Here we go…

Miss Pink on the left—5 1/2

Miss Green on the right—8 1/2

#1 Son (a.k.a. the Captain)

Darling Daughter

Balloons have no names

This photo was taken after Miss Green’s violin recital.  Great, huh?

And here is Miss Green in a pensive pose after playing Perpetual Motion brilliantly.

09
Jun
10

immigration prayer

Recently an Open Letter written by MennoNeighbors to my denomination—Mennonite Church USA—urging the leadership to stand fast in opposition to Arizona’s proposed immigration law, came along for signing. The letter asks the Church to rescind our agreement to hold the 2013 Conference there, as we have many latino/latina members who will not be welcome or safe should this bill become law. This is not the only raison d’etre for this stand, but it is a good and timely one. We are aware that many states are watching to see if they might do the same.

As usual there were a lot of opinions floating on the listserve about how it should be written/worded, but eventually it got done. On the day of its last signing an email circulated with this prayer. It seems that First Mennonite of Denver piloted a group prayer project on various themes led by Randy Macy, who plans to add music and record them, then send CDs to politicians in Washington and beyond. This particular prayer was written and submitted by Theda Good and Dawn Kreider.

Prayer for National Security and Immigration

God, Creator of all peoples on earth

We in the United States are a gathered people
With ancestral roots in many lands
Whose descendants navigated terrain and sea
To reach this land we have come to call home.

Many sought new fortunes
Or an escape from oppression
But this land was already inhabited
And in searching for a new home
Our ancestors too became oppressors
Violating the freedoms of those here before them.

Forgive the past acts of violence
Towards natives who already had
What our antecessors were searching for
Forgive our arrogance for believing
That manifest destiny made this land ours
And our unwillingness to now share this land

Millions now migrate to this land
Seeking the same opportunities sought by our ancestors
Many have borne children
Who are United States citizens
Alien parent and citizen child
Both created in your image
All of us equal in your eyes

Give us the ability to see
The aliens in our midst the way you see them
Grant us the wisdom to fairly address their complex issues of
Citizenship, health care, education, and social welfare
Help us resist the temptation to legislate them further from their dreams
Instead let us offer them the decency and compassion
Each of your children deserves

Forgive us for not loving our neighbors as ourselves
Give us wise, just and humble leaders
And give all who live in this land
A will to live in peace with one another
On 9/11 the security of our homeland was threatened by attack.
Our leaders then declared war on an abstract enemy
and old testament justice prevailed
an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth
turning the other cheek was never an option
Instead we used violence to ensure peace and security
We could have chosen life instead of more death, to listen to our enemies,
to try to understand their desire to destroy our empires

God, help us identify what loving our enemies on a national scale entails
and to recognize our part in fomenting hatred and violence in our world.
As we cannot claim to be innocent;
forgive us for not loving our neighbors as ourselves.
Help us O God to see that all peoples of the world truly need each other —
Give us wise, just and humble leaders
And give all who live in this land a will to live in peace with all peoples on earth.

God of mercy, hold us in love!

Theda Good and Dawn Kreider

11/18/2009

07
May
10

what could have been

I’ve been reading a new book by Kathleen Norris called, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. Ms. Norris is a highly acclaimed poet, and author. All of the words in the title of this book are appealing to me, even the word acedia, and that is because I had no idea what it meant. Acedia, I am told, is a state of spiritual listlessness, sadness, melancholy, apathy, carelessness, and lethargy—a pathway to sloth. Originally an affliction among the monastics and religious, it was considered to have the potential of undermining faith and sensibility. It differs from clinical depression in its spiritual orientation, but can be the precursor of depression.

After the first several chapters I came to see the funk I’ve been in much of the time since adopted daughter’s death, as acedia in varying degrees. This definition stops my free-fall state with a safety net of insight. Like a person ill for years and finally getting a diagnosis that it is not “all in the head”, I feel relief. The book is dense with messages for me on all levels of my life—from aspects of faith life, to matters of creative work, marriage, illness and death, I am infused with new insights to my own shadow side.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ms Norris shares the story of her husband’s illness and death from cancer, and her experience as sole caregiver, that got my heartfelt attention. I identify. That’s me in both places: cancer patient and caregiver. Her account of care giving, both during her husband’s illness and after his death speak loudly to me. I’ve been there. I know. I’m still there.

It has been 9 weeks since adopted daughter died. Not really that long in grieving terms, but my grief has a twist to it. As executors of the estate and caretakers of all things left behind, we have been stunned to find shelves and shelves of her life that she did not share with us—did not share with anyone. In fact, we see that she lived her life in serial compartments, like an old-fashioned rolltop desk. There is a quotation my mother would offer about not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. This could be applied. The problem is that the original comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:3) and is a moral directive to giving, not hiding.

What I have seen is a person I loved dearly enough to call daughter, who didn’t trust me, or anyone else enough to confide the many truths of her life that would have made the executing of her estate a far less messy and painful affair. But more than this consideration is that the love and trust she did give me was the best she could do. That says volumes. Hidden until the end. Every time she called me mamacita, she did so with the half she felt would not be rejected. “I would have loved you anyway’, I say to her memory. ‘I would have loved you and helped you make the crooked as straight as possible in the few days and weeks that were left”. If she were anyone else, I would be speaking philosophically and with a bit of distance, but because I took her as a daughter, I speak with the pain of not having been able to do all I know I could have done for her. This is a tragedy to me. Although I witnessed God’s redeeming forgiveness to her in those last few days, and know Grace was given completely, I feel a mourning for what was left out between us. I would have liked to give her the human forgiveness she was sure she didn’t deserve. But maybe in her morphine altered days, she knew it was there, and maybe she made that transaction in the shadows of her heart and soul…maybe that’s what I saw in her face as I administered the meds hour after hour with more tender love than I thought I had in me to give.

So what is the problem? Why does acedia haunt me like a child playing hide and seek in dress-up clothes? I don’t know. I am beginning to think that acceptance, letting go, and letting be is my spiritual discipline forevermore.

I hoped that by the time I finished writing this post I would have pushed through acedia, at least for a time. The estate is not yet settled and my personal sense of mourning for what could have been is not over. I do not have the sense of adopted daughter’s presence as I did with my sister after she died. I cannot explain this except to say that she never allowed herself to belong to anyone. Despite her promise to learn to hover in our lives, she does not. Perhaps there is a learning curve in the afterlife. Perhaps we are connected by this curve…she over there and me over here. Perhaps there will be a happy ending when my soul finally floats free.

Postscript: The deceptions we keep in our lifetimes may very well come to light after the funeral when there is little that can be done to alter them in any way.




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