Posts Tagged ‘Hurt and Healing

01
Feb
13

hornet’s nest of good intentions

Imagine a situation that is simple enough if kept to the surface and dealt with as is, but it has legs, roots that go deep into the ground of your being. It could be work oriented, family oriented, school or church oriented…something that is private. You’ve inadvertently lost control of that privacy and now there are people trying to help who don’t know the whole story. You don’t want those roots made public, but with each attempt from loved ones to help, comfort, aid…the roots become more and more exposed, igniting fire-stories in your memory bank that cause more distress, not less. You try to keep it simple…to say more will be overwhelming for everyone…you try to graciously say just enough, but not so much that the exposed roots cause you, or anyone else pain. Finally the effort becomes muddled and confusing between yourself and those with loving intentions. You begin to think that maybe you are speaking a foreign language, but you know you aren’t, so what is the problem? Why are you causing pain in others? That is not your intent. You go over your letters and your conversations. They seem clear to you. What is going on?

Type Embellishments_H 36pt_white.

Maybe you identify with this scenario and have your own hornet’s nest of good intentions, maybe not. This is my story today. This is what is happening. My effort to draw personal boundaries has alienated some loving friends. I feel quite sad about this. I’ve done all I know to fix it and don’t blame anyone but myself. Time will lay it’s mossy blanket in a while.

The sun is shining cold on white today. It is a bright, crisp day that hurts my tired eyes. The gray of yesterday was a better fit. “Too bad, take what you get,” the Oracle of Life says to me. I don’t answer back. I just keep breathing.

I’m thinking about an island somewhere in the south pacific where this drama is not happening and my eyes are not burning from lack of sleep. “It will all work out,’ says the Oracle, ‘this is only one page in the Book of Life and it happens to lots of people. You are not unique.

“Good,’ I say, ‘that’s good to remember.”

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31
Jan
13

deep memory days

Have you ever had times when you feel a life-time of painful memories sweeping down around you, enveloping you, not letting you go; memories that spread their awesome distortions on the today of where you are but cannot claim being there? These are the memories of things wrongfully done either to you or by you, that have woven their woeful song deeply into your name. You may feel it somewhere around your heart, but it’s not about your heart; it’s physical as well as emotional, but not organic. It’s about feeling trapped in the old songs with their voices—loud in the head—fueled by something in the present—words or deeds that layer themselves upon each other until the deepest pain is reached and you are just a mass of deep purple hurt. Sometimes it happens fast and you’re down for the count. Other times distinction between today and all the yesterdays melts slowly downward like an ice cream cone…all over your hands. These are times that I struggle to stay oriented and call upon God as the Ground of My Being for help. They are also times when, as an aging person, I feel tired of the effort and just want it all to be over. (Don’t worry, I’m okay.)

This can be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder…what is now referred to as PTSD. It is that for me. The inclusion/exclusion experiences of the past several years since returning to church, have attached themselves to a number of earlier church experiences of abuse, as well as early personal experiences of betrayal. I am sensitized to this in many colorful ways. Now, thanks to thousands of veterans, survivors of military malevolence, we have an explanation for what happens to people when they can no longer tolerate painful memories that tend (like flash-fires), to blossom disproportionately without consent. For some of us with much simpler forms of this human condition, compassion and consideration is a good bit of first aid. I would like some of that please. And for dessert, I would like affirmation. One never outgrows the good affirmation can bring. It’s like yeast: makes the spirit rise and the soul feel loved. This quote from Gladys Bronwyn Stern is a favorite of mine: “Silent gratitude isn’t  much use to anyone.”  Ah…so very true for me.

I am cycling out of this gloom that I’ve been in this morning. It’s a given…I always do…eventually. But I never stop wondering why it has to be this way…so complicated and dense? Maybe it’s because we are always the same age inside? Human nature, I guess…we are all a little bit dumb and careless with each other. Me included.

I need to dance.

I feel better already. I hope I didn’t bring you down… 🙂

18
Jun
11

bridging boundaries

The weeks following my last entry, The Color of Hope, have left me wondering what on earth I had left to say. This blog began in the fall of 2009, as a forum for sharing my experiences since returning to the church after a serious bout of lymphoma, the joys and sorrows that return yielded, and the learning curve that has been the composite result.

I gave this blog the title, Called by Name, because that was the passage given to me toward the end of my cancer regimen. Since I changed my first name to Naomi at my Mennonite baptism in 1975, the notion of having been called by name—through cancer and to life beyond—has often been an affirming and sustaining force. Nevertheless, my partner, Judy and I, were unprepared for the painful ordeal the ultimate denial of church membership would be. We had answered the congregation’s and the pastor’s invitation to come follow Jesus with them. That decision proved to be a considerable leap of faith on our part which was not met by the congregation. During the time we were there, I lost my sister to cancer; was receiving periodic maintenance treatment for my own cancer; and my adopted daughter, Bettina, entered her third round of chemo therapy. It was an excruciatingly  difficult and painful period, wherein I became more familiar with the Job story than I’d ever thought possible. We had returned as prodigals, but it was Job and the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) we experienced in that congregation. In a wildly out of control, congregational meeting on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009, we were categorically denied membership and walked out of the meeting with hearts torn to shreds and legs turned to stilts. One family left with us, easing the humiliation that filled us like flames dancing in a campfire.

Two weeks later, we arrived at the Little Church at the Edge of the City, bruised and battered. We were welcomed into the new congregation, but the situation was challenging to them as well as to us…particularly with the death of Bettina just 9 months later. Many personal difficulties ensued, but we all pressed on as best we could. Fits and starts would be one way of describing those two years—June, 2009 to June, 2011—a roller-coaster of deep despair, longing, grief, and loneliness would be another. Despite having been easily accepted into membership, and the efforts of the Little Church to help us, the experience of exclusion and loss had become embedded like a seed planted in my heart. Little by little, anguish nourished the seed into action, and I became an advocate for the peace and justice inclusion of all persons into the Mennonite Church—one of the world’s oldest peace churches! I spoke out declaratively…but without Bettina’s support and enthusiasm, the road often felt lonely and sometimes a bit scary. Except for a few friends, I just did not feel woven into the warp and woof of congregational life.

Then, just a month short of the two-year anniversary of that miasmic denial of membership, this congregation surprised us by voting unanimously to celebrate and officiate at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) weddings and civil unions! My personal world took a decidedly positive turn and healing seemed miraculously instantaneous. Suddenly I was not a single voice speaking for inclusion and civil justice. There was a chorus behind me and with me. That was the color of hope…a rainbow of hope.

Marbling throughout the agonizing times, have also been blessings. I do not deny this at all, but the way has been hard…faith-building some will say, and in hind-sight I can agree, but the process itself left me feeling alone and lonely in a crowd much of the time.

In a few weeks Judy and I will apply for a civil union license and on August 21, we, and this brave little church on the edge of the city will come together in a civil union ceremony. Hard to believe, but true! After nearly 34 years together, Judy and I will be entitled many of the legal rights and privileges heretofore denied us. What I will enjoy the most is Judy’s relationship to me changing on the medical documents I sign each time I visit oncology: from neighbor/friend to Civil Union Partner.

Yeah, for the Little Church and yeah for the lovely pastor who feareth not what might befall.

17
May
11

the color of hope

Yesterday, I began thinking about hope—what it looks like—what makes it happen—what prevents it from being.  I am very familiar with anxiety, despair and hopelessness, as well as many additional states of human consciousness residing on the left side of the ‘miserable to ecstatically joyful’ spectrum. I know what these three feel and look like (to me).

Anxiety, that memory file of unrest and dis-ease, comes in neon variations of brilliant orange, disorienting magenta, brazen fuchsia, magnetic blue, electric purple—all colors except for green—the color of gardens and the earthily serene. Despair, a cousin by marriage to Anxiety, comes invited in by Emotional Pain, with its outer coat of sadness and discord. These haunting dragoons appear in coats of mossy earth tones, capable of generating into steely gray without much warning. Hopelessness, and its deeper shadow, Depression, are big wingless, flocking birds. They are hard to separate and harder to overlook. They come in hot and cold grunge fashion with overlapping shadows of midnight blue and lamp black…often with vivifying streams of hot pink or red flashing throughout.

Some people are hard-wired in ways that make them vulnerable to all of this. Others less so. I am one of the former. My glass tends to be half, to three-quarters empty (as the saying goes). And when it is full, I am overwhelmed by the fullness and feel joy—a state about as common as a four-leaf clover. Happy is a far more common state, but I do not know what it means. I hear this word everywhere. What is it and why is it so sought after? I have not found Happy to have much consequence. It seems ephemeral, like smiling and laughing. It is not fulfillment and it is not joy. I blow my birthday candles out, open my cards and feel happy. I hold my adorable kitties in my arms, hear them purr and feel happy. Far from being lifted or resolved, the concerns I carry are only set aside for a moment or a while.

My goal is joy in exploding colors of the rainbow—the same experience as being in love—an experience of complete, indescribably harmonious fulfillment. I get that when I dance at my InterPlay sessions and am transported beyond my self…into my Self…together with God. My cup is not half full or all full, it runneth over. How this happens is pretty simple: I drive to the place where the InterPlayers gather, participate fully and receive not only happiness, but Joy. It is a type of prayer and worship. Each time I go, I make a down payment on more of it. I haven’t lost my concerns or troubles, I’ve turned my mourning into dancing for a while and the color of anxiety/despair/hopelessness lightens. It does not disappear.

I make this happen because I take steps to be where it can happen. But sometimes joy seems to materialize out of thin air. One minute you are heavy laden with perhaps weeks, months, even years of travail that never seems to lessen or resolve, and then in a flash you are filled with joy and feeling ten pounds lighter…light enough to think you may fly if you so allow…light enough to welcome hope. That is an altogether different sort of happening, one seemingly begotten, not made.

Since 2000 when the film, The Perfect Storm entered our theaters and homes, we have adopted the film’s title to refer to tragic situations composed of parts and pieces of unpredictable events in relation to the fallibility of human decision-making. We often find a modicum of comfort in saying: “It was a perfect storm just waiting to happen.”

Last Sunday, at the little church at the edge of the city, where I worship, I had occasion to experience what I can only describe as the opposite of the perfect storm. I call it The Perfect Rainbow. Days and weeks beforehand, parts and pieces of unpredictability were coming together on many fronts, along with loving, careful,  human decision-making and the result for my partner and me was a deeply fulfilling experience that turned the water in our glasses into bubbling  champagne. More than three years of struggle and emotional pain were met by joy so deep, words could not be found. Had I the room to dance it and witnesses to join in, I would have surely outdone myself. Even now as I write this, my body wants to dance. It was a perfect rainbow after the thundering, crashing storms we’d experienced since returning to the church after an absence of thirty years. The events that led to this perfect rainbow were beyond counting and beyond orchestrating by any one person. Surely the Grace of God’s Holy Spirit was creatively present all the while.

I can still see the rainbow. It’s full from one end of the sky to the other and it brings me hope. The color of hope (for me) is the rainbow, full and audaciously beautiful in even a leaden sky. Storms will surely continue to come and go, but I saw a rainbow on Sunday and I’ve tucked it inside where all my memories reside…the good, bad and the ugly. I’ve given this one a special place. If I should forget its whereabouts, I trust a reminder will come one way or another, even in a perfect storm.

25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

20
Dec
10

red velvet cake and the spirit of christmas

I have a lovely Christmas story to share and a fine storyteller to introduce, but first I must give some background.

In the mid-1980s, members of the historic peace churches began seeking new ways to express their faith. Out of this desire came the Christian Peacemakers Teams, an organization, which seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love in partnership with local peacemakers worldwide. Denominations and organizations supporting active CPT chapters are—Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Congregation of St. Basil, Every Church a Peace Church and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

My friends Mark and Sara—peace and justice (CPT) activists from my church—entered a letter writing program to prisoners through a Church of the Brethren friend of theirs. Through this program they met Glenn, an inmate at Alabama’s Holman Prison, where he has been on death row for the past 25 years. Mark and Sara have visited him 3 times since 2002 when their correspondence began. Each time, they found that they were the only visitors Glenn had that year.

A couple of days ago Mark sent this remarkable story….Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas…to the congregation through our listserve :

Glenn called today and left a voice mail saying, “Brother, I have something important to share with you.”  I called him back.

He said, “You know what my favorite dessert is?” He’d told me some time ago, but I couldn’t remember. “Red velvet cake. Everyone (the inmates) around here knows that. Today, a ministry (program) was here distributing food packages.’

(Aside: there are a few ministries that distribute such food packages throughout the year. The inmates look forward to these. On death row, I’ve learned, food is a BIG deal. The daily prison food is awful, so anything normal is a major event.)

“Sister Antonia gave me my package and I told her my date was around the corner. I looked through the package and saw that there were a lot of good items. It was a pretty good collection.  And the dessert was…red velvet cake…home made!  Of all the desserts to be in there….I told her it was my favorite.”

“A little while later, she came back, and pushed another piece into my cell.”

“A little while later, another piece came, passed on down the line by the guys, from cell to cell.”

“And a little while later, another, and another, and another, until every guy on the tier had passed their red velvet cake.”

Glenn was choked up at this point in the phone call. He said jokingly, “I must have male menopause.” I told him it was a very touching thing and he was just being human and that the guys were just giving back in a small way what they’d received from Glenn over the years.  Glenn said, “Whatever they’ve received, it has been from God, not from me.”  Glenn is deeply faithful and very humble and attributes whatever positive influence he’s had on others as God’s working through him. And I believe it.

Mark goes on to share some about his friend Glenn:

Here is a story of part of Glenn’s transformation—one that happened in spite of the brutality of the so-called correctional system, and because Glenn opened himself and listened to God.

“When my sister was young, she was put into a mental hospital where she was raped repeatedly by one of the workers. As a young man, I was so angry. I pictured the man in hell, and I wanted to torture him to the verge of death so he’s feel pain like my sister.

“While in prison I asked Jesus into my heart. God said, ‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I had to tell the truth before I could be free, and the truth was that I wanted to kill the man. The truth was not that I wanted to try to love the man. I wanted to mutilate him.

“Once I confessed to god this truth the way opened up. In a dream I heard the voice of God say:

“Glenn, there are people in your life that you hurt, not in the same way, but pain is pain, and they want you to hurt. But I don’t want you to hurt because I love you. And guess what, I love that man too, and I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“I Woke up and cried like a baby. I said to God, ‘I can’t do it, but I’m willing to let you, God, do it through me.’ I got to a place where I could envision being in the same room with the man, and telling him that I forgive him and that I love him.

“People who knew me when I was 19 (when I entered prison) will not recognize the person I’ve become; God’s love allowed me to forgive.”

In the 25 years Glenn has been on death row, the courts have denied his appeals and he will be executed in early 2011. Mark and Sara are his friends. They see a deeply wise, intelligent, compassionate and religious person in Glenn…a very different person today than who he was when he committed his crime. I believe this is true and do not understand the twists and turns that keep a redeemed person  pinned to the past. Many people say we are a Christian nation…if so, where is the repentance and compassion that Jesus taught us? He asked  the woman caught in adultery where her accusers had gone and if any condemnation remained. She tells Jesus that no one remains to condemn her. Jesus responds with compassion, and tells her that he does not condemn her either and exhorts her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

Our penal system practices an ancient code of an eye for an eye. It does not redeem, but God breaks through walls. I believe people can, and do change. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38)

As Christian Peacemakers, Mark and Sara speak for me.  If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

And a little child shall lead them….

22
Nov
10

cost of truth telling

Roberta Showalter Kreider has published compilations of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender faith stories in three editions, From Wounded Hearts, Together in Love and The Cost of Truth. I read the first two during my personal encounter with church exclusion in 2008/09. I ordered the third but couldn’t manage to read it without succumbing to memories of my own painful experience, still searingly fresh into the winter of 2009/10. When a friend expressed interest in learning more about LGBT people, I gladly sent all three off with her. She simply didn’t know much and that is not uncommon. Whew! Out of sight, out of mind…or so I thought.

Then, one evening a few weeks ago, dear friends came to dinner. They are the only friends who spoke up as boldly as we did at the church that didn’t want us. We all left that church tattered and torn—the cost of speaking one’s truth—and we’d not seen each other in many months, so there was a lot to share. During the conversation one friend mentioned that she had just finished reading The Cost of Truth, and urged me to read it. Having completely forgotten the title of the book, I said I would. Before I knew it there it was in my mail box and still I didn’t recognize it until I opened the cover and saw that this was the third in the Kreider series—the set I’d given away. I was ready to read it now and have done so. I know some of the people in this book. I may not have known them three years ago when I first ordered the it, but through time and travail, I do now. These are stories of Mennonite and Brethren, LGBT people, whose dignity and leadership gifts were not honored by their denominations. One story in particular spoke to me. The writer shared his story and then his lingering sadness in a poem that resonates for me as well:

LGBT inclusion just may be the last strong-hold of the patriarchal church. The Mennonite denomination—traditionally dedicated to peace and non-violence—has yet to understand the violence to heart and soul that punishment and exclusion produces. Such treatment of brothers and sisters in Christ stands in opposition to the core values of the Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. I have written about this many times and will likely not stop any time soon. If you are interested in this issue and have little experience with LGBT people, try one of these books.

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves….
-Rainer Maria Rilke

For now we see in a mirror, dimly but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. -I Corinthians 14:12




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