Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The old woman's fairy tale

Where have I been? Everywhere. No where. I spent all of 2018 doing a fellowship on spiritual formation. There was a lot of reading and some writing, community engagement, and all-day retreats/classes once a month, usually in the Shenandoah Valley.

We were required to do a final project that somehow, in our own particular (for me, quirky) way reflected our year-long spiritual journey. There is really no way I can describe the journey. I have had a number of amazing encounters with a real God, indescribable pure love. So in a meager attempt to put form to my experience I wrote it as fiction, in the form of a fairy tale. Here it is.


The Old Woman and the King: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time in a deep valley at the foot of a majestic mountain there lived an old woman named Daria. No one knew how old Daria was, but according to legend she had been born in the valley just after the dawn of time and she had never left. Her clan was unknown and there was little memory of her husband or children. Faelan, the old man who kept the history of the valley, believed that she had children who had left the valley long ago in search of fortune and never returned.

Daria lived in a humble shelter near the river, far from the other villagers. She kept animals—dogs, sheep, and goats—and she could be seen collecting reeds and vines, berries, tree bark, lily leaves, and flower petals to weave and dye the baskets and woolen cloth that she sometimes sold to people in the village. She had woven bits of the forest and the wool of her animals into a large blanket that covered her shelter. Inside the hut she had a warm fire, books, baskets, and brightly colored woven cloth. Sometimes she sang beautiful old songs to the dogs who sat at her feet. Her solitary life, her loneliness, was both a blessing and a curse.

The village in the deep valley was part of a large kingdom under the reign of a wise and benevolent King who lived high on the majestic mountain. The King knew everyone in his kingdom and nothing brought him more joy than spending time with his subjects. He had been on the throne for a long, long time, even longer than Daria had been living in the valley.

But Daria kept her distance from the King. She didn’t trust that his kindness and concern for her were sincere. Her deep sorrow was that she was alone and rejected, yet that sorrow made her withdraw further lest she be hurt again. She didn’t want to need anyone because she feared that needing others would weaken her.

Early one morning on a dark day in deep winter, out of the cold mist, the King himself, alone, came walking along the edge of the river, cracking the thin ice that had formed on the bank. Daria was boiling water, bark, and berries in a large cauldron over a fire, stirring the mixture with a long wooden paddle. From a distance she heard the ice cracking and the dogs began to bark. Then she saw him, wrapped in a long woolen cloak, walking toward her, his eyes glowing, his mouth softly smiling, his arms stretched wide to greet her. In an instant the dye she was boiling became intensely blue—indigo, the color of the yearning in her heart, a yearning that frightened her in its intensity. She felt life swell up inside her, yet she also wanted to run and hide, afraid of the intrusion into her small, isolated world.

He sat on a tree stump. She smelled sunshine and lavender in the dark of winter.

“Your majesty,” she said, “I have nothing to give you. I am just a poor, old woman with nothing of value.”

“Daria,” said the King, “I have only come to see you, to spend time with you. Being with you is what I value most. I knew you even before you were born and I have always loved you, more than you can ever know. Will you make some tea and we can sit and talk?”

Daria stuttered, afraid and unsure how to answer. “Yes, your majesty, of course. I don’t have much to offer, but come inside and I will make us tea.”

The King sat with her by the fire inside her shelter. The tea warmed them and the room began to glow—crimson, gold, saffron, and indigo—and from under his cloak he unwrapped a loaf of bread, broke it, and placed it on the table before her.

Until the sun began to set in the west, Daria and the King sat by the fire telling stories, laughing, singing old songs, and sharing the deep communion of silence.

“Daria,” said the King, “I must go now. This time with you has filled me with such joy. I want to spend much more time with you. Will you let me do that? Will you let me show you how much I love you, how much I have always loved you? I want you to know me, to be with me. And, Daria, know that I am always with you, even when you can’t see me, know that you can find me in the silence. Will you do that for me?”

She looked at him in awe, unable to find the words to respond to him, and tears streamed down her cheeks.

He held her in his arms and wrapped his cloak around her, like holding a child. “Just say yes, my child, just say yes.”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes!”



Through the long, dark winter Daria spent many hours recalling the time she had spent with the King. She sat in silence, pondering what he had said about always being with her, even when she couldn’t see him. Sometimes she could feel his presence in the silence, yet other times she only felt his absence and longed to see him again. She had so many questions for him and she wanted his advice. But mostly, she just wanted to feel his love—the strong, pure love of a father for his child. Before he came to her that winter morning, she had nearly forgotten what it felt like to be loved. Now that she had rekindled that connection, she wanted to know him better, she wanted to bring him joy, she wanted to see their relationship grow strong, but she didn’t know how to do such things.

As winter slowly began to thaw, mosses remembered their unique shades of green and birds returned from the secret places where they had spent the long, dark days. Daria went to the river’s edge to gather reeds and among the reeds she discovered a small round boat and a paddle. The boat, only big enough for one, was beautifully constructed of bark and willow, the bottom covered in tightly woven fabric and sealed with resin. The fabric was dyed indigo. She knew that the King had left it there for her, to encourage her to explore the river beyond the hollow where she spent her days and nights. 

The little blue boat was like the boat she loved when she was a child. She quickly regained her skill with the paddle, softly skimming the surface of the water like an insect. She quietly paddled down the river until she came to the place where old Faelan lived. As she approached the shore, she saw Faelan stringing fish on a line to dry. 

He chuckled when she came near, and said, “Will wonders ever cease? Is this old Daria coming through the reeds?”

She couldn’t keep from smiling. “Aye, tis myself, old Faelan. How can it be that we two old goats are still here in the shadow of the mountain?”

They chatted unceasingly, catching up on the years apart, and the time together brought great joy to both of them. Daria told Faelan about her visit from the King. The old man agreed that indeed it was a rare and wonderous thing to spend time in the presence of their King. He then snapped his fingers, told her not to move, and scrambled into his hut to retrieve something.

“I have something very precious to share with you, Daria. It is a book—"The Book” we call it—and it tells the history of our people and the incredible story of all the King has done for us through the ages. Please accept this as a gift between two old friends. And I would so enjoy discussing it with you as you read it.”

Daria said, “Thank you, Faelan. How kind you are. Indeed, I will read it and we shall discuss it as long as we’re able.”

She wrapped The Book carefully under her cloak, climbed into the little blue boat, and paddled back up the river, waving to Faelan as he disappeared into the distance. Her heart was full.



Daria returned to the shelter at her quiet place on the river and read until the sun came up. She read a story in The Book about a poor mother who put her baby into a basket in the reeds at the edge of a great river in order to save the boy’s life from evil men who would kill him. The daughter of a king found the baby in the basket, took him in as her own child, and raised him in the royal household. The story reminded Daria about a young mother in the village whom Faelan had told her about during their visit. The young mother in the village was very poor and recently had given birth. She struggled to find food for herself and her child and she carried the baby with her everywhere. Daria’s heart ached for the young mother, for she herself had once been a young mother who struggled to care for her children. Suddenly a thought occurred to the old woman, as if she heard the voice of the King whispering in her ear, telling her how she could help them. She remembered weaving a long swaddling shawl to carry her own babies and realized that she could create such a shawl for the young mother to carry her baby. Daria began to spin and weave a shawl—yarn dyed saffron, crimson, the color of juniper berries, golden brown, and green, the color of spring. And intertwined among the other colors, some of her treasured indigo yarn.

Daria worked day and night and when the swaddling shawl was finished, she climbed into her little blue boat and brought the shawl to Faelan and asked him to give it to the young mother.

“Ah, Daria,” he said, “Such beautiful work. This kindness becomes you. Surely the young woman will be pleased to receive such a gift.”

Daria paddled home, speaking aloud to the King as if he was beside her. “Thank you, my Lord, my King, for you have been so good to me. Thank you for reminding me that I could do something to make the young mother’s life a little easier. Please keep her and her child in your tender care.”

Days later, Faelan came trudging noisily through the trees, a sack slung over his shoulder. Following him was a young woman, her child swaddled securely across her chest with the shawl Daria had made. 

Short of breath from his long trek, Faelan panted, “Daria, this is the young mother I told you about. She has come to bring you cheese that she made to thank you for your kindness. And this little one is her daughter Maire. Yes, she was named after the mother of the King. That promises great things for the child.”

The young mother smiled shyly as Daria clasped her hands with great tenderness—cold young supple hands wrapped in the warm gnarled hands of the old woman. Daria peeked inside the mother’s swaddling shawl and drew in her breath. “Such a face!” she exclaimed. “The child has the face of an angel—an angel with flaming red curls and indigo eyes like the sky! Surely, she is worthy to be the namesake of the mother of the King. Blessings be to Maire and to her mother. Come inside, my dear. You and the child must warm yourselves by the fire. We’ll have tea. And come along, old Faelan—you are family in my home.”

The three spent time by the fire getting acquainted and Faelan broke a loaf of bread at the table to have with their tea, and with reverence he gave thanks to the King who provided for them. 

In no time Daria had become a doting grandmother to the young mother and the child. 

Faelan was fidgeting in his chair. Daria sensed something. “What have you got to say, man? You’re squirming like a snake!”

“Ah, you’ve barely seen me for the past 20 years and you already read me like a book,” said Faelan. “Alright, then, I’ll say it—I’m thinking it would be a good thing for this young mother and little Maire to stay here with you for a while. The child is no trouble at all. This young mother needs someone to take her under wing—someone like you, Daria. I think it would be good for all of you. Perhaps you could teach this young mother how to spin and weave so that she can make a living for herself and her baby.”

Daria was taken aback. She became very quiet. She had never considered such an arrangement. Could she give up her quiet life alone, away from others? An image came to mind. She recalled her time with the King and felt the comfort of his loving embrace when he wrapped his cloak around her and held her in his arms like a child. She was filled with light and an unflinching knowledge of what the King had called her to do. She would follow his example; she would let the King’s boundless love and compassion be her guide.

“Yes,” she said. “Yes!”



From that day forward the young mother and the beautiful red-headed child lived with Daria. What Faelan had in his sack when they came tromping through the woods to visit was the young mother’s meager possessions. He had discussed the situation with the King and he was certain Daria would say yes, for the King had softened Daria’s heart.

Daria began teaching the young mother what she had learned over a lifetime. She taught her the long process of weaving—shearing sheep, spinning the wool, gathering berries and bark, and creating dye. The old woman found a new love for her work and her creativity flourished in partnership with the young mother. The young woman was a natural weaver, eager to learn, and together they created the most beautiful work of Daria’s life

At the summer solstice, a group of people from the village arrived at Daria’s place by the river, bringing tools and materials to build a shelter for the young mother and her baby. The sounds of saws cutting wood, hammering of nails, children playing, shouting and laughter filled the woods. When their work was complete, they shared a great feast to celebrate their accomplishment. A large cauldron of potage had been simmering all day. The hard work and the aroma of the food increased their appetites. They piled a large make-shift table with cabbage and beans, cheese, fish, bacon, plums, and honey.

Before they began to eat, Faelan spoke. “Let us give thanks to our King for his kindness and provision. None of this would have been possible were it not for his great love for all of us. Thank you, Lord. Thank you for creating this community, for giving us one another. Thank you for being with us through joy and sorrow. We break this bread to follow your example of sacrifice and your unending love for us. We are deeply grateful.”

As the evening ended, people returned to their homes while Daria and the young mother sat in the glow of the fire and marveled at what an incredible day it had been. The young mother took Maire into their new home, leaving Daria alone by the slowly dying embers to spend time with the King, thanking him for the day and sitting in the quiet of his company.

“Father King,” she said, “you can see me here. I know your great love. This growing love that I have for you, this sense of your presence, is not something I have created out of my own strength and imagination. You have drawn me to you. Create now a new story of my life—a story with you at the center.”

She began to see how his presence had transformed her life. Though she was advanced in age, she felt like a child cherished by her father. He became the most important thing in her life and, as she became more connected to him, she became more connected to others in the kingdom. He had claimed her as his own, put his stamp on her heart and she belonged to him, a connection of pure love. He pursued her when she felt unworthy of love. She became familiar with his voice as she spent quiet time in his presence. She sought to see herself as he saw her, to model her life after his, and to surrender to his plan for her. As she became more aware of his love for her, that love transformed her. She grew in kindness, compassion, and connection to others. As she became transformed she gained the strength to step out into the world and to try to make the world better for others. She continued to see his love in action, she grew closer to him, and as she grew closer she yearned to become more like him. 


The summer flew by—days of work beside the young mother, and nights of joyful chatter under the stars in the company of her fellow villagers. They kept Daria up to date about the all the pending births nearby and she went to work creating a special swaddling shawl for each mother and baby. She visited each new child to deliver the shawl and cherished the time she spent in the sacred presence of new life. Although she considered the creation of a shawl a small gesture, she did it with great love. Joy shone from her heart and soul. She gave thanks to the King for allowing her this privilege.

The long days of summer became shorter and a chill settled in the valley. Trees released their leaves and the sky became deep blue, indigo. Daria’s old bones ached as the wind became colder. She was unable to work as she had before. As the leaves fell and autumn settled in, word reached her that her old friend Faelan had taken to his bed, sweating with fever, and wracked with the cough. She sent him her warmest blanket with a simple note expressing her love and concern for him. She wanted to do more for her old friend, to sit by his bedside and feed him spoons full of tea and honey, but she lacked even the strength to paddle her little boat down the river.

She was tired, yet she felt satisfied, beloved, and part of the rhythm of life in the village. Her connection to the King continued to grow stronger. For so many years she had held her sorrow in her talons, afraid that sorrow was the glue that held her together and, if she released it, she would be empty. Yet she recalled that the King once told her that you need to be broken to become whole. And now she began to understand what the King had meant. She had lived many years in sorrow and brokenness, too absorbed in herself to see beyond it. Then she began to know the King, to understand his deep love for her. Had she not experienced the broken, lonely life, she may not have been so fiercely drawn to his love. His love transformed her. It made her whole. She saw that her pain had a purpose; it created a path that led only to him. For that she was grateful. Now all she wanted was to do his will.

Daria awoke one morning just after the first snowfall. The sun was shining, illuminating the snow like a million stars and the sky was deep indigo. The King was standing in her doorway with his arms open wide.

“My beloved child! Come with me. I want to take you up to the mountain to be with me forever. Will you come? Please say yes.”

“Yes,” she whispered. “Yes!”

_________________________________________________________________________



This old song has been running through my mind lately. It was written and performed by Blind Willie Johnson, a gospel blues singer, guitar player, and street corner evangelist who died in 1945. This song was the inspiration for this story.



Bye and Bye I’m Goin’ To See the King

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

You know after death,
you have got to go by yourself
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

Bye and bye I will hear the angel sing
Bye and bye I will hear the angel sing
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

You know after death,
you have got to stand your test
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

I said bye and bye I'm going to see the King
Bye and bye I am going to see the King
And I don't mind dying, I'm a child of God

Songwriter: Blind Willie Johnson
Bye and Bye I'm Goin’ to See the King  © Alpha Music, Inc

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

That dance

Create in me a clean heart, O God, 
and renew a right spirit within me."
Psalm 51:10

Until the day when I see Him face-to-face, I will be dancing with Him--two steps forward, then one or two or a thousand steps back, anywhere in between. How I love, savor, promise I'll never lose the sense of intimacy that He allows me sometimes, often unexpectedly. Yet, inevitably it slips away. I have spiritual ADHD.

Lately I have been lost in a far-away place, unable to find God. The human struggle of death, illness, strained relationships, and inability to make decisions has had me in a cage. I keep crying out, "Help me, Lord! I really don't know what to do. I'm stuck!" And when I get into a zone of frustration, whispers of doubt sneak into my head. "Are you sure He exists? Are you sure it's not a fairy tale, a figment of your wild imagination? How long has it been since you've heard from Him?" Those taunting voices recognize my vulnerability.

Last night, soaking in a hot bath, as I scrubbed the soles of my feet, I heard the words, "Create in me a clean heart, O God."

Yes, that verse, I thought. I remember that--it's a good one. Where is it in Scripture? But I soon forgot to look for it.

This morning I sat in my usual spot to spend time with the Lord, whether He was going to show up or not. (I know He's there--I'm the one who doesn't show up.) I've been working my way through Psalms and turned to the Psalm where I was to continue reading, but I got side-tracked. Create in me a clean heart, O God--yes, I was going to look that up. I found it in Psalm 51.

The Lord sat next to me as I read it aloud and read it again.

Behold you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the the secret heart.

The secret heart . . . 

Create in me a clean heart, O God. . .

Restore to me the joy of your salvation . . .

My sacrifice is a broken spirit . . . 

Tears flowed down my face and I just let them drip on my chest. My sacrifice is a broken spirit. What can I give Him in exchange for all He has done for me? I can take that broken spirit and humbly offer it to Him. I can let Him restore my spirit, create in me a clean heart, and start all over again. I give Him my broken spirit and in exchange He gives me everything. From this broken spirit I find nothing but gratitude and praise for the One who loves me.



Monday, October 1, 2018

Rilke reconsidered

Funny how things you might have read in your youth might slip through your head--

"Oh, yes, that's interesting, well said. I must remember that."

And as age advances to the point that you have many more years behind you than you have ahead of you, you read it again--

"Wow--that's so profound. Didn't I read this once before? Funny how I forgot it."

As Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote in his Letters to a Young Poet:

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves. . . . For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer. [1]
  

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows (HarperOne: 2009), 49.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Yearning

Credit: Gabor Murray


A few days ago I had a discussion with a friend about yearning--like, among other things and despite our advanced age, we don't give up wanting to have a close, romantic relationship with a member of the opposite sex. I still yearn for a perfect garden, warm sourdough bread, and linen sheets. I have linen sheets, will always have linen sheets. Lord, please grant me that one concession and let me die on linen sheets. (In a perfect garden with the love of my life holding my hand . . . ) And I yearn for a closer union with God and avocados that are always at the perfect stage of ripeness. Avocado on warm sourdough bread.


This brought to mind a John O'Donohue poem--For Longing--that I posted here some time in the past. John O'Donohue expresses it so much better than I ever could. It bears repeating.

For longing


blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.
may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.
may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
by John O'Donohue

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Shards of glass

Last night or, to be more precise,  just before dawn this morning, I awoke from a dream that I remember in startling detail. I was at some sort of tribal, artsy party on a beach. I had applied all kinds of beach debris--shells, small stones, bits of seagrass, and crab claws--to my body with glue. I was covered in bits of the sea and quite proud of my creativity. There was a man there (James) whom I had known as a boy when both of us were in high school. I wasn't that interested in talking to him, but after I had fully adorned myself in sea bits, I sat beside him as he leaned against a sand bank alone, in silence, staring at the water.

When I sat down he put his arm on my shoulder and, still looking at the water, said, "You know, I really used to love you back then."

My hands were covered with glue and my mouth was full of shards of glass. I said, "I want to tell you a story. But wait until I get this glass out of my mouth." I removed glass and more appeared. I continued removing it, waiting to tell James my story.

At that point, my former bastard bully of a husband stood at the shore and shouted at me, "What are you doing with him? You get away from him!"

I saw the ex-husband without feeling any emotion other than mild amusement. He didn't frighten me or make me anxious. I just chuckled and said, through the shards of glass in my mouth, "I don't care what you think. I'm free now." And I awoke.

My first drowsy thought was to thank God for the dream. "Thank you, Lord! Thank you--you know I needed to feel that. Thank you!" And I recall thanking him for my interaction with James and my confidence that I could remove the shards of glass--not for my lack of fear or emotion toward my husband.

But now, hours later, the images of the dream still vivid, I wonder why I was so grateful to God for the dream. I know that dreams are often God's way of sending us messages. But what was the message?

Having sharp things--pins, needles, glass, or fish hooks--in my mouth, throat, sometimes my arms, is a recurring image in my dreams. Always I remove some and more appear--I can never get them out. I used to interpret that as meaning I was frustrated that I wasn't able to express myself without retribution.

My sense is that my gratitude was more because I knew that James loved me when we were young. I was fully aware that it was in the past. And this time I felt that I could get past the shards of glass and tell my story and that my husband was just a silly, angry guy on the beach. But the intense feeling of gratitude, that the Lord had sent me a message, I still can't decipher. I need to sleep on that.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Demo

For months I've been silent. Last week my mother died after years of struggle. May she rest in peace and rise in glory.

A few days ago I was in a fancy downtown office building for a meeting. During a break I sat in an empty conference room, staring out the window, asking the Lord to bring me some peace. I was staring vacantly at a the shell of a building directly across from where I was sitting. The building looked like a bomb site, either being torn down or completely renovated. Something caught me eye that I had not noticed at first. Above a dumpster, spray-painted, was the word DEMO. I realize the word meant that this was the designated receptacle for discarded materials. But it meant something different to me. My childhood nickname, the name my mother called me even until her dying day, was Demo. Pronounced deemo, it is the name my family has called me all my life, derived from Donna Demo because they said I was a demon.

Was the Holy Spirit playing a little trick on me, when out of nowhere in a most unexpected setting, just days after her death, there appeared the name my mother called me? I had been thinking about her, that I wasn't what she wanted me to be. I was her ugly duckling, the one born with a deformed head (a story told so often, I could recite it with her). I was the one who never had the right hair--always the hair--until, when she died I had no hair at all. But when she was dying, I laid my head on her shoulder, and she rubbed her gnarled fingers across the stubble on my scalp and said, "Your head actually turned out fine. You have a nice-shaped head after all. My baby girl. My Demo."

Now she is gone.

Just like before she died, when I said my strength was failing, I relied on the Lord's strength. I asked Him to give me compassion and caring and He filled me--not through my efforts but from His deep well. Now I am depleted. She has died--I watched her dying, yet it still seems so unreal.

And what do I need now? I feel frozen, exhausted. Again I will go to Him--to the Lord, my Lord who provides. I need rest to refresh my energy. Lord, please fill me with joy, with a new appreciation for life. I need comfort. Please show the way to a new purpose. I have tried to do your work, fulfilled my obligation to my mother--admitting that I often did it with a begrudging attitude. Please forgive me for that.

It's my mama, Lord. It seems incomprehensible that she is gone, after all these years of courting death, she finally surrendered. Lord, fill me with a new spirit. I know you have been equipping me for this, but I can't find the "on" switch. Fill my heart with what I know in my head. I need your spirit to fill my emptiness. I know it's there, that there is joy, a new purpose in me that hasn't reached my heart yet.

More prayer. More time with you. More trust. And total surrender to your will.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Walking home

Imagine this: An elderly woman, her life now counted in months, weeks, perhaps only days. She is distressed and questioning what will happen at the end of her days--will there be nothing, will she see God, will she ever be with her beloved husband who departed before her?

Despite spending a lifetime following her faith, she now doubts. That seems to me to be a cruel conclusion to a life spent observing her religion as closely as she could.

So a priest comes to see her to discuss her concerns. She is old school, she hangs on his every word. He is a priest she has known for years and she trusts him to interpret God's plan for her. She tells him she wonders if God exists, she fears death because it could simply be the end of everything. What if there's no life after death? What if she never sees her husband again, never sees her parents, or all those she loved who went before her? The promises of Scripture ring hollow and, in her advanced age, she can't remember what it was that once gave her hope.

And the priest tells her that he feels the same way, that he has the same questions. I imagine some words of comfort, reassurance came after he told her that he shares her fears. He probably said, " . . . but the Lord has told us not to fear . . ."

She only heard what he said before the "but" statement. All she absorbed is that the priest, the one with the direct line to God, the one whose faith surely must never waiver, that the priest has fears too.

So she, who can be outrageously funny and talkative and the life of the party, is now despondent and fearful. This is not the way it should be. I want to see her at peace, assured of her salvation, resting in the anticipation of an eternity spent in perfect bliss. She deserves to walk home in peace, basking in love.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

He still loved me

I told him I didn’t love him. He still loved me.
I cursed him, mocked him, dismissed him as irrelevant. He still loved me.
I said I didn’t want him or need him, that he just got in my way. He still loved me.
He saw all my many flaws, knows how much I have failed. He has seen me sin boldly and he still loved me.
When I blamed him for everything that went wrong in my life and said he simply didn’t listen to me or care about me, he still loved me.
I scoffed when he said he would die for me. Then he did.
There was that time when I was in the boat with the fishermen. I watched him on the shore, building a fire, and heard him shout to the fishermen to cast their nets on the other side. I jumped from the boat and swam to the shore to be with him. I was cold, shivering and afraid. He wrapped me in in a blanket, sat with me by the fire holding both of my hands in his, and I looked deeply into his dark eyes. He still loved me.
And I came to know, so deep in my heart, in spite of all my protestations, in spite of all the effort to run from him, to hide from him, to deny his existence, that I love him. Perhaps because of all my efforts to deny him, to not love him, I now love him with a love so fierce and deep that it has become the single most important thing in my life. He has taken away my fear and shame and he has given my life meaning. He never gave up on me and will never leave me.  And he still loves me.
Tomorrow is his birthday. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Cream of chicken and wild rice soup



It's snowing and I'm thinking about comfort food, specifically Panera's cream of chicken soup. I like the soup at Panera, but it tastes a little of garlic powder and I wanted to improve it, so I started searching for an easy recipe that would replicate it. Voila! Combining a couple of recipes I found online, plus a little improvisation and this is what happened. It's good, worth saving, and really easy--one pot. I made a big pot of soup, probably about 12 or more servings. 

See what you think.



Cream of Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

What you’ll need

1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
2 medium sweet onions, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil 
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
8 cups chicken stock (or water with 2 TBS Penzey’s chicken base)
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 bay leaves
2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 4.3-ounce boxes of Rice-a-Roni Long Grain and Wild Rice with seasoning packet
How to do it

Place the carrots, celery, onion, and olive oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot.

Allow to simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.

Add chopped chicken and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add garlic, spinach, chicken stock, and 2 cups of milk to the mixture and blend.

Add pepper, oregano, and bay leaves.

Mix and allow soup to simmer over medium heat for 15 minutes.

Whisk together the other 2 cups of milk with flour until smooth. Whisk into soup.

Place rice and seasoning packets into soup and mix until combined.

Simmer for 20 minutes or until rice is tender. Add a little milk or water if too thick.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Bury me deep

Thanksgiving was the best I can recall. I am so  . . . thankful. I had the glorious opportunity to spend a few days in Austin with all my kids and grandchildren. My heart is full.
During the visit, in the middle of an ordinary conversation with my daughter and son-in-law, I felt compelled to throw in something about death.
“ . . . Barton Creek might be a nice thing to do tomorrow,” said my daughter.
“Not to change the subject, but I’ve changed my mind about cremation,” I blurted out. “I read that it’s really not good for the environment because it uses too much energy and can create noxious fumes.” The fumes from my cremation could be more noxious than most. I don’t want to be blamed for polluting the air.
I explained the natural burial concept. At Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, where I’ve gone on retreat, the Trappist monks maintain a natural cemetery on the property. Burial there involves no embalming. The unembalmed body is either put into the ground in a plain wooden coffin that will disintegrate with the corpse, or the body is wrapped in a simple linen shroud and dropped into the earth. I like the linen idea. (I once read that after her husband Alfred Stieglitz died, Georgia O’Keeffe stayed up all night to rip out the tacky satin lining from his coffin and replace it with white linen. That alone says so much about her.)
At the natural cemetery, the body, wrapped in a linen shroud, is buried in sacred ground, either in the meadow or in the woods, within view of the Shenandoah River. The grave is marked with river rocks engraved with the name of the person in the ground below. I have seen this cemetery and walked in the woods among the stone-marked graves. It’s quite serene and lovely.
My thoughtful son-in-law suggested an even simpler option. Apparently, somewhere near San Marcos, Texas, there is a place called the Body Ranch where bodies are left out in the open, naked and resting on their backs, to decay naturally. The natural decomposition process is studied for forensic research. There might even be a body left in a car to study the particular details of decomposition in those conditions. I wonder if they try different makes and models of cars. Does a body decompose differently in a 1967 black Ford Mustang than in a 2012 Olds Cutlass? This Body Ranch alternative does not appeal to me. I’ve seen the pictures.
My beloved daughter and son-in-law then carried the discussion to another level. They maintain a compost pile in the back corner of their property. It was suggested that I might saunter on out to the compost heap until I die. No fuss, no bother, just walk down there and wait. I expressed concern about vultures. No problem, they’re bird watchers. Just consider me a feeding station.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fierce

Okay, this is just between the two of us. You have to promise not to let anyone else see this monstrosity. I'm letting you see the photo of me with a bald head.

There is a bit of a story behind this. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I have hair issues. I have alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss. It sucks. Through visits to multiple doctors I've had blood work and skin biopsies, only to find there is no cure. My hair has disappeared in ugly chunks. And just to make things a bit more lively, a recent skin biopsy on the top of my head showed that I have squamous cell cancer on my scalp that requires surgery. Because my hair was falling out, and because I need to have my scalp surgically messed up, I initiated a pre-emptive strike and got a buzz cut. Chris, a guy I'd marry if he wasn't already married, cut my hair (#2 clipper guard) and pronounced that I looked "fierce". Fierce is better than pitiful, better than helpless or sad or whiny. The photo is my attempt to put on a fierce face just after my head was shorn. To me it seems more the look of a woman who is leaning toward angry resignation when she would rather be fierce. What expression do you imagine Joan of Arc had as her captors lit the fire about to consume her?

The fierce phase has not been fiercely executed. I wander from fierceness to shame, days spent in hiding. For several weeks I have done what I call Mass for Shut-Ins--watching the Sunday church service on the Internet. But today I went to the morning service with a hat on. The hat got hot. I went to see my mother after church, refusing to remove the hat. I forewarned her, but she didn't really understand until she saw it. My mother saw my head a couple of weeks ago, screamed, and said, "I can't stand looking at you!" Nice. Now the hat stays on, no matter how much she begs me to see my head. This condition doesn't work well with my mother's obsession with appearance. Her obsession with hair is pathological. How ironic that she would get me as a daughter.

Tonight I went back to church for the 5 p.m. service. I took my hat off in the car because I was just too doggone hot. Still feeling the shame, I sat in a dark spot in the last pew in the church, rows away from anyone else. Alex, one of our pastors, came up to me in my hiding place in the back and asked me to do the wine at communion. I sucked air, said I was trying to hide my bald head in the back. He was going to let me off the hook. But, in an uncommon burst of courage, I said, "No! I'll do it. There's no better time or place to be bold."

Yes, I did it. I held my bald head high and walked to the front, under the bright lights for all the world to see. And I did feel emboldened, like God could see me and He still loves me. Giving up the deceit, the hiding, the fear and literally letting myself be seen with a flaw that humiliates me, has set me free. Only through the grace of God could this have happened, in His house, in His time. I may still lose confidence on occasion, I may waver between fierceness and shame, but fierce feels better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Arms too short

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Genesis 32:24-26

Claire asked me if perhaps I was not able to communicate with the Lord because I was angry with Him.
“Good point,” I replied. “Sometimes I’m afraid to be angry with Him when I should have nothing but gratitude.” And I recall the line from Ted Loder’s prayer in Guerillas of Grace where he says, “I wander somewhere between gratitude and grievance.” Between gratitude and grievance—that space that feels so familiar to me. Always a little angry, a little guilty, a little frustrated, despite my desire to live in a never-ending glow of love and gratitude.
Claire reminded me of the passage in the Bible where Jacob wrestles all night with a man he first thought to be an angel. Later he realizes it was God himself wrestling with him. Jacob needed rest, but instead he spent the hours fighting with God, ultimately to find his faith strengthened. If Jacob could wrestle with God, then maybe it was something I should consider.
A few years back there was a musical on Broadway called, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God—unfortunately I never saw the show but the title was memorable enough and the image of a person trying to box with God, and failing because of short arms, obviously stuck with me. The phrase originated in a poem by African American poet James Weldon Johnson, who in a poem entitled The Prodigal Son wrote, “Young man—Young man—Your arm’s too short to box with God.”
So, with intention, in the privacy of my own home, I had it out with Himself. I sat on the sofa and spoke aloud, telling Him (as if He was hearing this for the first time—it is to laugh) everything that pissed me off in the history of my long life. I started with my grandmother dying, through the horrible dissolution of my marriage, to my present day bald head, and lots of other things among those highlights. He sat there and took it like a man. And I felt as empty as I felt after giving birth.
I wrestled with Him and He blessed me. The struggle left me feeling deep peace and a renewed faith. He didn’t care that I purged all that anger and shook my fist at Him. He just loved me, loved me in spite of my tangled human frailty. He loved me through my brokenness and ingratitude. He loved me despite my mistaken belief that I deserved something better than what He gave me.
His presence, His love, His never-ending patience was the only thing that was left. Gone the anger, the resentment, replaced by enormous love. And I realized that He is fighting with me, not to give me what I think I deserve, but to give me something much more than I deserve. He gives me a life better than anything I could imagine. His presence is so tangible sometimes, His love so real, that it takes my breath away.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In the rubble

Mexico City, September 2017

Rubble, piles of rubble

Dust, silence, shouting, people rushing to save those who may be trapped

And this is how I see God

I am beneath the rubble

He is searching for me and I for Him

Sometimes I am in the rubble, crying out for Him

He hears me, yet I don’t know He is there

Sometimes I am in the rubble, silent

Not knowing I need Him, perhaps not caring if I die there

He never ceases His work to rescue me, even when rescue doesn’t seem possible

Yes, He allowed the circumstances that put me in this place, at this time

In the rubble

The rubble has something to teach me

Something unimaginably profound

Thank you, Lord

Thank you for loving me, for your unceasing efforts to bring me to you

Come find me

Please

This morning, reading about and seeing images of the earthquake in Mexico City, it reminded me of my evolving relationship with God. Then I read this prayer by Ted Loder from Guerillas of Grace and the picture became clearer:


 
 
O Eternal One,
It would be easier for me to pray
        if I were clear
                and of a single mind and a pure heart;
        if I could be done hiding from myself
     and from you, even in my prayers.
But, I am who I am,
        mixture of motives and excuses,
                blur of memories,
   quiver of hopes,
                knot of fear,
            tangle of confusion,
        and restless with love,
     for love.
I wander somewhere between
        gratitude and grievance,
                wonder and routine,
                       high resolve and undone dreams,
                               generous impulses and unpaid bills.
Come, find me, Lord.
Be with me exactly as I am.
Help me find me, Lord.
        Help me accept what I am,
                so I can begin to be yours.
Make of me something small enough to snuggle,
        young enough to question,
               simple enough to giggle,
                      old enough to forget,
                             foolish enough to act for peace;
         skeptical enough to doubt
                the sufficiency of anything but you,
         and attentive enough to listen
                as you call me out of the tomb of my timidity
                       into the chancy glory of my possibilities
                              and the power of your presence.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Water, water

Nearly every day lately, clouds darken, thunder growls, and torrents of summer rain gush from the sky. It’s too much for my downspouts. Water overflows the roof and soaks the back of my house. I called the gutter guy. Again. I have an ugly history with water so I take no chances.

I’m wondering if there are some minor water gods whom I have offended. I’m deep into a love/hate relationship with water and I fear they’ve got the upper hand.

In a nominal effort to appear to be an optimist, let me first discuss the love. The universe is divided into two camps—bath people and shower people. (There also may be a third outlier camp of people who don’t bathe at all, but I presume they live in hand-built cabins in Montana where they build bombs with paper clips and elk droppings and have not communicated with other living beings since the dawn of the millennium.) I am firmly in the bath camp. I can’t sleep if I don’t take a bath. I spend my entire day counting down the hours until I can take a bath. I sometimes take more than one bath in a day and it’s a sacred ritualistic thing for me, well beyond being clean. Candles, lavender bath oil, Spanish monks singing Gregorian chant, the whole works.

I love water. But my hate of water is also fierce and unrelenting. I hate the free-range water in my house.

The first serious incident happened about ten years ago. I noticed the carpet in the corner of my basement, at the foot of the stairs, was discolored. After pulling out large pieces of drywall on two floors, the plumber found that there was a leak in a waste water pipe. It was expensive and messy. I thought I had paid my dues to the water gods.

A few years later, I called the refrigerator repair person because my icemaker wasn’t working. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the refrigerator—it was the water line to the refrigerator. Next step—the plumber. Okay, fixed. Or so I thought. The water gods were snickering. Later that evening I went into the basement to get a light bulb. Water was running down the basement walls like a waterfall in a fancy hotel lobby. I had to turn off the water main to get it to stop. Something in the icemaker water line had failed. Plumbers, drywall repair, paint, carpets pulled up, more mess. The water gods were having a fiesta.

Next? A puddle of water under the kitchen sink. A friend fixed it for me. Didn’t work. I put a metal pan under the drip. I emptied it daily, offering my little daily homage to the water gods. They aren’t easily satisfied.

Spring came. It rained. I smelled something rank in the basement. My family room carpet was soaked and part of the drywall was discolored. My neighbor’s downspout was cracked, causing water to soak the foundation of my house. The man who repaired the carpet from the icemaker leak came back. He’s now on a first-name basis with me since I’m sending one of his kids to college. I paid to fix my neighbor’s drainage and reinforced my own drainage system for another layer of protection. Ha, it is to laugh, said the water gods mockingly, with a decidedly French accent.

Next—more rain, more water in the basement. Not as much water, but still leaking. It appeared that the crown of my chimney (three floors up from the basement) was cracked and water was seeping all the way into the basement fireplace. The carpet repair guy is on speed-dial. Two days of masonry work and a couple of thousand dollars and that leak went away. The water gods were doing high fives. 

Then the hurricane season came and brought a day of torrential rain. A stream of water was flowing out of an electrical outlet in my basement. There was a leak in the window well. I had the window well removed, the wall bricked up and sealed, and had all the drywall repaired. It cost me again. The carpet fixer guy? Not this time. I replaced the carpet with a floating wood-look floor that could be removed in case of flooding. It wasn't cheap. The gods were laughing so hard they had tears streaming down their crummy little faces.

The latest and most horrific episode involved freezing rain and a flat roof—you know what’s coming—it’s an ominous combination. Water was dripping out of one of the ceiling lights in my dining room. The usual first step, I called the plumber who tore big holes in the ceiling. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the plumbing because there is no plumbing in this ceiling; it has to be coming from somewhere else. It escalated—water out of all the ceiling fixtures on the first floor, water running between the walls and seeping up out of the wood floors in the upper level. Water in the basement. I could hear it trickling inside the walls and it was seeping into the house much faster than I could remove it. Long sad story—the roof had cracked under the weight of freezing rain and the ice began to thaw. I screamed out for mercy. Tarp over the roof, clean-up crew, a new roof, removal of ceilings and walls, painting, insurance appraisals, repairs ad nauseum. I know it’s hot in the desert, but I’m willing to give it a try. The water gods wouldn't dare follow me to the desert. Would they?

I suppose I should look at this amount of water in perspective. My first bad water experience involved much, much more water—the Atlantic Ocean. It was the summer I turned 12. My family went to Bethany Beach on the Delaware shore for a day trip. It was hot and the beach was packed blanket-to-blanket with people searching for some respite from the heat. My father stayed on the shore, watching my younger brothers while my mother and I waded into the ocean. We floated in relatively placid surf on a rented rubber raft. There was a growing distance between me and my mother, who was alone on the raft. As I tried to swim back to her, I lost ground, swimming forward but moving backward into the ocean. My feet no longer touched the ocean floor. I was quickly becoming tired as I moved farther from my mother and she began to realize that I was in trouble. After the fact, I knew that she began screaming, but all I knew at the time was sheer terror. I had never heard of a riptide and had no strategy to save myself. A riptide is sort of passive-aggressive water, looks innocent enough but has a really nasty streak. I was gasping, swallowing the ocean, when two lifeguards reached me and put me on a raft. I don’t know how much time elapsed, but as we neared the shore, they asked me if I wanted to ride in on a wave. Bad idea, but I must have agreed. The wave threw me and I washed up on shore like a half-dead mackerel. Obviously much more water than I could handle.

Maybe these water gods who are out to get me have been trying for many years. The lifeguards who saved my life in 1960 thwarted the water gods’ plan to snuff me at an early age so now I’m paying the price one drop at a time.