My Church

My church is a hospital
      a place of life and death.
The deacons and priests are servants of health—
      moving patient to patient
      serving up hope, grace, grief.
While others tend bodies, I tend souls.

My church is a clinic
       diagnosing,
            dispensing,
                 doling out bandages and advice.
No one stays for long, coming and going as needed.
     I am both patient and practitioner.

My church is a hospice
     nursing facility, private home–
     way stations on the path to new life.
Like midwives, my colleagues wipe brows,
      gives meds, hold hands, see tears.
We usher to the door, then stay in this world to care for the living.

My church is the place
      of spiritual expression, 
          of holy need,
             and sacred grace.
My parish is life, I am it’s servant.
       My name is Chaplain.

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Acrostic for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

In honor of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25, 2014), I offer this acrostic poem from my pen.

Called as the whole
Household of God to
Reconciliation and
Inclusion
Striving
Together
Increasing
Acceptance. Working for the
Now and not yet.

Understanding the work is
Neverending–
Inspired in mission–
That the world might believe and
You, I and all may be One in Christ.

I wrote this in 2011 and just came across it in an old notebook. It was timely, so I’m sharing it as the observance begins. For more info about the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity see: World Council of Churches

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What gives?

I drive a lot for my job, and I’m usually alone in the car. Sometimes I pray, sometimes I just think. My drives can be as long as an hour, so I also like to listen to the radio when I’m between points. Sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I listen to talk radio. Back in May, on my way back to the office, I heard part of  Diane Rehm’s interview with Dr. Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou has a new book out called “Mom & Me & Mom” which continues the collection of her autobiographies.

One thing in particular caught my attention as the two women spoke, it had to do with forgiveness. A caller named Laura had a question for Dr. Angelou that went like this:

LAURA

11:45:46
First of all, Maya Angelou, I can’t believe I’m talking to you. I’ve loved you since I was a 10-year-old little girl in St. Louis and you are what made me love poetry.

ANGELOU

11:45:56
Thank you so much.

LAURA

11:45:58
You’re welcome. My question is just about your advice for forgiveness. You describe these terribly hard things from your childhood, but you’re able to forgive in such a beautiful poetic way really. What would you advise for other people?

ANGELOU

11:46:17

Well, one of the things that, Ms. Laura, is I’ve changed that word to make it two words and turn it around to ‘give for’. So if I have someone who has embarrassed me or broken a promise to me or betrayed me or in any way hurt my feelings I will find something, a bag of potatoes, a bag of onions and a roast and give it to a needy family. And I say I’m giving this for Joe who hurt my feelings. And somehow I’m free. I’m not carrying Joe around on my back. I’m not tugging him along everywhere I go. He’s not making me look old and tired and weird. I’m free of him. I have given for him. I don’t know where I got that, but that’s what I do.

(See the full transcript here:

And I just love that! I love that she channels that pain into something good. It’s taking a distortion and making it straight. It reminds me of how I feel about knitting. Knitting, to me, is taking yarn, a ball or skein, of chaos and making sense and order of it. It’s the end of the kick-the-cat syndrome. It says to the offender, “I’m not passing this pain along to someone else and I’m not keeping it inside to fester and wound me further!” It says, “I choose grace!”

Now I also realize that some wounds are so great that we must tend them before we can get to the point of honestly and genuinely being able to turn them into grace that carries forward. A few years ago, when I was feeling deeply wounded, a friend and mentor of mine told me that I wouldn’t be able to move out of the pain until I had something to move to. There was a lot of truth in that. Being in the depth of the place of darkness and pain makes it very hard to see the sunshine, very hard to think of how I can turn the ashes into beauty.

But, as I’ve had time, distance and worked at healing, I can see the blessing of living through the trials. I can also see how I can still use my gifts to be a blessing to others. With that, I can connect with grace, karma, and all those ideas of paying forward the good. I’m in a place now where I don’t feel a need to receive pain and grow it. I’m in a place now where I can also recognize another person’s pain and anguish, understand it and see my part in it. I can sit with someone who is in a place of pain, and do it with empathy. When someone tries to inflict pain on me, I’m better able to recognize if I’m the cause or just a convenient target.

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The Circus Comes to Town

I went to the circus last night with my family. It had been a few years since the last time the circus came to town. Being there brought back many memories of the circus when I was a kid. I remember going to see the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus when it came to Atlanta. We had seats close to the ring (if memory serves). At one point, they asked for volunteers. I raised my hand as high as I could, wiggling and pleading, “oh please, oh please, oh please!”; and was deeply disappointed when they chose another child in my section. I remember the clown car driving into the ring and how impossibly all those clowns climbed out of that little car. It boggled my too-rational-for-my-age mind–and was most likely the first strike in my dislike of clowns. (Other strikes: creepy make-up that masks the true face, slapstick comedy and all the scary movies of the 1970s that involved clowns.)

There were trained animals: camels, zebras, tigers, dogs. The set that got the depth of my heart was the elephant show. Three old Asian elephants (the ones with the smaller ears). They were freckled, a little splotchy and looked like they could use a good massage with some extra-thick and creamy lotion. They moved steadily and gracefully, carrying their tiara-ed female performers–dancing and standing on stools and hind legs, balancing on each others backs. Two female and one male elephant. I didn’t catch his name, but the male elephant really touched me.

He reminded me of Dad. Old, wise, kind, moving slowly with grace, and a deeply emotive quality in his eyes. At times it seemed the elephants were smiling, maybe even enjoying their time in the spotlight. Elephants do more than perform at the circus, they are work animals. They carry posts and pull supplies across the grounds during set-up and tear down. They are responsible for pulling and pushing the main tent masts into place. They earn their keep.

Elephants are connected creatures. They thrive in community. They remember each other. They love. They love other elephants and they love other animals. They have compassion. They show joy and sadness.

There are several things that remind me of Dad– stars, Dr. Who, the beach, owls, trees, my cats–but I think elephants may be the best because they embody his remembrance in their expression, emotion, ambulation and wisdom.

Posted in Grief, Grieving with Grace | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Here and Back Again

I come to the ocean to grieve
Standing where he sat in his chair last summer
Looking out over the waves
I feel his presence in my tears
The gusty wind wraps around me
And I know he wants to be here
In my mind’s ear I hear the strains of an old familiar song
That starts as if a radio plays, then joins my voice, and then it’s his
He sings this song to comfort and encourage me
“You light up my life, you give me hope to carry on”
He sings to tell me he will always love me
Yes, you light up my life
He sings to tell me there is life after death
You give me hope to carry on
You light up my days, and fill my nights with song

While we were at the beach this evening, I was thinking about Dad and trying to write a poem, and Dad sent me a song. The first one was “You Light Up My Life”. As we returned to the car, he sent me “What I Did For Love.” And when I got back to Epworth, he sent me “Yesterday Once More.” I spent a good part of the evening looking for more songs on iTunes to download and create a playlist for remembering Dad. I called it “Yesterday Once More.”

Listening to songs that remind me of Dad and my childhood years makes me cry. But it’s a good cry and the nostalgia reminds me of all the wonderful times and good feelings with my Dad. I feel closer to him and it helps me.

I hoped to see my stars at the beach, but it was cloudy. I waited and watched for them to appear, but to no avail. It’s OK. East Beach is my beach. It’s the beach I call home. I think it’s my little boy’s beach, too. He told me he wants to live here. I dream of it. I long for it. God speaks to me here; always has, even when I was but a wee thing. It’s where I went in my teen years to hope, to wish and to pray. Dad speaks to me here, too.

This island is in my blood. I got my first scar when I cut my leg on a barnacle here. The island and I became blood brothers. I was 5, maybe. I was climbing on the rock with my brothers, searching for crabs and shells, down by the old pier at Epworth. It’s the pier where I caught my very first fish–a little toad fish. I was so excited that I ran all the way back to Reynolds to show my Dad. He thought it was great.

“Kiss today goodbye–the sweetness and sorrow.
Love is never gone, as we travel on,
Love is what we remember.”

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By The Way

It’s been a quiet week. Last weekend, my boys left for the start of the tour of grandparents on Friday before I got home from work. I was disappointed to have missed their departure, but glad when they called later to let me know they made the half-way point and were in the hotel for the night. I stayed up late, as I usually do when I’m alone, but I slept for nearly 12 hours. It was nice to have an uninterrupted night–even the cats let me sleep and didn’t disturb me. But Saturday night was different.

I turned out my light just after midnight and found I couldn’t get to sleep. My mind was busy and got caught up in a cycle of negative thoughts. I tried to pray them away, and it seemed to help a bit, but I kept going back to the nagging feeling that there was something wrong, and specifically it was me. A couple of times in the months since Dad died I’ve had something like a voice in my head say “You’re next.” It frightens me, a similar thing happened in the months before Dad died–I felt like I was told he would die soon, before we even knew he was sick. See why it makes me worry?

I prayed to Dad that he would help me be well, healthy and long-lived. My sleep came but it was a bit fitful. My husband’s alarm clock went off at 6 am (I’ve got to remember to turn that thing off!). I turned it off and went back to sleep. My cat Stuart woke me up around 8 and snuggled in beside me while I snoozed a bit longer. I thanked him for waking me up so kindly. Sometimes I wonder if he’s a reincarnation of a previous cat because he just seems to know things.

Anyway, I went to church as I usually do…a little bit late and alone. During the service I remembered that I needed to go to the bookstore afterwards to get some resources for the members of the bereavement group I lead, so I wrote myself a note. They had told me they wanted to see Jesus Calling and Heaven is for Real, and anything else that might look appropriate for the bereaved.

Going to the bookstore is part of my usual Sunday routine. I like to go have a chai and look at the craft and cooking magazines. Sometimes I get lost in the discounted book section. I started there, hoping to find some bargains. I had limited success there so I headed back to the devotional book section.

aka- The Hippie Bible

That’s where I saw it–The Way. There on the bookshelf to my left, at heart level; laying out on the edge of the shelf was The Way. I thought to myself, surely not? Could this be a new edition of the Bible my father carried with him on the front seat of his 1970 1/2 Ford Falcon? He carried that paperback, hippie Bible all through my younger years, to church, the men’s group, Elders and Sunday School. I picked it up from the shelf and slipped off the package band to look inside. Sure enough, in the publisher’s introduction was confirmation that this indeed was a new and updated edition of my Dad’s Bible! It was as if Dad was there, waiting for me to find him in the bookstore so he could tell me he’s still looking out for me and encouraging me.

Dad is still with me on The Way.

So now I’m trying to track down Dad’s old Bible. I know I have seen it at their house, but I can’t say how recently. I’ll be home in a few weeks and plan to look for it. Dad carried that Bible when he was about the same age I am now. I wonder if he wrote notes in it? Did he highlight or underline things? What might he have left in it? Maybe there are some notes of things he wanted to remember tucked in the pages. I hope I can find it.

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Trees

Continuing on the grief journey, I’ve been thinking lately how important music and songs are to me. When I was a little girl, my Dad would often whistle. His favorite was a tune that provided the melody for the lyrics of a famous poem by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) called “Trees”. I copied it from Bartleby.com.

Big Cedar

Photo: The 2nd Largest Cedar in the US, located on St. Simon’s Island, GA

I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Dad would often quote the words of the poem or sing them to the tune. I could only remember the first two lines when I started to think about it, so I posted it here to help me remember and to include it as part of my growing online memory collection. Sitting with these words, it fits that they would appeal so to Dad. He loved trees, music, word play, nature, God. I do too.

Connecting this way, to the memory of my Dad, seems to be part of the work of creating a new definition of my relationship with Dad. The relationship that continues in a different way in the absence of his physical, bodily presence.

I don’t usually watch the tv show “Bones”, but happened to see part of an episode last week. The lead male character was raised primarily by his grandfather and held a great deal of anger and disappointment at his father who had died when he was a boy. His grandfather shared with him a letter, written by his father, that expressed his feelings of love for his son and his regret that he wasn’t a better father. It was in a box that included many mementos of times they had shared. The lead male did have some happy memories of his father that were overshadowed by the pain of the lost and missing. The lead female, his partner in work and family, told him of a time theory that basically states that those wonderful, loving and happy times are still happening and continue to play out. They haven’t disappeared or ended, he need only to think of them and they will be relived and re-learned.

It is comforting to think that those true moments of love live on and are not lost when we, or our beloved, die. So play on, memories! Play on, songs! Play on, poems! With a sure and certain hope of the resurrection to life eternal.

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