Transitioning

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She left home today

In a car packed full of boxes, dreams, and an unhappy cat

Headed out into the world by way of Austin, Texas

Seeking new places, new faces, landscape changes

Listening for a call, embracing her fears

Sharing the journey with her love and best friend

Leaving behind her childhood mementos

In a bedroom that now looks far too clean

My love, my pride, and my tears left on her shoulder

My greatest joy, my gift from God, my only child

She left home today

 

 

 

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Remembering What Matters Most

At some point on the journey, I remembered.

It may have been the day the heat index hit 118 degrees in San Ignacio, while we were learning to mix cement on the ground.

Or it could have been the moment in the market, eating warm pupusas and watching the families gather what was needed for the week ahead.

Or perhaps it was when Mr. M told us, in his broken English, that he would never forget the hard work of a kind group of Americans.

Or it is possible it happened when I gave my lunch to the little boys on the playground, asked them to share, and they took turns taking bites.

Or it may have happened when I was watching the sun set, the same sun I have watched set thousands of times from my own front steps, while sitting on the edge of a dilapidated dock, overlooking a few old, water-logged fishing boats.

I can’t be positive of the exact moment, but at some point, during my three weeks in Belize, I remembered.

It’s not like I had forgotten completely.  No.  These Truths are tattooed on my heart. But disappointment, loss, and even the ordinariness of life can keep those truths far from the light.  Recollection can be challenging. I desperately needed a refresher course.

Sometimes a person must leave home to re-discover the Truth…

 

I traveled back to a community I love deeply.  I wrapped my arms around old friends who welcomed me back and found the little arms of familiar children around my waist.  I held space for learning and for growing, not only for my students, but for myself.

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I was blessed to be the faculty leader of a team of twelve college women, completing a three-week course on service-learning in Belize.  We worked with Peacework, a non-profit dedicated to creating partnerships between academic groups and communities around the world. We were a bunch of adventure-seekers and do-gooders.  Peacework calls us “global change agents”.  I call us dreamers.

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Together…We worked.  We taught.  We sweat.  We lived life in community.  All of us.

And Miracles happened.

And the Truth was remembered…

Love is the way.  The only way.  It’s so obvious, how could I ever forget?  Love is what we must generously give, not just for ourselves, not just for our families, not just for those who live within our borders, not just for those who speak our language, or worship our God, or look like us, but for every sacred member of the human family.  It takes an open heart, and generous spirit, and willingness to see the beauty in our shared humanity.

Peace is possible.  Really. I know it is hard to undo the damage caused by political leaders who promise to build walls between our neighbors, blatantly ignoring the teachings of the God they pretend to follow.  Famine, war, refugees with no safe harbor, terrorism, lies, greed…so much brokenness all around can make world peace seem nothing more than a child-like fantasy.  But it IS possible.  When our world view becomes other-focused instead of self-focused, we’ll get there.  That shift will come when we learn to love.

So I will do my part.

And I’ll remember what is True:

Love.

Peace.

And a grateful heart for the chance to remember.

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Clean-Up on Aisle Four

The grocery store makes me cry.  For some reason, the simple routine of pushing a cart through the store to acquire the necessities of life breaks me open.  Perhaps it is the fact that this very normal act says: life goes on, we cook, we eat, we go about the business of living…. even though nothing is the same.  My brother has died.  My parents have died.  I am still alive.  This is what living people do.  They go to the grocery store.

Suffering and death are inevitable parts of the human experience.  Yet, we live as if we are impenetrable to such pain.  When suffering and death decide to show up in our lives, we are completely blindsided.

It feels like being hit by a Truth bus.  Full-on body slam:  You’re vulnerable.  Life is fragile. Don’t get too comfortable.  Here’s a big side of pain and grief to go with your happy little life.

I wonder how would we live differently if we remembered our own human mortality on a daily basis.

Two years later, I’m still learning lessons from the death of my parents.  I think of them every single day. I sometimes catch glimpses of them in those rare, perfect moments when the thin places can be crossed.

My brother’s death is raw and fresh and still feels unreal to me.  Yes, he was very sick.  But we didn’t expect him to die.  Not now.  Not for a long time.  But he did.  And I watched it happen.  It was both a beautiful privilege and a brutal reminder that life is so very fragile and so very temporary.

The loss feels staggering.  My brother’s two kids have lost a wonderful dad. His beautiful wife Mary is a widow at 46.  Of all the people in this world who do not deserve pain, it is Mary.  Mary is amazing, kind, and good.  I cannot use the term sister-in-law for Mary.  She is my sister.  We are connected by her marriage to my brother, but no two women who walk the path we just walked together can be anything but sisters.  I love her with my whole being.  Together, we held each other up as we watched my brother leave this world.  There was not a damn thing we or the doctors could do to stop it from happening.

Sometimes, I rage at the universe.  My Education for Ministry class would use the term “theological reflection” for the questions I hurl at the Powers-that-Be: “What the actual Fuck?!  Why Rob?  Why so young?  He was such an awesome person!  I would be happy to suggest a few names of not-so-awesome people that the world may not miss too much!  Seriously?!  Can you please stop taking the people I love away from me?!” 

Sometimes, I just quietly weep.  I know God did not take my brother.  Sickness took him.  Our human bodies are mortal.  We are not created to last forever.  We will all eventually die.  Just as Jesus confirmed when he wept for Lazarus, death is sad.  It hurts those left behind. So we weep.  And we find comfort in a God who loves us and who welcomes us home.  We lean heavily on friends who support us.  And we go on…into this beautiful, mysterious, awesome world in which we live and move and have our being.

The freshly hollowed-out places in my heart will change me.  How could I possibly stay the same?  In honor of my brother and my mom and my dad, I will endeavor to fill those deep holes with more goodness, joy, generosity, and as much love for the world as I can fit into one woman’s broken heart.  I must do that now.  I cannot wait.  We just don’t have that kind of time.

And if you happen to see me crying in the produce section of the grocery store, don’t be alarmed.  I’m just paying attention to the high prices we must pay for deeply loving other human beings.DSCN4376

Peaceful Warrior

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I’m not much of a fighter.

Remember the old Coke commercial?  The one with all the people holding hands and singing?

               “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. 

               I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company”

That’s my jam right there.

Only here’s the truth…I cannot sing.  Can’t even whistle, to be honest.  And I don’t drink soda.

But I COULD introduce the world to a really great podcast and serve up a cold Corona with lime.

I’m a peacenik. It’s deep in my middle-child bones.

But peace is a goal, not always a reality.  Life, as we all know, does not usually flow with an easy, peaceful rhythm for much longer than a thirty second commercial.

As a wise 84-year-old woman once told me in a moment of philosophical clarity:            “Shit happens.”

So what’s a peacenik to do when faced with the hard battles of life?

Well, for me, it’s not very pretty.  At first I get stomach aches.  Then I lose sleep.  Then I rant for a while to anyone within earshot.  Then I drink a bit more red wine than I probably should.  Jesus drank wine too, so don’t judge.

Finally,  I remember.

I remember to breathe those deep yoga breaths with the extended exhale.  I remember to pray, to the Source of love and light out there in the vast universe.  I remember to ask for help from the fellow warriors who care about me.  And I remember that control is just an illusion, so I try to release my futile need for it.

Over and over I have to remind myself of these truths.  Every day.  Sometimes every five minutes.

Gradually, I move into my peaceful warrior mode.

My latest battles have kept me incredibly busy:

  • My brother’s illness…There is nothing I can control here. And damn, it’s frustrating.  But we will fight together as a family.  We are equipped with all the information we can find.  We’ve assembled the best army of experts in a 500 mile radius. We’ve relocated to a research hospital.  I will stay by his side to love and support him and my wonderful sister-in-law.  I will offer up my bone marrow or my right arm or my ability to deliver really good take-out.  I am a peaceful warrior.
  • A legal battle dumped in my lap…Seeping with greed, deception, ego, and intimidation. So much drama.  All the stuff I despise.  I cannot just walk away from it and wait for it to disappear.  So I will fight.  I have armed myself with smart people who are far better-equipped for such battles.  My dignity, my honesty, and sheer determination will be my shield.  I will battle my antagonist.  I will battle my own fears.  I am a peaceful warrior.
  • A broken world spinning out of control…Violence fills the news every single day. Racial tensions erupt between people who are blind to their shared humanity. Our elected leaders cannot fix the problems, or worse, don’t even try.  The world needs far more healing than any one person can deliver.  But I CAN carry peace and love into my little corner of the world….And I can see love extend beyond borders, through the good works of my own wise daughter, my incredible students and plenty of good, caring people I see every day.  I don’t stop trying.  I don’t give up hope.  I am a peaceful warrior.

So bring it on, World.

Bring on your inexplicable sicknesses, your legal battles steeped in materialistic greed, and an entire planet gone completely mad.  You can scare me.  You can fill me with stone-cold dread.  But you will NOT steal my joy.  You will not take away the peace that runs deep within my soul.

You will not win.

Eventually…if we wait it out… PEACE will win.  LOVE will win.

Every. Single. Time.

Bring it on.

 

Holding Onto Good

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“It’s when we face for a moment the worst our kind do,

and shudder to know the taint in our own selves,

That awe cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart.”

                                                                           Denise Levertov

 

I started this blog as a vehicle for sharing my glimpses of God in this world.

I have not written for a while.

It is not because I no longer see the divine evidence of my Creator.  I do.  Every day.

My recent absence is because I’ve seen that the world is far harsher than I like to admit.

My rose-colored glasses have been knocked askew.

Hatred, selfishness and greed seem to be commanding all the attention.

My writer self has huddled deep in self-preservation.

I am so constantly surprised by the depravity of humankind that my naiveté has become a joke among my friends.

Aren’t people truly good inside?

                 Um….do you watch the news?

Won’t people choose to act for the benefit of the whole community over benefit to self?

What are you, some kind of socialist?

People will tell the truth and act with integrity, right?

                   Wrong. There are people who can even make vows before God, then turn around                                       and deceive.  People can lie to your face and never even miss a beat.

Don’t people want the best for one another and won’t they celebrate another’s happiness?

Nope, even some so-called friends will judge you and resent you for being happy.                                    Crazy, huh?

The Light and the Love of this world can get overshadowed pretty quickly.

It’s bumming me out a bit, I must admit.

But inevitably, if I allow myself to sit quietly in the darkness for a while, my eyes begin to adjust.  Eventually, I can make out the faintest glimmer of light, from under the closed door.

And once again, I believe.

I know, with a childlike faith, that love will get the last word.

I know good will trump evil.

I know where to find the shelter of honesty, generosity, and true friendship and I can warm myself there.

God created all of this, the darkness and the light.

And She declared it “Good”.

So it must be good.

God, herself, said so.

Give me Your eyes, Father, Mother, God, that I may see this world in all its beauty and in all its filth,

And give me Your grace, to love it still.

Amen 

 

Holes

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This weekend we will finally bury my dad’s ashes.

We’ll dig a hole next to mom’s ashes.

A beautiful spot on a mountain in his beloved Craig County.

A joyless task.

It’s been a year now.  A whole year.

Somehow, I managed to keep on living.

I found ways of growing around the gaping hole in my life.

The hole is a part of me now.

I weep into it on some days.

Other days I just work around it.

A canyon in my interior landscape.

My joy must work to bubble up around the edges now.

I still think of those final days at the hospital, the longest days of my life.

I don’t want to remember them anymore, but they come to me at random times.

They make me cry in inexplicable places…yoga class…the grocery store.

I want to remember the laughter…the corny jokes…the family humor.

I want to remember the hugs…the kisses…the tears in his eyes when he spoke of God.

I lost my biggest fan.

He would introduce me as, “My daughter, Katie, she’s a marathon runner.”  (I ran ONE marathon.)

“My daughter, Katie, she’s a tri-athlete.”  (I once did a sprint tri and almost drowned.)

“My daughter, Katie, she’s a college professor.”  (A job that luckily fell into my lap.)

No one else thinks I’m all that.

Now I’m just an ordinary woman, with a hole in my heart.

I miss you, Dad.

I want to call you and tell you all about the Old Testament class I am taking. You would love it.

I want you to help me make sense of a world where people keep shooting one another.

I need you to discuss politics with me and to laugh at the absurdity of a world where Trump leads the polls.

I need you to tell me that all will be well…

That God still holds the reigns.

That refugees will find homes.

That wars will one day cease.

That I am strong enough for the disappointments of this world.

That I am wise enough to find the good, no matter how hidden.

That the holes of this life will all be filled soon enough.

As we dig that hole next to mom, the one in my heart is wide open and raw.

Your presence on this earth was so big and so bright and so beautiful.

Of course you left a hole.

Such a gaping hole.

So much loss.

So much love.

A View From Fifty

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“In mid-life we are left with all that was ever ours to hold in the first place.”

Barbara Lazear Ascher

I am fifty.

I say it often because those words still feel a bit strange in my mouth.

I am fifty.

I am a woman-child staring at the second half of her life.

How did I ever get here?

It sounds best to say I got here through my own hard work and determination and grit, but truthfully, it was mostly blind-ass luck.

I got here through minimum- wage jobs, college loans, lots of reading, and the love of two amazing parents. I got here through the benefits of public education and health care and clean running water. I got here through the support and encouragement of beloved girlfriends and a few good, and a few not-so-good, men who claimed to love me. I got here through a rock-solid faith in a loving God, a faith built on far more questions than answers.

I am fifty.

I am old enough to have learned about loss, the deep profound loss that carves a hole inside of you with which you must learn to live. I am old enough to have survived betrayal and broken promises and blind curves in the road I never saw coming. I am old enough to have lost friends, some to the sting of early death and some to the simple hurt of false friendships. I am old enough to be a mother, no longer of the precious little red-head I used to snuggle, but of a legitimate, responsible adult who I am lucky enough to call my daughter and my friend. Her pbj kisses have been replaced by text messages, but I take my joys as I can get them. Parenting is a time-warp.

I am fifty.

I am young enough to take childish delight in everyday joys…birdsong on my patio, the smell of my garden, my toes in cool water, a bike ride down a rolling mountain trail. Sunsets and full moons make me weepy, in a good way. Red wine and good books make me blissfully happy. Snapchats from my daughter make me smile. A long morning run makes me feel as strong as I did in high school. I’m in love with a good man. I’m in love with my career as a teacher. I’m in love with my life. Simply being alive is ecstasy.

I am fifty.

There was a lump in my breast at 49. It filled me with a stone-cold dread that made me shiver. I knew what it could mean. Although I had already mentally fast-forwarded past treatment and on to my nice reconstructed C cups, I held my breath as the radiologist gave me the news…a benign cyst. I wept with relief. My precious little A cups were just perfect as they were and I was insanely thankful. Blind-ass luck strikes again.

I am fifty.

I recently read an article about what women can expect in their fifties. I cannot decide if I was more horrified by the prospect of facial hair or night sweats or loss of libido. I think they got the focus all wrong. Middle-aged women need to pay attention to the world beyond the mirror. Who has time to think about face-lifts or injections or hormone therapy? There’s a whole broken world out there that needs saving and we’re the only ones smart enough to do it.

Personally, I plan to rock my 50’s.

I have good work yet to accomplish, big dreams yet to realize, wild adventures yet to undertake, moonlit dances to dance, passionate love left to give, and deep laughter bubbling within. After all…

I am ONLY fifty.

Broken Wide Open

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The news of the Charleston shooting broke me open.  Tears streamed down my face as I listened to the accounts of a hated-filled young man who murdered innocent, loving people in their house of worship.  How can so much hate fester inside of such a young person?  How can it be, in 2015, that such an appalling level racism still exists in our country?  How could such an atrocious thing happen?

The answer is not mental illness, although anyone capable of such a crime is indeed mentally ill.  The answer is not our lax gun-control laws, although that issue remains in urgent need of correction.  The answer is not our culture of entrenched violence, where movies and video games glorify murder, although we all need to take a hard look at this pervasive problem.  This crime was about racism.  Racism.  This targeted form of hate is, and has always been, a cancer in our beautiful country.

As with most injustices I encounter, a fire began to burn inside me and my heartbreak launched me into “fix it” mode.  I cannot simply go on about my daily life in resignation that we are destined to live in a world where people hate others simply because of the color of their skin.  No.  I will not.  I want to live in world where LOVE is the loudest voice. I want to live in a world where racism is a blight only on our history, a concept with which our grandchildren will completely unfamiliar.

What can I, just one person, do to help bring about such a world?

I can start by taking a good hard look at the woman in the mirror.  I’m a white woman, born and raised in the south.  I have benefited my entire life from all the privileges my whiteness allows me, usually never stopping to consider this unearned advantage.  Is it possible that I am part of the problem?  Indeed it is.

I am not a racist. I would never shoot anyone.  I do not own a gun.  I’m a pacifist to my core.  I would never fly a confederate flag.  I practice forgiveness to those by whom I have been hurt, as there is no room for hate in my life.  I teach college courses and treat all my students equally and fairly.  Social justice is a common theme in my lectures and course readings.  I raised a strong, independent daughter and taught her to love all people.  So, it would be easy for me to move on with my life, in self-congratulatory fashion, and ignore the fact that racism is still a toxic reality in our country.

The fact remains, unless I acknowledge my own white privilege, and unless I speak out against the scourge of racism, I am not blameless.

I don’t pretend to have easy answers to the complexity of pervasive racism, but I am brainstorming solutions.   For starters, I need to step outside my white world, my white neighborhood, my white church.    I need to worship in pews with my black friends.  I need to expand my social circles to include a more racially diverse crowd.  I need to organize opportunities for dialogue with our local young people to have frank and honest conversations about racism.  I need to talk to the local high school student who flies the confederate flag from his pickup and help him see that his display of southern pride is both hurtful and intimidating.  I need to talk about the racism I see and call it out for what it is.  It’s my responsibility to do so, especially as a white person who has benefitted from such systemic racism.

The Charleston tragedy is every American’s tragedy.  We have all failed to give love the loudest voice.  But I know change can happen.  I know love can win.  When we allow ourselves to break open, do the hard work of self-examination, and commit to working for justice and equality for ALL, beautiful changes happen.  It starts with me.  It starts with you.  Let us begin anew.

For the Childless and Motherless on Mother’s Day

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I see you out there.

You are hurting.

You are aching for that child you lost or maybe for that child you never had.

I’m so sorry for your pain.

I see you out there.

You are hurting.

You are missing your own mother, feeling that ache that will remain forever, now that she has gone.

I’m so sorry for your pain.

I see you out there.

You are hurting.

You are struggling with the knowledge that your mother failed at being a hallmark mom.  Addiction, abuse, neglect have made this day extra hard for you.

I’m so sorry for your pain.

I see you out there.

I know you are hurting.

Go, now, take a good look at the wonderful woman in the mirror.  Yes, you.

You are the one who has learned to smile through the pain and the tears and the disappointment.

You are beautiful.

You are strong.

You are wise.

You are a part of the beloved sisterhood.

Buy flowers for yourself.  You deserve them.

And may God, our Heavenly Mother, hold you close in Her embrace as you get through these days with your grace and strength.

You are loved.

Holy Mysteries

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Grief is a curious beast.  He settled into my core when I was most vulnerable.  He set up living quarters and seems to be planning to stay.  Sometimes he is a recluse, staying hidden away for days, allowing me to breathe deeply and experience laughter and joy.  Sometimes he waits for an unexpected trigger, and spills out in streams or sobs, usually waiting for some inappropriate public place so he can smear the mascara.  He’s a cruel bastard and I hate him.

Through no other choice, grief and I are learning to live together.  I would never have selected such a joyless roommate.  He’s a fun-sucker, a wet blanket.  Grief chose me.   Grief will choose everyone eventually.  No one escapes him.  Death invites him in.

Learning to live with grief has kept me busy.  I keep him at bay by going to my comfort place:  my head.  Cerebral endeavors like studying, reading, and talking to others about the mysterious unknown of the afterlife has become my second job.  Dozens of books about life after death are stacked around my house.  Some are fascinating, some depressing, some childish.  Most leave me with more questions than answers.

I desperately long to know where my parents really are, now that they have finished their lives on this earth.   I rest securely in my belief that they are “with God”, but that answer has suddenly become far too vague to satisfy me.  I want details.  I was witness to my father’s spirit leaving his body, twenty-one days before that body finally quit breathing.  It was both a blessing and a curse to sit and watch as he died.  It filled me with questions I will spend the rest of my life pondering.  Where did he go?  What was he experiencing?  His spirit was far too big and bright and beautiful to be snuffed out by death.  I know that truth…as much as I know anything.

So I began to study, seeking answers to the unanswerable:  What happens to you when you die?  Of all the answers I have collected on my journey, the most honest remains: “I have no idea.”  No matter what people claim to know, there is simply no way to be certain.  Near-death experiences offer glimpses, but even they differ vastly from person to person.  People speak of signs from loved ones long gone, some even have conversations with the deceased, some believe in multiple lives, some read deeper meaning into scriptural references to heaven.  Who am I to claim any of these ideas are wrong?

I am learning to accept that the mystery is unsolvable.  My parents are both in the great “whatever happens next”.  But I continue to ponder, imagine, and spend hours reading.  It comforts me and keeps the cruel beast at a safe distance.

Friends have asked me if I am experiencing a crisis of faith, suddenly doubting the promises upon which I have built my life.  I don’t see it that way.  Questions are an integral part of my faith.  Faith, to me, is all about my willingness to wade into the vast sea of uncertainty, weighed down by my grief, but buoyed by an assurance that death does not get the last word.

I’m settling into my favorite answer to the big question of what happens when we die:  Quantum Physics.  There’s so much more to the theory than my mind can grasp, but the short and sweet Katie version goes like this:  At the very smallest, sub-atomic level, we are all connected.  We all are simply energy living in our separate bodily containers, but existing as one.  We have locked ourselves into our false concepts of time and space, when in reality we are all inter-connected into a massive web of energy.  The reality we see now, with our limited human vision, is a false concept.  It is not real. Nothing we see now is real.  It is all energy.

Love…Light…God…All are acceptable names for this unified energy.  Pick your favorite.

Quantum Physics is not for the faint of heart or mind. It’s a whole new way of wrapping your brain around reality, or the lack thereof. Mind. Completely. Blown.

I will continue to experience grief for the loss of my parents, because in my limited human experience they are no longer with me.  I desperately miss them.  But I do believe their spirits, their energy, carry on. They remain a part of the vast loving force of the universe.  They are in me, in my daughter, in my siblings, in the trees, in the flowers, in the very air I breathe.   They are in all that is visible and invisible.   They are a part of the Holy Mystery of our Father, Mother, God.

Sometimes, in my quietest moments, when I keep my heart open and my mind still, I can feel the Love and the Light flow through me.  And it is good.