UNSHAKEABLE LOVE, BROKEN HEARTS AND PRAYER

(for Sarah, Nadine, Betty, Judy, Kay and too many others)

Yesterday, a young man killed his mother and then drove to the school where she taught kindergarten and killed 20 kids ages 5-10.

Why?

How could anyone do that?

I’m kind of glad I don’t understand.  I don’t want his actions to make sense to me.  I don’t want my brain to work that way.

I have more than one friend whose adult sons and daughters live with mental illness.  Sometimes medications help, sometimes they don’t and sometimes they just make people feel weird and they don’t take them.  Sometimes nothing helps.

My friends, their moms, are left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.

My cousin spent 20 years wandering the country in the grips of schizophrenia.  His illness began in his mid-twenties.  My aunt and uncle knew of no way to help and were afraid to tell their friends.  For most of his years of wandering, my aunt and uncle didn’t know if he was alive or dead. *

They were left with unshakeable love, broken hearts, and prayer.

My friend has spent thousands of dollars trying to find help for her daughter’s bi-polar illness.  No combination of medications works well or for long.  Her daughter, now in her 30’s, lived on the streets at times and now lives with her mom and her teenage daughter in a big house in a beautiful neighborhood near the university.  My friend has legal custody of her granddaughter.

She is left with unshakeable love, a broken heart and prayer.

Last winter, as I sat in front of my gas log fireplace and listened to freezing rain, I wondered about a man I know who had no home.  He was unable to manage an apartment, bills, and grocery shopping, although he wanted to.  He hated going to the shelter.  It’s hard to sleep in a room full of not-so-clean, snoring, farting, crying men who at any moment might start yelling or take your shoes or go through your stuff.  Many of their brains don’t work right.  They are ill.

I learned not to blame.  Schizophrenia and bi-polar illness are diseases of the brain, as surely as my rheumatoid arthritis is a disease of my joints.  I’m lucky.  My medications work.  I have medical insurance to help me pay for non-generic prescriptions and doctor visits and surgeries.  I know people who have no money and no insurance.  They don’t get better.

Mental illness is a powerful force.  It is real.  Medication may or may not help.  Crack and heroin are easier to get and seem to help.  Then they create another set of problems.

Even doctors and physician’s assistants and nurses who really care run out of things to try.

I guess they, too, are left with broken hearts and prayer.

We need to do better.  The mentally ill man (boy, really), begging on the corner of Madison Drive and Market Street is someone’s son or brother.  Yes, maybe he’ll take your $2.00 and buy beer or cheap school wine instead of food.  Why not?  It lessens the pain and stops the questions, for a moment.

Why would anyone walk into an elementary school and kill 20 little boys and girls?  I don’t know.

I do know he was once a baby boy, just like my cousin, just like my grandson.  A child of God, just like all of us.

Jesus said we are to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Some of us need more and we are failing them and their parents and brothers and cousins and daughters.

Surely we can offer more than unshakeable love, broken hearts and prayer.

*My cousin, in his 50’s, is okay today, living in an assisted living apartment and helped by an exceptional support agency in Minneapolis, where his brother lives.  My aunt knows that today he is safe and warm.  She is one of the lucky moms.

Published in: on December 15, 2012 at 9:26 am  Comments (8)  
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Baby Bad Ass

I started calling her that shortly after she was born.  It still fits.

Last week I wrote about my granddaughter having heart surgery on September 27.  She did and after a rough first 24 hours, she improves each day.  Today, Sunday, she moved out of ICU, her parents could finally hold her and she is able to nurse on demand.  Last I heard, she was sleeping in her mama’s arms.

Once again, I am amazed at the toll emotional stress takes on my body.  So I rested and napped and read the paper today.  Tomorrow I hope to hold my brave and strong granddaughter.  And her mom and dad.

We are so very grateful for family, friends, medical professionals and medical insurance.  We feel surrounded by all that is good.  Thank God.

Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

(Here is why I haven’t written much lately for this blog.  And why it may be a while before I post again.)

My younger daughter (with her husband, 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 5 month old son) has been moving from our town to the next town over, 30 minutes away, for the last 2 weeks.  Their leases overlap so everything didn’t go at once.  Maybe not a good thing for a couple who are organization-challenged and procrastination-inclined.  (She didn’t get those traits from her daddy.)

The retired man I live with has helped A LOT.  My job has been to watch and care for and amuse the children.  The toddler still takes a good nap.  That helps.  The 5-month-old is still totally nursing, will take a bottle of pumped milk and can go about an hour or 2 before Mommy-withdrawal sets in.  One day we drove to the new house to get his mom–we couldn’t settle him down.  After that, my child care and his mom stayed together.

My older daughter’s 8-month-old baby is having heart surgery on Thursday, 9/27.  Her abnormality was diagnosed the day after she was born and she has grown and developed well since then.  The surgery is necessary to guarantee a normal life as she grows into adolescence and adulthood.

We know a couple of grown women who had the surgery 30-40 years ago.  Each has lived with no restrictions ever since.  We have confidence that all will go well for the baby.  Our concern is mostly for our daughter and son-in-law.  When one of our children hurts, we hurt.

Our mantra these days is right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe. (Thank you Anne Lamott.)  We know that love and prayer and support always help.  We are surrounded by many friends who are praying.  We feel it.  And we are all grateful.

What about me?

Before grandchildren, I created a business:  Spirit…Rest.  (www.spiritrest.org)

I offer spiritual and 12-step retreats (1- 3 days), spiritual companionship/guidance for individuals and groups, and labyrinth walks using a 24-foot portable labyrinth.

Spirit..Rest has been on sabbatical for a while.

My daughters each had a baby this year.  Maggie was born January 11 with a heart abnormality that will be repaired later this year.  Atticus was born April 2 with a penis.  That’s new for us.  He has a 2-year-old sister, Adaline.

Our girls are terrific moms, but they are both still trying to figure out when to shower.  And eat.  And breathe.

Sometimes they need to express their emotions.  Historically I’ve been the one to listen.  They are just beginning to learn that their father will listen, for a bit, if he has to.

The emotional energy in my house stunned me last week.  Maggie and her mom were here while we had Adaline for 3 days.   So were the three dogs we all own.  Atticus was born by planned C-section that took longer than we expected.  And I had the worst back pain I’ve ever had (why??).

I know that all I can really do for my family is to be present and emotionally available, love them, and pray for them.  That can still feel, at times, like a full-time job.

“What about me?”

I feel weird asking that question out loud.

Grandmother  and mother heresy–that’s what that question feels like–“a belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs, customs, etc.” (according to dictionary.com).

Wife and mother/grandmother is a comfortable, familiar role for me and I’m good at it.

Spiritual guide, retreat leader, writer–those challenge me.

And complete me.

“Only a well-fed soul can offer sustenance to others.” (Peggy Tabor Millin)

Balance.  Forever a challenge.

Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 3:45 pm  Comments (6)  
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Baby Whisperer

My first blog post, in June, 2010, a few months after my 1st granddaughter was born, was an explanation of “Amma”–

It’s my grandmothering name.

According to Mary Earle, author of The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness, “these women lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, C.E. The ammas, as they were called, help us to find ways to gently pay attention to God’s presence with us…The word means mother. It came to refer to those women who were spiritual mothers to many. Their insistence on practicing silence, solitude and stillness provides a kind of medicine for our over-heated, frenetic culture.”

That’s what I want to be for Adaline. Her Amma. I don’t think I’ll be running through parks with her or climbing jungle gyms. But I can be a quiet, restful, peaceful presence in her busy and stimulating world. I’m already good at getting her to sleep, so I think I’m on the right track.

My older daughter and I have had a tempestuous relationship over the years.  When it was good it was really good, but when it was bad, it was pretty bad.  Normal stuff, but unpredictable and inconsistent.

Last week I got to be Amma for Maggie–“a quiet, restful presence in her busy and stimulating world.”  I was able to give Stephanie several breaks (long enough to take a shower) over the three days I was in Raleigh.  Maggie was content when I held her.

Stephanie called me “the Baby Whisperer” and told me she was grateful for my presence.

I asked her to tell me again.  She laughed and repeated her sweet words.

Parenting is hard work from the 1st day.  And, if we’re lucky, it doesn’t ever really end.  The rewards and thank you’s, however,  can be rare.  (My girls did thank me a few years ago for teaching them manners.)

I was not the mother I wanted to be when my girls were small.  Almost 25 years ago, I made a tough choice to work hard to change myself and my behavior.

With God’s grace I became a better mother.  My daughters think my guidance is worth listening to.  They trust me with their daughters.  I am so grateful for their respect and love.

Now, with God’s help, I’m learning how to be Amma.  I (try to) wait until I’m asked to give advice.  I listen a lot and say, “That’s normal.”

I’m taking better care of myself–eating healthy, exercising, washing hands, getting enough sleep.  I am determined to live long enough to see my daughters parent teenage girls!

And I will pray for all of them.  (And then giggle from the sidelines.)

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm  Comments (7)  
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Are You in Control of Anything?

God will keep giving us opportunities to learn we are not in control.  I read that in a book this morning.  You know it’s true, don’t you?

I’m getting better about not-so-significant stuff, like lines and being on hold and the whole health insurance mess.  But the big stuff still gets me in the pit of my stomach.  You know that cold, dark, heavy spot in your gut when you know one of your kids is in trouble or really struggling?  (It is one of the few things that can kill my desire to eat.)  That’s when you know you’re not in control and are powerless.  What’s left at that point but anger and prayer and tears?

The retired man I live with struggles with this more than I do, I think.  Yesterday morning plugs in the wall of our house that faces the street stopped working.  Adaline was coming for the day and the tree lights wouldn’t go on.  To him, a major issue.  And, I have to say, a bit unnerving in a 55-year-old house.  No circuits were off so it was kind of weird.

The retired man I live with called an electrician.  They can send someone Monday.  (Yesterday was Thursday.)  So he called my brother who lives 3 hours away but knows a lot about electrician stuff.  For hours they tried to troubleshoot the wiring in that wall.  I told the retired man I live with that I would kill him if I had to call an ambulance for him while Adaline was at our house. He kept at it.

It’s not fixed.  We have no Christmas lights.  He is unhappy.  And not a whole lot of fun to be around.

God keeps giving us chances to learn we are not in control.

Published in: on December 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm  Comments (14)  
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Today Is World Aids Day (Dec. 1, 2011)

There is a giant red ribbon hanging on the front porch of the White House today.

December 1 is still World AIDS Day.  There still is no cure.  People still get sick and die because of AIDS.

People are also living much longer and are taking medicines that really do help slow the progress of the disease.

The drugs that work are very expensive and state and federal programs that help pay for them are in danger of being cut.

Sometimes the side effects and the dosing schedule are so difficult and intolerable that folks stop taking the drugs.

I spend a lot of time helping out at Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.   It is a free-standing program of Triad Health Project, the local AIDS service organization.  Three days a week, every week, local churches and other groups provide lunch for 25-40 hungry clients and volunteers and the one paid staff person who tends the souls and cleans the toilets for all who come through the doors.

Higher Ground is a place of acceptance for many who have been turned away by family, churches, and friends.  Believe me when I say, God is in this place and miracles do happen here.  Like crack addicts who are able to stay clean and have their own apartments for the first time in their adult lives thanks to case managers at Triad Health Project and the support and love of peers at Higher Ground.  Or men like my friend Bill who has been HIV positive since the 1980’s.  He had a leg amputated above the knee a while back because of HIV complications and was back at “The House” a few weeks later, smiling.  Many volunteers over the years, from high school students to those of us with gray hair, have been profoundly touched by the courage and faith of the men and women who pass through Higher Ground.

Did you know all this was still happening?

Today, there is much more hope.  But AIDS is not gone.  If you can, please donate your time and/or money to a local AIDS service organization.  They still need you.

Triad Health Project’s vision statement:

We will stand together for as long as it takes until HIV/AIDS is no more, promoting enlightenment, dignity, acceptance, understanding, and love; demonstrating that we are not only enduring this epidemic, but also prevailing over it.

Still.

(This is the same post I wrote a year ago.  It’s all still true.)

Published in: on December 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm  Comments (4)  
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Gray is Gray

Remember burnt sienna?  That’s always the first color I think of when I see a tiered box of 64 Crayola Crayons.  I don’t know why.

The Crayola box of 64 is 50 years old.  If you click here you can go to an interactive quiz of all the color names.  It’s really fun.

An open box of 64 sits in front of me as I write.  I started to take it downstairs the other day for Adaline.  Then I remembered her mother’s warning:  “Buy washable crayons, Mom.”  She probably learned that lesson the hard way.

Does Crayola still include a burnt sienna crayon?  I pulled out all the brownish crayons to read the names–

sepia

brown (not kidding)

tan

chestnut

brick red

bittersweet (huh?)

raw sienna (?)

burnt sienna!

“Sienna is a natural earth containing ferrous oxide that is used as a yellowish-brown pigment when untreated (raw sienna) or a reddish-brown pigment when roasted (burnt sienna)”,  according to dictionary.com.  Didn’t you always wonder?

Do you find it sad that brown is “brown” and gray is “gray” in my box of 64?  Remember “magenta”?  It’s in the red family.  So are “wild strawberry” and “red”.  I found a “violet red” and a “red violet”.  They are not the same color.

The name on each crayon, not capitalized, is listed in English, Spanish, and French.  They didn’t have that when I was a kid.

On the other hand (it’s a pun–you’ll see)…

Suzi Weiss-Fischman, OPI [nail polish]Executive VP & Artistic Director explains that her recent cross country road trip inspired these destination shades. Colors feature clever names inspired by some of her favorite stops like A-taupe the Space Needle, a rich chocolately brown and French Quarter for your Thoughts, a soft grey hue.  Others reference what it feels like to be on the road like Get in the Espresso Lane with its dark brown color, and Are We There Yet?, a cheerful melon.

I love America.

I use crayons and markers and Model Magic (new-age clay) when I lead retreats.  For adults.

I always include at least an hour of silent free time.  Sometimes I use mandalas (a circular meditation/prayer tool) to make coloring a bit more sophisticated.  I have a book called Praying in Color.  It really makes coloring seem important.

Adults like to color.  Even men, I’ve learned.  I wonder if anyone ever colors on their own after the retreat.

Why is it so hard to give ourselves permission to play?

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm  Comments (6)  
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Children of God

 She is 91.

She is small.

She is powerful.

She is filled with God’s Spirit.

She wears bootcut jeans

with a white shirt

and a leather belt.

She comes to Higher Ground

to pray

and play the piano

for the hymns we sing.

She brings lunch

for the folks who gather

and are hungry.

Finding her center and balance,

she puts one foot in front of the other.

We hold our breath

as she goes down the steps.

She follows her walker

to the curb.

It takes a while.

Her ride waits.

A red sports car slows to a stop.

The driver must idle

as cars pass on the other side.

His tires squeal his anger

as he accelerates

past the older black sedan.

Our writing group pauses.

We lift our heads up, shocked.

She buckles her seatbelt.

Her driver takes her home.

We take a long, deep breath.

We are all just children of God

doing the best that we can.

Published in: on October 21, 2011 at 9:40 am  Comments (6)  
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So What Do You Expect?

(an excerpt from Sacred Healing by Janet Davis)

Though most of my friends and acquaintances experience me as a positive person, I’ve come to recognize that I’m really not.  I am quite the pessimist, always expecting and preparing for the worst.

Such “negative thinking” is, at least in part, simply the overuse of a positive penchant for planning.  A critical part of effectual planning is anticipating bad things and arranging life so that you can avoid those hazards.

I, however, take this to the extreme, seeking to banish all grief and pain, loss and harm from my life and the lives of those I love.  With that goal in mind, I am disproportionately aware of hazards around me.  And there are many.  Thus, the pessimism…

God wants me to expect goodness and abundance rather than evil, abandonment, and scarcity.  Even in the midst of pain and loss, to expect grace, comfort, and provision.

Now, I don’t think God is interested in the power of positive thinking as much as reshaping what I believe about the God I serve.

My negativity says that ultimately I do not trust God’s ever mindful, ever effectual love to be very loving or to be very good.

Will I ever grow up?  Will I ever learn to trust this God who has carried me every step of the way?   Will I ever begin to expect goodness and abundance?