Saturday, November 14, 2015

being alive is hard, but oh, the fresh air

I went to sleep last night feeling so low, my skin thin, pricked easily by tiny irritants from the day I could normally tread over.  And then I had read the news, heard there was a bombing in Beirut, a city whose streets I've explored and restaurants I've danced in, whose food and people and landscape I've delighted in, a city which has taught me to see anew.  My friend Rebecca lives there with her Lebanese husband and Lebanese babies.  My friend Bethany just visited her family there, Syrians from mish mish orchards fleeing violence in their beloved land, trying to find some peace for their babies to grow.

I felt incredibly sad, I felt despair, I worried for the men, women and children whose lives were sharply interrupted by intentional chaos, the dead ones are the lucky ones my professor would always say, but not the ones left behind.  How would I keep living if that happened in my own neighbourhood?  How would I leave the house with my three small humans and face the world unarmed?  Sometimes I can barely do that now.

I woke to the news of the murders in Paris, a city I know only through other people's stories and pictures.  I want to hole myself up; I go to two birthday parties with my kids, so many small humans oblivious to the unfolding headlines, just finding joy in friends and sugar this very day.

At 23 I didn't think I'd live to be so old.  On days like today, when our grief is more apparent, more public, I have tiny, gentle flashbacks to moments I don't consciously remember, moments somewhere between breath and God, light and dark and light again.  I contemplate what would have happened if my breathing had stopped and these now ten years of filled to the brim with joy and sorrow life had not been lived by me and it had all ended there.  It sounds unhealthy doesn't it?  To think like that?  But I need to feel my vapour thin to know I'm really alive.  I need to remember my almost death to see everything else as the richest liveliest life to the full.

Whether its violence, car accidents, cancer, an earthquake or other unforeseen upheaval the question is possibly the same.  How do we choose love?  How do we celebrate life where it's rising up from rubble again?  How do we throw our seeds and look for tiny green coming out of the burnt, ashy earth?  How do we welcome another child into this world of weapon stockpiles and tell them its good to dream?  How do we loose the grip we have on our own weapons, on our desire to separate and be safe, on our inability to imagine a better way?

There is some space, between naiveté and despair.
It's not comfortable but it welcomes us to come, settle in and make room for the world.
It's that space where God ever is, weeping and wailing and dreaming again.

Monday, April 6, 2015

on turning thirty-three (my scars are a decade old)

A decade ago I turned twenty-three. It was Easter Sunday in Capetown, South Africa, I was surrounded by some friends who are my very favourites, even to this day.  I felt resurrected that morning, stepping out into things my heart had longed for; we flew a kite, played soccer and wrestled like grown women do.  I still remember my birthday card with kind words scribbled in different hand writing and how I would study it over for the next few months.  I felt securely oriented, a sense of being led and cared for by the Divine Whisper, things were right in my world and could only get better.  I felt Love consume the anxiety-inducing questions of the past four years of learning the world anew through college and I felt hopeful that Love would save us all.

It was twenty-three that saw me fall in love for the first time, with a boy and soon after that with mother and child healthcare in the majority world.  I was certain of my steps, I squashed any tumult with reassurances of the things I felt like God had spoken to me and all the signs I had scribbled down in my journal.  We would be okay.

It was twenty-three that saw my heart broken deeply, left disappointed with a human being and more-so with the God who I thought had wanted us to be together.  I had never known anguish like that before, an indicator of my privilege I know, but the cut was deep and I was bleeding everywhere.  My friends carried me through a few dark days, packed my bags and got me onto a plane headed to Lagos, Nigeria and then a bus across that wild green land.  I learned about labour pains, the tremendous grief women bear physically to hold joy incarnate in their arms.  Supporting women in labour in some pretty terrible circumstances would give me perspective for my sorrow as well as make me tender to my wounds.  I wrote out my pain in songs and sang them loudly, I was limping and somehow more alive than ever before.

Three months later I was still twenty-three and in the Nigerian bush, my body was unconscious and tangled with sixteen of my friends in a horrific van accident.  Eight of those beautiful, dream-filled, resurrected people died that day, on a Sunday that was more like Holy Saturday.

Where was I was in the hours that I was unconscious?  How close was I to death?   How close was I to God?  Who were the Nigerians that loaded my body into their car and drove me to the clinic that was already overwhelmed with unconscious bodies, what did they think of my traditional purple dress, ripped and blood-stained?  Did they pray for me as they drove?

When I woke up for the first time seven of my friends had already died and one more would die soon after.  Some survived with life-changing injuries and still wait for healing with the new heavens and new earth.

I imagine my friends who met God that day in December 2005, I imagine if that accident had been a near-miss and a praise report instead of a catastrophe, where they would be.  How many children would bear their image, how many people would have been touched deeply by their lives?  How much more joy and music and dance would the world have held in this decade, had they survived?


Those next months were brutal and barren and bone-tiring, I did very little but just survive.  The disorientation of grief and loss respects no theologies, no future plans.  I wished desperately that I had simply died and could not imagine that I'd live to be twenty five or thirty.  The potential chaos of the future splashed over all the kite strings and flower beds I had been dreaming of.

I found my way to a Benedictine monastery in the Pennsylvania mountains, I spent three or four days there right before Lent, reading the psalms out loud in the forest, joining with the Sisters for daily prayers and mass, staring at a statue of Mary with a toddler Jesus who looked as though he was attempting to jump from her arms.  How did she feel as he grew and changed and began to come and go from her careful watch?  Did she have any idea what pain she would bear as she loved him to the end?

I found a stream of living water running through the little chapel and space for me to kneel and drink, nothing else required, no questions asked.

On Ash Wednesday I knelt before the priest in the chapel at the Benedictive monastery where that water ran through and had the ashes swiped on my forehead, first down, then across.  "From dust you came, to dust you will return."  I faced my impending death squarely and sighed with relief.  I would indeed die someday, no one knows when, maybe not even God.  But I needn't be afraid of the end, nor of the living in between.

God stood innocent before me, His own heart broken, his own Body torn, His own blood running down, mixed with mine and that of those I loved, mixed with all the blood spilled on this planet even now.  It was then that I learned that God suffers with us, a song I'll swear by to this day.  He wears our scars in His own and I can feel His scars as I trace my fingers along the few I carry on my body, my heart, my mind.  Even in the defeat of death and His resurrected glory those scars were present, palpable, shocking and somehow soothing, inviting us into this space where we don't have to be afraid.  "Look at my hands and my feet."

We are waves, we are clouds, we are dust; we are almost meaningless on this spinning planet and we are so infinitely valuable.  Even God stoops down to wipe our tears.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

just to start writing again

a poet came to our church last sunday afternoon and reminded us to be present in the tension.  we don't need to be solving the problems or answering all the questions or doing it all just right.  we can stay in the in-between, in the not-quite-right-but-this-is-what-i-have, live unashamedly in the presence of a God who sees and loves and delights, who leads us gently, always with grace.

i stopped writing because i wanted to pretend the tension was gone, i wanted to just be with my arms of full of children, my body pushing prams to the park, conversing in the neighbourhood with people different than me still but i didn't want to keep examining it all.  i always try to run from writing like i'm holding back tears, if i just keep blinking they will slide back down to the bottom of my heart. but they never do.  i'm pretty much the worst at holding back tears, anyway.

it's funny to be 32 and really have no idea, to have my days gobbled up by children who are rarely satisfied, who mirror my beauty and my hurt, who all slept in my bed(s) while my husband was away.  it feels both like i should be much more than i am while feeling incapable of being even the bare minimum of who i need to be.

i have so many pregnant friends right now who have no choice but to confess the here but not yet nature that is having a whole new person inside of you, growing slow.  there is hope and there is consummation and we live daily in the neither and both and the tender risk of it all.

i'm not pregnant now and likely won't be again but there is something truer than anything in the way God imagined newness would come from dust through the holy bodies of women.  it takes dark and time and quiet and waiting and we are all changed in the gestating, we are all growing up, we are all born again, made new.