Healing, Trauma, Trauma recovery

Next Bad Thing: A Healing Meditation

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The prophet Habakkuk prays. Asks God to return from being absent. “In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known;” (3:2b) Followed by acclamation. “His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise.” (3:3b)

God’s portrayal in Habakkuk’s prayer is often violent. God’s earthly activities ongoing. “…You split the earth with rivers.” (3:9b) A omnipotent superpower saving good guys from bad ones. “You crushed the head of the wicked house…” (3:13b)

Habakkuk’s words reveal multiple tragedies. Agitation anticipating next impending crushing. More devastation means wiping out enemies and attackers. Perhaps Habakkuk hopes he does not get caught in the ensuing panic.

“I hear, and I tremble within: my lips quiver at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones, and my steps tremble beneath me. I wait quietly for the day of calamity to come upon the people who attack us.” (3: 16)

~~~

We in trauma wait for the next catastrophe like the prophet Habakkuk. From the outside we may look still. Barely breathing. Within we stand at the edge of an interior precipice. Waiting. For a push into caverns below. Thrust in by world’s cruelty. Found in the form of people, natural disasters, human made dictators, wars, and diseases. Uncontrollable foes attacking us or our loved ones.

We wait. Trembling within. Watching. Always alert. Skittish. Wary. No breaks. Exhausted by constant effort. Rotting in this hidden prison. Body held captive by what grows within us. Dictating our lives. Holding our bodies hostage. Trepidation becoming an angry energy like fuel.

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Healing Action

Look at your hands. Curve them in as if your hands hold something. Feel the weight of your hands. Observe the shape of curved fingers. The creases in your palms. Notice any scars, rings, tattoos.

Now cup your hands together. Allowing fingers and sides of upturned palms to touch. Forming a bowl.

Breathe in. Sigh out into your bowl. Repeat forming a steady beat of breathing in and breathing out with a sigh, silent or sung. Continue on if it feels good to you to do so.

Breath in again. This time on your next sighing, send your traumas into the bowl. Any trauma you hold in your body. Recent traumas. Trauma from a few years ago. Older traumas from youth and childhood.  Sigh all your life’s traumas into your cupped hands.

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Prayer

Lift your cupped hands up above your head. As far into the air above as you are able.

God, take these harms from me this day.

And tomorrow.

And all the days to come. Amen.

Push your hands farther up into the sky beyond. Open your hands with a final push. Send your traumas out into the world. When your hands are empty, slowly let your arms fall to your sides. Leave your traumas to the universe and to God.

~~~~~~~

*This healing meditation is created to accompany trauma recovery along side working with a state licensed, certified trauma mental health professional and should not take the place of clinical healing. 

**Please form this healing activity to fit your needs. And please share with me your creative ways of refining the experience for yourself. Some humble accommodation suggestions are: 

  • Use a bowl instead of hands.
  • Use a friend’s arms.
  • Use feet and legs instead of hands and arms. 
  • Move bowl outwards instead of upwards. 

 

***All scripture quotes are NRSV.

****Photos courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

Shirted Memories

Blues, burgundies, blacks, greens. Assorted colors pile on floor. Next to empty card board box. Awaiting purpose.

Sit on floor surrounded by shirts. Late. When sleep could sooth. But day not over. Because sometimes life takes me back. Asks me to remember. Or grow. Or move more into the me who is now. Tonight body full of intermittent shakes. Small tremblings. Signaling stressful day. Tension reminding anatomy of former trauma. Forcing confrontation with realities. Emotions. What has happened to me, to us, since Tony died. In wounding aftermath.

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So sort instead of sleep. Decide what to give away. What to keep. Think about what sons may want, be interested in, miss if gone. Suspect this division, this last ordering of Tony’s shirts, may take entire month. Shirts already gone through many times in past two years, eight months. Shirt by shirt leaving what once was our closet. Only a few remaining. My favorites. Cloth I cannot bear to part with. This night scattered on floor. Ready to be folded. Placed. Put away.

Ask many questions. Think many thoughts. “How many favorites do I need to live on well? How often will I really open this box? Sit among these shirts once again? Tears silently falling on disintegrating fibers? A dead man’s shirts are in reality dead. Not living. Just thread woven into being. A sum of things. Inanimate. Infused momentarily with characteristics of person once wearing clothing items. Temporary anthropomorphism of loved one’s stuff. Like fleeting wisps of wind on a hot summer’s night.”

Decide one box. One box of favorites to keep. That’s it. That’s all I’m willing to carry with me the rest of my life. For times of major life events. When remembering, telling the story of who we were as a family and who Tony was as a human being a ritual to live into. Not performance. But dance. His atoms still floating among us. Partnering in silent breezes.

First item in, Baja hoodie. Hands run over coarse woven thread. See scene from first night we kissed. Held each other in nervous embrace. Wondering together and as individuals what it all meant.

Fold black t-shirt with one bright pink triangle in center. With words “Silence = Death.”  Remember shame world’s people placed once again on suffering’s shoulders. Remember determination and courage of ACT-UP. Remember dear ones lost to HIV/AIDS. Remember Tony as a young man wearing this t-shirt with tenacious anger.

Smooth out white tank. With The Men’s Center logo on it. Tony up late night before big run in Davenport, Iowa. Making logo of our fledgling company. Ironing on tank. Soon after we opened. Staking savings into dream. Into serving other people. Tony and nephew running race with pride and a bit of free advertisement.

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A camp t-shirt. From Paul’s school trip to southern Wisconsin. Tony went as parent chaperone. Taking his responsibilities with predictable seriousness. Intensity I fell in love with. Under his supervision, first grade boy fell out of top bunk. Boy’s father of five not concerned. Tony up all night worrying.

Tye-die shirt. Hand made by Ricky on our deck when he was maybe ten. Paul helping. Another shirt with logo on it. Designed by niece Marissa. Creator of The Men’s Center logo. New logo for entrepreneurial son. Risky in sky blue against bleached white. Folded and placed next to local school district fund-raiser t-shirt. From yearly run downtown. On October Sunday morning. Tony running with our sons. But really after them as I watched.

Two t-shirts bought as presents. At birthday or father’s day. Silly shirts full of fun. Gifts I sent our sons out to buy once Ricky drove. Always coming home with loads of snack food, outrageous card, and t-shirt. Like this one displaying a beer-logo because Tony hated beer.

Place black shirt. White lettering in English and Arabic. Bought from an organization dedicated to hard conversations. For Tony, hard conversation about sexual violence and boys. Prevalence hidden. Healing lacking. Shirt shouting to the world, we will not be silent! 

T-shirts, hoodie, topped with dress shirts. One, monogrammed ADR. Another, my favorite bright blue. Black linen left from our early days. All sniffed before packed away. Smelling of nothing. Not Tony. Just slight mustiness of unused clothing. In first months after Tony died repulsed by anything with his smell. Feeling guilty. Like I should sleep with his shirt. Or spend hours lying on our closet floor. Surrounded by symbols of his life, behavior, smell.

But aversion is trauma. Not grief, loss, sorrow. Trauma thieving truth in evil. Stealing necessary moments of love. Two years, eight months of inner work eradicating maliciousness in my body of this villain. Or enough to enact ancient rite of breathing in odor of loved one gone. Bury face in pile of sleeves once yours. Prints, flowers, paisley. Bright as light. Like flowers in rainforest. Reduced to fabric. No longer anything but shirts taking up space. Hanging limply. Waiting for new life. Inhale. Image your smell. Known now only in memory. Memory clear. Bright like your shirts. Rite complete. Enough to continue into next ritual.

One of putting away, making room. Signaling something. An ending. Another completion. Of this place as our home with you. Your shirts, last of things cleaned out. Like socks still in dresser’s drawer. Waiting. Not for you to come back. But for us to move into space and time without your things. Knowing this time approaches. Is even here. Not reactive time. Which somehow is more understood by others. But slow response full of methodical, unknowing, receptive knowledge, and questioning.

Ask again, “How long do we keep the stuff?”

Find no answer in word or reason. Only in action. Shirt by shirt. Some tossed. Some given away. Some saved. Until box full. Sitting Shiva on family room ping-pong table. Marked “Tony’s life in shirts,” in black marker.

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Ignored for days. Until place my hands on box. Allow contents to radiate of dreams fulfilled, dreams incomplete, love lived, memories of all kinds, and something else. Not your smell, nor your smile, chuckle, silences, words. But prayer. Your prayers. For us to carry you within. Box, nice but…not necessary. A little too heavy for daily lifting. But your love, light. Dancing up and down our vagal nerves. Interacting within and with each other. Looking inward into self. Looking outward into world. Leaving box behind.

 

Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Priscilla du Preez. Check out her work on Unsplash. 

Grief, Healing, Love, Trauma recovery

I Touched Your Star Today

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I touched your star today. Not light seen off our deck back home. To the left a bit. East, shining on clear nights. Near moon. Clouds floating by. Glow steady since second night without you. Night after night, light there with me. Staring off into an unknown world. Brightness constant. Unwavering. Abiding. A planet, perhaps.

Remember last year here. At this trailhead. One thousand five hundred eighteen miles from home. Discovering memorial idea on bulletin board. One making sense to our life together. Sons grumbling agreement, “Just no recycled, milk-bottle bench with a plaque, Mom.”

Fill out form. Speak weekly with park ranger. Over phone. Via email. Each time forgetting to send money. Misplacing task in jumbled mind. Procrastinating. Until months later he says, “There are only stars left,”

“Perfect,” I say.

This year memorial mosaic greets me at same trailhead. Before entering the Sutherland. On Sabbath sojourn. Alone. Find you shining between strangers. Press fingertips against words spelling your name. Feel warm, glossy surface. Discover smooth terra-cotta edges. See stars falling in Milky Way heading for moon.

Leave you in good company. Walk well-worn path. Rushing spring stream forcing boots off. Wading through shocking coolness in day’s high heat. Toes gripping sand. Eyes following flow. Joined in water’s joy by children, dogs, and chuckling grandfathers. Told, “keep your boots off. You’ll just be taking them off again in a bit.”

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Heed advice as yearly visitor here. Continue barefooted. Sand wedging up between toes, tickling feet, linking heart to earth. Walk like girl I once was. Befriending old oaks in Illinois forest. Singing with gurgling, muddy stream pulled toward great river. Losing self in jack in the pulpits, violets, fallen oak leaves, smells of loam and humus. Mud caking shoes. Burrs joining jacket. Landing in hair.

Today climb up and up in bare feet. Sand clinging to sweat and sunscreen. Until official trail ends with signed notice. Walk on. Emboldened. Curious. As foothills meld into mountain. Remember field of poppies worth visiting. Retreat. Wade through stream. Rolled pant legs meeting splashing water.

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Scramble up another foothill. Wet, leaping legs collecting desert. Bare feet screaming in delight. Twirling at crest. Meeting saguaro at each turn. Land stretching out limbs in all directions.

Skip down. On right, take small path. Land in field of poppies. Yellow, mustard gold illuminating desert. Find another rocky, crusty path up. Climb knowing you are here. Not just on ceramic star. But here in this place we hiked every year. For twenty years. With my mother and cousins. As a couple. With our sons. First as babies on your back. Then as little ones dwarfed by towering cactuses reaching for our hands. Toward boys emerging from snow’s melting stream, soaking and hungry. Into grumbling teenagers plodding on path. Taking refuge in phones.

Flashes of halted hike on distant foothill years ago. Cell phone reception weaving in and out. Except for one spot on hill’s top. You, pressing phone to ear. Me, knowing. Walking family on to stream. Giving sons something to do. While you worked. Saving one man from taking his own life one thousand miles away. Memory silencing me. Except for stream within. Coursing with small bits of stress. Cortisol reminding me of that day’s fear.

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Shudder. Turn back. Join strangers on their own journey. Cross stream allowing water to make room for me seven, eight times total. Until sit on bench. Across from your star. Watch people stop. Find names. Take photos. Approach as others leave. Just me and your star. Touch creamy smoothness again. Still warm like you once were. Feel surrounding surface. Grainy like sand underneath feet. Star near moon like home. People passing like clouds. You, steady in your burn. Movement implied. Toward moon. Toward me.

Return your gazing bright. Catch star in heart. Wonder about your floating atoms bubbling with embrace, fire, and eternity. Remember poet’s words,”…choose something like a star…”

Leave park. Carrying you in my heart. Your brightness glowing not out there in hemisphere. Within. Your star never once beyond my reach. At infinite distance. Even though my hand extends for yours daily. “You’ll always be in my heart,” you told us so many times. But it is us who must find you in our hearts “to stay our minds on and be staid.”

At my mother’s house, find our sons laughing together. Parked at dining room table with laptops and notebooks. Discover mom reading in family room. Greeting me by wondering what we should make for dinner. Trip on piled seminary books falling off chair in guest room. Spill water on current assignment. Sigh with air saved from desert visit. Close eyes for a moment. See me twirling again. Spreading sand everywhere. Meeting love at each turn. Life stretching out limbs in all directions. I touched your star today, my love. And found my face lit with more smiles than tears.

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Mosaic in Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona. 

Quote from the poem, Choose Something Like a Star by Robert Frost

Faith, Love

Love’s Truth

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Valentine’s Day, 2012. Late. Hung up with a project, errands, arrangements for this or that. Don’t’ remember. Throw on coat. Check myself in the mirror. Head downtown. Make wrong turn after wrong turn. Town still new to me. Check watch. Feel my arms tighten. Call Tony. His voice calm, clear navigates me toward the restaurant. Greets me at the door. Ushers me to our booth. In a small, quiet, elegant restaurant. Chosen for this special day.

We order. I am edgy, angry. Tony keeps his responses slow. Checks his reactions to my emotional state. Breathes. But I escalate. Negative thoughts cascading. Unmasking resentment over moving here. Away from family, friends, beloved church. Toward better schools, more time with Tony and for my dreams. Plans now hidden under ongoing business issues and beginnings of one son’s mystery illness. Stare down at plate. Wish I could stop. Delight in our time together. Pause. Close my eyes. Open to tears falling. Onto beautiful salmon.

In life without Tony, I want so very much to remember romantic times full of movie moments. But often remember instead truthful ones. Times showing me not as a good wife. But as a human one. Sobbing into salmon in public on Valentine’s Day. A memory now making me smile, laugh, shake my head. Love’s beauty held not in a commercially dictated day depicting love as an experience. But as a real moment of true love lived in action as an ongoing verb.

I cried that day because I felt emotionally safe to do so. Tony knew how to hold emotionally uncomfortable spaces. The ones we want to avoid. Gloss over with fancy greeting cards, ribbons, roses, and lingerie. Because holding emotionally uncomfortable spaces is a true act of shared love. Part of providing emotional containment for one another. Bearing the other’s burdens, baggage, built-up unmet needs. Holding one another’s pain.

Few people ask a widow for relationship advice. An intense irony of the experience. But today in unsolicited commentary I embrace the most difficult verb in our collective experience—to love. Lift up those moments when all seems lost, life makes no sense, future appears fuzzy. And in the midst of it all the person who shares the work of love with you or me says in action or word, “I am here. I am not going anywhere. We will figure this out. Whatever this is. We will figure this out, together.”

 

Photo courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

Faith

Sabbath Sharing

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Fallen leaves gather on cobbled pavement. Swirling together. Making scraping sounds. Tiny melodies clobbered by footfalls. Saturday revelers dressed in school colors walking bar to bar. Bodies listing like sails in fall’s wind. Voices shouting slurred words. Blurry eyes focusing on nothing as day moves into dusk.

My steps among this crowd ring quiet by contrast. Hastily taken strides marking prayers for young strangers. Echoing unspoken truths. My internal petitions weaving in and out of beer and cigarette smells. Rising like incense with gusts of blustery wind. Hoping this blowing is Spirit.

Around the corner children play, run, giggle, shriek. On a playground next to the public library. Young children wrapped in sweaters and light jackets. Covered for safety against dropping temperatures. Many topped with yarmulkes pinned down. Parents relaxing on nearby park benches. Enjoying Sabbath, Saturday evening, and the ability to keep little ones somewhat safe.

Sounds of playing children join party noises. Follow me through an unlocked glass door at the corner. Into a small-business incubator space. Warm and quiet. Modern. Hip. Large windows overlooking playground, pedestrian mall, and hotel. Street’s song closing one Sabbath as my tiny Christian community readies for another. Setting up chairs. Covering kitchen table in gently used cloths. Tuning a saxophone.

Today is not Sunday, the first day of the week. A new week begun in morning praise and thanksgiving to God. Instead today is the end of the week, the very end. Last crumbs of what just passed by us. Lived with sorrows both large and small. Moments of joy. Maybe a bit of pleasure or even delight. Mixed with worries circulating in and out of a week’s dreams. No, this evening is not traditional Christian Sabbath. But it is something. Whatever this evening is, it clashes with the outside world.

Those of us gathered, chat. Welcome new people. Forget each other’s names. Find seats on sofas, stools, and chairs. Help pastors fuss with clergy wear. Show wandering, drunk people where the bathroom is. Then we quiet. Singing bowl’s ringing calling us in. Into worship. Further into God’s mystery. Into Sabbath. Breathing sacred in. Stillness accessing our hearts. Street noises harmonizing. Playing prelude with our quiet.

We begin. Our cry for God’s mercy falls over empty chairs, desks, the young entrepreneur still working at his station, his partner helping himself to coffee behind our table set with God’s meal of grace, the drunk man in the bathroom.

“Kyrie eleison,”

In our midst, a person stands. Reads God’s Word. We share our thoughts. Scripture’s words jumping out at us. Making us think and wonder.

“Thanks be to God,”

Hear Jan or Sarah preach. Surrounding us with more thoughts. Some shared. Some tucked safely within our hearts. Sing in response to God’s Word illuminated. Pray for those outside our borrowed walls. Share peace with everyone in the room. Sometimes more than once. No one wanting to miss one soul in our small group.

“Peace be with you,”

Peace sending us on a pilgrimage toward offering. Our basket set at the table. Hands ducking deeply into its depth giving and blessing. Staying at the table. Hearing old and new words of welcome here. Serving one another Holy food as if washing one another’s feet.

“Given for you,”

Night wafts in through the window as God’s blessing readies us once again for the world. But first we return to the table eating and drinking what is left of our meal together. Adding some cheese to the mix. Maybe a plate of cookies. Over food and drink, meeting new friends. Catching up with old ones. Somehow our faces glowing more than when we arrived an hour or so ago.

“The Lord bless, keep, and shine on you,”

Filled, we clean up. Blow out candles. Return chairs to the conference room. Strip the table as if it is Holy Week. Wash, dry, and stack dishes. Empty the baptismal bowl. Set it on a shelf in a shared closet. Place the cross there as well.

Then having broken our Sabbath fast, we open the door. Step over the threshold. Reenter the street scene still moving outside.  Notice a few changes. Children and parents gone home. Eating dinner or readying for bedtime stories.  Partiers winding down. Slumped in nearby diners eating starchy food.

“Go beloveds, fed and nourished,”

We stand on the sidewalk breathing in the world’s hurts. Breathing out Sabbath solace. Our breathe this night acknowledging our human and collective mess. Lift our palms up into night’s sky, sharing our restored peace. Sending Sabbath back into the world. Allowing night breezes to take Sabbath from us. Surround college students into the wee hours of morning. Land on church buildings’ doorsteps. Keep company with sleeping homeless men.

Sabbath entering churches the next morning. Not stopping, quieting, or staying still until last candles blown out after Sunday evening worship services. Last doors closed and locked. Sabbath hovering one silent second before flowing back into the world having shared God’s sacredness with all who hunger and thirst. Sabbath nudging us as it goes to be God’s peace in the world.

“Shabbat shalom, Shabbat shalom.”

Essay written in response to and with love for the community called JustChurch in Iowa City, Iowa. 

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Photos courtesy of Pixabay. 

 

 

 

 

Advent, Christmas, Faith, Uncategorized

Adoration

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O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him, Christ the LORD!

 

Hymn sung each Christmas Eve in our worship tradition. Words riding on melody soaring into rafter beams. Organ pulling out celebratory stops. Chords supporting voices in singing as one voice, one body. Some standing in this knowledge. Others in ignorance. All in hope for some inexpressible need.

Together chanting lyrics verse after verse. Calling for some sort of congregational effort. Text expressing felt want to be near the child. Not only in singing. Walking word by word toward him. Yet as we do, discovering a thin infant. Just having slid through the birth canal. Tiny, discolored, sticky with blood. Face screwed up. Smelling of birth. Hope draining out. Adore this one? Why?

Newborn’s family visiting Bethlehem only under governmental orders. Parents finding no place in homes and hearts of those with doors this night. Citizens blind, but not really, to Mary’s bulging belly. Man at each door saying “no,” while behind him cowers a woman. Scrubbing a pot. Mending a tunic. Silently asking for mercy with each stitch and scour.

Perhaps it is an old crone in the corner at the last door who risks nothing this night. Her  aged bones aching. Sight fading. Fingers gnarling. Tired of justifying the food it takes to keep her alive each day. Her heart in those five tiny graves below the hill. Perhaps it is she Joseph hears behind the last door’s keeper. In the hanging quiet between ask and answer. After nervously begging for the seemingly small necessity of shelter. Having come this far in an unwanted journey. Far from home. Far from normal. Joseph scared into defying culture by an angelic, winged, fearsome messenger in the night. Now scared for Mary, himself, and an unknown future. Barely hearing the words uttered from within this place. Delivered in a gravely, high-pitched voice. The old mother making one last admonishment.  “Well go on. Give them the barn at least. Better than digging another grave at dawn.”

Further fear and embarrassment for Joseph serving as mid-wife just a few hours later.  Relieved when the wife of the place sneaks out with somewhat fresh water and a few rags. Because she can’t sleep after the first birth pangs ring through crystal, clear night. Resonating off her hollow womb while her husband snores, blissfully ignorant of this night’s worth.  Finding Mary moaning. Her hormones surging. Regretting saying “yes,” to that crazy angel. The wife nodding. Understanding the anger of birth pains. Squeezing her hand. Murmuring words of support before hurrying back. Not wanting to be discovered absent from her place.

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Night’s wind seeping in through doorless openings and cracks. Snorts, smells, and stars accompanying birthing howls. Surroundings ringing dissonance into the night. After a final push when all seems so terribly lost, a slim-shouldered, hairy neonate slides to the floor below crouching mother.  Amidst dirty hay and dried animal feces. No harmonic overtones reverberating with cries of new life. The crone at inn’s hearth muttering, “he’ll be cold by morning if we don’t get the mother some broth.”

Waking the oldest girl sleeping nearby. “Take this bowl to the mother,” she orders. Girl obeying. Also curious about the strangers. Thankful for this adventure breaking in on her pre-determined monotony.

It’s the girl who holds the babe while Mary sips. The third to stare at him in awe. Joseph off on hill’s ledge staring into stars. Overwhelmed by what happened. Even though it did not happen to his body. His life never in peril. Remembering Abraham. Knowing he, Joseph, is no patriarch. Feeling more like a pawn.

The girl passing babe back to Mary. Watching him suckle. Then sleep. Creeping back to her pallet. Assuring grandmother all is well this night. Not questioning why this little being should be adored. Her mother having taught her to listen to the wisdom of the body.

Not like us now. Adore him? For what? So we can now fully adore the dirty man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money? And the youths punching each other out in high school hallway? Adore the family climbing into a life raft and the soldiers pursuing them. Adore the “me too” survivor and her predator. Adore the family member, neighbor, friend whose politics send us spinning? Adore every one in the squad car? Adore the beautiful soul hidden under depths of substance addiction and her dealer? Adore the dirty, the violent, the undesirable, and all our culture’s un-adorable?

Easier as we exchange presents, trim trees, and gobble up holiday treats to not adore him or anyone. Whirl around in our busyness, forgetting. Leaving this baby under the tree fending for himself. Or placing him in another room where we cannot hear his cries for food. Bury our modern-mixed-with-age-old knowledge of human infant needs under distilled spirits, bigger screens, and business. Blocking out that article we read online recently about how infants experience hunger as true pain. And soiled diapers left unchanged infuse their little bodies with worthlessness. Crying it out teaches lonely individualism not relational well-being.  Prolonged separation from parents creates trauma’s breeding ground for current and future pain. Lack of human interaction causes an all body shut-down called failure-to-thrive.

Maybe this infant is just too much work. Deciding right after the big day while still off work or stuffed with too much merriment to return this child whose reality smacks us in the face. Wrap him in swaddling clothes and lie him in an Amazon Prime box. Affix a preprinted label, and drop him off at the post office. Ask to exchange him for something or someone more to our liking. A gift asking nothing of us. One in which our own internal wrappings stay tightly wound around our souls. Our truths never exposed even to us. Shunning the messenger’s words, “do not be afraid.”

Words heard by Mary long ago. Embraced and in doing so risking her life and future of her unborn child. Holding her heart full with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. Not all comfort and joy. Praising God when really what else can she do? Running away meaning life on the street. Begging for food. Using her disassociated body for survival.  In saying “yes” making a choice to stay. Clasping fear to swelling breasts. Uttering words of praise, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

“Do not be afraid,” heard also by lonely, smelly shepherds staying in fields. Probably because no one else in their little, little, world welcomed them into village or home. Undesirables ostracized into hills. Trusted with necessary function of tending sheep. But out of sight. Out of mind. Found in their hiding by God’s messengers with an invitation into awe. Risking their livelihoods for a chance to adore another human. When so often denied any exchange of humanly love.

We try to ignore these words, “do not be afraid.”  Thinking they cannot possibly be meant for us now. Part of a quaint story told each Advent and Christmastide from long ago. But this hungry, cold, pooping, spitting up, sort-of un-adorable baby somehow breaks through our internal walls anyway. Not with words. But with wails cutting into inner workings of bodies. Dwelling in our hearts. Causing agitation in our nervous systems. Our empty breasts to ache. Our stiff arms fill with yearning.  We must pick up him up. Keep him at arm’s length. Until his small body melds into ours. We sway. Feeling fully alive. Cherishing the moment. Washed with felt love. And his sweet baby smell. Existing together, almost as one. Not fully. Yet needing the other. For different reasons. Need though none-the-less.

What if we were to adore the un-adorable? What then for us? For them? What if we heard their wails, unsounded, emanating from deep within their hearts? What if we understood our need for them. Perhaps greater than their need for us? Would we then leave our sheep, our only way of life, like the shepherds did? Or give up the right to abandon or kill like Joseph? Bring a family to shelter. Sneak food to them in the night? Give them basic human supplies defying cultural expectations?

Our singing this night of all nights is not static. We do not perform a yearly empty ritual before going home to egg nog, a fire, and our annual viewing of Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. These words call us to action.  The lyricist is poetic. But he commands in imperative, “get going!” Go and adore the Christ child alive in all of us and in all others now. Leave wants behind the inn door next to the old crone.  Sing in a choir of earthly messengers to a deaf world.  Answer the cries of the child now with our arms. Feed the child now as if our breasts are about to leak milk or our own child’s life depends on it. Support the mother and father now as if we were once penniless. Give shelter to the family now as if we know homelessness. Adore the child now with trembling fear and courage like Mary. And in doing so, see God face-to-face, “now in flesh appearing.”

 

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All photos courtesy of Pixabay.

O Come, All Ye Faithful, text and music attributed to John Francis Wade.

Scripture quoted from Luke 1:30; 46-47, and Luke 2:10. (NRSV)

Scripture referred to from Matthew 1:19-21 and Luke, 1-2.

 

Faith, Grief, Healing, Uncategorized

Wide Water

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Heart heavy again. New wounds and disappointments added to still simmering old ones. Hard to see all the healing I’ve done through my sad haze. Cry for an entire hour on my therapist’s couch. Marit, my clinician, tilting her head a bit to one side. Her eyes teary wet as well. Offering me phone access during her upcoming vacation. Having lived twenty years on the other side of being on-call, hating to intrude. Feeling empathy towards her vacationing family members. “Maybe you could try Reiki,” she suggests.

My head lifts in recognition. Percolating ideas swirling in my thinking of late. “I’ve always wanted to try healing touch,” I reply.

“Excellent!”

Marit showing relief. No more words uttered but I know. Because we’ve been together almost weekly for two and a half years. Since before Tony died. Beginning when my sons were so sick with mysterious illnesses. Me living in caretaker burnout. Marit’s  thinking now, “Jen needs a substitute while I’m away.”

Leave her couch with a plan. Make a healing touch appointment for the following week. Travel to the next city. To a retreat center run by nuns nestled in reclaimed prairie and forest. Ushered into calming silence. Sister Bethel greeting me with gentle tones. My nun experience almost non-existent. Except for Tony’s aunt. The one who reveals all the family stories. Tales no one else speaks of.  Family salt mixing with humored love. This sister today, eighty years on this earth. Looking about sixty.

Enter Sister Bethel’s small, windowless room. Stuffed and stuffed again with angel figurines. On multiple oak shelves hanging from four panels of drywall. Angels collected  over decades in ministry. Repulsed by the crowded assemblage. Muse over what I might be forced to collect once ordained in ministry.

Lie down on the massage table. Harp music playing. Water bubbling from unknown origin. Maybe from behind a shelf of angels. Or perhaps only in my imagination. Cool hands hold my head. Their strength beautiful, reassuring. “Healing hands,” the term healers use. As more than a complement. As recognition of an awe-filled skill. Part mystery, part talent, part practice.

Relax into Sister’s hands. Trust them. Listen to her pray in words punctuated by silences. Words flowing from her lips floating above me before gently raining down. Absorbed through skin into soul.

She shifts on her stool. I hear her say, “Jennifer, you are loved. Deeply, deeply loved.”

Tears fall from beneath closed eyelids. Slide off face into hair. Like a stream flooding my banks. Sister rises. Waving the air over me. Movements sensed not seen. Music swelling time forward. Into the melody of the old Scottish folk tune, “O Waly, Waly.” Text remembered from high school choir. Mind repeating.

 

“The water is wide, I cannot get o’er,

And neither have I wings to fly,

Give me a boat that will carry two,

And both shall row, my love and I.”

 

Woe erupting from toes traveling up legs disseminating throughout my body in recognition, in revelation. What I could not do the day Tony died. Fly across the water separating us. Carry us both in a boat. One with two oars.

And I see Tony’s face in my mind’s eye. Through tears and body tremors. Large. Smiling. Reassuring. Coming toward me. Speaking to my eternal regret. Sadness. Complete upending of life. His love recognizing my truth. What I would have done if possible. Fly. Lift Tony out of the water. Hold him. Save him. A vision floating here in this room full of dusty angels. Carrying forgiveness laced love from my lost one.

Sister Bethel hears more words. Sees more images. Fleeting pictures and oddly strung together words. A rope with many knots. Reminiscent of the Filipino veil and cord wedding ritual. A ritual we participating in during our wedding ceremony. Binding us together in love and hope. An image reassuring me of Tony’s ongoing love  and his push and desire for me to continuing living and loving. And as Sister Bethel repeats again and again, “have some fun,” followed by “whatever that means to you.”

Rise from the table feeling free. Centered. Grounded. Amazed. Lighter. Loved. Uplifted in my deep fears and strong abilities. My call to ministry recognized by another called one. “Your openness to the divine,” Sister Bethel tells me, “is huge.”

I laugh. Thinking I should ask her to share her thoughts with my Bishop and seminary professors.  Instead say, “Thank you for affirming my call to ministry.”

“You will be a powerful healer in ministry,” she replies in words knocking me over internally. Echoing something similar to what both my therapists have said to me in recent months.

Following days bring new calm. I eat again, hungry for the first time in a month. Catch myself smiling. Discover I want to reclaim bits of my old life. Slowly, intentionally, and with care.  A restaurant, a family member, water.

A few days later my daily walk takes me to the Iowa River. On the walking bridge I stop. Watch wild water crashing over the dam. Not avoiding river’s presence by walking quickly by. Like I have for twenty-five months. But gazing at its bubbling, swirling, violent, beautiful flow. Realizing I want to hike its banks, paddle its ways, embrace its beauty once again. Maybe never the Wisconsin River. But this river and all other rivers. Converse once again with wet molecules without my stomach clenching or my mind flashing back to the day Tony died. I want to continue dissipating my trauma by breathing into water’s swelling spirit.

“I keep hearing ‘changed, not changed,'” Sister Bethel told a few days ago during my session. “I wonder what that means?”

Most days think I know.  Losing Tony a formidable change. His love then and now never changed. Me, changed through loss, grief, trauma, and healing. But not changed. Still me, internally resilient. Brimming with life. Always hopeful. Never hiding from challenges for too long. Open to new adventures. Living having been loved. Full of love to give and receive.

My healing pain flowing toward and into joy. Tony leaving a boat of sorts for me to row toward the other side of trauma and grief. Constructed of his love mixed with all the healing methods he professionally practiced or knew about for over two decades. Rowing my boat together although not together. Me here on earth. He with me in spirit. Changed but not changed. Reclaiming wide waters.

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Strength in Story, Trauma, Trauma recovery, Violence

Pinned

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I am young. In my very early twenties. Long, blonde locks cascade down my back flowing toward earth in gravitational pull. My natural hair color swinging back and forth as I walk. Covering up a bit of my curvy spine when let loose. Creating messes in my hair brush and shower drain.

Garnering me attention. Not wanted. Hurtful. Whistles, cat calls, and sexualized verbiage making my body tense up, harden like a brick. Avoiding certain streets at certain times of the day. Approaching working construction sites with stomach churning. Embracing winter. Muscles finally free within my wrappings. Years and years before I learn phrases describing my almost daily experience then:  Sexual harassment. Specifically street harassment.

Yesterday my friend from long ago days texts me. Asks me if I’d seen the article in a well-known newspaper. The one naming famous classical music people as sexual abusers. Reminding me of one. A guest opera director in our opera prep program at one of the top ten music schools in the country. A man who openly bragged about the thousand women he slept with. Taunting student listeners with his sexual promiscuity as the AIDS epidemic ramped up, eventually killing beloved friends involved in our program.

This man singles me out. Me, a chorister in La Boheme. Begging for a dinner.  Eating alone on the road so very lonely he said. Me, finally saying yes for the adventure of it. Being propositioned at the table. Turning him down. His retort delivered in French accent. Words meant to cut deep. “You know, you are not so very beautiful.”

Soon after this dinner maybe a day later in front of a crew of stage hands, he slams me against the brick wall of the theater’s backstage. Grabs my chin. Forces his lips on mine. Pins me with his body. Between solid brick and anger.

No one helps me.

At first stunned. Body shutting down. Mind not comprehending. Then frantic. Wiggling. Somehow pushing him away. Screaming something at him. Walking into the hallway. Wringing with adrenaline, anger, disgust, and contempt.

Later, maybe that day. Maybe the next. I call him out of rehearsal. Something not done. Ever. Not by a mere chorus girl.  Demanding a moment with a big director taking up his precious and well-paid time. But in the wide corridor of the performing arts complex I say, “What did you think you were doing?” My words echoing off the walls. Words I have not been taught but somehow absorbed into my sense of right and wrong. “You ask first. You ask and then I either say yes or I say no. BUT YOU ASK FIRST!”

It helps in this moment that I am taller than he is. But the power differential is not lost on me. I play now with fire. His strength is not in his height or physical prowess. It is in his ability to make or break my future career. We both know this fact. The incensed anger within me however pushes out into the atmosphere. This time, I scare him. He leaves me alone from then on.

Like most women, I grew up eating, sleeping, and breathing this communal disinterest in how often our bodies are commented on and attacked. As if our bodies are fully extracted from our hearts, souls, and minds. Not of our doing. But of others. A right of unasked for cultural passage. No matter how wonderful our homes were, are and our fathers, friends, and partners.

Culture teaches. It molds. Keeps the harassed and abused silent. Then and now. As victims push memories away. Forced into our stomach aches, migraines, depressions, and autoimmune disorders. Into our bodies because until recently there has been no place for these facts to be embraced in the air around us. Lifted up as truths to be told. Unless we are blessed with incredible therapists who understand what sexual trauma does to our bodies over time. If not healed. If ignored like the greater culture minimizes and ignores our pains, no matter the extent of the abuse.

Hearing the news about this man of long ago, brought from the depths of my sinews what it felt like to be pinned against that hard, rough, brick wall. The panic of my breath when forcibly shoved. The being alone or on my own in front of a slew of witnesses. The tightness of my jaw. The pain radiating in the back of my head. The many times since when stressed or angry feeling someone or something pinning me down. Pressing in on my capture. Escape not insured. Sensations whose origins I could not fully place ricocheting within me. Creating emotional and bodily havoc. Until now.

That’s what naming these wrongs out loud in any form of the public square allows us. The many of us. The more of us than others. No matter our birth sex, preferred pronoun, race, ethnicity, religion, neighborhood, town, state, region, income, education. No matter what. Except our category as human beings. Naming begins healing. Allowing us to feel, recognize, remember in our bodies once again these unasked for and unwanted sensations. Connecting sensations with emotions. Realizing how sensation and emotion work together, either for us or against us. But in doing healing work, freeing us from the perpetuated evil of what first occurred. Saying “no” to this ongoing, unasked for payment living in our bodies.

Healing builds strength. An upholding and embracing of inner and outer resources. Mine, my words. Even then before I knew I was a writer. My words providing safety. Breaking me free. Now joining the words of others. Making known to all the narrative of our tragically universal experience wrapped in story, verbal exchange, essay, and in communion with one another. Words tearing down this sexual harassment, abuse, and violence wall. Destroying its silence with language brick by brick by brick by brick.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

For more information on how the human body absorbs trauma see the following books I found on Tony’s shelves after his death:

Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief, Uncategorized

Flushing

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For weeks last fall my toilet was a manual affair. Requiring more interaction than desired. Cover off. Splayed on the chair next to the towel rack. Displaying the inner workings of this most necessary of household contraptions. Mineral deposits dripping like sand inside the tank. Gurgling loudly without porcelain quieting its function. Running on at times. Reminding me of its maladies.

Flushing, a wet experience. My pointer finger dipping into tank water (clean of course!). Latching onto a plastic loop. The one attached to function’s brain. Finger drawing up for a second. Releasing a  “swoosh,” into the air.

Finger now dripping tank water. Searching for a towel. The ones right above the toilet. Decorative Filipino and Swedish handiwork displayed for show. Wrinkling their starched white beauty with common desperation.

My sons using this toilet. Lured by proximity to the kitchen.  Screaming in disgust. Me reminding them of their own bathroom.

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Toilet broke. That long piece reaching from handle to inlet valve collapsed or snapped or something. My mind sunk knee-deep in Old Testament doings. Abraham passing wife Sarah off as his sister (not once but twice!). The entire population of biblical prophets both major and minor screaming at Israel and me for that matter No time for a repair man or giving friend. Wondering aloud in the deepening night of approaching winter why dealing with toilets now my responsibility.

Waning tolerance for wet flushing. Wandering around local hardware store on another errand. Not thinking straight. Maybe looking for something else. Like deer whistles or yard waste bags or answers to grief’s deep questions. Eyes spying toilet replacement parts. Maybe it’s time, I think. A hardware man helps. Shows me different handles. “Is it hard to replace?”

“Noooooo,” he chuckles, “Just remember to twist counter-clockwise.”

Nodding. Smiling. Admitting internally my lack of counter-clockwise skills. Cognitively challenged whenever we pass food at the table, play a board game, and now apparently fix toilets. My sons, victims of my inability. Passing food to the left instead of the right when eating with and as white people.

At home, peering into the tank. How hard can this be? Except the directions on the package read like a foreign language. Words saying break off a piece at the end of the rod. At one of the notches. Twisting off the nut inside the tank. The one holding the outside handle in place. The hardware man, right. Changing the handle is not hard.

IMG_0466Getting it to work however not easy. The rod now too short. Barely fitting inside the plastic hook of the loop connected to what might be the flush valve. Broke off too much leaving me with more days of wet flushing.  Until I have time to return to the hardware store. Buying a different handle this time. A cheaper one because who knows how many handles this task in my hands requires. But this new one stays in the package. On the floor. Next to the toilet. For a week, maybe more.

Instead Ricky and I drive in hard rain for two days. Me, telling God we can not be hurt or die in the endeavor. Leaving town now always full of yet to be therapeutically eradicated anxiety issues. Taking Ricky to his Lyme Disease doctor in Minnesota. Sort of at the last moment. In order to make this trip work, holing up for days. Working ahead for work and school. Tired from working, driving, and holding it all together for everyone.

Arriving home late from this trip. To warm food prepared by my niece. To all is well in our absence. Thankful to be out of the rain. Off the slick roads. Settling back into the safety of our day-to-day, grieving lives.

Maybe it was all these things. The angst, drive, disease, trauma, grief, and countless, breathless days. But as night grew later and morning rise earlier, I said “What the hell.”

Tearing open the neglected package. Setting to work. Not heeding directions this time. Accessing  my inner-plumber. New-found resolves flowing. Ability budding. Slipping arm of handle contraption through tank hole. Bending it a bit. Fitting through the plastic loop. Twisting on the nut, counter clock-wise of course. Tentatively applying pressure to handle. Wondering fate in anticipatory quiet.

Viola! Eureka! The toilet, even before lifting hand from handle, expels with glorious surge. Flooding relief within me. Stresses disappearing in toilet’s surging water. Replacing toilet’s top. Washing hands of everything wrong in my life. Embracing everything well.

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Month’s later, admitting a lingering small issue. Ghost reminding me of my inequities. Water running on for barely a minute. Whenever the wind blows. Stopping before it begins. Hinting of things to come. Me, clinging to my success. Because by gum as my dad used to say, the toilet works. Flushes hard. Handle unattractive. But-by-gum-it-works!

To be continued…

Photos courtesy of me this time!

 

Faith, Grief, Uncategorized

Easter Understanding

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Sitting in a church pew Easter Sunday. Seats at a premium this morning. Finding space third row from the Baptismal font.  On the right almost under the organ pipes.

Swarms surround us. Decked out in Spring’s cold glory. Small limbs buzzing from early morning chocolate bunnies. Syrupy smells poured over church-basement pancakes wafting up sanctuary stairwell.  Scents floating off potted lilies celebrating this day. Distracting our noses.

Me, quietly book-ended by sons. Lanky height towering over shrinking self. Our hearts cradling family variants. Arriving on time for once. Not participating in today’s service. Missing one person in body, spirit, love. Forced imbalances creating new holiday traditions. Because of loss. Because of illness. Because human essence demands continual, dynamic change. Life ever flowing somewhere. Living in all directions. Forward one of many routes. Options include straight back and up above. Existence following verticals and sub-verticals as well like feeds and streams.

During Lent this year understanding the movement of Lot’s wife. Looking back froze her future. Into crumbling salt. Comprehending this can happen to us. So far doesn’t. Ongoing therapy eradicates salt. Revisiting the past orients us into living. Discovering alternatives. Lot’s wife perhaps wanting choice too. Deciding to resist orders. Ones requiring forced obligation in ancient womanhood. A constricted soul experiencing momentary freedom. Salt worth its weight. Me, not so interested in salt. Embracing all directions.

Sitting this Easter day surrounded by young men I once birthed. Now generating warmth and whispering commentary. Feeling in my heart truth inherent in hymn’s text, “Death hath lost its sting!”* 

Where life is after death, still unclear about. Not important to me. Clasping today’s truth: there is life following death. On earth and whatever and where ever after is. Tony, there. Smiling. Laughing. Eyes bright with delight. Wonder. Love.

He, also living among us. Enclosed in sons’ DNA. One wearing his clothing. The other donning his smile. Both purporting his people wisdom. Our loved one existing within memory, healed clients, love-infused family, and friends. In every-man, proverbial sayings. Some framed, sitting on my nightstand. Others remembered at odd moments. Memory creating a chuckle, smile, or sigh.

“That’s goodness”

“What just happened here?”

“How’s that working for you?”

“Get in the pit”

“Write a new narrative”

“Do you want to be seen or do you want to be noticed?”

“Don’t forget your toolbox!”

“That’s your humanity”

 

Tony uniting fully in Emmanuel–God with us. Joining clouds of witnessing saints billowing on before us. We on earth walking on foot. As human. Not salt. Not yet vapor.  Bound with all condensed water masses. Together in one, big, holy, mystery. Called the body of Christ. Perhaps we finding home on earthly knee-caps. Tony residing on a cheek. Near the smile. Head in the clouds.

Down below rejoicing today in life. Tony’s on earth. His life now. Ours then. Ours now. Embracing what we do not know. Accepting God’s command to love one another during this time. Gradually opening out. Accepting all directions. Leading into the world loving friends and family again. Love wafting like flower’s scent. Replacing trauma’s reactions and sorrow’s emotions.

Holding grief near still. Naming it as love of another form. One creating salty, healing tears. Sliding down cheeks this bright, vibrant day. Love resurrecting life.

 

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*Quote from the hymn, Thine is the Glory. Text by Edmond Budry. Tune by George F. Handel, adapted.

**Photo found on http://www.pixabay.com