Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Things We Say

People ask, "How is your Mom?"
I say, "She is a warrior!"
Or "Her spirit is incredible!"

In the quiet of the night
As I stand at the kitchen sink, staring at nothing
hands submerged in gray suds
My husband says, "What's wrong?"

"I am tired," I say.
Or I say, "It's nothing. I'm okay."
I am tired.
I am not okay.
It is not nothing when your mother slips from your grasp.

"The cancer has spread," the doctor says.
"I tried to get as much as I could," he says.

Our faces fall.
Our heads bow.
Our bodies bend,
as if carrying bricks on our backs.

Dad puts his face in his hands,
Rubs and rubs and rubs his forehead.
"We will try chemo," the doctor says.

"You are buying us time," I say.
I am the only one who says anything.
"There are miracles sometimes," the doctor says,
as if he is unable to bear my hopelessness.

The doctor's words become the Kool-aid.
We greedily gulp.
Mom acts like she only has a cold.
"Chemo is nice, quiet time to read my book," she says.
"I have this wonderful quilt that was sewn by an inmate in upstate Indiana," she says.
"It could be so much worse," she says.

On the day she learns she will have to wear a pump
for more aggressive chemo, she says,
"It is amazing what you can get used to!"
After 18 sessions of radiation,
she says, "I am just a little tired."

A friend who lost her father hands me prayer beads over breakfast at Denny's.
"Hold onto these," she says.
"Keep them as long as you need them," she says.
I push cold scrambled eggs around my plate.

My siblings and I talk
But don't talk.
"Mom has a great attitude," we say.

No one says
That we fear future Christmases
And graduations
And weddings.
No one says
That we can't look our father in the eye now.

Dad takes Mom to lunch every day.
They take rides on country roads
Count the red-tailed hawks
Eat cheeseburgers by the lake.

Dropping by one day,
I catch them heading out the door.
"Lunch out again?" I say.
"It's a new day, isn't it?" Dad says.

That night,
Standing at my counter,
Peeling potatoes for supper
I slip away...

I find myself in my mother's kitchen,
Where she peels potatoes
And I stand on tip-toes on cold linoleum.
I reach for a slice from the colander.
"Potatoes aren't very good raw," Mom says,
Handing me a slice, anyway.

I bite into the raw potato and grimace.
"Yuck," I say.
She laughs.
"I told you so," she says...

Back in my own kitchen,
Peeling and slicing,
I tell that little girl
That when her mother hands her the slice of raw potato
She is to grip her mother's hand
Hold it tight.
Hold it so tight.

"Don't let go" I say.

Don't let go.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Note from the Murky Gray

This is a far cry from my usual Porch musings, but I'm compelled to share. Please know that wherever you are spiritually, no matter what you believe or dismiss, the Porch welcomes you. I like to think we can learn from each other. If not, we can simply sit quietly, rock and be grateful for one another. That's nice, too.


This past Sunday, I attended church physically, but I certainly didn't feel like I was there mentally or spiritually. Troubled and stressed, my heart was guarded as I entered the sanctuary. I could almost feel the weight of the chains wrapped around it.

I stood in the pew, trying to feel something from the contemporary music belted out passionately on stage, but eh. I didn't. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Although the music usually moves me, I was sad and preoccupied and certainly not in church mode.

I chided myself, "You're here, so show up. Get something out of this." Still, I could not focus or feel connected, no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how many church members smiled at me and wished me a good morning. I smiled on the outside, but on the inside? Wary. That happens to me sometimes in church. I often don't feel like the other people there seem to feel. A control freak, I have never been one of those people who can throw my hands up in surrender. I am envious of those who can.

Frustrated, I quietly prayed: Hey, Big. G (I call God "Big G", and He is totes cool with that). I am not here today. I know I should be, but frankly, I'm not, and you know me well enough to know all the reasons why. I attended for my kid today, but not for myself. I don't feel like being in this pew today. I don't feel like hearing YOU today. I'm sorry, but I thought you should know the deal. I hope you understand.

As soon as I uttered those words, the ultra-contemporary, rarely-plays-classic-hymns church band began to sing the old hymn, "Crown Him With Many Crowns."

Whooooooaaaaa. Does everyone hear that - or just me?

See, when I was a kid, I attended a sunrise Easter service in our local park with my mom and my grandparents. I remember that cool dawn, the rising sun softly filtering through the trees as the preacher spoke in front of the town fountain. I don't recall the sermon, to be honest. But I know the way I felt when the couple dozen of us who braved the chilly morn sang "Crown Him With Many Crowns." Although I must have been very young, and I didn't understand the Bible yet, that hymn moved me, stirred me  -- so much so that I took the Easter bulletin that featured the hymn's lyrics, folded it, and held it tight in my small hand.

I've never told anyone this, but when I was troubled as a child, I would climb on top of the family carport, lie on the roof, take out that crumpled Easter bulletin and whisper the words of the hymn:

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.

I can't explain why, other than having the faith and trust of a child, but that song brought me peace and comfort. I would stare into the blue sky above and feel connected to its Creator.

When I heard that old hymn in that modern sanctuary this week, I was stunned. Truthfully, I was a little shaken. Really, Big G? You pulled out my childhood hymn to get my attention? What's up with THAT?

Then, as we humans are prone to do, I immediately scoffed at that notion. I mean, talk about delusions of grandeur: You're so vain. You probably think this hymn is about you.

I apologized in prayer again, telling God that it was unbelievably self-centered and egotistical  -- and let's face it,  a tad crazy -- to think that He, with billions of humans to worry about, would send a direct message to insignificant me. Who am I? I'm no one. I'm a speck.

No sooner had I said to myself, "It's crazy to think that the Big G would send a song to me", than the preacher began his sermon.

Among the first words he spoke? I. kid. you. not.


Whooooooaaaaaaaaa. Did everyone hear that - or just me?

There I was -- as small, mistake-prone and doubtful as ever -- questioning what God sends, when the preacher said, clearly, "God is a sender."

Oh, snap! Big G's got game!

Needless to say, I sat upright in the pew. I tuned in and began to listen with a less-guarded heart.

Hopefully, those of you who visit frequently know that I am not the preachy type or the judge-y type. After all,  you've read my stuff, right? Who am I to judge anyone? I sin and fall short ALL THE TIME. Greedy? Check. Coveting others' lives and things? Check. Lustful? Check. Check. Check. And that's just referring to the Hugh Jackman posts.

Sure, I try to be a good person when it's convenient and I feel like it. Other times, I try less hard and do less than I should.

In other words -- and I hope I don't offend anyone here because you're all mah-va-lous -- I think I'm like most of us.

I guess that's why I'm writing this.

When Big G tapped me on the shoulder Sunday and told me to listen, I heard the pastor say that God sends. He sends to us, but here's the challenging part: He also sends us. We have a purpose (and I do not think it is the same mission for everyone), and we already have everything we need to complete it -- which is far less than we think we need, though I really do love my new open-toe sling backs.

I truly believe God gives us each a gift to use for good (and not to procure rare Hostess Chocodiles, as I've been known to do, but I already said I'm not perfect).

You don't have to go far to use your gifts, either. You can use them wherever you are.

I like to think my particular gift is writing, but we've previously discussed my delusions of grandeur.

What is your gift? Maybe you have a musical gift to bring others joy. Maybe you're an artist or a photographer with a keen eye. Maybe you are a natural teacher, or you have a kind, compassionate heart and are quick to reach out to others. Perhaps you use your fantastic sense of humor to lighten someone's load, or maybe you are good at fixing things for others.

Whatever gift you have, now is the time to send it: to give it away, one imperfect human to another. What are you waiting for? The world needs it, and it needs you -- fantastic, fallible you.

I'm not sure that in our churches, we talk about how fragile and fallible we are enough. From experience, I can tell you that pretending otherwise is intimidating to people new to church, who feel like they are somehow less than those who are in church all the time.

Although I'm a Christian, I don't think faith is all black or white, left or right, Hell or Heaven. If we're honest, most of us fall in that murky gray area in the middle, right? We're all part of one big, messy, dysfunctional family. Thank goodness we share a loving, forgiving, incredibly patient, and hopefully somewhat senile father who knows we're going to screw up, but He still wants us to try to be our best selves. Just keep trying. He's not asking so much.

If you're thinking you're not a church-y person, so you're not really sure you buy any of this, I want you to know that I get that.

I sometimes feel closer to Big G on a porch swing or on an evening stroll than in a church. So pray to that magnificent sunrise or send your best thoughts out into that incredible sunset. Relish your walk in the woods, where you feel peace. Laugh when the baby laughs. Breathe in your child, fresh from the tub. Stretch out with your dog in that sunbeam. And be open.

I'm no preacher, but I think God is wherever you find Him. Or wherever He finds you. He often found me in my youth on my parents' carport roof, where I'd stretch out and look at the endless expanse of blue sky. Big G and I could chat for hours up there. That's a kind of church, too.

Don't misunderstand. I think church is great. It offers fellowship and accountability, which are good things for anyone of faith. I often find comfort in church today. But if I had been raised in a church, I'm honestly not sure I would have such a deeply personal relationship with Big G. I can talk to Big G and His son JC about an-y-thing, and I owe that deep and abiding faith to my mother. She's not a church-y person, either, friends, but she is as closely connected to God as anyone I know.

This is just me, a wanna-be writer, mom, second-time wife, and very imperfect Christian, reaching out to you -- wherever you are on your journey through life -- and cheering you on, one murky gray walker to the next.

In this crazy, hurtful world, when people use religion for everything from politics to weapons, it's easy to doubt. It's easy to lose faith. It's also easy to question God when things are hard, but that's when I grasp most tightly to my faith. Thank goodness it tethers me.

This isn't about religion because I'm not particularly religious.

The most fascinating class I took in college was called "The Bible as Literature." In that class, we read and discussed the Bible like a book. Not like The Book, but like any book. I read every word of the Bible in a new way. Scripture suddenly didn't intimidate me, like it often did in a church setting, because I looked at the text as a student, who was open-minded and eager to learn.

What I took from that class and our many discussions and debates, is that what we get from the Bible depends largely on what we bring to it -- our quirks, our upbringing, our parents' views, all the good and bad stuff that has ever happened to us. I'm not sure it is supposed to work that way, but it does. I once heard a preacher say that if we followed every word in the Bible verbatim, we would never eat bananas. Why? What God has joined together, let no man tear asunder, friends.

Although I begrudgingly accept that others are as firmly entrenched in their beliefs as I am in mine, I get frustrated when people use the Bible to exclude others, when the purpose of the Bible is to reach all of us, every last one of us. I can't imagine the Bible, or the word of God, was ever meant to be a weapon or a message of hurt or exclusion.

I can't speak for Big G, and I won't try to, imperfect and unqualified for that as I am.

All I know for sure is that He is phenomenally cool to meet me where I am, in the murky gray, and love me anyway. Maybe sometimes He even sends me a song in church, to remind me of that, to loosen those chains that guard my heart.

Maybe Sunday's message was a for me to write, to share what I know -- which is soooo very little -- with those who, for whatever reason, feel like they are not good enough to be loved that much. Or sadly, they feel that other people of faith would not love them, would not embrace all those pieces that make them who they are.

From one murky gray, ne'er-do-well to another: You are enough. You are loved. Believe me, I do things that surely make Big G face-palm on a regular basis, but He's there for me, just the same.

Here's the tricky part: Faith is not something we can intellectualize, which makes it tough to accept. Faith isn't rational. It isn't remotely logical. But it is real, and it will give you something to grasp, if you only allow yourself to leap. When you are ready to take a chance on faith, trust that the Big G, or whatever you decide to call Him, will be there for you. Every bit of you.

In the meantime, share your gifts. Love your neighbors, even those who challenge you. Stretch out on the carport roof and know that you are worthy of that beautiful blue sky, that it was created for you as much as it was for anyone.
Remember: there's room on that big ol' porch for all of us

For that, for old hymns, for you, for Big G's gentle reminders, for Hugh Jackman (Big G just face-palmed again)...

I am so very grateful for it all.