Wednesday, September 16, 2015

An 'out of order' death

I have been thinking about death and the order of it, primarily how natural it is for someone to lose a grandparent. And how unnatural it is the other way around.
But what about when the order just gets a little jumbled? Like when a parent goes before or at the same time as a grandparent? How are you supposed to feel then? 
My husband leaves for the hospital again as the kids play. 
'Where is daddy going?' Kaiya asks nonchalantly. CJ answers, in between making rocket sounds for his gun, 'oh, to the hospital. His dad is dying.'
The words hang in the air like Nerf darts from a gun losing its steam.  A few minutes later, and it was like you could hear the wheels turning in his little head, out spits this: 'mom and dad are going to die one day.' I nod, and make a comment to the affect of it being a long ways away. 
Then I remembered being about five and up in my parents' room sobbing that they were going to die. Dad stroked my hair and told me it was going to be a long time from now. Thirty years later I am saying the same thing to my son, who is not dramatically crying but making sputtering rocket sounds. Part of me wants to insert myself into the moment, have there be more drama for some reason, but I gag the little pig-tailed girl and put her back in the closet. 
His acceptance of death will simply not be mine. Plus, my role in the moment is parent this time and not child. It's silly how often I have to remind myself of such things. I guess everyone else just grows up with more grace, for it feels I am forever screaming and stamping my foot: 'but I'M the baby!' 
Six months later I see my father-in-law's face smiling back at me on Facebook. A happy note underneath it: 'done with chemo!' It still startles me each time when I pray that prayer works. You would think that each and every time you fire off a loaded gun you would remember that's how it works- never will 'nothing' happen when there is one in the chamber, but it's hard to remember when the bullets aren't always visible. 
A few days later I'm up looking at Facebook again, checking on the status of a friend's father. I had just learned that he had cancer and had just started to load my prayer gun. Then, instead of seeing if there was more information on how to pray I see instead that I need to pray for her. For he died. Just like that. At fifty freaking six.
My soul screamed out: 'BUT HE WAS THE YOUNG PARENT!!!'
I still remember the distinct feeling of jealousy the first time I went to her house and met her parents. I stared at their young faces smiling back at me and I mentally calculated that most likely they would outlast all the other parents. Most. Likely. The older you get the more you realize there just aren't as many most likelys as one originally hoped for. 
"My mom was telling me that you reach an age where you start seeing old friends at funerals instead of at weddings," my friend said cheerfully as she straightened the bottom of her shirt. My mind mentally shut the door on that statement the first time she said it like it was a salesman in a cheep green suit and I couldn't even be bothered to utter: 'not interested.' No. Just no. I'm not old enough for that stage of life. Nope.
Later, as we drive around the hometown where we were girls together and talk about the stupid things we did and how it's a wonder that we survived, the sentiment gets said again. We keep uttering things like: I'm just not ready for that. 
It was easy to slip back to thinking I was fifteen again with this friend. "What should we do?" She asks when we find the funeral house and see we are ridiculously early. "Wanna go to the mall?" Turning towards me excitedly with a knowing grin. It's a small town. There are basically three legal, and safe, things to do and they are: go to the mall, go to the coffee shop or go to Wal-Mart. Usually we would go to one of the first two. Sometimes we would get crazy and go to the mall and then the coffee shop. 
As we walk in we notice the changes and search like its a treasure hunt for the things that stayed the same. We also notice how small it all is. The mall didn't get smaller of course, we got bigger. We just don't 'fit' in this narrative anymore. Like hobbits coming back from a grand adventure to a quiet town that has no use for adventurous hobbits. 
After making a lap around the mall we realize it's time to go and make our way back to the funeral house. The parking lot is two-thirds full already and we shuffle inside. My friend whose father has died and I had swapped messages about looking through photos and performing the arduous task of piling them up into pretty displays for the service. "Hard" was the word she used and it sticks in my throat with a lump of emotion around it. How do you, in your mid thirties, look through photos of your father to try and 'capture' the essence of his life? 
My mind went to the year prior when I had done the task for my grandmother's funeral. How I tried to make them spread across her whole life and capture as much of it as possible. How two-dimensional colors can't even begin to capture the first glimpse of a four-dimensional soul. I smile at the photos they chose and wonder which ones she had picked out and what memories they stirred up in her.
We shuffle into the pew, and my friend mutters again that this must be so hard for our friend. Who is now greeting the row in front of us, a smile beaming from every atom of her being. It is her best quality, her smiles literally give joy where there was none before. I nudge the friend next to me and point to the friend in front who is warmly greeting each person, "just have her help you- look how good she is at this!" Then I pause, for some reason feeling a need to make sure she knows I want to help when it's time but I can't in the friendly-greeting way: "and let me be the bouncer guarding the door." 
The speaker starts and at one point he touches on how some may be feeling angry at how unfair it is and out of place since he was still young. Time is a funny thing though, for when I was my daughter's age fifty-six seemed ancient. People used to live for hundreds of years, and I imagine back then ninety seemed too young. 
The truth was, it is too young. He is the first parent from our little group to die and we, in our thirties, are too young for it. 
But we are trying to write the adventure part of the story when we are still happily in the Shire. You see, the hobbits didn't start out adventurous heroes, they ended that way. You can't be mad at yourself for not growing when you are growing still, it just does no good to think you aren't ready for something that you don't need to be ready for yet anyway. And maybe, losing a parent, isn't something you can ever really be ready for. 
We are packing up to get in the car and drive back home to Texas. It feels like something is missing and I realize that something is. My friend's dad. The young dad who always had archery stuff out and still smiled and goofed off with his kids even after a long day of work. 
One of my best memories of him was from New Year's Eve about twenty years ago. I was spending the night at her house that night and she winked at me with her trademark big smile beaming and said: "your in for a treat! You get to see how our family brings in the new year!" As if on cue her dad came out holding two pots and started banging them together like he was a little toy teddy bear with cymbals and all he ever does is bang, bang, bang. 
My friend produced a pot and spoon from thin air and handed them to me as she danced off merrily through the yard behind her dad banging pots. I smiled, grabbed the pot, and banged away. I joined the train of them, all led by my friend's father, as we circled around their yard making the most awful racket I had ever heard. 
Part of me wonders if that was his greeting. If there was a little band of angels set up with pots pulled from random drawers in heaven, and when he showed up one handed him a pot and a spoon. If that grin of his that didn't change from the time he was a boy until he died spread across his face and off he set, making a wonderful racket. We think the story ends with death, but in truth, it was when the hobbits just finally break free of the last barrier of the Shire and that they set out on their grand adventure.
So, no, we aren't ready yet to start burying our parents. We want to still be young and have weddings be the occasions for seeing each other. But time only marches forward. No longer are we the kids flopped on the bed despairing at the first mental grasp of the finality of death. Now we are their parents, gently patting their backs and saying "it will be all right, little one." Next we will be patting our parents' hands, telling them the same, as we pray they go mercifully in their sleep and with no more suffering. Right now though, where we are in the blessed middle, is freaking awesome. And it's exactly where we are supposed to be. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tigers and Fleas

I set the needles, scissors and red thread beside me. It's ironic that I grabbed red. It will be like blood I guess. Positioning the stuffed tiger before me I poke around to find the tear. It's time for tiger surgery. 
CJ sweetly asked me two nights before if I would fix it for him. Just after dinner, when he came to give me a random hug. Curls framing his face in his to-school hair cut. You see it's not 'back' yet because this is his first year. 
It, ironically, was also his first haircut. He even gets a 'baby's first hair cut certificate.' I have to wonder if the stylist was being a smart ass. Of if she is just pragmatic. It was after all, his first haircut. And he is after all, my baby.
The stuffed tiger had been sitting by my bed for months, maybe even a year. Neglected. Torn. Surely this year will be over soon, I guess that's what I was thinking. But here it is another year and so it begins again. More nights. More sleepless days as my body wakes me completely confused about why I'm trying to sleep when it's not time to sleep. 
I won't tell him, my baby, that I agreed to more nights to try and make the schedule slightly better. To be there in the mornings for him. To help with this transition to school. He wouldn't understand it anyway. I don't understand it anyway. 
Except that firsts always come, and heavens if it doesn't seem like more of them come at the end of summer than any other time of year. But when you are experiencing the firsts through their eyes, it changes. For me it's a fierce sort of experience that seems to manifest itself as a lump in my throat and a pit in my stomach. What if he gets bullied? What if he bullies? What if I never make it back to days and have to figure out this awkward rhythm all over again each week?
So I read about the Holocaust. You know, real tragedy. Not more night shift work and starting kindergarten. It settles me in this haunting way. Corrie Ten Boom once thanked God for fleas. Because they crawled all over them, keeping the guards from crawling all over them. Fleas. 
Lack of sleep is my fleas. But heavens if I haven't a clue what harm I'm being kept from. Maybe I should just trust that it's something and that I'm where I'm supposed to be for now. 
That next week, when I walk through the door not too late this time but on time to see him off to school, it will be worth it. He might not understand the flea-size sacrifice I'm making, but when I'm there to hug him off to a new thing it will be worth it anyway. 
CJ walks by to go to the bathroom and grins as he sees the tiger sitting by me. When he returns from the bathroom he pauses to inspect the work and a grin spreads across his face. 
"Are there any other tears son?" 
"Nope, you fixed it!" He chirps happily. I watch as he trots off to bed. It will not always take just some simple red thread to fix things for him. Just like, eventually at the very least when I retire I will get to go back a regular schedule. These are flea-sized problems and there might just be a Nazi-guard-sized reason for them. So I will be thankful.
Oh, and my church is starting a night service this fall. So. There's that. 
Flea-sized blessings every day folks, every single day. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

From the deep

I have been calling it 'writer's block' but I'm not sure that's completely accurate. That would mean I have been trying to write and blocked from it for some reason. I haven't even been trying, truth be told. Currently, I am reading through 'Sorrow and Blood: Christian mission in contexts of suffering, persecution, and martyrdom.' It's as haunting as it sounds. One of the main focuses the current section I am on is challenging the 'prosperity gospel.' I had this smug smile on my face. Yeah, all you people who only profess belief simply to get stuff, I think to myself. I read on.
"Again, I am deeply moved when I consider that 99.4 percent of Scripture was written either from or into contexts of uncertainty, violence, exile, poverty, and weakness." 
That is when it hits me.
The real reason I haven't been writing. 
My words haven't been "Facebook approved." By that I mean, I can't sum up my days in a snappy little sentence. Try as I might to be honest in my living, just like everyone else if I can't put a little pretty bow on it at the end than it just ain't worth it. Lately I'm out of bows. 
Instead of finding snippets to write about I've been slogging through the deep, and my ability to keep tunneling down never ceases to amaze me. When others hit bottom they go, 'oh crap,' me, I get a shovel. And I dig. And dig. 
The kids' dinner antics reaches a crescendo and I screech like a pterodactyl. It is time to get ready for work. I have no answers this time. No take-away. Other than it's probably time to resurface. To start the miles long trek back up out of this abyss I've been in. Maybe it starts with admitting that I haven't had writer's block so much as I've had life block. 
Maybe, this week before the start of another school year, I will not even give it a second thought that in our family I am the absent parent and my husband is the present one. It's just the way it is. I'm there as much as I can be and to expect to be able to be a full time parent while working full time also is ridiculous. 
Instead I will set to this rock wall in front of me, waiting to be scaled, drop the blasted shovel finally, and start my ascent.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Water as from the deep

There's a long-haired man with a beard in her seat, and no, it's not Jesus. I fight the urge to rise, walk over to him, and politely tell him to move. 'Excuse me,' I imagine, while the pastor talks about community and I should probably stop arguing in my mind and start listening, 'You are in Nell's seat. And I need you to move.' 
About three times a year my little church bonds with another little church to have joint 'Holy Week' services. This, combined with the fact I have hardly been going this year because I work nights, explains why I don't know the Jesus look-a-like who is sitting in Nell's seat. 
I tune in again as the pastor concludes 'and this is how we see God, how we see him working in our community.' Huh. Guess I should have listened. I miss her. I miss that she is not sitting in the row in front of us. 
How I saw God was in her warm smile. How she talked softly, so that I had to lean in, especially if we were at a loud restaurant. How she drew connections: 'oh you like that, so does so and so, you two are alike in that.' How she smiled so much, even that last day I saw her- the day we all prayed around her. The last time I saw Nell in her seat. 
I wonder if Jesus had a seat. If, that Friday night when they all straggled into the upper room, if they glanced sadly at it. If one of the newer ones, who didn't know, had sat down for a moment. Until the tension cutting the air clued him in and up he rose, maybe muttering: 'Sorry, I didn't know...'
Sorry, I didn't know... Isn't that how it is for all of us? He already answered it by the way. In case you were wondering. 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'
I tell my kids, when one of them bumps the other accidentally, that they still have to say sorry. That even if they didn't mean to hurt the other, it still shows love to say sorry even so. Maybe, more of us are bumbling through this life, bumping into each other, sitting in chairs we shouldn't, and we need the grace of the accidental sorry. Maybe we need to say it to God sometimes. Perhaps just: Sorry, I didn't know... So we can taste the grace he paid so dearly for.
Grace has this way of washing over us in a healing that springs up deep. Like the water God gave the Israelites. It was water that kept on coming 'as from the deep.' I think about this as a dear friend comes up to me and asks me to let her wash my feet. I, ever like Peter, want to cry out 'no!' But, like Peter, I succumb, and resist the urge to thrust my hands in the water as well. Might as well get all of me. Like for all the world Peter had an inkling that he would screw it up, and hoped he could prewash his betrayal.
He forgives us when we bump, and he forgives us when we betray. But he does so much more than just forgives us. He washes us clean. The dirtiest parts of us even, he kneels and girds himself with a towel. Then he gets to the business of cleaning.
With water as from the deep. 
And you know what we are to do? Receive. Sit there, let the water wash over, let the sacrifice he paid be our payment, and say with him: it is finished. For, truly it is. We emerge clean and new. 
Oh, and one day there will be only one seat that matters and only One who can even be on it. The rightness of when we see God on the throne will fix all the wrong- past just repairing and over into renewing. For he didn't come to just fix the broken, he came to make all things new. 
I wiggle my clean toes. Washed twice over by two women I love dearly and prayed with earnestly. Each time I insisted I was afflicted by 'allergies' as I wiped away tears. As the service draws to an end I close my eyes and imagine a boisterous God shouting from his throne: 'I AM MAKING ALL THINGS NEW.'

Monday, March 9, 2015

Vagina Power

You're probably thinking: oh she's just grabbing at attention with a snazzy blog post. And maybe I am. I was going to title this: I'm coming out of the feminist closet. Truth be told though, I don't think I ever went in it. 
Yesterday was International Women's Day. I spent my free time reading about amazing women and my chest swelled with pride- which made my boobs look awesome. And that tends to be the extent of my feminism now. Slipping in random references to the awesome power of boobs and vaginas. (I have been known to shout out, in a roomful of men: 'vagina power!' and give a forceful fist bump to the heavens.) 
Let's be real here though: too often women are viewed as these delicate, pretty objects. When a woman doesn't want to be a delicate, pretty object she gets called something that rhymes with witch and starts with a big ol' B. (For boobs, of course.) 
I was a woman who wasn't about to fit in that type cast. The games and toys were geared towards kitchen and home which often caused me to steal my brother's Gi Joes for the good Lord deemed it wise to put in me a warrior's heart. 
So when I went to college and started to enter the adult world I tried to do what seemed like socially acceptable roles and quickly found out that I was an outside cat trying to claw its way inside. This lead me to find a role that fit for me, which led me to a career that is dominated by men. 
I would say by in large the place that I work has been good to me, but I see how much of the ground I now walk on was paved by pioneering women who went before me. Who had it way rougher. In fact, even that I could get into the field I'm in is due to courageous women who went over to a circle full of men and said: this is where I belong, I'm staying here, deal with it. 
My ninety year old grandma told me in my last visit with her before she passed that she admired what I do and would have always liked to have been able to do something like it. When I went to her funeral I volunteered to go through the pictures and select some which was a mind-blowing experience. She was always grandmother to me, never a 'worker.' But there before me was the evidence in black and white that for her entire life my sweet grandmother worked- and did so surrounded by men. So. That's where she gets her feistiness from. 
The best one was a photo of her at her desk and she's got this boss look on her face. I mean, she's killing it. And my boobs swelled with pride. No wonder I didn't want to dutifully put on the apron and go to my assigned spot in the kitchen. It's just not in me, for that look in her eye -the one where she is OWNING it - that's my look. 
Recently, one of the female leaders at work invited some of us to an event. It took all of my self restraint to not scream out: vagina power! when she was speaking. The kicker that I wasn't expecting was she had us get up and speak. I naively sat through watching the bosses above me, smirking to myself that I was so glad I wasn't them when she called my level of bosses up as well. I would love to report that I killed it, but sadly, no. Before you smile and think to yourself: oh, I'm sure it wasn't that bad, the leader pulled me aside afterwards and said: 'you have to get better at this.' To which I said, yes ma'am. 
You see I'm better at one on one interactions or at reflecting on an event whilst in my pjs. Truth be told though, she's right, I do have to be better. For in my mind there truly isn't two separate races- one for men and one for women- it's all one. I learned that in kindergarten. It was the end of the year race and I gave it my all. Not that I am really that into running, I'm just into winning. So when I made it to the end- in third- I was disappointed. The teachers all cheered for me and one of then informed me I was first. I argued. He may have even been the principal. I kept arguing: 'no! I'm third!' I seem to remember my dad intervening and telling them it was best they drop it for I certainly wasn't going to see it their way. They of course meant that I was the first girl. I knew I was still third. 
My point with all this though is that we all, women too, have to change our mind sets. We still limit girls constantly, in our speech, in our ideas, and in just about every way that we communicate to them. We need to get to a place where we look at someone and see who they are and then try to help them get to the fullest version of themselves. 
My daughter is not a warrior. I'm not saying that to slam her, and I'm not saying she's not brave for she truly is. I don't know yet what she will be, but I hear her saying things like: I want to stay home and be a parent. The interesting thing is she has chosen this primarily because she sees it modeled by her father. Hence why she says parent. Part of me hopes for more still for her, but I have to accept who she is. It may just be that in fact she is meant to be a parent primarily and she will totally kill it. She will own changing those diapers and running around in the minivan (hopefully they will fly by then for Pam's sake - I just made that up by the way, don't know why we always say Pete.) and become the version of her she is meant to be.
For I don't think it's a step forward if we force all women out of the house when all may not want to be. (Though I do think more men need to be brave enough to do what my man does which is get in that kitchen and put on the apron and OWN IT.) No, I think getting to a place where we look at our kids at first like they are blank slates, and we wait to see what strokes they start painting with themselves. Where we take them the whole box of colors to choose from and not just offer the blues to the boys and the pinks to the girls. Some girls like blue and some boys like pink. It's all ok. 
Once we see what picture of themselves they see, then we help. 'Oh, you want to be a doctor? Study this. Work on that.' Don't even begin to address that she may be the only girl. It is frankly a non issue. She obviously won't be dumb if she is striving for doctor, so she will look around the room and see she is the only one with a vagina in the room. Maybe she will find a friend in another male-dominated field and they will become best friends. And they will tell stories about these idiot men they get to deal with while they eat chocolate and watch Gravity. (This actually hasn't happened yet, but I'm about to text my doctor friend and make a date because it sounds awesome.)
I also think we need to encourage more of our kids to try out stuff, that we may even think isn't them, and be willing to let them go as far as failing at it. I learned a lot more this week from my failed impromptu speech then I did from a work problem I was successful at solving. Fail up though. Get up off the ground, grind your teeth, and say: I'm gonna give that another go and I'm gonna keep at it until I own it. 
Tell the boys you are here and you are staying. Tell them you are third when you are and try your best to be first. Use the vagina power. We truly think different and it's a wonderful thing. God clearly thought man wasn't good enough alone, and though we may have started with a bit of them that doesn't mean we can't stand on our own two feet and roar if we freaking want to. 
Above all, be yourself but only if you are the self that you were meant to be. If you got sidetracked, or listened to a different story, were forced to paint with green when you wanted orange- get out the white bucket of Gesso and start all over. Slap down a new canvas. Doesn't matter if your seventy. It's never too late to own who you are and kill it. Go vaginas.