The Breaking and Blessing

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When I saw this picture my husband took this past week in the mountains near our house, I immediately thought of this sentence:

“For there is the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the worlds end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts.”

Come on.  That’s a good sentence.

 

This sentence of C.S. Lewis’ has always stuck out for me. It’s from the memoir of his coming to faith, Surprised by Joy.  I wrote this sentence out on a blue sticky note and had it above my desk for a couple of years. Isn’t it a great sentence? Maybe its just me. I mean, its my kind of sentence – its got a lot of commas.     But it’s an opening sentence, as in, it’s a sentence that opens up…..something…. before you, a world you could inhabit, or maybe just a world that you could look around for a bit.

Lewis wrote it in reference to a view close to his home. A place, a landscape, that was important to him during an incredibly formative time. These words are about trees, and hills and skies. Physical things that hold us in this world, that are, in some way, everything to us—“the thing itself,” “the way to the world’s end,” “the land of longing,” “the breaking and blessing of hearts.”   He describes that place in his life that, if we are lucky, we all have. A place that draws us in, that brings our souls to a farther place than we could ever go ourselves. They call us, these real places. And they hold us.

 

He wrote that sentence, which is just one sentence in a three page description of the land near his home, within an even larger passage that describes his personal movement from the idealized, the romantic, the “beyond” and “higher” to the real, the earthy, to the rooted. He had made a friend, Arthur, who helped start this movement within Lewis, and had introduced him to “the best of Waverly and the Bronte’s and Jane Austen.” Lewis admits he was hesitant to read these writings – in his youth, and the haughtiness of youth’s idealism, they were too prosaic to incite real passion and growth. But his friend persisted and of this Lewis wrote,

 

“The very qualities which had previously deterred me from such books Arthur taught me to see as their charm. What I would have called “stodginess” or “ordinariness” he called “Homeliness”—a key word in his imagination. He did not mean merely Domesticity, though that came into it. He meant the rooted quality which attaches them to our simple experiences, to weather, food, the family, the neighbourhood. He could get endless enjoyment out of the opening sentence of Jane Eyre or that other opening sentence in one of Hans Anderson’s stories, “How it did rain, to be sure.”

 

And Lewis writes that his friend looked for this rootedness, this ordinariness, in the outside world too. While Lewis previously had responded to nature, as maybe we all do, with feelings that came from the wild, or the awe-inspiring, experience of skies and clouds and distance and mountains, of which that landscape most definitely was, his friend also taught him to see more, more of the everything that was there.

 

“But for him, I should never have known the beauty of the ordinary vegetables that we destine to the pot. “Drills,” he used to say. “Just ordinary drills of cabbages—what can be better?” And he was right. Often he recalled my eyes form the horizon just to look through a hole in a hedge, to see nothing more than a farmyard in its mid-morning solitude and perhaps a grey cat squeezing its way under a barn door.”

 

And in that movement, that is the movement of all maturity – with God, with spouses, with children, with work – the movement from idealized and distant to very close, very earthy, very ordinary, Lewis saw the beauty that is the truth of God made flesh in this world.   That is, God as the everything we long for and the everything right before our eyes.

 

Back to the sentence. The part that gets me in that sentence is the phrase, “the breaking and blessing of hearts.” And as I read Lewis here, I recognize that this breaking and this blessing is not only in the big, the distant, the wild and awesome we experience but also in the rooted and the ordinary.

 

And why its grabbing me especially at this time is how it reminds me of something Walter Brueggemann wrote in The Prophetic Imagination.   Brueggemann talks a lot about how the imagining of God’s prophets truly does bring in new ways of knowing and being – knowing God and being with God. All prophecy works to bring us back to our center—back to God and back to His way, which is the way of his creation, the way of deep knowing, which is the way of each other, each other as God’s also. Brueggemann then writes about the role of grief and amazement in this imagining, in this bringing about a new way of being. How both bring us to a place of the most true, the place where God’s dream for his intensely enduring creation is unfolding.   Brueggemann, first writing this in the 1970’s, connected the spiritual understanding of the women around him to ways of knowing grief and amazement with especial clarity. He dedicates the book to the women around him. Think about that for a minute. What is it about one’s experience, and about women’s experience, historically relegated to the house, to the ordinary, to the children, to the lower, to the hidden, to the earth, that can speak of grief and of amazement?  What is it about the ordinary life with others and life with our very real selves,  that could bring a new, or re-newed, imagining of God’s good creation? What and where, in our daily experiences, rooted experiences, of grief and of amazement, is God’s prophetic voice in our world right now?

Is there something about holding grief and amazement together with our lived-in hands that could lead to “the thing itself, utterly irresistible, the way to the world’s end, the land of longing, the breaking and blessing of hearts”?

 

 

In your rooted life of home and commutes and maybe children and maybe work and taxes and endless news cycles and awkward conversations and crises, big and small, joys, big and small, where is the grief calling you to pay attention?  And in all of that, where is amazement calling you, thrilling you, to remember the promises of woven into your heart?  How does God speak through the grief of your daily life? How does God speak through the amazement of it all?

How does God both break and bless your heart? In your real life.

 

For how you answer that, will be your blueprint for following the movement of the Spirit. How you answer that will be how you follow God, who reveals himself, blooms himself, and calls to you in the very earth of your life. Your life which is his. His good creation – growing new every season, over and over.

 

I am listening to the grief. The grief that honestly seems so bottomless right now. I have to dose it out. It just hurts a lot and words are pretty inadequate for this. And maybe one day I will be able to plum some of what this grief is growing in the dark – for you and for me. But for now, it is enough to notice it all and to also be acutely aware that this grief is in every way tied to the amazement. That the rupture in the land and the bridge I eventually find, and have always found, across it are not experienced without the other. And God is inextricably within both.

So I am listening to the amazement too. And this amazement is exactly found within the homeliness of my life – in food, in a text, in my husbands grace to me. In my kids being their whole hearted, very loud selves. In fruit in my fridge. In a house to which I can hold the door open.

 

I am watching the landscape now as I write this–sky like prayer, mountains cut out in purples and blues against the sky, trees tireless in their reach.   I see the way to the breaking and blessing. And then I see the small flowers, growing in their fragile and subtle season, bringing joy to my dirty kids who are strung out from their life of learning to live with a very important death on top of learning to share, take turns, curb the sass and wash their hands just so much.

And I see the way to the breaking and the blessing—a world I could maybe one day inhabit or maybe I already am – if I just look around for a bit.

 

Oh Jesus, the way you come, incarnated in the stuff of our real lives—it breaks and blesses without end.

 

Prophets, its time. Its always time.

 

On spending time with Brueggemann, with Irenaeus, with Isaiah, with every honest woman I know, and my facebook newsfeeds, a month after my momma dies….

Its intense and its good. Not a time to be afraid of.  Clear eyes.  (Full hearts, Can’t Lose! …..sorry can’t help it.)

 

 

Prophets. They call us back. They, these people with words–strong words, call us back – to that great axis of existence. To the steep and Godward heights and depths and also to the broad movement, a slow line drawn across the earth (Irenaeus) They call us back from apostasy and injustice, towards reconciliation with God and reconciliation with each other.  They call us back to loving God and loving our neighbor – who is our neighbor? – It is everyone who needs love– the real life tears-and-laughter, help-and-welcome, kind – not the sequined pillow kind.  In case you missed it, our neighbour is each one of us, no matter how different we are from each other.

 

We need the voices. We need our prophets and our preachers to call us to imagine that more real world. We need prophets and preachers to tap into the dream of God. We need prophets and preachers to inspire the weavers—the weavers of the fabric of God’s cloak that is This World. To call us out of the violence we accept and to call us out of the satiety and numbness we succumb to. Both, both, both negate our humanity – negate our createdness. They actively fray the heart, your heart, my heart, that God made so delicately, so intentionally. They actively dis-integrate your heart, my heart. They actively bring death to what was created alive. – Do not fray and denigrate and slowly kill your heart so lovingly made with thousands, millions, BILLIONS of years of God’s presence woven into its beautiful creation by either actively or passively negating life. Do not negate God’s incarnated presence – in yourself, in others, through violence or indifference. Both violence and numbness are determined by what we long to grasp for ourselves, they are the broken ways we try to protect our heart forgetting that there is nothing about having a heart to protect – these hearts belong to God and they belong to this world, that is to each other – There is nothing grasping in Jesus and nothing protectionist and everything that opens hands, ready to embrace, ready to hold that heart with ten thousand years of growing and beholding love within that reach.

 

Hear the voices calling you back to that axis with their grief. They are the echoes and reverberations of all the prophets calling us to see the destruction, the ripping grief that is coming and that is now here. Hear the voices calling you ahead, calling you to look up with their amazement, to see the astonishing beauty of living here now. They are echoes and reverberations of the promises that were woven into our own hearts since the dawn of time.   Listen to the grief and listen to the amazement (Bruggemann).

 

He is always on the side of his creation – all of it. In such times as these, which is all times, every time humans have existed in their brokenness and in their dear hope, these are the times we pay attention to the grief and to the amazement.   And in these times,  something like a door opens up before us to that dream, to that more real world that is actually this one,  to that weavers workshop with all the color you could imagine spreading out before you.  Open it and walk in, dear friends.  It what we were made to do.

 

 

 

A Really Good Story

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So I’ve been thinking about posting my mom’s eulogy on my blog for a couple weeks  now. I can’t believe its been three weeks already since the memorial.

Because it is a story that means everything to me I want people to read it.  And because it is a story that means everything to me I don’t want it to just hang out on the internet, just waiting and exposed, then forgotten.  So I am posting the eulogy for about a month and then I will take it down.  It is a precious and tender story that I want you to know.

I want you to read it because I want you to know my mom in the way that she knew herself.  I want you to know what made her tick.

I want you to read it because I want you to see your own story within it.

I want you to read it and I want you to know LOVE.   I want you to know that you are seen and you are not alone – whatever and wherever and whoever you find yourself to be.

I want you to read it because I want to remember my mom.  Because its so surreal that this has happened and that she is not here and that she will only be thought of from time to time by all of us going forward.  I want her life to linger in the way that good stories linger and in the way that good stories can become a voice in our heads, speaking up when they have something to say. Speaking up when we need it most. Speaking up when we are least expecting.  Speaking because she was and is a life that spoke.

Read it with a glass of wine and a prayer.  Thank you everyone near and far for all your words of love and peace to us……….Big slow sigh.

_____________________________

Wendy’s Story

So I’m here to tell you the story of Wendy, the story of your friend, your sister, your grandma, your heart and wife, our momma. We are going to tell the story of this woman who was kind to you, who made you laugh, and who probably exasperated you and who challenged you with her very clear and discerning eyes. She also probably encouraged you without condition, who, if you were honest with yourself to her, probably pointed you to Jesus in a real and life-changing way and who, if you were lucky, made you dance uncomfortably in her living room with the music turned way too loud. It would take every one of us telling the story of Wendy that we knew to each other to get the fullest picture of her. We could be here all day, it was a really good story and its Author is a really good storyteller. But we also want to have a chance to talk and laugh and remember mom together with food so Dad told me I couldn’t talk for too long.   I’ve whittled it down to 40 minutes…..

 

So the story of mom starts when she was little.

She was a curly headed girl, quiet and intense and watching in a time and place that was not always kind to her. One night, when she was very little, she dreamt about a dark black bear in her room, in the shadows at the end of her bed, trying to devour her. The next morning, she was scared and alone. She went into the fields and found a tree, a chestnut tree and she sat there. And there, There, my friends, is where He first came to her. God announced his presence to her like he does with us all, as that sense that we are not alone, that sense that we are known, in that sense where we know we are seen. She told me often of that time in the tree. Because of all that her life threw at her, all the half-truths and brokenness that she lived through, (that we all do) this moment was the moment she knew to be the ground of her life. In her little kid fear and terror, this Love made itself known to her – with no agenda other than to bring her close, to bring her to His own self, and to show her love. If there is anything you need to know about mom it is this story – everything she was and did was grounded in this experience of love, a love that came and found her in the chestnut tree.

She grew up in the Comox valley, mostly in Courtney, in a small house on the edge of town. G and E Peterson had 5 kids, P, her older sister, mom, the second girl, J and then D, her troublemaking brothers and her youngest brother B who was lost too soon. She didn’t talk a lot about her growing up years—we heard a few stories about her brothers chasing her with snakes and how she went to school with Kim Catrell and about accordion lessons, but we knew there were probably both struggles and laughter. But she loved camp and one day at camp, she found that the Jesus they were talking about WAS THE SAME love that wrapped her up in its arms that night in the tree. And she also found that she could sing.

Mom moved to Alberta when she was 19 where she found herself living with her newlywed sister, in an apartment just off Elbow Drive where at the same time, a young R found himself also living with his newlywed best buddy in that same apartment. These two kids, dad slept in the living room and mom slept on the kitchen floor…..Mom was pretty open with how much Dad annoyed her when they first met – and He just got a kick out of her and thought she was cute. And, they found themselves wanting to be with each other so much that they started dating in February 1975 and were married the following August. She loved his cool, bass playing self. She loved his quietness and strength. He loved her fire and her strength. He loved her uncontainable self.

My parents marriage would be, from both points of view, the defining relationship in both their lives. It was where everything about who God made them to be and how God brings people into unity was practiced and lived out – with very real struggle and with very real and immense grace. Anyone who spent anytime with them knew they adored each other and this came out of 40 years of choosing each other and welcoming each other. They were curious about each other and each other’s points of views and were willing to learn to be wrong sometimes. And they just got better and better together. Four weeks ago, 41 years after their first days together in that small apartment, my parents had some pictures taken and the photographer asked them about how they met. They laughed and looked at each other and mom said something about how they were an odd couple. And dad, a few beats later, with a smile on his face, said, “mismatched” while mom looked at her hands with an inscrutable smile that held a lifetime of knowing in it and held a lifetime of loving and being loved better and better within it. Their love is more than a testament to God’s grace—it is exactly an icon of who and how God is in this world. It is a picture through which we see how God works and how we are only transformed into something that looks like the love of God through the real world of real relationships. And this is the gift of Rob and Wendy and it probably deserves 10,000 words about it but it is the gift that we got to witness from the front row.

These two crazy kids had two kids of their own and settled in the up and coming new neighborhood of Midnapore, on the edge of Fish Creek. Mom loved Fish Creek and they didn’t live more than a two minute walk from it their whole married life. Mom needed to be in Fish Creek a lot – and I think it was because it was big enough to hold all of who she was.

Chris and I were loved children. Raised with humor and openness and the occasional spanking and mouth washing with soap. We were allowed to talk and explore.

Mom always said she wasn’t creative, she didn’t like to sew or do anything crafty, but she most definitely was a creative parent. Mom was a creative discipliner – once when Chris and I were fighting she decided to tie us together with socks until we learned to work it out. Once when she was tired of us leaving our stuff around after being continually told to put it away, she gathered it all up into a garbage bag and “threw it out..” (she didn’t really but hid it in the basement). I remember once she discovered that I had just swept the dirt from the kitchen under the hall rug instead of putting it in the garbage and she made up a long song, sung in her best opera-ish voice about how I should “be sure my sins would find me out.”

She was also creative in the first aid department. I remember choking on my food one day and she quickly rushed in to do her version of the Heimlich manouvre which was to grab my ankles, hold my up above her head, shaking me up and down until I threw up…. That was mom…not really known for her small or calm reactions….

She prayed for us and sat outside our schools for untold days praying for us and our friends. She dreamed about us from the time we were little up until last week, especially Chris, and she was always calling him with a dream she had about him. And I think it was her way of telling him he was seen and known by her and by God.

I know mom struggled a lot during our little years with fear and depression and loneliness. She lived what a lot of women live out in silence—the exhaustion and depression and anxiety that comes from constantly caregiving but with something gnawing in her gut for the next thing. It’s a testament to her and her praying self and that Love that would not leave her that even while going through all this, we were happy and normal and thriving kids.

When we were little my parents stumbled onto this tiny church that met in an equally tiny blue house in Bridgeland, The Garden. There they found a home where both of them would be affirmed in their gifts and where both my parents would find lifelong friends – friends that are still constantly around and haven’t let more than a few hours go by without contacting mom and dad in these last few weeks. This church affirmed my mom’s gift for leading worship. Together, my parents would lead this church from the front, and I got to see what church leadership looked like in the right and equal way of Jesus. She wasn’t just allowed to sing but was encouraged to lead and she did it so well. It was this time at The Garden, where mom led from her heart and sang about that Love that met Her with confidence that laid the foundation for my own conviction and the conviction of my daughters that Jesus has indeed created us exactly as we are to participate in Him and speak and sing of Him with all the songs we might have. The Garden was good and fruitful, in that season, for mom.

As we grew up, so mom grew too. She started going to school. She completed all ten grades of the Royal Conservatory of Speech Arts. Her voice was mesmerizing and she powerfully learned how to use it. She took so many courses – Dad jokes that she could have a master’s degree by now with all she undertook to learn – art classes, writing courses, English courses, Religious Studies courses, Conflict Resolution and Small Business and Entrepreneurship Certificates. She settled in Early Childhood Education and got her diploma at Mount Royal. She became one of the best preschool teachers around, working and teaching at Lakeside, at Bright Beginnings, At Master’s Academy, at the YMCA, at Mount Royal College and lastly at Learning Experiences. We were proud of who she was in the community. She had such a passion for teaching kids about their social selves and their emotional selves and for teaching parents what it means to shepherd them through their crucial early years. I run into people all the time who knew mom as their kids’ teacher and everyone of them is grateful to her for how she was with their little people. Even the outpouring of love from mom’s colleagues in those last couple of weeks, with food and kind words showed us the impact she had because of her gracious presence with those kids. And even I, as a mom to little people, know how extremely lucky we were to have her voice in our lives – Reading to them with her beautiful voice, loving and praying for them to know God even as they come to know themselves in this world. If there is one thing I don’t’ want, its that I don’t want to parent my girls without her. She is the person I could call and she could remind me of their goodness. She could call me back out of my own confusion and exhaustion and frustration and call me back to loving them for their own God-given beauty. And I see so much of her in them – their uncompromising devotion to a loud and passionate life.

The thing with mom is that she was deadly smart and loved to read and loved to learn. And when you start reading, you usually start growing. Without a doubt I know that God led mom and dad both to come across some books that echoed their own hard questions and helped to change their lives. And this in turn gave my brother and I the greatest gift of our adult lives – the ability to ask questions, hold tensions, live into gray areas. They asked hard questions about their faith and they held tensions of belief and doubt, the tensions of belonging to a group and also being able to challenge some of the things that did not make sense to them any longer, some of the things that didn’t make sense within that love that kept meeting her. And it was hard and a lonely time for mom. Maybe we could call it Mom’s Dark Night of the Soul, maybe we could call it God hiding her under the shadow of His wings. Maybe we could call it that mystery of transformation that happens underground, and the only recourse is to wait for God to meet us. Uncertainty, asking questions, finally acknowledging that we don’t always have the answers is a scary thing, but it is THE thing that finally enables us to let go and let something else in, someone else in to our hearts.

No matter what this time was, the result was this: That anything that did not belong to the love of God, to that love that brought her to Himself so long ago, was let go of. And then Mom, never one to let herself be tied down and defined, found that she belonged to something much more than she could ever imagine during this time and it was good and it was hard and it was grace.

In the last years, Mom did things she had always been afraid to do, especially with her very bad back that had plagued her for years. Her and dad went to Italy and she was terrified her back would act up or she would be stuck and in pain in a foreign country but it ended being a beautiful and life-giving time for both of them. Even last year, and this might sound small but it wasn’t to her, she got herself in a bathing suit, walked down a 100 foot cliff and went kayaking in the Okanagan with dad. She was so proud that she got in that little boat, that she lived instead of being afraid of getting hurt.

And then 5 years ago she finally decided to do it and called the FCJ Centre downtown and asked if they could recommend a spiritual director for her. She wanted to trust someone with herself and her not so ordinary life with God.

God brought her a soul friend, in C—— her spiritual director, and a community with the Living From the Heart course, that restored her in very real ways. We all would say this, that in the last 5 years of her life, her soul and her mind and her heart were transformed into something soft, life giving, trusting. Dad would say that she even threw less things at him when he was being stubborn….real transformation. And she would say and did say that this transformation happened because of love. She would say that finally she found that she was not defined by fear, was not changed by her own willpower, or by saying the right words over and over. She could finally articulate that she was not saved by having the right answers and forcefully standing behind them but by stopping, by letting down her defenses, and by being loved. And that was what this community showed her in very real ways, holding her words, her experiences, her heart with love.

5 years ago, mom wrote this in a journal that we found a few days ago:

“I exist to bring the beautiful, loving energy God into this world…I can’t fix myself or this broken world—yet I can say YES to God’s voice and loving energy in my life moment by moment. I am no better and no worse than anyone else. My life experiences have taught me and are still teaching me that grace and mercy are ALIVE and PRESENT in this life. That love does truly cover and redeem a multitude of sins – that all of this healing is God’s gift to us – to my world, to what He has created. I say YES to this gift and also thank you.“

And we can attest that she lived truly did live into this transformation and her spirit blossomed in beautiful ways. She smiled so easily these last few years.

In the fall of 2015, mom and dad were planning a trip to France for the spring. They were thinking about retirement. They had just celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and both their 60th birthdays. Mom was struggling with her back, it was acting up on her again.

And then December came and through a series of normal tests to find out why a lingering cold would not go away, we got the news. We found out on December 13 that mom had lung cancer. That night, her friends of 35 years gathered in a house in Midnapore and prayed for them. And then on December 24, we found out that it was the worst news we could get – it was terminal, it was extensive, there was no treatment they would recommend that would have any effect.

Because we had known of the cancer and mom had to be careful not to get a cold, and because my beautiful children are walking virus factories, we weren’t going to have a Christmas celebration, at least not until we were all feeling better. But then we heard this news. We all wept and sat stunned. And then we woke up the next morning, my brother and his girlfriend came back from Edmonton and we pulled together a beautiful last minute Christmas feast of frozen soups, frozen veggies, potatoes, frozen spring rolls and phyllo pastry appetizers. We drank wine. We were together–despite the inevitable colds, despite the inevitable everything, we were together. And it was our very best Christmas, our very best celebration of that time when God came very, inconceivably near.

And mom began walking down the road towards this door and we all tried to keep pace as best we knew how. She was honest with how she felt – scared but at the same time , strangely prepared – like all the reconciliation and all the redemption of her past was coming into a fruition with this. And at every point on this road, every single point, there was no moment where she was not aware of that love, His love.

When she was in the hospital around Easter, a dementia patient wandered into mom’s room in the middle of the night. And mom woke to voices yelling in the hall and this person looming over her in the dim light and mom panicked. She was drugged, she could barely breathe and was tied up in so many tubes, fumbling for the nurse call button. And God pressed into her. In that moment, she heard His voice. Tangible, knowable, there. “I am with you” she knew in her bones. “You are not alone” she knew in her racing chest. “Don’t be afraid,” He said to her mind, to her body, to her deep soul. “You are always mine.”

Before she even knew to lift her head, she was already surrounded. Before she could think to say the words, she was already held. All the questions and hurt and joy and exhaustion of a life lived were heard, were covered, and were brought in close to the beating heart of that LOVE she couldn’t seem to shake.

Mom felt fear but, as she told her friend R and I one afternoon, she also knew that the fear took up room that LOVE wanted to be filling within her. And so she kept going and kept talking about God’s unimaginable love for her. And for us.

A week before mom passed away, she took a dramatic turn. We knew it was different this time. Her pain and the physiological anxiety that comes from not being able to breathe was suddenly unmanageable. The doctors prescribed heavy drugs that made her sleep a lot. But she at least could sleep without pain and without panic. They told us it was time to pack for hospice. And so we started to sit with her. For hours, Dad, my brother, me, her spiritual director, her dearest friends, the girls, would come to be with her. To hold her hand. I never ever want to forget what her soft arm felt like. On Saturday, June 18, we had been planning to have one last family dinner at mom and dad’s house, before she went to the hospice. I was out shopping for it when I got a text from dad to come right away. We went and found dad sitting with mom who had been unresponsive for a few hours. He sat there looking at her, wiping her eyes and her lips with tissue. Her breathing was intensely labored and the nurse came, did some response tests and confirmed that she had indeed slipped into a coma. We sat with her, J and my husband and the girls came and talked to her. Her spiritual director came and told her that falling into love was hard work. Her brother and his family came and kissed her. Everyone talked with her for awhile, taking turns at the head of the bed, holding her hands, feeling her skin, holding her in loving vigil.

We were all there, in the room, when at about 7 pm she sat up suddenly. Her eyes flew open and with struggling words she said she wasn’t ready to go yet. That she had stuff to say. And she said this, “You are my everything.” And “I love you guys.” And we all got to tell her we loved her, to her open eyes. And my daughters gave her pictures they drew and spread them out on her legs. Everyone got to say their words to her, got to tell her she was so beautiful, she was so loved, she did this life so good. We got to pray and have communion together. Eventually, most everybody went home and my brother and I stayed the night.

She died early the next morning, just slipped away, surrounded by her adored husband and lucky, lucky son and daughter—our family, the one thing she was ok with being beholden to. And we felt loved. By her. By each other, by God, the Author and Finisher of all of this – He was there too with his big, big invitation, for us and for her, to let go and to let love come in.

It was the hardest day but probably the most beautiful of our lives. Because it was filled to the unimaginable measure of the fullness of who God is in this world. It was a day where we saw exactly what God does in this world.

Mom’s story, Wendy Anne’s story, closed as it began, written in love, held in love, drawn out to its fullest through love, being brought back to health and unity in love. And her story holds a place within that big story of the world, that story we find in Jesus if we look with eyes changed by love.

She continued in that journal post from 5 years ago:

“ I have been seen and known in all of my brokenness with all of my “stuff” and have been loved and cherished, not abandoned or punished.

I have been accepted, nurtured and lovingly guided through the stages of my life – I would like to give this “knowing” away to someone else now.”

And this, this story, is what she has given to us and given to you. The story of her life, lived, within the call of God’s love. All the brokenness, all the hurt, all the fear, all the missing of the mark that is abundant in every one of our lives and was in hers, was brought in, gathered up before this love that sees us, calls us, always holds us close. These are not empty words, even if we don’t understand the fullness of them yet but words to be lived into , as Wendy did. She lived into what that love called her to – a life of the hard work of letting go and knowing love with the author and finisher of her faith—a life where God was as much with her in the chestnut tree as in the young church, as in the questions and heartaches and fear, as in restoration and redemption, as in the valley of the shadow of death. He always came to her and He always found her.

Mom would say now “ well enough of that….doesn’t anyone just feel like dancing?” and she would be off turning up the music and being….well, ….Wendy. And we can remember her, knowing she’s off dancing, vividly with her LOVE. And probably asking him if he could do anything about the ridiculous gender bias in scriptural interpretations….

As you, and we, continue to remember mom and remember Wendy, just know that she was seen and so are we. She was not alone and neither are we. She was loved to her fullness and so are we.

She Who Has Ears To Hear

My mom passed away 19 days ago and I wanted to share my mom’s eulogy here.  It’s the story of Wendy, the story of her and God.  And it’s a good, good story.  And I wanted to share it today.

Oh Today, a day of pain and anger, after many days of pain and anger, filling my newsfeeds, justified anger, 100’s of years of anger and shame and sadness.  Maybe even a day where we clearly saw into the many millennia of hurt that we have done and still do to each other.    A day where, even if we are far removed from any of what has happened, we can not just keep going on with our good lives without something at the back of our minds saying – this is not good news…..where is the Good News….this, none of it, is it.  A day where we have to acknowledge our very real positions of privilege that we, each of us, have in reference to someone else.  A day of so, so many words and no one knows if they will help.

A day where it is good and right to celebrate the goodness of our ordinary lives and it is good and right to acknowledge our points of blindness as we go about our ordinary business.  A day where it is good and right to start change where change is needed.  And it is needed.  (I found this to be good to read. Read or better listen to these words and the response to them. )

We will never any of us do this perfectly.  The only thing we can do is listen, listen, listen to real, real, real people.  Over and over.

 

Listen to my momma.  The process of writing a mom’s story, for the reason of her memorial, is one that a daughter pays attention to.  And she speaks to me in all of it. Her life mapped out in real, alive detail.  Her life, where the love we all desperately want to advocate for today, is what she knew and what she leaves us.  And she came to know this love only through the real work of choosing face-to-face welcome, face-to-face compassion, face-to-face reconciliation and all that comes from letting go because she knew herself to be loved.    I am just continually struck by how hard a work love is, how hard making love, creating love, in this world is – hard because it will take everything out of us to choose to stand down and hear the other person right in front of us. It will lose us our life.  And then I am continually struck by how the fruit that comes from THAT PLACE of conciliation is the fruit of God’s good world – that is the good news I need to hear today.

As I wrote the above paragraph, getting ready to share this eulogy, my 4 year old daughter made friends with a sweet, bespectacled four year old boy  here at the play place we are at.  His hair is a different colour than hers; her skin is a different colour than his.  And they are running around playing tigers.  She has come up to me multiple times to tell me how much fun she is having with her friend.  He told me his name was Ahmed.  I passed by his mother’s table and just smiled and said how much fun my daughter was having with her son.  And she smiled and said she liked watching them.  And then she invited me to sit with her, her table was big.  And there was this strange longing that I think we both had.  A longing to know that the bewildering darkness of news websites and instagram comments was not the last word,  a longing to know that this real life connection we were choosing was indeed the truth of the world.  A longing to make a new friend.  And we just talked.  We spoke of raising kids, good husbands who worked long hours, grandparents – and I mentioned that my mom passed away two weeks ago.  And she looked at me and cried with me. And we talked about how to help kids through grief.  She talked about how she missed her mom so desperately sometimes on the other side of the world. We talked about how we felt lonely sometimes.  And she eventually got up to take her boys home for naps.  She hugged me – the hug of someone who has known you for a long time.  A fortifying hug.  A welcoming hug.  She told me that my mom’s prayers for my girls are still at work and would always be.  She told me she would pray for peace for me.  I told her that she was an answer to prayer today.  And I cried.  And so did she.

God always is at His work.  No matter the dark – dark is as light to him because he is always at work within it, always renewing, reconciling, bringing into unity.    And He does not change because of the dark.  I see this in mom and her life of growing into wholeness and I saw this in the way-too-loud play place.

And I have to see it in the chaos of my home of growing humans.  And I have to see it in the big, big waves roiling around my own heart.

And where I see it, where we see it, this always-upon-us work, we have to tell of it – as witnesses and participants in this good news.  And call upon the darkness to move aside, to be still,  in the way that only those who have been most buried can tell us needs to happen.  She who has ears to hear…..

I WILL write my mom’s eulogy here. Tomorrow.   It is something that I want everyone who knew her to read.  But today I will sit with this gift of God in a tiring, bewildering, heartbreaking day.

Hala, my new friend’s name is Hala and she was a messenger of peace and it was good.

 

 

 

 

 

Those Birds

Last year, the first spring we lived here, we noticed that a pair of black capped chickadees were nesting in the wooden beam across the front of our house. They would flit in and out through a knothole, busy with their little lives. One Sunday in June we noticed a flurry of activity and realized that the babies were leaving the nest. Little chickadees were everywhere, in and out of the big spruce out front. In a couple of days they all had disappeared, off on their little chickadee adventures, I suppose.

Earlier this year we noticed a couple chickadees were again flying in and out of the knothole. I was happy to know they were back.

 

We got home from church this past Sunday and my husband noticed a dead bird among the spruce tree roots, one of the chickadees.   We went inside to eat lunch, planning on doing something with it afterwards. After lunch, my husband saw something fall to the ground from above, a little baby chickadee. It couldn’t have been more than a few days old. Its eyes hadn’t really formed and it didn’t have all its feathers yet.   We tried to figure out what had happened – did it fall out by accident? Maybe we were wrong and  their nest was actually in the tree and the wind pushed them out? We could hear a lot of birds squawking in the tree above our heads but couldn’t see where they were.

Then we buried the two birds in the backyard. We chose a spot under a leafy bush, out of the way and dug down through some roots and rocks. We placed the birds in with a shovel atop of a bed of grass and leaves the girls gathered and covered them back up. The girls were quiet. My 4 year old put her hands to her chest and said, “Dear God, please let the birds come back to life someday….But not when they are under the ground.” Then she looked confused and I could see the wheels ticking away, that dark understanding coming over her. My older girl said she felt really sad and a few tears came as she leaned into me. It was hard – the little birds looked so helpless. We are so far removed from the lives of these creatures, to see one in its wholeness, in its whole creature-hood was something new. We saw how their feet curled, little tiny talons, like little pins. We saw how the feathers on their underbelly were different than the feathers on their tails. We saw the little baby bird’s skin under its wings, skin that shouldn’t be out in the open, it was red and tender and vulnerable and hard to look at.

I thanked God for their little short bird lives and the girls wandered away.

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We came around the front again and noticed movement under the bench that sits under the trees. We noticed, in an unexpected, fast turn, a little fluffy baby bird was attempting to hop around, sticking close to the bench legs.   It looked a little more developed than the earlier baby bird but still wasn’t bigger than than the circle my thumb and forefinger make. Its eyes weren’t fully formed, its beak a thin, pointy line that didn’t look like it should even be able to open. But eventually it started cheeping. And it continued to hop around blindly, attempting to use its wings, beating them against the dirt as its balanced wavered. It eventually hopped into a little thicket of dead spruce branches the girls had collected for a fairy house. My older one went and grabbed some long grass from the side of the house to place on top, shielding it from the wind.   She and I sat there a long time, in this new part of the story, wondering about the little baby, wondering at what happened. She really wanted to move the baby into the bushes but I wasn’t sure that would be a good idea.

Suddenly, the mother bird was there and started to try to feed the chick. The baby was blind so she had to get right in front of it with her grub and nudge it a bit to open up. Within a foot of us, she came to feed her baby.  I was filled with relief–the mom was here.  She would know what to do.

 

And something of the holy flooded that moment watching this momma bird being incredibly brave, flying so close to me and my girl, to take care of her baby.   She had known the whole time where the baby was, she didn’t miss a tragic beat, she was on it. That baby wasn’t alone.

We sat with this scene a long time, watching the mom flit down with seeds and little bugs to give her baby.

 

Then….we noticed the other birds.

Another pair of birds was hanging around the tree. They looked like chickadees but a bit bigger with brown caps (I think Boreal chickadees if my internet search is correct). They started flying up to the beam and into the knothole and the momma chickadee would try to fly after them but always deke away before entering into the beam. And then, as my girl and I watched, a flurry of feathers pressed against the hole, then skin and little legs and in a quick, sickening moment, we saw the bigger bird shove another little baby out of the knothole.

It fell with a quick, light thud. I don’t even know if I heard the thud but we felt it. It lay motionless on its side, beak slightly open for a good few minutes. My heart sank as I realized that all the birds had been pushed out, killed and displaced by the bigger birds. The bigger chickadee we found first must have been the daddy bird, killed trying to protect the nest and then the babies were tossed out one by one. My girl said, very quietly,…”It’s a bird war…..why would they kill the babies though?” Her little heart saying what humans who have been loved should always say—why would they hurt the babies? My husband muttered, “It’s not that different from humans…” and I felt like weeping. Over the baby who died, over the helpless birds on the ground, over the confused but determined momma just trying to feed them, over the disposability of these lives. Over how close this hits to our human experience…..and I cried over just so much.

 

The third dashed baby bird eventually teetered onto it feet and tried to move around a bit.   It hopped towards the other bird. The momma came and tried to feed it too. Then she spent the next hour coming back and forth between her stashes of grubs and her two babies – feeding them, doing all that she knew to do for them.

 

As it got dark, we realized that the birds couldn’t stay out in the open. The wind had gotten very cold and very rough. It was going to start raining.   So I looked around for something to put the babies inside – something where the momma could still find them and get to them but where they might be a bit safer. Brad drilled a hole through the top of an old beside table. We placed it on its side on the ground and put the babies inside of it. It was open to the ground and open to the top. We filled it with grass and twigs and pinecones and tried to make it nest-like.  I put on latex gloves and carried their weightless bodies into the shelter.  These tiny balls of tiny feathers just sat there, trembling and bobbing with each rapid breath they had to take.   We covered the top with boards and a tangle of spruce branches but left a couple spaces so the mom could either squeeze through or at least hear them and maybe figure out the hole in the side.

Then we prayed for them and went to bed.

 

The next morning I got up early and was thrilled to see the momma bird sitting on top of the little bird box as soon as I opened the curtain. She was going in and out through a space in the top and the hole in the side.   The other two bigger birds were there too – flying in and out of their new nest. If I didn’t know how it transpired, I would be thrilled to have a nest being used in my front yard, but now I can’t really look at those birds with anything other than a bit of fear and anger, which is strange to say of chickadees, I know…..

 

The little baby birds didn’t make it through the night. When we got into the car for school we checked and two little birds lay amongst our attempt at a nest. Their feathers weren’t fluffed up, they were flat against their bodies, which had deflated and were almost flat against the ground. They really were so small. My four year old cried and said, “but their little feet were so beautiful!” And they were; little blue-purple feet, delicate and curled. You don’t get a chance to see chickadee feet up close very often. I guess it was just too cold and they were too little and the fall was too traumatic.   But holy smokes my heart was sad.   Like plummeting sad.   And then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t – there was a part in me where I knew that this wasn’t my world, my driving, texting, cooking, cleaning human world, that these birds belonged to. There’s a part that distances myself quickly, that says, This is nature, this happens all the time.

 

But then there is a part of me that lives in their world. When the 7 year old and I were sitting on the bench watching the momma feeding her birds, of course my mind went to that verse, “See the birds, they do not store or house food but your heavenly father feeds them.” My father, their father. We live on this same world. Do not worry, you are seen where you are. You are provided for. Providence.

 

If I put our very human injustice instinct and all the questions that brought up for the girls aside, what was providential to me about this was how a week ago I prayed with friends for ways to start talking about dying with the girls. I prayed I would know what to say and how to say it and when to start saying it. I prayed for their little hearts to understand and have some sort of context for what is happening to their family. And then this happened.  Four little birds died before our eyes.   And then we had many, many little conversations about death. About how our bodies and our life are connected. About how bodies contain our life and when they can’t work anymore, we die. The bodies stay behind but the life goes out from them when the bodies can’t house it anymore and how this is just all part of what it means to be alive. We talked about how everything dies – trees, birds, humans, stars. The 4 year old brought up the stars – she really likes space stuff and told me all about how when a star dies its life turns into a black hole. Which has always struck me as terrifying, but for her, she just finds it so cool.  We talked about why we are so happy to live and what is good about being alive. We talked about how we would feel if we lost someone like the mommy bird lost her family – but only a little bit for now.    It was ok to talk about death in a way that reverenced it, in a way the girls connected to, seeing those little birds and being little, created birds themselves. But it was distanced from them too, in a good way for now. They shed a few tears but mostly kept moving.   We opened up the little grave and buried the other two birds in it. We packed down the earth and put stones around it. I found it telling how instinctual it was for the girls to want to stand there and be quiet for a few minutes.

 

Nothing is going to mitigate this for us, for them. But there is a bit more ground to stand on for them, some context for them to understand with. And we won’t and can’t be afraid to talk about the end of life – it does these babies no service. We will be smart about when we connect it to their real lives but this past weekend showed me that I don’t have to figure it all out myself.  I maybe only have to pay attention to the details.

 

 

 

 

Sitting With Mom

I haven’t written a lot about this time in my family, this time with my mom. I think probably because it is a feat in itself to live through this.

I am also hesitant because I am keenly aware that it is not only my story. It is my brother’s story and it is my grandparent’s, aunts’ and uncles’ story. Mostly it is my dad’s story and my mom’s story. And for everything that I am feeling, I know that I don’t have a clue what this must be like for them, for them to wake up every day knowing that this is their last chapter together.

I am conscious of how this is not only my story to tell.

I am also aware that for everything I am walking through, so many people have had this happen to them. And I don’t want to say anything that might hurt or alienate someone who has had a different experience. I am conscious that the act of recording everything could, if done badly, cheapen the reality of this kind of loss.

 

But for all that, I still feel the urge to write it out, for myself and for others. Because for all of what this season is for us, it is bigger than us too. In the midst of the sadness and exhaustion, there seems to be this voice rising up and an arm pointing out past the crowd, like John the Baptist, pointing to what we all desperately want to look for.

“See? There. Look at Him over there. Just look. What’s he doing? What is he going to do? “

Mom is hearing that voice. Even in the clamor and confusion, she keeps pointing up and out past herself – in every conversation we have, she always adds, “But God was there.” “ But I knew the presence of God here.” “But He spoke to me.” “But Jesus calmed me down.” And if for no other reason than to be that arm pointing to that hope, even when I don’t feel it, I still have write it out.

 

For anyone who might not know, mom has terminal lung cancer—that small percentage of totally random lung cancer not caused by anything environmental. It was discovered at stage 4 and chemo was an iffy proposition from the start, even from the oncologist. They told her she could do it and it might give her a few more quality weeks. Or it might not. It was up to her.

That is neither here nor there anymore as her body has since developed a blood clot in her good lung, greatly diminishing her capability to breathe and function, let alone recover from chemo.

So this is where we are at – all of us. Watching this 61 year old, spicy as hell woman, shrink before our eyes, sitting in one spot for hours a day, sometimes able to smile and talk and laugh and sometimes struggling to breathe. A palliative nurse comes most days. Mom is surrounded by 80 feet of orange and clear plastic tubing, connecting her to oxygen 24 hours a day. We are getting used to not tripping on it as she moves around the house. We all call or visit her everyday and ask how she is. I know she feels pressure to say, “I’m doing alright, I’m doing better, its all ok.” And I know that we desperately would love for those words to be the truth of the situation. But we call her everyday, knowing that each day is one day closer to “that door,” knowing that she feels awful – more awful than we can imagine – and we call, inwardly hoping, and mostly not knowing what else to do or say.  We call and visit and sit with her because that is what there is to do.

 

Its been 4 months since we heard the news on Christmas Eve. All the emotions have crowded at the door and then moved on in. Fear. Anger. Sadness. Exhaustion. Grief.   Confusion. They surface and then submerge at different times on different days. I find I can be fine, even happy and engaged in one setting, and then a complete zombie an hour later. I just can’t balance all the things I have to do right now. I’ve heard grief is like this. I’ve heard that it’s ok to crumple. But it feels scary and panicky. I feel like I can’t let go because then I won’t have anything to hold on to. And I feel like stakes are high. I have this shrieky voice in my head that says, If I let go, what will happen to the girls. Who will feed them? Who will make sure there is enough toilet paper in the house? Who will make life normal, life good, how will life be life if I fall apart?

It’s mom. I mean, its MOM! She has driven me completely bonkers. She has made me so angry and incredulous. She has loved me without condition. She has said the most perfect thing imaginable when I was so incredibly sad and confused.

Mom, my tiny brunette mom, is the connection I have to this world – she is why I am here, like a lifeline to the earth, she is the connection through which I am rooted in this time and this place. She is the person who cares about my kids as much as I do and gets the way I worry about them. She is that safe person who sees them in their honest awfulness and their deep beauty and desperately wants the best of love for them in this world too. One day, while away leading a retreat, it hit me that I don’t want to do this, parent, without her. I’m not sure I can. I don’t want to maneuver my way through the world with these two girls without mom’s voice to calm me, to help me, to remind me why they are amazing. And I collapsed in the woods from the impact of knowing that day is coming.

Every time I talk to her I can’t help myself from thinking, “How much longer will I have this?” When we called her on my daughter’s 7th birthday and she sang happy birthday to her over the phone, I had to leave the room – her gentle voice whispering through the phone connecting with her grandbaby – I couldn’t help but know this was the last time this would happen for E.

Day after day, the realization of the hole that is coming, that is even now being hollowed out in my heart, hits me in new ways. And yet we still have to do life, we still have to keep going. That is the crazy bit of death. That life surrounds it still, infusing it with meaning only because we have to somehow figure out how this death is a part of our life.

 

We are doing it though. We are being WITH each other. It is a great gift just to BE with mom. We have spent some nice hours together. We have meandering conversations about the best way to fill hot water bottles, then moving into her end of life directives and where she wants to die. Then onto what colors look best with her skin color and then we talk about the songs she wants at her funeral and then, very importantly, if there are new Father Brown episodes on Netflix.

The hard stuff has to be amongst the just-plain life stuff. That is the gift of BE-ing, the gift of BE-ing WITH each other. That we can sit with all we have to sit with and let this knowledge of her death nestle amongst the other gifts of life too. We don’t have to deal with death as we deal with tax season—it is not something you can just get done. Its not something you can really do anything about to make it go away, to make it go away sooner. We can, though, let it make a home among the menu planning and writing birthday cards and hugs and watching Father Brown and let it all be.

 

There is no way through this other than THROUGH this. Remember that bear hunt book when you were a kid… “We can’t go over it, We can’t go under it. Oh No! We’ll have to go through it.” **

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Through THIS.   And maybe the gift of doing this with little kids in the mix, for me, is that I can’t escape it. I can’t run away on the weekends, I can’t live a different life. I have to stay here and go through this. I have to wake up and call mom and hug the girls and make lunches and break up fights and clean the sink and go on field trips and learn how to change the oxygen tanks and be alive and aware during the pain of it all. And I’m not sure if I am doing it well. I am missing details and I am tired and I keep forgetting to call someone I keep saying I’ll call. I forgot to sign the girls up for soccer in time. I have 17 junk drawers…. I watched a season of The Good Wife in 4 days…..        I am living through what to do when all of it does overwhelm me, when the girls are screaming in the car, in traffic, in 30 degree heat and I suddenly have a panic attack or when I accidentally kill a bumblebee I’m trying to help escape the house and I can’t stop crying about it. I am noticing what I need to do when it is too much – sleep, look out the window, be alone, be with people, read, write, ask for help.

 

And I am seeing gifts too, gifts like how community forms and grows in unexpected places, and how a meal given in a bag in the schoolyard grounds me and helps me breathe more than any mindfulness exercise. Or how the kids are so excited about the pink trees everywhere on the way to school. Or how many amazing authors there are in the world and I just need to read them all. Or how mom and I just get a free pass to spend a lot of time just sitting together. The gifts of this time are shimmery and bodily and they wait for me. They wait for her. It’s a grace.

 

Mom keeps talking about God. In the valley of the shadow of death, she is not alone. If there is one true fact of this time, it’s that she is not alone. He is palpable to her. When she was in the hospital around Easter, and she was closer to death than we knew, a dementia patient wandered into mom’s room in the middle of the night. And mom woke to voices yelling in the hall and this person looming over her in the dim light and mom panicked. She was exhausted, coming out of a drugged sleep, she could barely breathe and was tied up in so many tubes. She didn’t know what was going on and was fumbling for the nurse call button. And God pressed into her. In that moment, she heard His voice.   Tangible, knowable, there. “I am with you” she knew in her bones. “You are not alone” she knew in her racing chest. “Don’t be afraid,” He said to her mind, to her body, to her deep soul. “You are always mine.”

Before she even knows to lift her head, she is surrounded. Before she can think to say the words, she is held. All the questions and hurt and joy and exhaustion of a life lived are heard, are covered, and are brought in close to the beating heart of the love she can’t seem to shake. To the beating heart of a God who will always be her beginning, who will always initiate, who will always draw the best out of her with love, who will always call to her, inviting her to join him for an evening walk.

“See! Look at Him over there. Just look. What’s he doing? What is he going to do? “

He is taking away the brokenness of the world. He is putting things back together. He is sewing up what was torn apart. In ways that only great love and great suffering can do, he is present to the bringing back of ourselves, bringing us back to his heart, by bringing us back to each other. I can see his living heart of love for his creation, for even my little mom, gathering her up into a love that brings peace, like a mom gathers her tired child into her arms.

These are the gifts of this time and maybe they will be enough.   Enough to keep me looking out for them. Enough to keep getting up and keep calling mom and keep loving my incredibly gracious husband and keep hugging those loud, just so loud, girls.  They are enough to keep me walking through it, keep me sitting with it.   They are enough to keep my head above water, anyways.

 

 

 

**(I was reminded of this book when our church did a sermon series during Lent , “ The Parable of the Tanking Economy”– the whole series, Worry, Fear, Loss, Lament , was good so if you ever get a chance….)

 

 

 

John Calvin on Hospitality, Dignity and the Power of Recognition

“Therefore, whatever man you meet who needs your aid, you have no reason to refuse to help him. Say, “He is a stranger,” but the Lord has given him a mark that ought to be familiar to you, by virtue of the fact that he forbids you to despise your own flesh (Isa. 58:7). You say, “He is contemptible and worthless;” but the Lord shows him to be one to whom he has deigned to give the beauty of his image. Say that you are nothing for any service of his; but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits with which God has bound to you to himself. Say that he does not deserve even your least effort for his sake; but the image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions.   (from Institutes 3.7.6)

 

“We should not regard what a man is and what he deserves but we should go higher—that it is God who has placed us in the world for such a purpose that we be united and joined together. He has impressed his image in us and has given us a common nature, which should incite us to providing for one another. The man who wishes to exempt himself from providing for his neighbors should deface himself and declare that he no longer wishes to be a man for as long as we are human creatures we must contemplate as in a mirror our face in those who are poor, despised, exhausted, who groan under their burdens….if there come some Moor or barbarian, since he is a man, he brings a mirror in which we are able to contemplate that he is our brother and our neighbor: for we cannot abolish the order of nature which God has established as inviolable.”   (from Corpus Reformatorium)

(Both of these quotes were found in Christine Pohl’s Making Room: Recovery Hospitality as a Christian Tradition)

 

Woven Welcome

Look at Jesus. Hospitality is woven into the incarnation of God in this world. Jesus of Nazareth both needed hospitality and gave it freely. He both needed welcome and provision and space and gave welcome and provision and space. In his lifetime he was a homeless infant, he was a refugee child, he did not have any place to lay his head as an adult. He relied on others for his food, for a place to sleep.   And then he died as a reviled criminal did. But he also gave welcome—he provided for the hungry masses, he welcomed the children, he welcomed the women to the meals, he touched and was deeply touched by compassion for the sick and lonely.   In his very self, in God’s very self is a deep resonant call to remember ourselves as deeply vulnerable and needy creations – all of us – and then a deep and resonant call to treat others accordingly. The fact that the deep hospitality is woven into the very person of Christ should be enough that we wrestle with this concept and its real world implications for the rest of our life. This is the deep hospitality, the deep welcome, of creation and it is the deep hospitality, the deep welcome, of The Church – The Witness to the work of reconciliation. The witness to God’s welcome. The witness to how God chooses life, over and over and over. We are the church, the body that witnesses how God chooses life that welcomes over and over and over, even right there within us.

 

 

The Table

 – – I have been obsessively thinking about hospitality lately, which is part of the reason why I chose to focus on it for our women’s retreat.  It started when a whole bunch of families started to bring me food to help with the crazy hardness of mom’s illness — my good friends but also almost complete strangers.  It completely blew me away at how these people made room for us, using their family’s time and their family’s money to help steady us in this slippery time.  It got me thinking and praying about how deep hospitality actually goes.  And I’ve been challenged by it.  So challenged by what it means to actually make room for others, especially other’s not at all like me, in my own heart.   So here are some thoughts on that.  I might be posting a few random things about hospitality as well.  The essay starts with a long scripture passage, I know its not chippy enough to be a quick read.  But its important to why this has grabbed my own heart so much.–

 

“In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good.  In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it.  No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.  So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat,  for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk.  Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup.  For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.  But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment.  Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world.

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together. Anyone who is hungry should eat something at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment.

And when I come I will give further directions.”

 

 

This is the passage of 1 Corinthians that we often read at communion in our church. Starting at “For I received from the Lord….”   But when you put those few verses in front of it, the whole tone changes. This section on the Lord’s Supper becomes more urgent, more insistent. Paul is angry. He is sarcastic in this passage. He is frustrated.

In those first few decades after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and then rose from the dead, the people who knew him were completely blown apart – and they told everyone about it. They started meeting together, followers of The Way. And they would meet in someone’s house, they would eat, maybe sing, maybe someone would talk or they would read a letter from an apostle that had come through town awhile back. They would pray. And they would eat together. This was church.  This happened usually in a wealthy person’s home, for they would have had the room, the space in the courtyard to fit people in.

Paul is writing because he has heard that when this church in Corinth meets at this one wealthy person’s home, the wealthy person and his friends eat first. They eat separately and then they open it up afterwards for the rest of the faithful, without providing food for them, and without welcoming those others to eat with them. And THIS IS EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what coming together as the church was to be about. And it made Paul furious. Because it flew directly in the face of everything he was teaching about Jesus the Christ, it flew in the face of everything Paul knew about Jesus the Christ.

At the root of this anger is a betrayal of the core of our faith.

 

What I’m talking about is Hospitality. Yes, hospitality. Its funny what images pop into my head when I say hospitality. I think of “The Ladies,” I think of committees, I think of orange tupperware being set out on the potluck table. I think of friends who love to give dinner parties. I think of baby showers and tea at grandma’s house. I don’t think of strong and subversive and revolutionary Christianity. Honestly, I don’t even think of hospitality as being the core of what we do in churches. Its acknowledged as being important for building community at best but if we are honest, is thought about as women’s stuff and mostly peripheral to preaching and worship, to ideas and feel good experiences.

 

What the early church experienced and what was so profoundly attractive to people back then was this deep hospitality. In book after book about the early church, it is acknowledged that it was the quality of the hospitality of the believers that was responsible for the movement growing-not just preaching, not just getting people to mentally assent to something new.   How people were welcomed to this table enabled a transformation that went so deep, they would die for it.  How people were welcomed to this table was a physical correlation to what God did for them – a deep, honest, unafraid, free welcome.  

 

Wealthy merchants, their wives, and their friends would be at the table – hosting, maybe providing for the meal. Maybe some craftsmen, maybe a now-out-of-work religious leader or two. There were more than likely fishermen, farmers, shepherds who wanted to meet. There were elderly people – there were young people. There were men and there were women. There were widows. There were Jews, circumcised and ritually clean their whole lives – and then there were Gentiles – eating, drinking, not washing hands all willy-nilly. There were free people, rich people and then there were lowly people, abused people, even slaves at this table. Just think of how completely astounding this would have been for them. Just think of all the boundaries that were completely crossed as this small group of people started to meet because they had been caught by Jesus.   Each one of them somehow knew that welcome of Jesus to their tired hearts and were so taken by it, they were willing to cross every cultural boundary that had brought them safety and meaning to be with these others who also had been so transformed.

 

Anyone was welcome at this table, to eat with all the others. And the reason this was the new, very counter-cultural, revolutionary norm, was because of how Jesus was when he lived. They did this because of how Jesus welcomed others during his life. His life and ministry incarnated something of God. It incarnated something that God so desperately wanted them to know – His love for each individual, each lovely heart and mind. Jesus welcomed – sinner, Samaritan, woman, slave, teacher, wealthy, diseased. He welcomed in a completely subversive and shocking and free way. He was gentle and he was challenging but he always saw them for who they were. And he provided bread for them. And wine. And he told them that the bread and wine were for them. The broken bread, the poured out wine were for their bodies but also for their hearts. And he told them to eat and drink together so that they remembered this. And he said that whenever they ate and drank and remembered his welcome, they were proclaiming a bit of the reign of God. They were enacting something of the reality of what its like when God is in charge of his people, when God is at the table. And in that reality, we are all brought back to God, and we are all brought back to each other.

 

THIS is why Paul was so adamant. “You have not understood the body of Christ! You have not understood what we are doing here! You are eating and drinking judgement on yourselves when you do not open yourselves up to all of God’s people – all of God’s body.”

It is no coincidence that these words of Paul in Corinthians are nestled before a long discussion of the body of Christ – about giftings and the importance of every person to the whole (chapter 12).; and from there He talks about love. (chapter 13). You find something similar in Romans 12. Paul is thinking deeply about how each person is vital and valid and needed in the whole body, about how the diversity of this world is the unity of Christ’s very body. We have exhortations to know each person’s worth and exhortations to share and welcome each other BECAUSE of how Christ loved and welcomed us.

 

It is not too much to say that this, hospitality, is key.

 

What happens to you when you are welcomed, YOU, actually you are welcomed. Not a version of yourself you have to cultivate to fit in, or a version you have to edit to not be ostracized. But YOU.

 

Welcoming an Other, any other–a colleague, a stranger, a child, a parent, a refugee, an orphan, a widow, anyone in need, a boss, that person next to you at church – welcoming The Other can transform. Transform them, and transform us.

Jean Vanier, who built communities of unlike people, abled and disabled who lived life together, has thought a lot about what happens when we truly practice deep hospitality.

“My experience has shown that when we welcome people from this world of anguish, brokenness and depression, and when they gradually discover that they are wanted and loved as they are and that they have a place, then we witness a real transformation – I would even say a “resurrection.” Their tense, angry, fearful, depressed body gradually becomes relaxed, peaceful and trusting. This shows through the expression on the face and through all their flesh. As they discover a sense of belonging, that they are a part of a family, then the will to live begins to emerge.….

…To be in communion with someone means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and they capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. ”  from From Brokenness to Community

 

Hospitality is not only about feeding people. Or caring for physical needs. Those things are a part of how hospitality is expressed but hospitality is, at its core, a heart attitude – towards others, but also towards ourselves and also towards God. Hospitality is making room in ourselves for others. It is also about making room for our own flawed selves. It is also about making room for the Living, Consuming and Very Good God. Hospitality is the free welcome of others without agenda, without caveats on who they are and how well they are going to take what you are giving them. It is the quality of hospitality that allows the transformation that Vanier is talking about, for giving people dignity and the space to make different choices, for providing people space and dignity to know themselves loved by God. And it is about trusting that God sees and knows that person just as much as he sees and knows you.

HOW we view people and welcome them face to face, even in our deep hearts, is foundational before we figure out what to do for them.

 

Deep Hospitality is for The Others. For those different than us. For those poorer than us, for those sicker than us. For those richer than us, for those smarter than us. It is for those meaner than us and for people a lot nicer than us. For those who would be grateful to us for making room in our lives for them, and for those who might not. Deep Hospitality is not for the deserving only – it is for the stranger, it is for orphan,  it is for the refugee, it is for the widow, it is for the prisoner, it is for the sick. It is for the healthy, it is for the well-adjusted, it is for the person who is always worried, it is for the person who is always complaining, it is for the person who likes to be in charge, it is the person who never says a word, it is for the person who spends too much on clothing, it is for the person who couldn’t if they wanted to. It is bodily provision, bodily care and it is also soul care, soul space for healing, for rest, for encouragement. It is for us all, because we all are each other’s. Hospitality is core to our faith.

 

 

This hits home for me in a very real way. My (and many others’) beloved church merged with another church (also much beloved by their folk). Churches merging is almost unheard of in our culture, where we like to split up and start our own thing obsessively.   (although, please know that there are times to leave a church…woah….whole other topic).

 

Its been such an eye-opening process. Into how and why we do church. Into what is important to church and to our church. And into how deeply we find our identities in our chosen group. And if I’m honest, how deeply we find our identities and importance in how important we are to our chosen group.

 

It’s been up and down for everybody in terms of how we feel about the merger. Sometimes we are excited for the possibilities. And sometimes we are terrified of losing what we love. On both sides, we are starting to trust the new people with ourselves. But there are also hesitations when we come across someone we don’t understand, someone we don’t get. This is present in every church. There are people we don’t understand and don’t get and who don’t get us no matter where we are. I think because it is new people (new to both original communities) that we feel the difference acutely. And there is fear for what we might lose, how things might change and of who we will be if we are not how we have always been.

When fear of The Other is at its height, I am starting to see that what I am actually scared of is that the certainty about who God is to me and who I am in this world, will be taken from me.   I am afraid that my very self will be lost in the shuffle of all the other people, all the other needs. I see this in our small, beautiful church of people and I see it in the world all around us. We are afraid of what will be taken from us, we are afraid of being hurt or cast aside, when we welcome people, when we make room in our hearts for others, especially those different from us, especially when we don’t know how these new people will make things change.

 

And ALL OF THIS takes me back to the beginning of my thoughts today. When I think about what we are doing at church, how we have chosen to come together and to welcome one another, but now are having to actually work this out in real time, I am reminded about those early days of Christianity. Of how they had to work out what happened when people not like them were welcomed in. And they worked it out around the table.   I think about how afraid they must have been. How afraid to welcome someone who could not care less about dietary rules when their own whole identity and meaning and existential reason was based on how well they followed those rules. Can you imagine what it would be like to be eating, really eating, really sharing with (and not just providing for) someone completely not like yourself back then? I’m imagining someone like a Vice-president of a energy company eating beside a 19 year old mom, with her baby in a high chair beside her, both having found meaning and hope in this one man who welcomed them, loved them in their entirety.

 

Maybe this is why Jesus liked to eat so much. He was always eating. And he was always eating with Others, with those not like himself, with those not normally welcome at such a table. It’s telling that it was this habit of His – of welcoming and eating with not-usually-welcome people and telling them things like “God loves you, you are forgiven” that is THE tension in the gospel. It’s telling that it’s this incredible welcome that gets Him hated and then killed. It’s telling that He was recognized after the resurrection, in multiple stories, only when He picked up some food, took a bite and passed it along. I think of those first disciples who must have then realized that the last supper they had with Him before all the trauma and awfulness of his death meant something huge, it meant something essential. And so they started eating together, remembering broken bread and free flowing wine. They remembered broken body and poured out blood. And they remembered how they themselves were welcomed into His heart. And they were compelled to do this together, to do this for everyone. And in the eating, and in the welcome, something new started to take shape. As they remembered Christ, they remembered who they were. They were God’s and they ALL were each other’s. And they now were the church, the very Body of Christ.

 

So for us in our little church, we will keep eating together. We will keep welcoming each other, even when we are afraid. And we will see Christ in those potlucks and salads in orange Tupperware as well as the bits of bread and juice passed around, touching each one of our hands.

 

 

Imagine going to a house, standing at the door, waiting for someone to open it for you. You are waiting, you know your faults. You know your insecurities. You know those areas where you are absolutely unable to get it right.  You know where your crumple zones are. You know your thoughts. You know how tangly your yarn-heart really is. And you are tired. And then the door opens and instead of having to hide those parts, instead of having to play up the parts you can get right, you can just stand there.   Your host opens the door and sees you. Sees what you really truly want. Sees a beautiful and broken thing, existing in its createdness as an altar to the good God. You are welcomed in, without makeup, in ill-fitting clothes. You are seen for everything that you are. And you are welcomed. And then you are given bread. And wine. And your ache starts to go away and your despair starts to dissipate. And you start to look around and see the others at the table, all being welcomed by this host. And you are scared – you don’t know them. You don’t know if they will take away from you, from everything you have carved out in this world. You don’t know if they will hurt you, make you dirty, make you feel afraid. But your host is looking at them too. THIS is the gospel. THIS is the good news. And there is nothing you really can do – other than take that bread, and eat it. Take that wine and drink it. And then pass it around, keeping an ear out for the next knock on the door.

 

 

The ladies

Dorothy Sayers wrote a (biting, witty, unafraid) essay on the role of women in society titled The Human-Not-Quite-Human, first published in 1947.  It ended with these words:

 

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.  They had never known a man like this Man–there never has been such another.  A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious.  There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”

 

I reread this a lot.  Because it strikes me as very true.