Writing

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I am doing a lot of writing but not on my blog and little on Facebook.

At other times I have described myself as feeling like even my soul was raw like it had been sandpapered.  Turns out to be a helpful image for me right now.  In a sense, what I am trying to do is strip off new layers of varnish and defense, trying to get to the grain, the grain of my life.  A cursory search of “wood grain” with Google took me to something called “Wood Magazine” and this short piece:

“A craftsman selects a certain type of wood for a project because of a number of reasons. Grain is one. Yet that word has many meanings.

Technically, the word grain refers to the orientation of wood-cell fibers. That’s quite different from figure, which describes the distinctive pattern that frequently results from various grain orientations. To understand this, it may help to think of the word direction following the word grain. All grain types except straight grain can be a blessing or a curse. Because wood with anything other than straight grain may be sawn to produce sometimes exquisite figure, errant grain becomes a blessing. In structural applications, such as home construction, lumber (mostly softwood) with other than straight grain loses some strength. And hardwood boards without straight grain require extra care in machining to avoid tearout and other reactions.”(http://www.woodmagazine.com/materials-guide/lumber/understanding-wood-grain)

Sometimes I loose a sense of the direction of my life and need to keep doing the work of stripping all that keeps me from seeing what is most true about myself.

If the writing and other work I am doing leave me feeling raw and exposed, I am mindful of the rain that finally came this week, after 70 days of drought here in Central Alabama.  The sun is out and it’s cool today, a perfect moment to go out and prune my rose bushes and plant a new bunch of bulbs in the garden–hyacinths, irises and daffodils.  Buddy, our little rescue squirrel, is thriving. He’s weaned himself of puppy dog formula (thank God! it’s almost $30.00/can!), lives out in the cage Sherod built for him and wraps himself in his wonderfully full tail to keep warm through at night, that’s good because some nights have dipped below freezing.  Next week, the cage will go under a big oak tree up front and then a week later, the last step in his reintegration to squirrel land.

Our days on this farm are quite like the pole barn, cluttered but not unbearably so.  Lots of stuff.  The leaves that have fallen are beautiful to look at and the stripped branches are a stark reminder of the season.  I keep writing.

Winter Is Taking Hold

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Last night, struggling again with bad insomnia, I lay in the dark and listened to coyotes keen and howl with piercing clarity, very close by. I was thankful that Sherod, that Mo, and Spot, Daisy and Buddy, all were tucked in, the chickens safe in the heavily fortified Ft Yolk, my father, his dogs, Mouse and Pia, also asleep, unaware of danger pressing in.  The breeze through our open window was as sharp as the voices carried on a clear and cold night.

This morning, fog has blurred the edges between where night ended and day began.

Winter is taking hold.

Oh God Hear Our Prayer

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On Saturday, As A Way of Remembering Our Dead, We Made “Ex Votos–ornaments that honor someone we love and see no more. I made this one in remembrance of Marta Isabel, Maria’s Birth Mother.  The words on it are “Light and Hope” in Spanish.  I didn’t know how much I would need that prayer.

I had to get up several times last night, I was so sick to my stomach. In the darkness last night, I did not have words to describe the horror I am struggling with. Now I do.

I am the mother of a young, Mexican, brown-skinned woman, with a dual diagnosis of cognitive and severe behavioral disabilities. She’s a woman—Trump bragged about being able to grab women’s pussies-sexual assault, and the basest, most objectifying way of defining a woman possible. Please don’t tell me it’s just words. Words matter. She’s a disabled person—Trump stood and made hideous fun of a disabled reporter. There already is next to no safety net for so many of our most vulnerable disabled persons. She is Mexican-one of those rapists, thieves, the lowest of the low.   As a psych major with extensive Human Resources experience, I know this to be true: past performance is the best predictor of future performance. In Trump’s world, she has three strikes against her. The attitude underlying Trump’s words and actions this campaign will shape policy and the future of our country. I lack words to describe the grief and fear I feel for my daughter.

In the last weeks of December of 2015, it became clear that my father needed more support and assistance than he had in Panama. Sherod and I applied for permanent residency on his behalf. We understood and fully supported the caveat that Dad would not have access to any social benefits—after all, he has not paid taxes in this country, the basis of any safety net in a democratic, market-based social system. We gladly, but with fear and trembling, agreed we would assume all financial responsibility for him in the event that he faced medical expenses that exceeded his resources.

The only reason we could even consider this possibility was because my Dad was eligible for Obamacare. He pays $730/month for coverage and has high deductible, but it is a safety net for all of us. We already know his premiums for 2017 will rise 37%–that’s a lot of money, a breathtaking increase. Obamacare is not perfect. But more than 20 million people, including my Dad, have insurance when they didn’t before. I have been so very grateful to have a way to care for an 89 year old man who sometimes makes me a little crazy and who, like my daughter, is vulnerable and deserving of care. Trump has vowed to dismantle Obamacare and has never—nor has any Republican—offered an alternative that is believable to me.

My life has changed. Is it the end of the world? No. Is it harder? Beyond belief. And. And. Maria and Gunnar have a fierce and determined pair of advocates who would give our lives to care for them. Sherod and I will do what we can to provide for them until there is no breath left in us. I understand our country faces huge challenges that have made life difficult for people everywhere. I recognize that the ‘establishment leaders’ failed in more ways than we can count. I accept that for many of my neighbors, my friends, and those who serve Christ and our neighbor side by side with me in church, today is a good day. But if you ask me what I think, and I tear up, please understand that for me there is a struggle not to give into despair at the outcome of this election.

The work is ours to do now. As we sow, so shall we reap. May we sow seeds of a new kind of unity and willingness to accept there are no easy answers, no magic bullets and no quick fixes for all that ails our country. May we truly come to know that in the end, we are stronger together. Please pray for my girl and my dad and all those for whom this is a new time of vulnerability.

Becoming Kind

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Small Friend In Need Of Care

It has happened again. Mid-afternoon, I was headed to my dad’s casita for a visit with him. Spot was meowing so let her in, then heard a high-pitched, keening, distressed little voice and looked to the side of the door. There was another little squirrel, like the one that made its way to our house in March of 2015. This one was a little bigger and when I reached out to pick it up, he gave me a good little nip, put up a fight and then sagged, exhausted, against my hand.

Sherod and I have spent the last 3 hours working with the little fellow—I got in my car and drove the 20+ miles to Prattville and came home with Pedialyte, a rehydration liquid for babies, Esbilac, a milk replacer for animals, a new dropper, and a tiny little bed he’ll sleep in tonight. I had left Sherod with warm sugar water and one of those contraptions you use when a baby has a cold and you want to suction his or her little nose. Sherod slipped the squirrel in his pocket and every 20 minutes we’ve been taking him out to feed him the Pedialyte. I am wearing one of Sherod’s t-shirts with a pocket and we’ve discussed how we’ll each take a shift on the recliner tonight to keep the baby squirrel in a pocket and warm.

Sitting, tending to this tiny, fragile life, we listened to a segment on 60 Minutes about a focus group led by Frank Lutz. In a span between feedings, we heard the anger, fear, despair and division that is wracking our country, and how the one every so thin thread left to bind us together will either get stronger or may well snap on election night, depending on the graciousness of whichever of the two candidates loses. Maybe that’s a hyperbole, but not one I want to see tested.

Once again, I am brought up short by this new life out in the countryside where the trajectories and stories of the day get interrupted and require of me kindness, extra effort, the conviction that I must try to do what I can, without a guarantee that the little squirrel will live through tonight. I think, I hope, I am becoming a better person with each of these miniscule ways I participate in God’s creation.

And that has a direct bearing on my part in the upcoming elections. I am very clear about who I am voting for; I am desperately fearful for what happens next if that person doesn’t win. Yet I must hope and commit that this election will also be an opportunity to try to become the person who God created me to be. Not just that little squirrel we’re tending to, but words of the Gospel I read at church today are particularly sobering:

Jesus looked up at his disciples and said, “”…I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Luke 6:20-31

Life As Zipline

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A few years ago, when I was visiting my dad in Boquete, I had the opportunity to go zip-lining through the rainforest in a park in Panama close to the border with Costa Rica.  It was a hard, exhilarating, awesome experience that made me challenge my fear of heights, tested my strength, and left me as alive as I’d ever felt.

In one sense, this time of vacation has been the exact opposite of that experience. I stayed home.  The most physically challenging work I did was work out on my elliptical.  I have become so terribly distressed by the presidential campaign we’re about to collapse from that I refuse to read the news, watch TV or listen to the radio.  I will go vote on Tuesday, and that shall have to be enough.  Cleaning out closets and my kitchen cabinets does not constitute high adventure.

Yet exhilarated, alive, and challenged are the very words to describe these days.  I am making headway in my writing again, and that means letting go of fear.  One of the sections of the book I am working on will be about my experience in the ministry experiment we called “The New River Regional Ministry”.  I kept all my e-mail correspondence from those years and have begun re-reading those files. It gets tough along the way and there’s also a kind of freedom that comes with being willing to revisit one of the most painful chapters in my life not because I can change anything but because there is still more for me to learn.

In a bit, I am going to head into Montgomery to resume my work as a parish priest.  The rest of the week will be pretty much wall-to-wall busy.  A year older, and maybe a week smarter, I’m ready.

Southern Gothic

Halloween in Lowndesboro is a sweet affair.  The children pile into a horse trailer that’s been cleaned out and decorated spooky.  People sign up to be part of the route and all the little ones pile out at each stop, trick or treat, then carry on. Our friends, David and Ann, invited us to sit on their front porch to see the events unfold; another very dear friend, Pat came dressed up.  Truly, she was Southern Gothic with a ‘tude!

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New camera in hand, I wandered out in front of the porch and looked at St. Paul’s, the little Episcopal Church I was so fortunate to get to be priest-in-charge of for a few months, before going to work at Ascension.  And right there, it was even more clearly Southern. Really clearly spooky.  Really clearly Halloween.

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Giddy

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I just sent off the last emails I didn’t get to yesterday, as I wrapped things up at work before taking some days off.  I won’t be back to work until the afternoon of the 2nd of November.  I feel like a teeny-bopper about to go to a really cool party.  Giddy.  I want to do some cleaning and getting rid of clutter; this isn’t glamorous but it’s how I’ve learned to usher in the holidays and they are drawing near!  I’ve promised myself at least two hours of writing a day.  But the most, veriest exciting part of this vacation has to do with my spouseman’s birthday gift to me.  He’s given me a big girl camera.  I’ve had a quite lovely ‘point and click’ Nikon CoolPix that died last month. He lent me his camera last weekend so I could go take pictures on Old Selma Road.  And today, a few days early, I received a Canon EOS Rebel T6 with three lenses and more little stuff ,like filters, than I even have a clue how to use.  I’m going to be learning me some more photography and I am simply tickled pink.  Probably gonna try to stay off the grid quite a lot; how wonderful to allow the world to get on with business without me.  Later!