Very soon after Sherod became rector at All Saints, he led what amounted to a “coming out” process in the parish.  There were many same gender couples; most everybody knew that, hardly anyone acknowledged that truth about who we were.  The silence carried an unbearable lie.  Finding a way to come out to ourselves was not easy.  I watched my husband and our community struggle, falter, sometimes get overwhelmed, and yet persevere.  Until one day, we were truly one in Christ, open and honest and real.  We started this a number of years before the ordination of Gene Robinson and way before any state had legalized same gender marriage.  I am filled with awe today when I consider my husband’s courage and the faithfulness of the people of All Saints.

In the past few years, a number of our same gender couples have been able to go to other states to have their covenanted relationships sanctioned by law.  One couple are the proud parents of the most beautiful little boy imaginable, who has the best dads in the world, in my mind.  And Bishop Frade has approved a liturgy for the blessing of same gender marriages for the Diocese so anyone who has been married out of state can now receive the official blessing of the church.

Tomorrow, 9 couples are going to have their marriages blessed at All Saints.  As Sherod himself said earlier today, “The nine couple total over 214 years of committed life together. I am humbled to find myself in such a role. Amazing arc of life and ministry for a guy who grew up in Selma”.  Yup.  That’s our church.  That’ my husband.

I pulled out one of our wedding pictures and while he’s off rehearsing with all these amazing people, I’ve been fixing a nice meal, polishing some silver and taking out the nice tablecloth.   LM is out till the late evening today and we are going to celebrate marriage tonight, Sherod and I.  It hasn’t been easy—in fact, these past years have been quite horrid for us as a couple, with all the stress and pressure.  But the yeses being said tomorrow are a call and the response is, yes.  Mallowman, after almost 24 years you can make me absolutely weak-knee’d. Still. Marriage: a most admirable estate.

The Shoes

The Shoes

About 6 weeks ago, I began a pretty cool adventure.  Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, wrote something called “The Spiritual Exercises”.  Tim Perrine describes it this way:  “Derived mostly from St. Ignatius’ conversion experiences in 1521-3, Spiritual Exercises has provided guidance and encouragement to its readers for several hundred years. The aim of Spiritual Exercises is to assist people in finding God’s will for their life, and to give them the motivation and courage to follow that will”.

Usually, you make a 30-day silent retreat to do the Spiritual Exercises.  Some day, maybe a lot sooner than later, I will do that.  It felt like the 8 days I spent at Eastern Point in Gloucester in January went by in an eye blink and I was just getting into the groove of things when it was time to come home.  Restless and a little confused, I was hugely fortunate to be able to talk about my experience with MRC, a blog friend I have come to know and deeply respect over these past years.  MRC is a Presbyterian minister who has training as a spiritual director in the Ignatian tradition. As we talked by phone and blog and email, the possibility emerged that she would become my spiritual director and walk with me as I do what’s called the  “Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life”.  Pretty self-explanatory—you stay where you are and bit by bit, work your way through it.  I get a set of assignments for a 2-week period, assignments that give me time for reflection, writing, prayer and silence.  MRC and I use video conferencing technology and we visit every 2 weeks.

One of the overarching question for the past couple of weeks was, “In what ways has God carried you through life”?   Sometimes I get exasperated at how platitudinous my responses sound.  By now, though, I find it’s a whole lot easier to be who I am and tell it like it is, rather than contort and strain to impress my own self with the depth of my insight and the brilliance of my intellect.  You just sort-of march on in all the commonplace-ness of your own, ordinary life.  And then, there are these brief, resplendent moments filled with joyful revelation.

Those of you who read my blog with any regularity know how central walking has become to the hope and promise of my life in the midst of great loss and dislocation.  I have now lost over 40 pounds which allows me to do things I couldn’t have dreamed of doing ever before.  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa:  that has unleashed the shoe goddess within.  I am having the time of my life buying shoes.  The picture shows my most recent acquisitions and there’s even another pair on the way, a really cute pair of espadrilles I may get to wear this Sunday.   They let me be taller or shorter at will.  As you can see, one pair is really sturdy and practical for my daily walks.  Last Friday night we had a Salsa party at church and I could hardly believe how my life has turned out that it even includes me being able to wear red heels and go dancing, even if it is just dancing with the delicious kids from El Centro.  I am not the only clergy person of the female persuasion who sneaks shoes in to subvert  the staid (boring?) clerical appearance on Sunday mornings.  But I bet I’m enjoying it more than most.

When MRC and I talked last time, it suddenly occurred to me that there’s a very simple answer to the question, “in what ways has God carried you?”.   God’s carrying me in the shoes.  The playful, silly, I hope somewhat sexy, smart and sassy shoes.  Thanks be to God!

We Know Now

We Know Now

Somewhere on one of the many hard drives that now live in our safe at home, there is a picture that captures who I have been for the past 11 years, one month and 15 days.  It was taken in México when we had already had custody of LM for over a week.  A pattern had emerged to our mornings.  We were staying at the home of a gracious friend of friends.  At about 4:30 or 5:00 Little Bit would wake up and we’d tiptoe into the kitchen to prepare a quesadilla for her, trying not to disturb our kind hostess.  We’d sit on the kitchen floor, learning to be a family.  Most mornings we had to shuttle around government offices, slowly putting together all the pieces necessary to bring her home. So by, 7:30 or 8:00, I’d give her a bath and dress her.  Soon after, she’d fall asleep, almost like an infant, going down for her morning lap.  At 10, the cab that was driving us around would come pick us up to run our errands.

On this particular morning LM was wearing a yellow dress with a flower print; she crawled on my lap, something she was so hesitant to do, and promptly fell asleep.  In the picture you can see her amazingly long lashes resting on her cheeks.  Our daughter was exquisitely beautiful.   You can also see the joy in my face.  For that little while, in the midst of all the commotion and chaos of Mexico City, there was a safe, warm, quiet place for a child who had known very little of any of those basic rights of an infant.  And it was my body providing that space—this was as close as I would ever get to understanding what it means to be “heavy with child.”  I had become a mom.

Later in the fall of that year and into the next, and especially as the episodes of rage became more consuming, her sleep disorders sort-of exploded on us and we found ourselves having to buy a king sized bed so she could sleep with us—the only way we got a decent night’s rest.  Night after night, I’d wake up to find her on top of me, holding on like her life depended on it.  I was also quite wicked, at that point still a lay person who came to church as the priest’s wife who sat dutifully on the front row, pulpit side.  I conditioned the girl to fall asleep at the beginning of Liturgy of the Word and sleep until it was time for the Peace—I used classical conditioning techniques and they worked like a charm.  I even relished how she drooled on me—again, a glimpse, a hint, of the normalcy we all want for our lives.  All new moms have that drooled on look, don’t they?

Last night, Maria came out of her room where she had been engrossed in yet another Nintendo Super Mario game.  I was sitting on the sofa reading while Sherod watched TV. Before I knew it, she had straddled me and put her head on my shoulder like the old days, a flashback, a gift and a burden.  As sweetly nostalgic as the moment started out to be, I realized very quickly that the size and weight of her felt suffocating;  there is not enough of me to give her the safety, quiet and warmth she needs.  In another one of those moments of time both bending back on itself and racing forward in an instant, I could understand through my body what we are in the midst of.  The time comes when we must, we simply must let go, no matter the pain, the cost, the harshness of this labor of love.

It came not a moment too soon.  Day before yesterday, we got word  that all the bureaucratic steps that needed to be taken are complete and Tallahassee has approved our daughter’s placement.  Yesterday at noon, I talked to the director of BARC Housing and finalized plans for the light of our life to move into BARC on June 4th, the day before the 1st anniversary of my mother’s death.  So we know now.  Even my body knows, even hers too.  It is almost time.

Fearful and Wonderfully Made

Fearful and Wonderfully Made

Yesterday my girl and I went to a Birthday party for several members of her new community.  BARC Housing hosts these parties once a month—gathering all the residents for Birthday cake, ice cream, dancing and to celebrate the folks whose birthdays have fallen on that particular month.  There had been much anticipation in our household about this party and I find myself needing to be very careful to manage myself and all the paradoxical responses and feelings that ebb and flow in me, unpredictable and shocking.

I continue to work on my health and that includes more actively planning to ensure I get enough exercise daily.  All those things they tell you, about how exercise can help manage stress?  They are true.  So I had made plans to walk before taking LM to the party both to make sure I got that exercise in, but also because I have a hard time figuring out how each of those visits will affect me and I am determined to be a source of calm strength to my daughter.  Unfortunately, my well-laid plans did not work and there wasn’t a whole lot of time to do anything but go, steeling myself and breathing.

I am not sure I have ever gotten sweeter and sloppier kisses than I got when we arrived.  The same was true for my girl.  Other residents are coming to know us and several of them are exuberant and unrestrained in their welcome.  Although I’ve been asked to be present at these visits, I try to leave plenty of space so LM can make her way without me hovering like a helicopter mom.  Instead, each time I go, I try to talk to other folks and stay out of her way.  There’s a young man who obviously has difficulties walking, whose eyes go in every direction but straight, who is just barely verbal, though incredibly expressive.  He was curious about me so we stood and visited waiting for the party to begin.  I gently teased him about whether or not he was going to dance and his face lit up like a Christmas tree, he looked sort of abashed and then gestured for me to follow him.

A woman in her late thirties was sitting with her legs up on a divan and he introduced her to me in a way that made me think she was special to him so I asked, “Is this your girl friend?”  Again, that light and life that animate his face and make him so piercingly beautiful.  She is, but when I asked if they were going to dance together, he made falling-down gestures, making me understand that they can’t because she might fall and hurt herself.

Then there is T, who has no front teeth, is bent over, has a mop of bright red hair,  and laughs with the most delightful joy imaginable.  There’s M who had on her sparkly green Christmas sweater and wanted to visit lots and lots and the other M who gave me one of those delicious kisses on the cheek.  I don’t want to romanticize and idealize a group of people who are just as much ordinary, broken and holy folks as you and I.  But my daily living has not included much space for them and now that we are thrown together like this, I find myself broken wide open.  There is such beauty, such a different version of our humanity, such confrontation of much that I take for granted in my life.

Last night, I felt tenderness and gratitude and I also felt enormous pain.  I came home understanding for the first time  why folks cut themselves compulsively.  I found myself wanting to do that to myself.  The sting of a cut would be more bearable, a welcome distraction from the real thing.  Of course I didn’t and instead, went on one of my walks even though it was already late in the evening.  The pain began to untie itself from around my heart, I felt the heat and humidity of summer quickly approaching, stars were out and a couple of planets shone brightly.  This is life—neither more nor less.  Just life.

I write about these things perhaps because I am presumptuous enough to think that I can open a few small windows into a world that is so easy to ignore.  The persistent, insistent question that keeps forming itself in my mind these days is this:  “So what does it mean, really, to be a human being?  What defines our humanity?”  We need to be careful and suspicious of easy answers and half-truths shaped in the comfort of our first-world lives.  But when I look for answers beyond that, they have the ability to shake me to my core.

Good Friday

Good Friday

Rain in Boquete, Panamá

Today, just before members of St. Ambrose gathered to do the Stations of the Cross, it began to rain.  The rain was gentle and cool. The weather is already getting oppressively hot here in South Florida and the rain was welcome.  It’s been a tough week and I could imagine myself standing in the rain, letting the grit and grime of these days sluice off me.  And then I thought of that incredible young man who hung on the cross on a day like today, thought of gentle rain washing the tears away, and the blood, washing him clean of the hate and fear and despair that drove those days we remember together this week.

Before my mom died, I read a book called Here If You Need Me, written by a woman chaplain who works with search and rescue teams in Maine.  Her passage into ministry happened after her husband, a state trooper, was killed while their children were still very young.  In the last two years of my mom’s life, perhaps I thought I could inoculate myself against grief by reading as much as I could about death and dying.  Perhaps there’s some element of voyeurism in all of us when it comes to this particular truth about life.  It was also just a very good book and one of the places that moved me deeply was her description of washing her husband’s body down after he died.

About a week after I arrived in Panamá last year, and some ten days before my mom died, her physician asked my brother, dad and me if we had made all the arrangements we needed to make because the blood transfusions that had given my mom new life would start losing any effect soon and the end would come quickly after that.

Lifelong habits kicked into gear.  When I was a little girl, my parents did a lot of entertaining—my dad was Swedish consul in Cali and I remember my parents hosting an unending number of cocktails and dinners.  My favorite was when my mom would serve High Tea.  Last Sunday, I pulled out some of the napkins I remember her using on those occasions.  This was no high tea—it was one more church meeting; nonetheless, it was fun to play house.  But back to last year:  starting that very evening we did what I remember my mom doing endlessly:  making lists and planning.  We’d sit out on the beautiful porch in my parents’ house, in the evening, after mom was asleep.  It became a ritual.  My dad would pour us each a small glass of Bailey’s Irish Cream and we’d talk through what needed to be done.  We were determined to honor my mother in her dying by avoiding mess, or chaos, or anything unpleasant.  It also gave us some sense of control when our world was spinning and wobbling.  Each of us had moments during those evenings when we simply lost it and the other two were able to be the strong ones for that particular night.  We had a way to walk together through the valley of the shadow of death.

One night we began to plan what we would do after my mom died and before her body left the house.  She had a fraught relationship with her sister and we were determined to keep Mom safe from an overbearing older sister who was used to running the show.  Mom also had a dear friend who’d lost another close friend just a few months before and seemed especially in need of tending to my mom.  We agreed that those two women would help me wash my mom’s body down and put the clothes on her that she had told us she wanted wear when she was cremated.  I envisioned the quiet, gentle, dignified ritual, as old as humankind itself,  a circle of tending and being tended to.

When the time actually came, this part of her death was the antithesis of everything we’d hoped and planned for.  I realize now that I was in shock.  The other two women went into such overdrive that there was manic mayhem around my mother’s lifeless body.  The images are pretty awful to consider, even now, 10 months later.  And then, it was over, we were waiting for the hearse and I was fixated on the fact that no one had put shoes on my mom but I couldn’t bring myself to do it either.  How very strange, this business of death.

As the rain came down this morning, I was reminded of that night last May.  I was also reminded that a few days before, my mom had been complaining that she so wished she could wash her hair, that she was so tired of sponge baths instead of the real thing.  She was still able to move from her bed to a wheel chair and then to her “throne” in the living room for most of the day.  Seated strategically where she could see everything going on,  she bossed all of us around, almost to the end.  Since she was still that mobile, Hans and I figured out a way to get her into the shower in one of the bathrooms in the house.  We planned and prepared without telling her and then wheeled her into the bathroom and got her in the shower.  The water was already running, we were in there with her, having even found a way to respect her enormous modesty, mixed now with shame over the ravages cancer had visited upon  her.  What we saw was her face: the peace, the joy, the pure pleasure as she tilted her head and allowed that warm water to wash her clean.  I washed her hair and Hans rinse her off.  Somehow, the whole thing came off seamlessly and after she was dry and dressed in clean clothes, she slept for a long time.  That evening she was her drollest, funniest self for us.

I understand baptism now, at least a little bit.  How it is a death we go through from life to life.  Michelle Frankl, over at Quantum Theology, reminded me this morning that the season of Lent is not so much about the sacrament of confession as the sacrament of Baptism, a yearly reminder of how we are transformed as we make that passage.  The water that rained down in that shower one Wednesday morning when the dew was still out in my mother’s garden, the water that bathed my brother, my mother and me, washed away years and years of fighting, misunderstanding and estrangement—the stuff of families.   Even my mom’s body, by then so brittle and broken, was made new.  It doesn’t matter any more that the night of her death got so crazy on us—everyone around her was simply trying to get through.  The real sacrament had already happened.

I am not quite sure yet, how this all relates to Good Friday.  Except that I’m glad for the rain this morning.  Glad that what I could do for Jesus was imagine the soft rain washing him clean.  I felt glad too, for the loving hands of his mother, and his unexpected friend, Joseph of Arimathea, who were there to receive  and to tend to his mortal remains carefully and reverently.  Finally, glad that in my own way, I share kinship with Mary and with Joseph.  Glad to have been able to receive death as well as life and to know that somehow, they are inseparable.

Being Loved-The Mystery of It and a Request

Being Loved-The Mystery of It and a Request

The days are getting longer even as time is getting shorter.  On Saturday, Light of my Life and I went to BARC Housing, where she will live; it was her first visit.  Some of the members of the community have quite profound special needs.  When they are all home, there’s noise and some chaos that can be daunting.  Some of the folks we saw inspired deep tenderness in me, others left me a little shaken and uncomfortable.  We want our humanity well defined, neat and tidy don’t we? At least I do, more than I care to admit.  I was scared as I showed my daughter this place, scared that as soon as she saw the people who will become her extended family she’d want to run the other way. She sees things I don’t and she understands the world with more openness than I could hope for in myself.  At the end of our visit I asked her what she thought and her answer was simple and direct:  “It’s cool, mom.  I wish I could move in today!”  That move is coming so soon now.  It is easier to count down in weeks now than in months.  There’s about 7 weeks left.

With as much as our girl can’t verbalize, with as much as can and still does go wrong with her that makes our family so fragile, she is still the most absolutely amazing daughter. Ever.  On Sunday evening Sherod and I worked with a group of people here at our home until about 7:30.  After that, I went on my regular evening walk and by the time I was almost home, it was dark with lots of stars and the moon out, showing me the way.  I did what I sometimes do if I have my phone with me.  When I was a little more than a block away from home, I called LM and she came hurrying to meet me.  We make a game of it–I crouch down and extend my arms wide, she comes barreling into me like we haven’t seen each other in forever.  Then we walk the rest of the way home, holding hands.  On Sunday evening, we threw ourselves down on the sweet grass in front of the house and looked at the night sky.  It felt like something out of Ray Bradbury’s magical book about about summer, Dandelion Wine.  Sometime soon after we brought LM home, I found myself making up a song for her, playing on her first name, Luz.  Sometimes I call her “Lucerito” (little star) and this little song is about how she’s dressed in light and is my little star.  We looked at stars on Sunday night and together sang “María bonita, vestida de luz”.  When we got up to go inside, my Lucerito spontaneously reached out and hugged me, something she does very, very seldom.  Holding me tight, she said, “Mami, I am going to miss you.”

Every day, LM brings home a “point sheet” that summarizes her behavior for the day and has a space for her teacher to include feedback about things that went well and things that didn’t.  Yesterday, Ms. P, Lucerito’s wonderful teacher, wrote that out of the blue in class, our girl announced “I love my mom very much. She takes good care of me”.  What an incredible gift, stirred with a tiny twist of bitter irony, that as I prepare to loosen my grip, entrust her to the life she has been given, I get to see that love has had a chance, that for all her diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder, and all the failures to bond this diagnosis implies, she is my daughter and I am her mother.

I end this post with a request.  One of the things I love about my Mac is how easily I can take up  a book or multimedia project.  I am starting on something that may be a book or may be some kind of multimedia piece for LM to take with her.  If you have a picture (jpeg, please), a memory, a story or a message about or for her that you would be willing to share with me, I will gather all that together with some of our own bits and pieces.  Please send what you would be willing to have me include in this project to by April 16th.  That will give me time  to get it all done by her Birthday on May 16th.  Thank you…