I Love You

The first night I ever spent in Selma, I cried myself to sleep.  Sherod and I had been married for about 2 weeks when we drove from Huntsville to Selma for a few days.  That night we slept in Sherod’s old room. If I swallowed, the bed creaked and groaned.  Not that it mattered since I felt like there was a stranger in bed with me, more concerned about not offending his mama than showing his endless, passionate devotion to me.  Disney was decades from appropriating the term “princess” for the proletarian masses to hugely profitable advantage.  But already, Sherod called me his SAP—short for South American Princess—and this little imperial self was not the least bit pleased about having to compete for attention.  If my lips were pouty, Juanita was thin-lipped, too gracious to be ugly, but clearly none too happy to be around this foreigner who was decidedly not the first wife, not the mother of her beloved grandbabies, not a lot of things important to her. We got through that first visit in August of 1988.

Sherod, Maria and I drove to Selma to spend Thanksgiving with Juanita in 2001, just months after María’s adoption was finalized.  My mother and I had not spoken to each other for a couple of years.  We had had an awful falling out when my mother made a stunningly racist and disparaging comment about María while we were still waiting to bring our girl home.  In the summer of 2001, while Sherod was going through the worst of radiation treatment, we almost lost María after she had a very bad seizure that the doctors suspected was related to a terminal illness.  They were both so sick and I was so alone. It still hurts, all these years later, that my mom was not there to help me.  In fact, she would not meet my daughter for another 3 years.  She didn’t put up a picture of María in her home for more time than that.  But while Maria was in the hospital that summer, I got a lovely note of encouragement from Juanita and our girl a whole stream of “get well” cards from her “Annaw”.

It had been that way from the first day we could finally call María ours.  I’ve kept the letters and little things Juanita so lovingly sent her, year in and year out.  She, who was and is a child of the South, with all those prejudices and awful stories, was so generous in her welcome of my beautiful, dark honey-skinned daughter.  I have never felt that Juanita saw her as anything other than one of her own.  That Thanksgiving, Sherod and I slept on that creaky old, horribly uncomfortable bed with María on a pad on the floor on my side of the bed, where I could reach out and reassure myself that she was OK during the night. Even the peach-pecan-coolwhip-jello mold salad tasted good that year.   My little one had the time of her life with all that family, all those hugs and kisses.  Home was where my daughter was welcome so I was home.

The three of us are heading back up to Selma in a little over a week.  Juanita is losing ground quickly.  When my mom reached the end in Panama, I got a little booklet from the hospice team that described the dying process.  This afternoon, during the regular phone calls we’re having with Sherod’s sister who’s in Selma, I also got to hear Juanita speaking to her son.  The passage has begun.  She’s always been tough with Sherod, so quick to criticize and complain, often so cranky. In recent years she’s also been more and more self-absorbed which always upset me for him.  That was gone today, replaced by what I can only describe as her essential sweetness, that core of maternal love and delight in her boy that is left when everything else is slowly but surely being stripped away.

I listened to a dying mama talk to her son and I wanted to stop both Sherod and time, so he could savor the exquisite joy of getting to say to his mom, “I love you”.  Months and years from now, he will remember the times he got to say those “I loves you’s” during this time of passage and he will feel gratitude and relief down to the very molecules of his being that he got to say each and every one of them.  He will wish he could have squeezed a few more in, but he will know that what he did get to say was enough, a bit of eternity right here, right now.

Who Was Out & Who Did What

Who Was Out & Who Did What

It’s very peculiar.  All of a sudden, it seems like there’s an enormous weight that’s been lifted off my back.  The long weekend began yesterday in our household and somehow, the gift of time has become especially sweet and meaningful. Last night, I had fun on my walk.  It’s mating season for the crabs around here.  This is what that looks like:

You have to look close–this one was very shy.

And like this:

This one: not so so much

I’m getting to know some of the ‘regulars’ out on my route now–cyclists, runners and dog walkers.  I like that.  I am also aware that there’s an endless newness to these rambles, sometimes very amusing.

Always waiting


This morning the water was full of sea weed and gunk on the beach so it’s been yard time.  Sherod’s back is still fragile so I had lawn mowing duties.  Early tomorrow morning, when I sit out on our little deck and drink my coffee, this is what I will see.

Gonna have lots of time to catch up on Dr. Who as well.  Life is so incredibly good.

Life Goes On

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Life is changing for the Lindahl Mallows. Our new financial reality unfolds in big and small ways daily. Even Daisy is not spared. Sherod has felt called to become her personal groomer. Gone are the days of hanging out at the Pampered Pooch. Daisy is resigned. She limits herself to sighs and doleful looks. And the occasional growl laced with misery when the electric clipper is going and the Mallowman lifts her tail…

Tomas Tranströmer

Tomas Tranströmer

Domkyrka-Uppsala, June 2012

I vaguely remember being pleased that a Swede had won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, though there was plenty else going on in my life so I don’t think I even paid attention to the name of the author.  Now, after so many years not using my Swedish intentionally, I found myself wanting to read in that beautiful language again. A friend recommended I read Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry.  Someone has said it is spare, almost gaunt. I am double fortunate because much of his work has been translated into English so I can read it in both languages and I catch things in each I wouldn’t in the other. It is so beautiful.  

Romanesque Arches

Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous
Romanesque church.
Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.
A few candle flames flickered
An angel whose face I couldn’t see embraced me
and his whisper went all through my body:
“Don’t be ashamed to be a human being; be proud!
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.”
Tears blinded me
as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora
Sabatini;
within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.

Isaac

I’ve been living in Floriday for 16 years now and I still am astonished when I realize that means I live in a hurricane zone.  I am sitting at my kitchen table looking out at palm trees still bending in strong breezes, remnants of Isaac.  It could have been much worse and still may do a lot of damage in a couple of days.  But as Isaac came through yesterday, it was tame enough to allow me to see and hear and feel it in a way you can’t when it’s a hurricane and you are shuttered in, and usually have lost power, and only hear the whistle and moan of the wind rushing around your house.  When Wilma came through in 2005, the enormity and danger it represented was literally brought home to me when the sliding glass doors that we had in the back of our house began to buckle in and our ears popped.  A bit more and we’d have had to be running for our lives.

So here are a few images of Isaac:

At about 6:30 yesterday morning, Sherod and I decided to go out for breakfast.  It was rainy and wet but you could see where the clouds ended against the horizon.

The first significant band of squalls came through as we were coming home from breakfast

The wind was really blowing and the horizon had pretty much disappeared.

Later in the morning, around 9, another much more intense band came through–when that happens, you can barely see through the rain.

When I took this picture the rain was coming in sideways.  The band came through quickly and then it was time for me to go to church.  By policy, NRRM’s ministries are closed if there is a Tropical Storm or Hurricane warning in effect for Broward County.  But there’s something that goes against the grain about just not having church on Sunday so I decided I’d go and if folks showed up, we’d have the service.

On my way there, I came across a group of ibis feeding along the side of the street.  These birds amuse me no end and I know my friend Robin likes them too so I stopped to take a snapshot.  If you look closely (and I’m sorry, the quality of the photograph isn’t great), you can see what the wind is doing to the white ibis at the far right.  Gave a whole new meaning to the concept of “ruffled feathers”…

I didn’t believe anyone would show up for church. And 20 did.  The service was unexpectedly sweet. After a rough week, balm for the spirit..

Ian and Sarah are happy, active children who struggle to sit quietly in church.  We found out yesterday that they are also great at helping take up the collection.  It made my day to see two little kids look so happy to be a part of things in church.

The wind huffed and it puffed and it blew all night long. A couple of times during the night I woke up because the power had gone out and was coming back.  Once there was some lightning. This was what it had looked like yesterday afternoon and I think it got quite a bit worse before it started getting better.

This morning, it is still windy, there are some reminders of the storm and I know it is far from over for the Gulf Coast.

But it’s pretty much over here; all we have left to do is keep an eye on the next two tropical depressions that are forming out on the Atlantic and to pray for the Gulf Coast.  That’s life in the tropics…

Seismic Shift

Seismic Shift

Until this year, I got to observe things from a safe distance.  I read about the unemployment crisis and shook my head for those folks who still couldn’t find work.  I ached when I watched one story after another on the nightly news about people losing their homes thanks to the foreclosure crisis.  I was more than a little self-righteous about churches that have become financial black holes because they couldn’t change fast enough, or deal enough with the truth and reality of a changing world.  And then one day, I was no longer an observer.

The regional ministry project that got launched 3 years ago kept me going through the past couple of years.  There is a never-ending “to do” list at work that can absorb me as much as I let it and that list has been my refuge.  A theologian once said that vocation is the place where your greatest joy meets the deepest needs of the world and I have been astoundingly lucky to get to know what that means.   But a few weeks ago, the leadership of NRRM began to face into some wrenching realities that can be explained pretty simply:  spending was outpacing revenue at an accelerating rate.  There are steps we can and are taking to reverse that trend.  Two member organizations have significant potential for allowing us to keep going. I just don’t know if there’s enough of all the things we need to turn things around.

Until the last couple of days, all of this put me in vocational hell.  I wanted to spread blame for this sorry place we’ve landed in but there was nothing liberating in that exercise.  I entertained the notion that it might hurt less to “pull the plug” on my part of the ministry.  After all, it is different to say “I walked away from this” than acknowledge, if the day comes, that no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough.  After weeks of over-functioning, trying to spin more and more plates faster and faster, like that could solve much, I had to slow down, even when that meant that in this part of my life too, I had to host fear, loss and grief.

Turns out that I am not in vocational hell.  I am simply being taught some more about what it means to be faithful to my vocation.  While I was starting to thrash and flail around in fear and anger because the way forward seemed to elude me, God continued the slow, patient work of forging and shaping me for this new time.

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the bell meditation exercise I’ve been doing for a while. I was grateful for what it allowed me in the way of remembrance.  It also became an opportunity to start learning a tiny (really tiny) bit about Zen, and especially the notion of the “eternal now” which is only possible to reach toward when over and over, you try not to think or think about not thinking.  I needed to stop looking at NRRM against the horizon of all the fears, hopes and dreams I’ve harbored for it for so long.  In a way that I am unable to explain, I have these micro-moments of openness as I listen to a single peal of a bell go forth from my iPhone.  As fleeting as those moments are, they are helping me look at what I have in front of me with less fear, less hope that is actually more about my own projections of what things should look like.  It’s not that I care less—if anything, I care more.  But I understand my place  differently today than I did even a few days ago;  I am not nearly so important as I had presumed.

Earlier this week, I listened to another podcast with Krista Tippett.  This time she was interviewing Xavier Le Pichon, a French geophysicist who was one of the earliest formulators of the theory of plate tectonics.  Le Pichon is a devout Roman Catholic.  The conversation between Tippett and Le Pichon ebbed and flowed around the notion of fragility. For Le Pichon, fragility is essential to the potential of the Earth, our “fragile island home” and it is a profoundly transforming gift to us as humans.  In order to grow into our humanity (not a given, but only a possibility always laid before us as an invitation), we must be willing and able to organize ourselves around the very weakest, the most fragile and vulnerable in our midst.  Tippet and Le Pichon discussed an archeological site in Iraq that gives evidence of a prehistoric community that built its life around a severely crippled member.   I was in tears as I listened to that part of the interview, so aware that this was exactly what my family did for me, a child with such a serious physical disability.

Their conversation helped me reframe both the crisis we are facing in NRRM and what it invites me to consider, and maybe, become.  There is a rather lovely combination of strength and fragility in our ministry.  Some of the strongest, most capable members of our community are hard at work, examining every single possible way we can reduce our financial footprint.   I’ve been hanging out a lot with these folks, endless meetings and tough, confrontational conversations that leave me worn out and, in some respects, empty.  I can and will continue to be a part of that effort to turn the situation around.

But I see something else now too.  I have let go of the misguided notion that I am in control of the outcome of this brave, foolish adventure in church building.  Fragility is at the heart of who we are.  One part of our community is an old and failing congregation.  We are also a bunch of undocumented young people with very little education who are trying to raise their children in an extraordinarily hostile world.  We are fragile and vulnerable and our country is not of much mind to organize itself around those who are most at risk.  Part of my vocation is to recognize and remember that truth about us.  I had lost sight of that as I tried to be a part of the solution to the challenges we face.

Earlier this week, while I was doing one more analysis, looking at one more way to cut and slice the financial information we are using to guide our decision-making for the future, I realized I could be a part of the solution in a different way.  What NRRM pays me in salary can be used instead to close one of the gaps we’re struggling with, buying us a little more time to put some other solutions in place.

What started out to be a fairly reasonable response to a need turns out to be much more than that for me.  Once the wheels had started turning, once I realized that I had received my last paycheck a week ago, I was absolutely overwhelmed by my visceral response to my new reality.  Scared doesn’t begin to describe what I’ve been feeling. I thought I knew a whole lot about being vulnerable and exposed.  I had no idea.  I don’t know if this new fragility of mine will make me a better priest or person.  I don’t harbor illusions about my own nobility and dedication.  What I do know is that when I hang out with all those strong, capable people who are making decisions for the future of NRRM, I will not be “one of them” in the same way.  And when I hear the stories of those who do not have a lot of “worldly goods” I will no longer be hearing them as a detached observer.  I hope for the grace to become more human in my fragility. But I have to admit: just gauging from my initial response, that’s not guaranteed.

Threshold of Memory

Threshold of Memory

I once had a friend, Lista Foster, whom I came to love very much. She was a member of All Saints, already in her late sixties when I met her. I learned about Art Basel from her and when the Queen Mary II docked in Fort Lauderdale, during her maiden voyage in 2004, Lista had a big party in her small and lovely apartment so we could share in her wonder, watching that big ship come into port.  She was funny, she was smart as a whip, she had that combination of transparency, vulnerability and grit that comes from being a person in recovery.  Most of all, Lista was blessed with faith, curiosity and kindness.

In 2003 or 2004, I led an adult program called Journey in Faith, a very Episcopal kind of weekly study/discussion/reflection group at All Saints, that met over dinner on Tuesdays.  We took turns seeing to the different aspects of our meetings and one week, it was Lista’s turn to lead the opening prayer.  She brought a “mindfulness bell” and led us through a lovely meditation that began when she rang the bell a single time.  I was entranced.

Life went on, we finished our program and a couple of years later, Lista had a massive stroke that robbed her of the gift of speech.  Her fine mind was still there, that was obvious.  You could see the anger, the frustration in her eyes, as she struggled to form words, to write, to do anything to let you know she was still there.  She got more and more frail and finally, one day she died.  There was a sense of relief for her.  I preached at her funeral and as I prepared, I kept coming back to that single bell peal that Lista had used to lead us in prayer.  I could imagine Lista, her life, as that beautiful tone that was created, went forth with such clarity and preciseness—it was this tone, not that. There was a radiant singularity to her being. While Lista’s speech became more and more garbled and “meaningless” after her stroke, who Lista was always rang true, and strong, it lingered and joined with other tones.

I always meant to get a meditation bell and of course, never did.  Then recently, I listened to another one of Krista Tippett’s wonderful interviews, this time with a neuroscientist who does fascinating research on how the brain is wired and rewired over and over, through the choices we make in our lives.  The podcast made reference to a 10 minute “Bell Sound Meditation” and on a lark, I decided to try it.  I’ve been using it regularly as part of my prayers since then.  Close to the end of my walking route, there is a small park that’s usually quiet and still by the time I get there, right before closing time in the evening.  I have a bench I’m particularly fond of and I sit there with this unexpected gift.

One part of the reflection invites me to hear the bell ring again in memory, paying attention to its “onset, tone, reverberation and its fading away”.  In some ways, I find that segment to be the most intense part of the meditation. Maybe because I’m new to this, I strain to remember as completely and correctly as possible.  Each time, I discover some small new truth about that sound I can’t hear yet continues to fill me.  I also find myself listening even more attentively and carefully when the bell actually rings.  I have a new way of thinking about “presence in absence” and how lucky we are to keep the music going even when all there seems to be is silence.

At a conference a few months ago, I was introduced to the concept of the “threshold of memory”—there’s a new finality to our own death on the day the last person who remembers us dies.  Even though there is something sad about the truth that such a day comes, I delight in remembering Lista often these days.  I am thankful for the ways she is now present to me.  I wish I had listened more carefully, gotten it more right about her, captured more of the complexities and nuances of who she was.  But I heard enough to know that she was beautiful and her song still makes my day better.  I remember.