Help That’s Helpful: Do’s and Don’ts After Disaster

My spouse is an avid watcher of all things news. I believe he could watch the news non-stop for 24 hours, given a chance. Last night after less than half an hour watching Brian Williams my skin was crawling and I jumped up, went to church to do some work and then to Office Depot to pick up some things I needed for the week. The news continues to stream through my house this morning and I’ll head for work in a bit but today’s one of those long days that will go until 8:30 this evening so I am not in a hurry. It helped to read a post from yet another woman pastor, this one who lives in Indiana. I will set my sight on the work I can do here and now.

For The Someday Book

Oh, dear God, the Oklahoma tornadoes. Such heartbreak. Christ, have mercy.

On March 2, 2012, forecasters anticipated tornadoes in our area. My son’s school let out early, and when the sirens started up we all huddled in the unfinished basement. The air outside our windows was deadly still, but the internet broadcast from our local television station told us that a large tornado was on the ground just a few miles away. We waited underground in folding chairs, my husband reading a book and my young son playing a video game. I kept my eyes on the screen as reports began to come in about damage in small communities populated by beloved church members and friends.

Then the image changed: a school collapsed, no knowledge of how many students might be trapped inside. My stomach lurched, and I thought I might vomit. I silently ticked off a list of…

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Lauderdale Dining

It’s going to be another one of those periods of time when one week runs into the next and sabbath time is minimal.  But at least there was this.  Of everything that I love about these moments, I think in the end it is the sea breeze on my face that I most cherish.  Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost.

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Fort Lauderdale Beach

The Vittles--Healthy and Delicious.  Sometimes Whole Foods really comes through.

The Vittles–Healthy and Delicious. Sometimes Whole Foods really comes through.

And sweet to see, a few hundred feet away, a new beginning.  Mazel Tov!

And sweet to see, a few hundred feet away, a new beginning. Mazel Tov!

 

 

The Annual Talent Show

In the Broward County public school system, “Learning Centers” are the most restrictive schools.  Highly structured, prepared to deal with the challenges of children and young people with severe behavioral and emotional issues, even in the best of circumstances, they are a long way from what we call “normal”.

First at Sunset, and now at Whispering Pines, Sherod and I have had the privilege of attending a ritual called the “annual talent show”.  These events have a different feel than other talent shows I have been to.  First, I am struck by the ways in which the teachers and staff members pour themselves into their performances—and there are usually 3 or 4 teacher/staff acts in the talent shows at learning centers.  They invariably make me laugh till I cry with their sass and their energy and their bravado.

It takes a very special kind of heart to choose to be a teacher at a learning center.  It isn’t just that there is the stress that comes from knowing you are in effect, putting yourself in harm’s way.   Nor are these teachers special heroes because most of the ones I’ve met know that the successes they get to witness are often modest to the point of being invisible to most people ‘on the outside’.  No, what I most admire is their willingness to allow that what it means to be human is far broader and deeper than we are usually able to accept.   As the mother of my own daughter who only seems able to find her place in a learning center, I know that it takes so much energy and so much willingness to be defeated and stand up again, to keep recognizing the humanity of the boys and girls, young women and young men who are placed in learning centers as the option of last resort.

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If the staff move me, it is the beauty of the student performers that always reduces me to a puddle of tears (I know, I end up crying a lot but I’ve quit apologizing for that).  You see the tremulous fragility of their beauty.  At Whispering Pines there is a panel of judges that gives each performer feedback.  You can hear a pin drop as each young person goes to the judges’ table.  There is always some kind of talent that catches me by surprise.  There is irrepressible joie de vivre and laughter and pride.  Many of the members of the audience today had poor “impulse control” and their spontaneous expressions of encouragement were somehow more beautiful for coming from those who others might say have nothing to give.

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As the short clip from the girl María’s performance  suggests, there are few inhibitions; these kids let lose and pour themselves into their performances.  At some point you realize that the line between Justin Bieber and Maria Mallow, Erica and He is We is razor thin, so much thinner than those of us who inhabit the ‘normal world’ want to or can understand or accept.

Above all, these talent shows are the very incarnation, in the holiest sense possible, of the statement that so struck me in the recent post on the WIT blog.  It is this simple: the performers show me unequivocally that “the greatest act of defiance is to still exist”.  The talent shows are what make that simple statement “ a bold affirmation, a prayer, and an ethical assertion” (Brandy Daniels, http://www.womenintheology.org).  Just astoundingly beautiful and blessed boys, girls, young men and young women, together with the men and women who abide with them…

And Another Powerful Voice

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I could write a whole book.  I would not come anywhere close to being as eloquent as the writer who posted on the link below.  While you are at it, this particular blog has a whole bunch of wonderful writing.  A definition of hope that cuts through all kinds of first-world fluff and lays bare how much harder hope is than we want to allow ourselves to understand.  This blog also has some powerful women’s voices well worth hearing.  I am proud as I head out for an incredibly busy afternoon and evening, not of having words to write today, but of engaging the ministry I have been to do in this time and this place.  I exist.

Women in Theology aka WIT

From Today’s Notebook: the Pilgrim and the Owl

I have a wonderful, talented dear, dear friend in Len. I am tickled, thoroughly amused, and touched by this post.

Boondocks Babylon

I have a dear friend, more sister than friend, her name is Rosa.

Rosa is on a journey, dare I say,  of  enlightenment . She would never say such a thing, she is far too modest, but it is a fact I am witness to.  Rosa who is an Episcopalian priest,  lives in our old Fort Lauderdale neighborhood with her husband Sherod, also a priest, our priest. I miss them terribly, if anyone  can help me have faith in man and god it is this duo.  I see far too little of them and their daughter Maria but I do keep abreast of Rosa through her musings on her blog, Cenizas, Estelas y Senderes: Ashes,Trails and the Wake We Leave Behind.

Recently Rosa wrote about her rather frequent encounter with owls, most likely a saw-whet owl, her post entitled I Don’t Believe in Angels, describes the  seemingly chance appearances of these nocturnal sentinels…

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What My Daughter Has Taught Me

Image 24For María’s first birthday with us, in May of 2001, we had a pool and piñata party.  In those days, FAO Schwarz still had a store in Aventura that included an amazing candy section.  I went down and bought gummy fishes, starfish, even a gummy sting ray and an octopus.  I baked her cake from scratch and used the 7-minute frosting recipe (from the old, old version of the Joy of Cooking) my mom taught me to make when I was 8 or 9.   It was a lovely party.

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Image 25And my daughter’s beauty just took my breath away.

This week, she turns 17.  For those of you who live in Fort Lauderdale (or who are familiar with the chain), it may amuse you to hear that she’s wanted us to take her to Morton’s Steakhouse to celebrate.  Those plans were actually in place but because it is so critically important for her to finally get some kind of grasp on her behavior, going out to dinner for her birthday was contingent on making her days at school this week–that is, following the rules, not losing control, doing her work.  Already today, I have a note from her teacher that it was a pretty God-awful day in Whispering Pines.  We will wait until she has made a different set of choices to celebrate.  As long as she gets back on track between now and Thursday, her actual Birthday, we will see her and give her a hug that day and I will keep her presents for another day.

It is awfully hard.  It is not what I would want for her and I remember the illusions that went with that first little party all those years ago.  In the intervening years there have been plenty of disappointments and so much to learn about the nature of love.  The hardest and best thing I have learned about is forgiveness. I have had to forgive myself for everything I didn’t understand or know about mothering a child like ours.  Forgiving her begins with a far clearer sense of boundaries than I would ever have learned without my daughter.  It has meant understanding that she is not in this world to please me or meet whatever needs, hopes or dreams I might have harbored for myself. Love can grow and flourish even when the other person’s ability to reciprocate is limited and fractured and even distorted. I have also come to understand that I simply cannot take her failures personally nor demonize her when she does the truly harmful things she is capable of.  I do however, have to understand that what is in her best interest may not  be easy to do.  Forgiving her is not the same as allowing her to do things that keep harming her and others.  That I cannot do.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  Unexpectedly it turned painful and sad as I began the Eucharistic Prayer at the main service at church.  My mother’s absence was overwhelming right then.  But I also got to look up and there was María, singing in the choir.  At the end of the service, she came up and knelt for the lovely Birthday prayer found on page 850 of the BCP.  Others gathered around her and their hands and mine were on her as we said those beautiful words of blessing.  If that is all that I get to do to celebrate the absolute wonder of her existence, of the fact that she survived rejection from her birth mother and the woman who had bought her before her birth, and a million other horrible things as she began her life, then I have gotten to do something absolutely magnificent and it is enough.  That too goes to the heart of the forgiveness that has found its way into my heart and life.

Several years ago, I was fortunate to get to go to a writer’s workshop at what was the College of Preachers at the National Cathedral in DC.  The chapel had a simply amazing cross that I have thought of over and over again through the years since then.   This, this is what there is to learn about loving a child, my child, my forever child…

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Some More Pics From Reno & Tahoe

DSCN2193I love that strange combination of aridness and fecundity.  In Reno it is both-and.  Clearly, this is a desert town.  I am always amazed by how much can grow in the midst of great desolation.

DSCN2177Another contrast–the tumbleweed and sage and snow so close you think you can reach out and touch it.

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There are a couple of Episcopal retreat centers on Lake Tahoe.  This one has a small apartment over the church.  My colleague, Joe was a Jesuit before becoming an Episcopal priest. He and I are discussing an alternative to my doing the 30 day Exercises at a traditional Jesuit retreat center.  One possibility involves staying here for 30 days by myself  if I can work out what will amount to a sabbatical, doing the exercises in a more Anglican style.

DSCN2202 DSCN2203I also had a good laugh, looking out at Tahoe from Galilee Episcopal Conference Center.  Sometimes it seems to me that my dearly loved Episcopal Church has a very postcard kind of faith.  The view was not merely stunning, it was divine…