Despojarse

DSCN2230

My mother had a hard time with our decision to adopt María. I’ve written about that elsewhere. The silence stretched long and painful between us after our big confrontation about my determination to adopt our girl. One day, more than a year later, I got a call out of the blue from a family friend who was passing through Miami. She had a package my mom had sent me. I worked in the Blue Lagoon area in those days and it was easy to swing by her hotel and pick up the package on my way home.

Inside were five of the most beautiful little girl dresses you could ever hope to see, several of them with a matching barrett, or head band. There was also a little nightgown—the one María wore the first night she slept in our home. I could tell how much care my mom had taken choosing them. When all else fails in my family of origin, we give each other gifts. Sometimes we sweat and toil and fret almost endlessly to come up with the right gift. This wasn’t just an olive branch, it was the most extravagant gesture of a love that couldn`t understand but wouldn’t quit.

All the dresses were exquisite. I took one with me to México for a weekend when there was a big party for FedEx employees and I got to take María with me to the party. I got up before daybreak to get María and brought her back to the nice hotel I was staying in. I bathed her and put the dress on her and stood her on the bed so she could see herself in a full length mirror. The way she stared, moved around a bit, stared again, and then puffed up makes me believe that she had probably never seen herself in a mirror like she did that day. How not to love the dress fiercely, like I loved her that day?

The stories go on and on, and María outgrew the dresses quickly, well-nourished and well-loved, beginning to thrive in her new home. One day, I got a big plastic storage bin and carefully folded and put the dresses away. I regretted that my mother had never seen her granddaughter in the dresses except in pictures. Because María was making a lot of progress, I told myself we would turn a developmental corner and what I was doing was putting the clothes away for the day that would surely come when I would tell my own granddaughter about her great-grandmother Ann.

Yesterday evening, after over 11 years of not seeing them, I took the dresses out. I am taking most of them to Isabel Ann, my niece, who is Ann’s other granddaughter, the one who was born 11 days before my mom died. Mom would have been delighted to see that little girl in those dresses. Though I have not met her, I have seen several videos of a blond, blue-eyed cherub who is a perpetual motion machine of curiosity. I bet she will look like a little doll in the clothes I am bringing. Giving Isabel these dresses is quite laden with meaning. Soon after my mom died, my brother and I had another one of those epic Lindahl fallouts and we have barely spoken since.

There is no way to know where the dresses will go after Isabel. After all, they are a gift. I will confess that I briefly thought to ask that the dresses be returned to me when Isabel Ann outgrows them. But that is clinging. The dresses will go where they will go.

There is a word in Spanish that describes what holy indifference is about: despojarse. The English equivalents for the root verb, despojar are divest, despoil, denude, bereave. Despojar comes from the Latin word for stripping bark off a tree. Despojarse makes the verb reflexive. Opening that box, looking at those little, little dresses, smelling and touching and holding them to me – was an act and decision to divest , denude , bereave myself. Jesus said, “what will it profit a person to gain the whole world and forfeit her life?” In order to gain our lives we must be willing to lose them. Without death we cannot know resurrection.

I know all this sounds raw and painful, and of course, it is. But I no longer know any other way to get to the next place except through the pain, not around it. Along with the sorrow that inevitably wells up as I pack the dresses and unrealized dreams, I also feel the little butterflies of excitement about my trip, about being with my dad and brothers, one brother’s lover and the other’s new wife and that little girl. Life runs on.

The Way We Are

Image 1Last night was simply lovely.  I realized the categories I saw the world through in high school were narrow, shallow and full of fear.

In my true Swedish way, I got to our classmate David’s house exactly at 8 PM.  There was only one other person from our class, Kenny, and her husband already there.  Each person that came in after that was like finding the precious pearl.   I had a commitment at 7:30 this morning so I had to leave at midnight–the party went on for another couple of hours–Colombianos, a fin de cuentas. We are headed to some more time together.  I have regained something of great value I didn’t even know I had lost.

A Parable of Abundance and The Realities of Scarcity

61070_551027684924605_2127984668_n

On Saturday morning, I took 20 bags of food to deliver to day laborers at the Vila’s parking lot. This particular parking lot is where many Central and South American men gather hoping to get work for a day. Each Christmas, on Christmas day we have a breakfast and worship service with the guys who come here to wait. We are also distributing food bags from our food pantry once a month now. This Saturday, I was expecting two Latina women from our ministry to join me. We are working hard to build a sense of our shared mission and ministry and to involve our children with the broader community we are a part of. Ana and Juana hauled their little ones out of bed early to come and help me.

Unfortunately, the two ladies were riding together and had some car trouble so they arrived at Vila’s a little late. As soon as I showed up, the men sort-of swarmed my car. I am never mobbed but there is always an edge of desperation that could make things quite scary if they got out of hand. I decided I needed to get started handing out the bags. It was the usual noisy, friendly push and shove of greetings, demands, appreciation I work with when I am with these guys. Then the two women and their four little children came up to my car. The men went so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. One of the men who was next in line to get his bag said, “Madrecita, let me help gather the food back up from all of us–the families, those little children, need it more than we.” When I explained that the families were here to help and visit with them, I watched a bunch of really rough and tough guys greet those four little children and their moms with a kind of respectfulness that was simply beautiful to witness. Unfortunately, there were considerably more men than bags this time around so the next thing that happened was the guys gathered together and divvied up the contents of the bags. As far as I could tell, no one left without something to eat.

The reign of God, what is it like? Maybe something like a parking lot full of day laborers on a hot summer morning.

The realities of ministry–what are they like?

We serve our community in an old building with old stuff. This summer the dishwasher and the stove in our kitchen broke down. We feed about 65 people a day during our intensive reading camp so both of those pieces of equipment simply must work. Then this last Wednesday, right before lunchtime, there was a small explosion that started a fire behind our refrigerator. It was serious enough we had to call the fire department. Turns out, the fridge had a short-circuit and that too was not a repair that we could postpone. Nor could we postpone the stove hood test that needs to happen every 12 years but has been getting delayed annually since 2009. This year, the Fire Marshall finally declared the period of grace over and we just had to do it. Another significant hit to our fragile budget. The mamas of the boys and girls who participate in our summer program make the lunches for our community each day; it is a labor of love and they cook fabulously well. Today, when I went in to greet them, one said, “Reverenda, the air conditioner in the kitchen is not working and we have sweat running off our backs and down our legs it is so hot.” After all these other unexpected expenses, trying to figure out how to afford an conditioner fills me with dismay. And this, this is exactly what the paradox of scarcity and abundance is like in ministry.

A Crab and A Night Blooming Cereus

We have had almost incessant rain for over a week here in Fort Lauderdale.  Walking when streets are flooded gets to be impossible but finally, yesterday, the sun came out, we got no rain and I was able to eke out enough time to walk.  In the wash of evening light, with so much scrubbed clean by the rain, the world was new again and I had to stop and stare twice.  The first time, this is what I saw:

Image 4

The second time, it was a night blooming cereus that took my breath away.

Image 5

Sherod has had a night blooming cereus plant for years, the gift from a dear friend in Memphis who had tended her plant from adolesence, when her grandmother in Alabama gave her a cutting of her plant.  If you are not familiar with this plant, the blossoms open at night and only last for a few hours.  They are fragrant and exotic and crazy beautiful in an absolutely fleeting moment.  Don’t blink or you might miss it.  On my rambles, I go by a house that has a jungle of a front yard with several cereus plants. Yesterday, it was light enough and I was mindful enough to notice.

This Sunday, the Gospel passage is about Mary and Martha.  We are so tempted to make that split: action vs contemplation, busy-ness vs attentiveness.  More than ever, it is precisely in the action and the vigorous business of walking, that I find the moments of an ‘eternal now’.

 

 

Ljusterö

Two weeks from today, my brother Hans, his partner Anne Marie, and my dad will wait for me at the dock at Linanäs, the small town on the island of Ljusterö where we are having our family reunion of sorts this summer. I have already started taking out my flannel jammies and sweaters and thick socks because the high today was 68 and right now it is 54 degrees. I am however, also taking my bathing suit because this child of Swedes will take at least one jump off the granite rocks, into the Baltic while I am there.

I leave on the morning of the first of August to Newark. In the early evening, I will fly away from the night, across the Atlantic to Arlanda airport, and after riding the high speed train into Stockholm, I will catch the ferry that goes through the archipelago, making stops along the way. I’ll be on the ferry for a couple of hours which should put me in Linanäs at about noon, Swedish time, 6 in the morning on this side of the water. Almost 24 hours traveling. I will force myself to stay awake as long as humanly possible because that helps me get acclimated to the new time zone.

Very close to Ljusterö, there is an old fortified castle, Vaxholm. It is a restaurant now, a lovely one. The first time I ever ate smoked salmon, I was with my great uncle Gösta and his wife, Moster Lillan, who took me there for lunch when I was 9 or 10. I felt incredibly grown up because my parents trusted my manners enough to allow me to go out to lunch with older relatives unsupervised. I was also, in my mind, so sophisticated because I found smoked salmon and caviar to be delectable. Now, my dad is way older than Morbror Gösta and I am only 10 or so years younger than my great uncle was that day. I will know I am close to my destination that morning when the ferry slips past Vaxholm and I begin to see the swans.

Several folks will come visit with us during those two weeks, relatives and friends. One of the people coming to spend a night at the cottage is Tonia Tell. After Sherod and I married in Huntsville, AL, I got my green card and started job hunting. I had been working as a freelance translator and had even passed the English to Spanish Certification Exam of the American Translator Association. But though it earned me enough of a living, I would sit at home day after day, getting more and more lonely and isolated so I had decided that would not do. I had already accepted a job as a manager of a nursing home (!) when out of the blue I got a call from the translation department of Intergraph Corporation. A spinoff from the space and military complex in Huntsville, Intergraph was a company that specialized in cartography, CAD/CAM and a couple of other engineering subspecialties of software development. This was right around the first Gulf War and Intergraph had a tightly secured area very few people could go near, where they were developing software for military intelligence.

It was a booming company and the translation unit represented 8 languages. Celia, the lead for the Spanish translation team had stumbled across my name in the ATA directory and over the phone that day, basically offered me a job, sight unseen, for double what I would have earned as a nursing home manager. At first, she, Mariano from el Perú, and I, were the only members of the Spanish team. But the need for computer manuals was growing so rapidly that they decided to hire another person and selected Tonia Tell. Tonia is originally from Barcelona, the daughter of a Catalonian dad and Belgian mom. She and I became very good friends, and with a couple of the German translators and a French translator, became a little pack of twenty-somethings doing the corporate thing. My favorite story of Tonia is when, in all seriousness, she went to our manager and asked why Intergraph couldn’t open a “siesta lounge” with cots where we could all nap after lunch. I wish I could have captured Dean’s utter incredulity in the face of such a request.

I moved to Memphis, eventually she left Huntsville too and ended up marrying a Swede and moving to Sweden. We lost touch and then found each other on Facebook and agreed that this summer, we would meet. So she will come from southern Sweden and spend the night with us. My mom and dad got to meet her one summer when they came to see Sherod and me in Huntsville and my dad thought Tonia hung the moon. She was merciless about our “Sudaca” accents (the despective term Spaniards use for the barbarians of South America who claim to speak Spanish), she has a wonderful accent of her own and the best laugh around. ¡Qué cachondeo! We will see each other one week after my 35th high school class reunion when I will have seen almost half my class and a few days before I get to meet my younger brother’s wife and daughter.

Sitting at my kitchen table on a quiet Friday afternoon, I am aware once again, my past is literally my future. Reality, man, what a concept…

How Delicious is My Job?

It is a busy morning and I have a mile-long to-do list.  We are in the middle of our intensive summer reading camp and the mamas of our participants help prepare the lunches for our children.  Today the aromas are dizzy-making.  And in the middle of the hub-bub, the patter of feet and two little boys who come in and sit down to visit with me.  Truly, this is the bestest job in the world.  Just the absolute best…

Late Breaking News

20130717-214506.jpg

The Episcopal Church Foundation does quite a lot of online publishing–congregational resources kind of stuff. They have asked me to become a regular contributor to one of their blogs. My first writing gig for pay. Tonight, this minor success makes me grateful for A Room Of One’s Own