This

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I cannot think of a recent conversation with a clergy person or thoughtful member of the laity that has not included some version of “but we can’t talk about that”.

I am not preaching today.  I will help out at St Paul’s and for that I am grateful.  This morning I was out on my tractor at 7:30, yesterday I was on it for 2 hours so a pasture, my back yard and the area that will one day be Sherod’s and my vegetable garden are mowed.  I laughingly thought about a post called “My Tractor And I Are One”–I have done something else I couldn’t even imagine doing and have gotten proficient enough that I’m about to be able to do wheelies on my machine (not really, but you know what I mean).  I am also canning today.  I had a great trip to NYC, my project was well received and after today, there are only 15 more days till I see my husband.  So, so much goodness and privilege in all that.

And yet.  As Brueggemann says, “all the while, the words grind our guts”.  Especially after these past 10 days.

Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.

Still Point

It’s 63 degrees in New York and the breeze has that slight edge of chill that says enjoy the warmth of the last days of summer. I am sitting in a little park I was introduced to on my last trip here. It is beautiful and it sits in the shadow of the United Nations. I brought my coffee here this morning to sit for a few minutes so I could be reminded of the stillness all our souls need. Dear God, the wretchedness of the world on this day makes me shudder. The temptation to give into powerlessness is so enormous. My question today is simple: “how am I called, in this new place in my life, to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”? I am impatient to know the answer

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Clubbing in New York

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I had done my weekly grocery shopping in Prattville and was driving home to Lowndesboro listening to public radio. I was more than a little amused because I was listening to really great classical music—something I never got to do in SoFla that had public radio that only broadcast talk shows. Here I was, driving alongside cotton fields listening to very sophisticated music. The show I was listening to was Performance Today that included a feature about a classical pianist who had performed at a trendy new club in New York called SubCulture. I tucked that name away and kept heading home at my slow, country pace.

I’m in New York for 3 days of pretty intense work and there’s something different about me. I sleep so well and am so much more rested than I’ve been since I began working for ECF that I got here with a bunch of energy.  AT the end of my work day, after having left my house at 4:20 AM to catch my flight into JFK, I was ready to party a bit. So in the Rosa version of it, I went clubbing in New York.

IMG_0193I jumped on the subway at Grand Central Station and went downtown to the Bleeker Street station; one of the station’s exits is literally at the doorstep of SubCulture.

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Tonight, an indie group from Brooklyn,The Scarlet K was debuting so I sat in this incredibly intimate performance space, sipping on a cocktail that included proseco, homemade cucumber water and mint, and heard a marvelous, talented group get out there and just do it. Sarah Knight, the lead, was winsome, deep and joyful. She has southern roots and at one point, had the audience join her to sing Blessed Be The Ties That Bind in 4 parts a capella. Made the hair on your arms stand up kind beautiful.  The subway was packed, packed even at 10:00 PM, Grand Central Station teeming with people.  The contrast is stunning.  I love both parts of my life.

Off to bed with an intense 2 more days of work ahead.

At Day’s End

At One of Our Storefront Services

At One of Our Storefront Services

I am sure there will be dozens, probably hundreds, of similar blog posts this night, mourning the death of Robin Williams. The news came at the end of a particularly sad day. This morning, Diana, who was one of the original founders of the Latino ministry in Fort Lauderdale I was so privileged to serve with, resigned from her position. The loss of her leadership is another hard blow to the most marginalized members of what was once a regional ministry that tried to embrace all kinds of diversity, including social class and power diversity. Like me, Diana has her rough edges and like me, she was always on a steep learning curve in the work of ministry.

As I was preparing to leave in the late Spring, we got word that the two teachers who had anchored the  literacy program that made such an enormous difference to a community on the edges, were unexpectedly not able to participate this summer. At that point, I thought it was the end of the ministry. Diana refused to believe that was so. With help, and with single-minded purpose, she put together a plan for the summer program. What happened was not a watered down version of the past. Perhaps the most remarkable accomplishment of the summer was her ability to engage mothers of our community, many of whom have minimal schooling and who are used to seeing themselves as totally inadequate to helping their children succeed in school, so they very actively participated in their children’s summer learning activities.

I only got bits and pieces, small glimpses of what was happening, but it looked really amazing. The reading test scores for the 50 children who participated this summer were every bit as strong as previous years’ scores, maybe even stronger. The program was extended an additional 2 weeks. That additional time was resourced completely by the moms and was a learning celebration of the children’s country of origin cultures. Again, I have only seen bits and pieces. You just have to look at the children’s faces, and the see the pride in the postings that appeared on Facebook about all the ways in which 50 children’s lives were enriched by women who are taught they have no value, to see that something good had happened. Something very good.

I am enormously proud of the young woman I was fortunate to work with for 8 years. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, we had us some knock down-drag out fights along the way and we let each other down more than once. But we were working for a much larger purpose than our individual styles, preferences and needs and we always found our way back to what was most important: creating a space where children could learn and their moms could see, even if for only a moment, that not only did they have value, they were beloved children of God. Together we learned to be less judgmental of women in domestic violence situations and to try to find more creative ways of supporting them on a path to something better. Together we sobbed the day we found out that one had finally been killed by her partner. And with the rest of the El Centro, we ate lentejitas con arroz y maduro (lentils and rice with plantains) laughed so hard sometimes that our sides ached and the tears ran down our faces, and marveled at just how good life can be, even out there on the edges, where we did our work.

That very small, in some respects, insignificant chapter that we helped God write in those years is now over. Diana, like I, did ministry in a place where strong forces were at play that had a whole lot more say about the future than we did. I don’t whitewash the truth that my own limitations, my own failures as the priest of El Centro, also played into the reality that a day came when Diana found she could simply not continue to work in the situation that had evolved after my departure. I have come to the conviction that an essential part of my priesthood is carrying the weight of my own failures and I do so each and every day now, trying to learn from my mistakes.

I am also old enough to know there are no angels, no demons, in this story. It is just the way of life and I am far more comfortable than ever recognizing that some efforts will not get enough lift, will not find the legs necessary for long-term sustainability, no matter how noble their intent and effort. It once would have been tempting to parse out all the failure points, all the ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’s’.   Even a few months ago, the blame game would have beckoned seductively.

Not tonight. Robin Williams is dead of suicide, a brilliant, gentle, generous and fragile presence who was lent to the world for too short a time.   El Centro, as Diana, and Angel, and Pilar, and Daniel, Maria and Alex and Jaime and I thought it might be when we had soccer field, and storefront, and garden, and occasionally, “real” church Eucharists and sang “A La Huella” along with Mercedes Sosa at Advent, has almost completely spun out of existence. A young immigrant woman who worked hard to land a job with benefits has to start over professionally. I am sad and I am also fiercely glad that Diana and I were lent to a community and a community was lent to us for that brief and beautiful time. We were offered the gift of what felt like a day that flew by in the blink of an eye, and we somehow managed to “Carpe Diem”. What is there to regret about that?

 

 

How?

Cards For Maria

Cards For Maria

I am back in Alabama with my two cats, my two dogs and a summer thunderstorm enlivening things outside my window. These are intense days.

Along with traveling to Tallahassee to be with Maria through her surgery, on Thursday and yesterday, I got several glimpses of a ministry that continues to spin into something very new and very different in Southeast Florida. That happens. A new priest gets to come into a parish and help a community discern the shape and direction of the work they will do together, unencumbered by the agenda of the previous priest. It is also way too early to know what that might look like and what shape that will take in the part of the ministries in Fort Lauderdale I was most directly involved in these past years. It’s just that the end of one chapter and the beginning of another brings pain that is carried not just by the priest who left, but by others as well. Until Sherod is completely out, retired from All Saints and gone from Ft Lauderdale, no matter how carefully I try to keep my boundaries up, no matter how much distance I’ve put between myself and that particular corner of life, I still catch enough glimpses to have to acknowledge that grief will continue to come knocking for a while longer.

I am also aware that this visit with Maria amplified the sense not of powerlessness, but of limits I wish I didn’t have to accept. Yesterday afternoon, I had a pretty tough go-round with the nursing staff at her residential program. When she was released from the hospital around noon, I was given a prescription for a narcotic painkiller and told explicitly that she could and should take it every 4-6 hours to stay ahead of the pain. Now, this has been the year of living medically and I know some things about pain management and the ins and outs of getting narcotic prescriptions filled. It’s complicated.

I also knew, as soon as I got that script, that I needed to bring pressure to bear on the system so the script would be filled promptly. Sure enough—at 2:45, it was still sitting around in the nursing station. The pharmacy that TDC uses for meds for its residents is in Panama City and getting it filled was going nowhere fast. I knew that by 3:30, Maria would more than likely be in considerable pain. So I jumped into the fray, asked for the prescription and went to the nearest Walgreens to get it filled.  When I got back, the nurses were in no hurry to make sure she took a pill, though you could see her pain and discomfort clearly. And in a condescending voice informed me that this was medicine to be used sparingly to avoid constipation.

You gotta be kidding me???!!!!   This mama about went down the nurses’ throats at that point. We worked it through and I was as diplomatic as possible since I understand only too well that in an institution, after a skirmish like this, the vulnerable are the ones who pay. I also understand that this precious child of mine is one of dozens the staff at TDC is responsible for, and the calculus of care, compassion and practicality is different of necessity. This morning Maria was well enough so I was able to drive her to our favorite breakfast spot, Bada Breakfast, so she could eat a whole bowl of oatmeal and bananas. But when we got back to TDC, she desperately wanted to climb back into the recliner she’s discovered. I tucked her new throw blanket around her, gave her one last blessing and kiss and forced myself out the door. It was brutal, driving away. It was brutal to say out loud that as good and privileged as my life is, it is also diminished in some very painful ways by the distance that now separates me from Maria, that I miss the “cotidianidad”—the daily-ness of having her in the same city—quite desperately.

So loss intertwined with loss—how do we ever get through it in these middle years? The four hour drive back home gave me time to reflect on that question. Right now, the answer is pretty straightforward. Yesterday made it manifest and clear to me. Maria’s doctor and his surgical nurse invited me into a small sitting room after the surgery to tell me how it had gone. They asked a bit about Maria and I was able to tell them, in broad brushstrokes, the story of our brave and wonderful girl. Literally, both of them teared up. Not only had they brought good news that the growth was not malignant–they gave me some of their precious time and in doing that allowed Maria and me to be something more than a medical record.

In the afternoon, when I went to Walgreens to get the pain medicine, the pharmacist asked for insurance information. I explained very briefly what the situation was and said I would pay for the medicine myself. She said it would take about 15 minutes to fill the script but she actually only took 5 minutes. And told me that given the circumstances, the best she could do was give me a 50% discount. I hadn’t expected any discount at all, and again, it was the sheer kindness of a stranger that meant so much.

Later in the afternoon, two of Maria’s housemates, gentle, quite profoundly disabled, came into the small room where Maria and I were hanging out. Sarah and Shawn had made my girl get well cards. They were bashful, obviously delighted with themselves and so sweet as they gave her their gifts, reached down and carefully tried to hug or pat her and then left quietly.

I suspect it will take years and years for me to look back on my time with NRRM without the sense of loss and sorrow that still sometimes overwhelms me. I don’t think I will and don’t even aspire to ever ‘get over’ the losses that have come from loving my daughter. What get’s me through, what really works is quite simply this: practicing gratitude. For now, I try to practice gratitude daily for what is directly in front of me, for the breath-taking mercies of the moment.   I believe if I can allow that gratitude to become the prism through which I look back at everything that has happened, I will be even more free than I am.  The source of my gratitude today came from two places.  First, my friend James posted a fabulous cover of Thunderstruck on Facebook last night–I played it LOUD in my car riding home.  Then, just past Ozark, and before Brundidge, on Highway 231, I saw the most magnificent sign I hadn’t notice before.  It was for a barbecue joint.  Called Hawg’n’dawgs.   How can you not love living in Alabama and being grateful…

 

 

Not That It Was Beautiful

We are beginning a renovation project and yesterday I went to meet with the folks who are helping us with the kitchen part of the project.  Sherod and I are committed to do as much business as possible in Selma and I am still finding my way around.  That means I leave a little early each time I have an appointment in town to give myself time to get lost and found.  I had 10 minutes to kill when I got to my meeting place so I drove a little further down the road to keep getting a lay of the land.  It wasn’t exactly that what I saw was really beautiful as much as it was colorful and interesting to look at and I wondered about the stories each of these places might have told.

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