Feasting after Pentecost

Peaches, tomatoes, blueberries and blackberries picked this morning

I have spent a good part of my morning tending to issues and needs related to the buildings and grounds of my parish. It has never stopped amazing me, how many different things a parish priest needs to know about. This week I am learning about alternatives to repair stained glass windows, how to do a cost benefit analysis for replacing wood trim with Hardie Boards as an alternative to a more traditional project to repair of the wood that has rotted. Yesterday, I found out how you provide emergency assistance with rent when person is in a weekly-stay motel (don’t try to go the credit card route—they require front and back copies of your driver’s license and your credit card, and would you give that to folks who work behind bullet-proof windows in the seediest kinds of places imaginable?), and how narrative criticism is a fascinating way to engage the Gospel of Mark. Oh, and how complicated it is to try to improve the safety and security of your buildings at a church when there are 50 kajillion copies of the master key floating around and just about the entire congregation needs access to the buildings during non-business hours.

It may sound a bit twisted and perverse, but this is one of the things I absolutely love about my work. It’s not particularly glamorous or epic—it is just the ordinariness of how a community gets through from day to day. But the variety and scope of the work I do makes it nearly impossible to ever be bored. In this growing season, the parish I serve is working very hard and intentionally on letting go of clutter that has accumulated for decades; it is looking at every single one of our spaces and asking, “Does this space communicate welcome, a sense of the future we are daring ourselves to build towards?” Each decision about what we hold on to, and what we let go of, is another invitation to ask ourselves, “who are we and why are we here?” Some of the answers are quite astoundingly wonderful.

Early in the life of this blog, I felt deep grief, realizing I was entering a time in my life when I would be defined more by loss than gain, by subtraction and not addition. Losing my mom and exactly one year later, having to institutionalize María, made it feel like death and loss and nothingness were all the same. It’s not quite that cut and dry, is it? I don’t experience as much grief any longer, and in fact, it is rather the opposite: I become more and more awestruck by what is the simplest and most essential around me, by how little we actually need, and how small bits and pieces are also infinities in their own right.

And even as I am hard at work doing what I can to help us let go of, pare down, simplify, our shared life at church, I unexpectedly receive a picture from my spouseman who was out in the garden doing some harvesting after I left for work. On Monday, I used 4 pounds of our blackberries to can blackberry jam. We have put up almost 2 gallons of blueberries, the jalapeños are ready for picking, and the tomatoes are starting to ripen with the figs not far behind.

Ebb and flow, loss and gain all the time.

Eight years

Mami helping me dress on the day of my wedding

Dear Mami:

Eight years ago, today was the day when we turned the last corner with you. Early that Saturday morning, I watched Hans leave your house at the crack of dawn, headed to Panamá City to fly out that evening to Amsterdam. The weight of spending whatever time was left with you, without my big brother to help carry the sorrow was more than a little overwhelming. I was missing my own girl and spouseman a lot after two weeks away from them. And it was so hard watching you lose ground, day by day.

What I held onto that Saturday, was the knowledge that our intrepid Hospice ladies would visit mid-morning. They always brought laughter, comfort, insight and peace with them. I still don’t know how we would have gotten through without them. But that morning was different. I could see it in Barbara’s face the minute she put her stethoscope against your chest She didn’t even consult with the other two women with her. She put the stethoscope down, looked at Dad and me and said, “You have to get Hans back; do not let him get on that plane to Amsterdam.” In another time and another place, a nurse would have not had the freedom to give such direction, but up in Boquete, with such little medical care available, she did the right thing.

You didn’t just get upset—you were furious—that the next thing she said was that you were not to get out of bed any longer. I still chuckle that the minute we turned our back on you, you did get out of bed and with Pastora’s help, found your way to the living room “throne” where you had gotten to be Queen of Everything for so long.

The only women more strong and stubborn than you were the Hospice Ladies and before you knew it, they’d rolled your hospital bed into the living room, rearranged the whole space so you could look out those beautiful glass sliding doors out to the garden and gathered all kinds of beauty around you. You had no excuses now to get out of bed and I could see your relief. You were tired. But you still wanted to be in the space you loved best.

It didn’t take long for you to fall asleep and I watched you sleep through most of the day as I waited for Hans, dreaded the reality that made it so critical for him to come back. But oh, when you woke up in the evening and saw Hans, your face lit up with such utter joy and delight that I can still only thank God for how that day unfolded.

And then it was Sunday and now you didn’t just sleep, you struggled to take each breath. Dad, Hans and I kept watch with you, tried to do what we could to give you comfort as your body finally could no longer keep going. In those last few moments when your breathing had ended but your heart kept racing, I am fiercely, heartbreakingly, glad that I was able to do one last thing to make your leave-taking a little easier. That night I walked with you right up to the gates of heaven and what an extraordinary privilege it was, even if it meant leaving you in God’s hands and returning to my life.

The next morning, locked in my room, weeping, I demanded of God that the next time we meet I get to be in your presence with you as your truest self. I wanted assurances that I would get to see the tender smiles I still remember, your eyes twinkling, your hand holding mine. I know now that those things I wanted were things that had actually been lost along the way, especially as the cancer ravaged your body. Even more, I know that what you had given me was already enough, more than enough, of what I will ever need in the way of a mother’s love. It still strengthens me, even when being a mother myself gets hard. These days I make fewer demands and try to extract fewer promises from God. After you died was when I really began to learn what gratitude is all about. Grieving for you was another gift received because you were my mother and I, your daughter.

So today and tomorrow, as I remember those last hours of your life and the fact that you have been gone for so long now, I don’t worry any longer about how, or when I may get to be with you again. I simply acknowledge that I miss you and that even now, your love endures and abides with me.

All is well, Mami, rest in peace…

The face of God

The stories in the Bible about being in the presence of God are conflicting and conflicted. Can you see the face of God and live? How can you live if you have not seen the face of God? I am steeped in the Judeo-Christian version of reality, that assumes that power, might and glory, like God’s, look big, imposing, scary enough to maybe make you die of fear. Every now and then, that image gets turned upside down.

Last night, my sweet girl dog Tux jumped up on our bed after we’d tucked in for the night and came and snuggled against me.  I had literally just put a new coverlet on our bed in the afternoon, tickled that I’d finally found something I really liked for the summer. when even nights are hot and sticky in Alabama.  All of a sudden, Tux jumped up, got as far as the bottom edge of the bed, and proceeded to throw up this ghastly, stinky gob of stuff. I practically flew out of bed with nothing to do but wipe the stuff off the coverlet ( trying hard not to retch myself), gather it up, and head to the washing machine.  I set it to wash for a long time…

This morning, when the sun was already high, I took the coverlet out of the washing machine and went out to hang it on the clothesline.  It was a bit big and cumbersome. As I was stretching it out on the line, out of the corner of my eye I saw a shadow move by and heard fluttering.  I glanced down and literally, at my feet, looking up at me with the shiniest obsidian little eyes imaginable, was a robin.  He looked at me for several seconds and I looked back, astounded by the beauty of his plumage, but even more, by his fearless examination of me.  And then, the moment was over and he was off, probably to find some more food for his brood that’s still holed up in the bluebird house at the end of our wildflower bed.

I wonder if these aren’t the moments when we actually do get to see the face of God.