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My Book of Uncommon Prayers: Pain and Hope

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I woke suddenly in the wee hours, the dark hours. Was it the weird dream I was having? Maybe. But aside from that, I immediately was aware that I had passed the anniversary of my first child’s death and had not remembered.

That was what kept me awake.

I stopped hearing the heartbeat with my stethoscope on Nov. 18, ’74. The doctor confirmed my full-term child was dead on the 18th, and I gave birth to her on the 19th. Every year at this time, whether I say anything or not, the loss rises up. And though time has healed the rawness of the wound, the grief has always been there.

But not this year.

The loss of Noelle colored my whole life. It framed my internal dialogue with God about what is just and right, and what is love in His eternal economy.  I wrote a lot of songs. I wrote a lot of poetry. And I journaled the highs and lows of grappling with loss and disappointment. I processed a lifetime of questions. I railed and returned to the knee time and time again, knowing that He was there to meet me in my anguish and questioning.

Though it hurt to turn the grief over and over in my mind and art, the reality of it, in a strange way, is what gave me hope. There was the expectation that something so horrible would be made right at the end of all things. All the hard things would not be for nothing.

Pain and hope link arms, and it is what keeps you pressing on. It kept me pressing on.

To stop feeling the pain is to forget. And to forget is to become numb.

If I forget, I don’t care.

If I don’t care, I lose hope that things will ever be right.

The steady drip drip of loss joins the stream of all the other pains in my heart and in this world, and it would flow on and on unabated, swallowing up all the cries of us, the anonymous, if not for the glimpse of promise. I must believe that even if I stop feeling, His promise is stronger than my exhausted unbelief.

“Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” ~~Mark 9:24

Lord, of the faithless, the weary wanderer, though I am apt to complain more than praise, don’t let me stop feeling the pain that reassures me I am connected and hoping for your kingdom to come. Be near me in the silence of my heart; speak love to me. Help me to not stop caring.     

 

 

 

Dead Trees, Thorns, Elections, and Me

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There is an abbey up in the hills where I like to go to think, to photograph, and to seek moments of peace. A few weeks ago, I happened to go on a Sunday morning, and since there were masses scheduled, parking was limited; and I had to park quite a distance away from the reflecting pond. I did notice, however, as I was leaving there was an old, funky, dead tree across the field near where I had parked the car, and I determined the next time I came I would get closer and photograph it.

That next time was this week. After communing with the ducks and turtles and photographing the fall leaves and reflections in the water, I drove down to the edge of the field, grabbed my camera and headed across. The field was mostly sandy with tufts of weeds, but what kept me wary were the many holes I saw. I assumed they were gopher holes, but one can never tell. Up in the hills, we have Mojave green rattlesnakes, so I scanned the ground carefully as I walked so as not to be surprised by a very deadly snake.

I was barefoot in my Crocs, which was probably not the best choice for protective footwear, but I live in them because it is the next best thing to going totally barefoot! I started feeling little pinches and assumed some stickers were coming in through the holes as I walked, though I really didn’t see any thistles or thorns on the ground. I stopped by a small, flat rock and took one foot out and set it down there to rid my Croc of whatever had invaded. When I lifted my shoe up, I was horrified to see the whole bottom surface carpeted in goathead thorns. These are nasty, piercing, painful things! At my age, balance is not as sure a thing as when I was young; and realizing that I could not risk stepping down on the ground barefoot, I carefully emptied the shoe of the 2 bits of thorn and cautiously put my foot back inside.

My dilemma then was not whether or not to keep going, but whether to forget the picture and head back to the car. Of course, I took the picture. I would have liked to go closer and get shots from different angles, but I am not entirely crazy!

As I turned to make the careful trek back, I was aware—painfully aware—that the hundred or so steps back were to be done with utmost care. Part of me wanted to panic and run, but the sensible part gingerly took one step at a time. I pressed my feet hard against the plastic, scrunching my toes tight together, trying to ignore the bits of thorns that progressively invaded as I tried not to scuff.

When I finally made it to the car, I sat in the driver’s seat with my feet out and removed the shoes. Both soles were completely covered with thorns. There was no way I was going to be able to dislodge them, so I carefully put my Crocs on the floor mat of the passenger side and drove home barefoot.

My husband tried to clean them up for me, but very quickly came to the realization that he was not going to be able to get every part of the thorns out; so, they are destined for the trash bin!

I kept thinking that there had to be some kind of allegory or moral in all of this. So here it is.

Even though we head toward what we think is a worthy goal, and even though we think we know what dangers exist and are on the lookout, there are myriad little things we don’t see that become just as great a threat to our health and safety. In this election cycle, people have had different goals, different candidates, different passions and causes, different behaviors or evidence they were willing to overlook for a greater cause, and they have pushed full steam ahead in their desired directions. I had hoped that once the election was settled and a winner declared, tempers would cool and folks would go back to their respective corners to continue on with a semblance of orderly life. However, the thorns that were picked up on the way were not the big and obvious obstacles that all factions were maneuvering through. What has attached itself to our underbellies are all the cruel words, the bitternesess, the ideological divides that make it impossible to agree to disagree.

What has attached itself to our souls is the tension of otherness—an otherness that is supported by the studies and anecdotes and inflammatory rhetoric that each group trusts. People are virtuous in their own narratives, supported by their selective documentation and cited diatribes. Folks are indeed going to their respective corners, but not to cool off and gain perspective of the greater goals—the greater good. Folks are in their corners throwing rocks and gearing up for full scale attack.

People have stopped listening to each other.

People have stopped caring about what is best for their neighbor, more intent on winning a political and/or an ideological battle. If it means undermining the Constitution or throwing communities into disarray or pitting person against person, it becomes more about winning than about what is good for the country. These are the nasty, piercing, painful things, and I wonder if the nation will survive them.

As for me, I am not a citizen and cannot vote; but character counts for me, so I would not have voted for either candidate. My ultimate kingdom is a spiritual one, so whether America goes Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian in the long run does not matter to me. Well, maybe a little.

And yet, I live here, and the stress and at times near panic has been unsettling.

But the thorns in my life that keep my eyes off forever things,

the thorns in my life that pinch and keep me from loving as Christ loves,

are the ones that can do damage to my soul, and those I am endeavoring to throw in the trash.

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