this thing called freedom

we ride hard down white mountain path, lake-louise summits rising high scraping heaven’s blue bonnet, and i’m sweating making effort to carve feeling ache in my bones wondering when did i get so old? will i ever move smooth as my husband down below, always waiting, always smiling, ever patient as i find my way across this rocky rivet-grandeur?…

with each passing hour i wait for boarding to ease, i’ve done this before, why is it so hard? i beg for rest, and then, in the last leak of day when the sun is melting ice into slush and children are laughing in the summer-sun-heat i find my groove, and i glide swish, swish, swish, as above an eagle soars and i don’t want to stop, don’t have to watch, stare up into the wings of the air and feel as though i’m flying… i don’t have to think anymore for i get it.

and i hope for this in my spiritual slide from sin into salvation … as life leaks warm into soul, as cold glacier melts into slush of grace, i might find ease of movement, and slowly, let go and look up and see the eagle soaring, feel the spirit descending, and know this thing that i’ve been promised; this thing called freedom.

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white wasteland

i hadn’t seen them for the snow… hadn’t seen their yellow-petal-heads peering up from dirt, for the white wasteland. winter had blanketed mystery over these flowers. i’d peered out my window countless days seeing nothing but white, stretched far like linen on the line, the sky, gray-lint cloud fleece.

but today, sun broke free from cloud, melted winter away with a splash of child’s boot in puddle and there, leaping up from the ground like a chorus of hallelujahs, the crocus. spring’s national anthem.

“the Waste Land is the place where God transforms you into the person who can do your Dream.”

this, The Dream Giver book tells me. and i think upon my life, upon its seasons of white winters and crocus-springs, think upon the mystery of God blanketing my dreams until just the right moment when the sun breaks through and melts away the wasteland, revealing a triumphant choir of flowers. dreams, blooming, just below the snow. and to think, they would not have been warm enough to grow without that snow. to think, they would have died in winter’s chill if snow had not fluffed white about their roots.

my dreams need the wasteland. the wasteland keeps them growing. and in due time, spring will come. with a chorus of hallelujahs.

mama-need moments

aiden’s sitting in daddy’s lap, sucking on new-found thumb, looking at me. i’m sneaking to kitchen-solitude to paint; setting up canvas, brushes; hear aiden whimpering. daddy’s trying to read to him ‘where the wild things are’ but the wild things aren’t interesting aiden, who’s wanting mommy tonight. trent does his thing, lying down and setting aiden on his knees and talking to him like an adult and usually it makes aiden chuckle adorable baby laughs but tonight, absent looks. then trent tries blowing bubbles but still, nothing. no response save for worried eyes and tired sighs. i remain in the kitchen, painting, begging God, let trent not stop wanting to hang out with his son for these few mama-need moments. finally, he puts aiden in his swing. the momentous back and forth near-puts me to sleep and the colours blur as aiden slurps his thumb and then, makes sleepy sounds. i get up to put him to bed, thinking trent would be tired of his needy son but no, trent is already there, and as he picks aiden up he tells him, “you are so special. so precious. did you know that?” and i sit down with a thud, struck dumb by the sounds of grace.

the woman in her rocking chair

death comes quiet,

behind closed doors.

i stare at the house across the road. someone is painting walls. soon, a for-sale sign is plugged into the lawn, then a string of trucks, vans, jeeps. and i wonder, when did it happen? when did the rocking chair on her front porch cease to rock? did death happen in bed? in her kitchen, buttering toast? or in front of the tv? and how did she die? she lived alone, no one to hear her cry. no one to catch her when she fell. dying alone should be illegal. we enter the earth in partnership with another; sliding from womb, mother there, waiting to hold us. we should leave earth the same way. with someone holding us…

the air is too silent. we should all be wailing. a woman has died. a citizen, lost. a mother, daughter, sister, friend—deceased.

and soon, someone else will buy that house. with its rooms. and that someone will make new memories. will hang new pictures on the walls and have new conversations and butter new toast. it’s as though we pass the baton on, saying here, take care of my legacy by moving into my place and using my space.

but in moving on, let’s never forget the woman who once sat on her front porch, rocking. for when we forget–that’s when we begin to die.

he grips my finger…

i am nursing; reach across baby-head to type, to write the article which i’ve been assigned, but he stops me,

soft baby finger curling around mine, gripping tight as milk bubbles whiten bow-lips and i look down,

reminded of this creation in my arms and convinced to ignore the voice inside that urges onwards. ever-striving. ever wording and imagining.  “not now mommy,” he seems to be saying, finger twist-tie tight. “me, now, mommy.”

i am forced by infant wisdom to smell his downy hair and notice how age is scribbling across his forehead through tiny blue veins… made to sit still in the measure of a moment and be needed by my son. to pray for his days to come, to become mother to him–not just through milk but through my quiet vision, cast solely on him.

and even when he stops drinking and sighs and i lean his body against my shoulder, burp the milk deep from inside his chest, he keeps holding on, not wanting to let go, and i let him, because i need this too.

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turning torture into beauty

he speaks in a soft growl, this needlepoint artist from Charlotte, North Carolina. this man who looks like he rides a Harley only instead, spends his days crouched low over canvas threading needle and weaving together $35,000 masterpieces fought over by men in Armani suits and women in ridiculous hats.

i listen and type, fingers flying fast as he tells me stories that make me think he must be lying. wish he were lying. stories of his mother lighting matches and sticking them in his hand as a baby. stories of her locking him in a closet for a summer, forcing him to defecate on the floor, feeding him bread under the door. stories of her buying him and his siblings exactly what they wanted for Christmas, only to make them return it the very next day and give her the money. “why would she do that?” i ask. “to show us we weren’t worth anything,” he replies.

he tells me how she used to leave him and his siblings naked on the floor in winter while she went to work. how she would threaten to kill them in their sleep because they made her life hell. how she scalded his sister with boiling water and put cigarettes out on her babies. “we never had dinner together; we never had a birthday party. she never hugged any of us,” the 40-year-old artist recalls. “it was like a POW camp.”

i cannot handle this. force my mind into a happy place and then wonder, how does he do it? make such beautiful art representing life and God and goodness? this man who went to college to become a psychiatrist so he could help his mother…

“i have a relationship with Jesus Christ, every day,” he says in his bear-voice. “i’m a man, who makes mistakes, but Jesus is my friend.”

the Bible is the only book Nelson Lewis has read, cover to cover. he read one section a night, and after reading Romans, he says Jesus entered his room, and “i could hear a choir of kids singing. i felt the clouds part, and he walked through the centre of that and was standing at my feet.” it was such a good feeling, he continues. “i wish i could have that every minute of my life.”

growing up, Lewis saw religion as mean. vindictive. his mother would force him to walk to Catholic church, and if he couldn’t remember what he’d learned she’d punish him. “when i got done with the Bible i realized religion was a man-made word,” he tells me.

today Lewis strives to love. he gives all of his money away, playing Santa Claus to kids in the projects at Christmas, sending funds to South Africa to assist with AIDS research, and donating to child-abuse agencies. and today, Lewis is friends with his mother, who denies everything.

“i’ve had to forgive her in her entirety,” he says. “to understand God put me in that place, growing up, for a reason.”

and that reason? “to give me a heart for helping other people.”

learning grace

she calls me in quiet sadness, says in soft British voice, “em, dad won’t let me go to the centre today.”

mum has found a home at the local adult day centre, a place where people of small and large disability gather as one to do crosswords and play bingo and eat meat and potatoes. when mum needs to rest, there are easy chairs. when mum needs to chat, there are adults to listen and she feels normal there.

but fridays are for those suffering dementia. i tell her this, remind her gently and she says, “what does that matter?” and i think, hmm, what does that matter? “well mum, they’re different…” and she says in return, “so am i. we can be different, together.”

different, together. isn’t this it? the message of the gospel? the meaning of church? it’s not about pressed suits and ironed dresses and curled hair and sitting in a pew. it’s about meeting at a day-centre, in stretchy blue pants and stained sweater, doing cross-words with other adults who may forget your name but who will sit with you and touch your hand and smile as, together, you learn how to walk in grace.

(photo of my mum, on left, running as a little girl)

being family

i hear him slip from the bathroom into teacher-clothes, and i rise, greet the morn with tousled hair and wrinkled pyjamas, slide his lunch into school-bag, and then he dances for me in the middle of the kitchen while he waits for his toast. dances for me as marmalade-sunshine splashes onto floor and i double over laughing as he exaggerates his moves in slow-motion then pulls me into farm-boy arms and twirls me like he did on our wedding day.

then, from the room down the hall, a small voice begging ‘getmeup so i too might join in this day, in this dance of life’ so together we visit the nursery, find our son in his wee bed big eyes staring up, small face stretching wide into smile as we gaze down. i pick him up, tuck him close and he slurps milk and we sit in kitchen-stillness eating toast and drinking coffee and being family.

God in the grime

the seed has fallen on snow, splattered on powder blackened by foot. there, the sparrows congregate, pecking and stepping on white cold when above, the feeder dangles from tree. why the ground, not the feeder? the birds scatter when my shadow crosses window, and i lament my haste. wish them return, for there is peace in watching them gather.

this, i hunger for: seed of Scripture sprinkled where dirty footsteps fall. the holy amidst the mess. i am trying to see God in the grime of living, to find him in the poverty of spirit. for somehow, feeding on him amidst the pain is far more filling than feeding on him in comfort: the safety of feeder, hanging from tree. no, i’d rather grovel on ground, uncovering the secret stash of seed, made more sacred by the fall from heights. there, amongst the homeless sparrows i share broken bread, broken spirit, broken body… there, we congregate. feeding on grace.

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