Healing in Holy Week

I’ve been thinking a lot about a lot of things this week because I’m a deep thinker, but also because it’s Holy Week. I’ve been in a week of learning, relearning, and creating new pathways for my brain to replace the old negative ones. Thoughts from PTSD/OCD can control someone to a place they don’t even recognize themselves anymore. That was me not so long ago. Put it this way, it was the same month we are in. It’s apropos that my healing is taking place this week, and I find it very meaningful. I’ve thought about Jesus a great deal. I’ve pondered at great lengths whether HE had a say in how things ended up. These are my own theological wonderings; not trying to look for or find debate. I’ve also thought about how HE could have lived a much, much longer life and healed and loved even more people. I’ve never thought of this in my whole life until this week. What if HE had been over 100 years old when HE died? Why so young? I don’t know, and I won’t know for certain as a finite human being. Couldn’t the story have been extended? GOD could’ve given HIM many more years to live, teach, heal, and give. HIS life was cut short. And yes, I suppose I’m questioning that. Wouldn’t it have been awesome to have a 969-year-old Methuselah-channeling Jesus? Think of just how many more folks HE could have touched, literally and metaphorically.

Guess what? My questions may matter to my brain, but ultimately the ultimate happened when I wasn’t even a blink in my mother’s eye…when my ancestors were multiple generations removed from me. Herein is the point entirely. Our questions can float around like bobbers on a fishing line, but the greatest and most phenomenal act of love occurred without our help. GOD did what GOD does which is let the world GOD made unfold as GOD designed. This is my belief, anyhow. And the unfolding, for whatever reason, had to happen with GOD’s Son crucified and bleeding and dying on a cross. This makes no logical sense. This is why I don’t like it. Why couldn’t Jesus have grown old, helped 1,000 times more people in the flesh, then died quietly and peacefully…and still saved us? I don’t get it. But guess what? It doesn’t matter that I don’t understand.

Enter the bold and brave Faith onto the stage. Faith means ‘who really cares if we don’t get it’. We are humans. We aren’t going to get it. Faith is ‘we don’t know why, we don’t know how, and we don’t really like Jesus dying in pain on a cross, but we have to sit with it anyway’. It happened, we honor it, and live our lives to honor HIM. But no it doesn’t make logical sense. Faith says, ‘Rest. It’s okay. You don’t have to or need to ‘get it’. Just be grateful.’ And I’m so grateful beyond all measure today. Because HE left the garden, where HE was mingled within the olive trees in that green, serene space. HE left the beauty for the burn. HE left the calm for the crisis. HE left the peacefulness for the pain….for you.

Valley Girl Redemption

I know what you’re thinking…the term “valley girl” is most often described as a female from California with a certain recognizable accent. And you’d be right. Except I’m speaking from a different valley, not one on the West Coast. I’m referencing a very real valley, yet one not locatable on a map. The valley I know is one of internal recognition. You likely haven’t seen it, but you might have or have had your own to traverse through. We all experience the valleys in some manner…that first step descendant into downward motion. We might have been
leveled off for years, or always optimistic, feeling that uphill foray with fire in our toes. But something, a situation, a life-changing unfolding comes to roost unexpectedly.

I know several valleys, some in which I’ve occupied real estate for years. I recently spoke about ‘Everests’ I’ve faced, which I still feel. However, now I can ascertain perhaps those mountains were actually valleys. Because on the mountain top you have sure and crystalline clarity. Because on the climb, you know you’re getting somewhere so positivity keeps you moving forward. But in the valleys, you don’t know those things. Valleys can be a beautiful spaces, rich in wildflower colors and green beyond, but they are simultaneously low terrain.

The valleys I’ve ambled through in my first forty years have been daunting, forbidden places. They certainly rearranged me to the core, as in I’m not who I was. Much like one would change the furniture in a room, my interior scenery has morphed. Pain can do that. As a young woman in her early twenties, I never expected to face the valleys I have. I didn’t expect to lose my first husband to divorce, my seven pregnancies to miscarriages, or my second sweet and loving husband to death at the young age of forty. I could not have predicted how life’s circumstances would take me from valley to valley. Losing David is something I’ll never exit the valley over. And that’s okay. I’ve made a beautiful place there full of pink peonies and clovers. I’ve made peace that I’ll remain in that valley as long as I live.

The beauty of the valleys is that’s often where we see God’s most imaginative work because we have to look harder. It’s easier on a peak to survey the land 360 degrees. The valleys, though, you have to appreciate what’s right under you. When I have conversations with God, I imagine my saying, “But I prefer the mountain top!” And I envision God reminding me, “The air is thin up there. You like deep breaths. You like greenery and flowers close to you anyway. Keep your feet in the valley.” In many ways, that’s my comfort zone. So when I root the soles of my feet into the valley soil, it’s not despairing now, it’s comfortable. And I trust that ultimately the Creator of the valleys knows the path my feet will trod. I rest in that, nestled among the wildflowers.

Fleeing Fear-Theology

I had to. I had to save myself, my life, and the loving God of my mind. I could not find any rest in this vindictive meanie residing up in the clouds. This notion of this type of HE didn’t work for me. You see, I lived in an airtight bubble of a theology that blatantly and/or discreetly stressed that God is a) mad at us, b) sending us to hell, c) is waiting for us to screw up. This is a wretched theology that does not instill anything but fear and negativity, terror and anxiety. Nevertheless, that’s what I learned.

From the time I was a very small child, this ‘fear theology’ never seemed right to me. I still remember the uneasy feeling I got in a particular church building week after week. I recall the coldness in the air, seeping through the walls. I specifically remember looking at a bulletin board laying out the path to salvation. This included an upward dotted line, showing how, if you did the ‘right’ things, you would end up at the top, in heaven. This felt so off-kilter to me, even as a little girl. I remember my little brown eyes straining above to see this board which was at adult-level, but meant for kids. I knew nothing of grace and mercy, but my gut told me this theology was way off-base. You know when something just “feels wrong?” This board did that.

Things weren’t any better beyond the bulletin board. There’s no need for me to elaborate, just know that I saw things completely at odds with what I was being taught. This is a really good way to create confused children; tell them God wants them to be one way, then those same adults act in the opposing manner. As a highly sensitive kid, I picked up on these infractions, these inconsistencies. The message was, “God wants you to do this. Do this. We won’t, but you do this.” Therefore, I got baptized at 13 to get a fun pizza party. Because it was “time” to. Because it was “what I was supposed to do.” Did I honestly know about God at 13? Of course not. I was following some whacked-out, earn-your-way, bulletin board salvation routine. Pay your ticket to heaven by what you do. That’s what I gained from 18 years of this church theology. And it didn’t work for me. I suspected God and Jesus were better than this.

So I forayed into life, struggling with God images, rejecting God-love, and fighting to figure out who I was and who I wasn’t. I was involved with the wrong people, some also subjected to this conflicting theology who never felt they quite added up…others way too convinced they had conquered all the dots to reach perfection. But the resounding thing I found out “in the field,” was that everyone was hurting and searching. Even if they didn’t say it with words, they said it in their self-righteousness, their racism, their addictions, their self-hatred. They might work the steps, but they simultaneously rejected people who looked or worshiped differently. They might work the steps, but they simultaneously drowned themselves in perfectionism, work, shopping, and idolatry. Simply put, the bulletin board didn’t make them any better…it made their lives worse. Self-understanding? Absent. Awareness? Obsolete. Compassion? Present to a certain extent. I know this because at some point it was all me.

I had to endure so much gut wrenching anguish and loss to finally readdress my issues with my wacky childhood theology. Which I did. When I was 40. I long had abandoned the heated threads of hate weaving through the painful fabric I’d been covered over in. I was done with that ache. After so much loss, I decided life must be better than this God-talk cloaked in hell-hurt. So, what does one do? Enroll in seminary,
of course. Thank God I did. I finally met the God I had always felt connected to outside of that childhood wackiness. God was good. God wasn’t expecting me to work the steps like an exercise program. God wasn’t a jerk. God wasn’t yelling at me to get it right. God was….well….God.

Mercy, grace, compassion, tenderness…the visions we see of Jesus in the Gospels. The kindness we see of Jesus at every turn for the stranger, the foreigner, the sinner…this God was the God I could delve into life with. The God who loves despite, the God who loves anyway, the God who rejects none, the God who is filled with endless mercy. Yes! That’s the God I understand. And once I understood God that way,
it immediately made my compassionate heart submerge so that I could love people. When we can see God as love, it gives us a cue to follow suit; not as a dark, contrived demand, but as a communal effort to want to spread goodness and grace to all. God works in us, we work with God. This is so much more of a harmonious, beautiful way of communicating the graciousness of God than a construction paper bulletin board of have-to’s. The fact is none of us will ever measure up to Jesus, but we can all express his love and compassion for all people. And that’s how they will know us…”by our love.”

Riding Shotgun with Faith **Where is God?**

This is a daunting question I’m faced with daily as a chaplain. Individuals burned over 75% of their bodies, trauma victims from motor vehicle accidents and gunshots and stab wounds, women who’ve lost their babies, first-time chemo patients…this is a normal day within a hospital. This is real life. While we all desire an unstormy, calm-seas passage, we will not experience that on this ball forever.

It’s impossible.

It’s a relatively easy ascent when things are sunny-side-up. But how about when they are just NOT? What then? When we find ourselves beside that bed with our loved one. When the diagnosis that’s voiced hits our own eardrums.. When what seemed impossible becomes actual.
I have a phrase I tell my patients when presented with this ever-longing question. It’s very short, and not always what they’d hoped for.. But as an authentic person who refuses to be anything but honest, it is the truth. When I’m asked why someone’s child is paralyzed, or why the baby didn’t make it, or why they have to endure their 11th chemo treatment, or why their dad died so quickly, I have a very short, three-word answer. It goes something like this.

‘I don’t know.’

Usually they nod in agreement, but one lady in particular asked for me to find someone with a better answer. I couldn’t. The great unfathomable mystery of Godness is that we don’t know the workings of the world. This is a bummer for me, as someone who likes things to make sense logically and rationally. This fact is brutal. There are just some things we are not ever going to understand here on the round blue, green, brown ball.

Riding shotgun with faith is all we’ve got.

What the Birds Know

Isaiah 40:31 ESV -But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

“The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.”
― J.M. Barrie, The Little White Bird

“I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)

“Show her the birds!” He exclaims in a midnight dream in vivid technicolor. He and I are standing under pterodactyl-size white birds gliding, mind you, not flapping. I am uncertain of the species. Our necks are craned upward to view this simple yet poignant sight of soaring creatures, wings fully outstretched, perhaps a span of ten feet. I can hear the soft whisper of the glide. They simply, yet majestically, soar. He is smiling from ear to ear, delighted to show me these birds. David has recently passed on at the young age of 40. I presume David is asking
God to put on this show for me, to prove the beauty of Heaven, to ease my mind and bring me some piecemeal of peace, peace which I honestly do not remotely have at that moment in waking life. The birds… they are pristine and beautiful and I am in sincere awe at their glorious sight. I am in particular amazement that these birds need not flap their wings, relaying a message that in Heaven all is effortless, that perhaps there is no wind to strain against, to move against. All is calm, all is right. Winds are of the earth, sickness is of the earth. In Heaven, people are happy about showing others soaring birds. Upon waking and contemplating the dream, I try to reflect on all the Scriptures I was raised on and to bring to mind any regarding birds. My mind immediately directs to “not even a sparrow falls without God knowing.” I recall the dove sent from the ark. I know that birds are prominent within Scripture. In literature, Thoreau remarked that a sparrow landing upon him was a profound experience.

David and I never discussed anything pertaining to birds in our relationship. We weren’t bird-watchers or even remotely interested in the subject. We typically passed the bird exhibits at the zoos trying to reach the cages of something “more interesting” like giraffes and elephants.
I’ve thought of this often; what is with the birds and why are they becoming a seemingly telltale messenger? Is David able, as a remote figure from Heaven, choosing the feathers right now to send us hopeful signals that he is still very much alive and sees us? One can only hope. There is a very specific, linear trail of signals and communications he has left for our now 8-year old son and me. Jude says, “I think the feathers make us healthier.” The feathers appear at least a few times a month, in random locales. One time I was trying to make a big decision, opened the back door, and a feather was lying on the threshold right at my feet.

I met with a counselor a few weeks after his passing and the first thing I see on the wall is a pattern of white feathers wrapped around the wall behind her chair. Feathers. There they are again. It seems they are literally everywhere. I cannot escape them, not that I would want to.
The grief is so weighty and drowning and soul-soaking that I will take anything I can get. I am aware I could be inventing these signs in my mind, but it’s all too surreal not to be something. I decide it has to mean something and be of the working of some force beyond little old me. I need peace that he is at peace and if feathers are the means of divine communication, then I will gladly accept.

Little tiny downy feathers like the stuffing inside a pillow have fallen from above, landing before us, appeared resting on the floor in front of us, and randomly arrived from seemingly out of nowhere. I cannot count the times this has happened. When my son and I visited San Diego,
he was running down the pier and turned to me with a massive white feather, so proud to show me. “Look, Mom!” We kept the feather. Another late afternoon, Jude was playing in the backyard. A feather fell from a tree or the sky, and he said “Look a feather! That’s Daddy saying hi to me!” He was full of delight at this discovery. What to make of these feathers? Do I believe in signs? Do I really believe that is possible that somehow David could be sending us feathers? Could he be? One day we were driving to visit his parents home. We stopped at a traffic light in their hometown before some train tracks and about a million tiny white fluffs surrounded our car, like our own little private snow storm. I was taken aback and told Jude “maybe that’s Daddy.” I don’t know if the fluffs were from trees, from the weather, or from a higher place. We were covered over and it felt a lot like all-encompassing love. Jude and I were walking thru our living room one morning and he looked down and there were two tiny downy soft feathers, one for each of us. Jude was so excited; he put them in a special little box. Another morning, a little robin was playing chase with him in the front yard. A feather floated in the air as the robin flew
away. Jude said, “That black feather is from Daddy.”

What do they know? What do they see through their tiny eyes, orbs fronting bodies of feathers? We know they chirp, sing, fly, build nests and raise families. Can they possibly be modern-day messengers from those gone before us? Could they be used by angels to reach us
with hope to encourage us? Plausible not. Logical not. But what I have seen causes me to believe they have a purpose more than just flying. What I’ve borne witness to tells me they are guided to the suffering to deliver promises in things unseen. Why the bird? Their quantity and
ease of dropping feathers make them ideal for message-delivery. Their ability to cover long distances via air also make them the perfect candidates.

So we trust in the ways of the Creator of birds. We trust if the Most High wants us reassured with feathers, then that is more than able to happen. We have faith. And we cling tightly to our feathers that God has David in the shadow of His wings, and us too.