Resurrections

The other day, I posted a photo on Facebook of a sage bush that is blooming in my front yard. These shrubs are usually pale green, but when it rains a lot (as it has in Texas this Spring and Summer) they blossom with purple flowers. A friend saw the photo and commented that sages are a true resurrection plant. It made me see them in a new way.

In truth, the sages here don’t ever seem to die. They are hearty and drought-resistant. But when it rains, they take on a whole new look and liveliness. Those purple flowers seem to have been waiting for the right circumstances to bring them out. As Summer progresses, the flowers will drop, but the sage will flower again. That is what they do.

In my faith tradition, resurrection is a central belief, yet even those who don’t believe the dead literally come back to life find hope in the theme of resurrection. It isn’t the passing of one soul through many lives – that is reincarnation – but the renewal of one single life or even of a community. In a way, resurrection can be seen as a person or community becoming most fully themselves. That’s why the symbols of resurrection are things like butterflies and eggs and sage bushes – living beings that undergo a transformation but retain the same essence; they stay what they have always been, only better. For some of us, the theme of resurrection is what gives us hope when we face all kinds of small “deaths,” like church attendance going down or changes in leadership. Or bigger “deaths” like racism or the daily indignities of poverty.

Resurrection is hope, transformation, and renewal.

As I work with patients and families at the hospital this summer, the image of my “resurrection” sage is a helpful one. People, too, blossom when the circumstances allow. Many times, those circumstances might be a death or a difficult transition. Sometimes, as I sit with people experiencing grief and pain, they begin to flower with stories, memories, plans, and gratitude. I’ve experienced it at similar times in my own family. In the midst of grief, we’ve recalled old family jokes, planned favorite meals, reached out to disconnected loved ones. And so it is with the families I companion this summer. Thanks to my friend’s comment, I’ll be looking for these resurrection moments every chance I get.

Light and Love

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every Sunday, I light two candles: one for people on my prayer list and one for peace. The prayers are always specific, but some days they are lifted up from more places than just my heart. This was one of those days – the events of this week seemed to rise up before many of us at once, begging for light.

Like most people I know, this week has been one of grief and anger as we learned about the murder of nine African American women and men in their church. As we learned that they were murdered in an act of racist domestic terrorism. As we realized that, although this slaughter was unimaginably horrible, it was not surprising. Because we’ve seen so much of it lately – literally seen it captured on video and widely broadcast.

There is a lot I could say about what happened in Charleston – but there are other people saying it so well whose words I’ve been sharing on social media. (And I highly recommend you check them out.) What I can add is how this event was framed for me this morning. Because after I lit my candles and hoped those flames were bringing a tiny bit of light to the darkness in the world, we had a baptism in my congregation. After reflecting on the hatred we confront in the world and how faith calls us to respond, a joyful, dancing girl took vows to join in the work of helping light overcome darkness and love overcome hate. Together, a community  vowed with her to resist evil, love our neighbors as ourselves, strive for justice and peace, respect the dignity of every human being.

As dismal as this week (and this year and this decade) has been, it is nice to be reminded that we have reason for hope. Dismantling racism – or any kind of evil – takes a team and today a very young girl joined that team. I am betting she was joined by many others as people gathered in congregations around the country to remember the victims in Charleston. In fact, I am betting the team to confront evil got bigger where people gathered in homes and community centers and on street corners to find their roles in peace and justice-making.

On days when hope seems distant and optimism feels false, it might be a candle or a splash of water or a young child reminding us that evil has not won. It might be an unexpected ally, shared bread, or the words of a song. Look for them, these reminders of hope all around us. Darkness cannot drive out darkness and hatred cannot drive out hatred. Only light and love can do that.  

Water for the Soul

Tonight there is more rain in our city and it has been beating down on the windows of the hospital where I am chaplain for the night. Families are waiting for loved ones to die. Or for emergency surgery. Or they are relieved to hear a baby will survive. While the sky weeps, these families shed tears – of grief, of worry, of joy.

In a parched land, water is longed for. Once the ground is soaked, water begins to rush across earth and stone, reshaping the landscape and making us wish it would stop. And yet, when the water recedes we are left with something new. Tears are the same – they can be necessary and unwelcome, allowing us to feel both relieved and exposed, connected and vulnerable. Like flood waters, tears can form us. They carve rivulets across our souls to remind us that love was there.

Demise

Fetal demise. It doesn’t sound very nice and it isn’t. To know that your longed-for baby will be stillborn, that you have to go through labor and delivery with no happy outcome, that family is gathered outside your room waiting to console you…which will only affirm your deep sorrow.

And yet…in the midst of this sorrow there is love. There is a community gathered to grieve together. The true meaning of compassion is suffering with and that is what we do when we stay by the side of those who endure loss. We can’t make their pain go away. And ignoring it negates the very real agony another feels. But sitting alongside…there is nothing more affirming.

A blessing helps. A prayer helps. But really, it is the cohesion of family and friends that carry any of us through. Our presence is a reminder that God is with us in the midst of loss and pain – not just for the pretty parts, but the hardest, ugliest, cruelest parts. It is through these relationships to the divine and the human that endings are transformed. Into hope. Into connections. Into the future. Into affirmation that we are made for each other, to suffer and love together.

For any person who experiences a loss too soon, or any loss at all, the best any of us can offer is to sit and suffer with them. There is no way around grief, only through it. And although there are as many “right” ways to mourn as there are people, it is the people who mourn with us that make it possible for us to emerge from the other side. This summer, I am a sitter. One who will suffer with. But I am a stranger, and really this sitting and being is is a path open to any of us.

Prickly

 

There are memories that seem impossible to touch without feeling a sting.
They warn me to stand clear…but then lure me in with beauty and longing.
That which produces the sharp spines also makes a lush flower and a sweet fruit.
They spring from the same root, are nourished from the same soil.
I’d rather have them both than have neither.

Doodlebug

Doodlebugs, roly polies, pill bugs, armadillo bugs…

They have many names, but the doodlebug is known for one amazing trait: it can curl into a perfect sphere of protection when threatened. And by threatened, I mean any vibration or even the slightest touch. The doodlebugs that live in my front yard have a constant lifecycle of crawling-curling-crawling-curling as my daughter makes them houses and villages. At first, their reflex seems hypersensitive – come on! Do you have to close yourself off for every little stimulus during the day? But you know, they uncurl and crawl on within seconds. Doodlebugs protect themselves, but they never lose sight of the world outside their self-made safe place. That instinct to protect yourself and also remember the world outside yourself is a good balance. It is also a pretty good definition of hope.

Born into Radiance

Did you know that the collective noun for cardinals is “radiance”? A radiance of cardinals. When they first hatch, cardinals are small, weak, blind, and needy – hardly bright or brilliant. They are a radiance because of whose they are; their shine comes from belonging.  In about 10 days these red balls of fuzz grow to feathered fledglings, radiating into my garden, my trees, and far beyond – then back again. Always radiant, together.

Nothing will get a bird out of the nest faster than a giant watching with a camera.

Rain in the Desert

The landscape in West Texas doesn’t hide much. During the day you can see just about everything between the bright blue sky and the hard brown earth for miles around. Plains give way to rolling hills, then steep mountains. Jagged volcanic rocks pierce soft grasslands. Trees grow where there is no soil. And you can certainly see how dry it is; this is the only place where I have seen rainfall evaporate before it reached the ground.

But today the rain touches the ground and, paradoxically, the mist that covers the hills reveals life in the rocks and grasses that the clear sunny days had hidden. Purple, yellow, and white flowers dot the roadsides and peek out from under the cacti and boulders. On a day like this, the rain is like a like a message from a long lost love, softening the parched earth as friendship softens the heart.

Soon, the dry weather will return. There will still be great beauty in the desert. Trees will still grow where there is no soil. Beneath the rocks and grasses, prairie verbena and star cloak fern wait; when their memory is stirred, they will bloom again. This earth is hard, but it is not barren.

Grief

On the morning of New Years Eve, our dog Lucy died. It was not a surprise – she was fifteen and a half and had been very sick for a couple of months. Still, losing her was emotional for our family, each of us expressing grief in a different way.

My 12-year-old son is having a hard time. I remember dealing with death for the first time at about his age. He’s just old enough to really understand the permanence of it. He’ll go a whole day just fine and then break down crying the next. His 6 year-old sister wasn’t bothered by the news at all – which really irks him. How can she not understand?!

All of this is throwing me back to when my father died and the varied ways all his loved ones grieved. It is such an individual process, the way you grieve. My mother gave herself a strict routine and packed her schedule with activities – hiking, dance, university classes. I had a three-week old baby at the time and willingly went into denial for about 6 months just so that I could take care of her and get the sleep I needed. My son, the one who is grieving the loss of his dog now, missed his Pops, but was mostly affected by how emotional I was. At first, he was really scared to see me so upset. Even my father’s dog grieved; his scent was still in the house and she kept waiting for him to come home – even stopped eating for a while.

It is a cliche, but life’s losses are what give it meaning. Our loved ones are all the more dear to us because we know we have a limited time with them. I know that my son will understand this as he gets older and experiences more loss. But for now, it is just a huge, unfair feeling in his gut.

There is a stretch of road on the way to my house that I drive nearly every day. For the past four days, as I’ve headed home, I imagine Lucy racing alongside my car. She loved to run – there is a path worn into our lawn from her high-spirited circuits around the house. Even as an older dog with arthritis, she would outpace younger dogs. Now, she is forever running in my memory, running home.