Month: April 2015

Z is for Zenith

“Our Lord has declared that we are ‘better than many sparrows:’ well, if not better than many a phoenix too, it were no great thing. But must men die once for all, while birds in Arabia are sure of a resurrection?” (Tertullian, On the Resurrection of the Flesh, chapter XIII)

phoenix1I hunger to reach a zenith far beyond my imagination. It’s there. Though I can’t see it, I can feel the tug pulling me, the hunger — and hunger exists to be satisfied.

I want so much more than I can ever accomplish in this life. Like St. Therese of Lisieux, I want everything — to do everything, to learn everything, to love everyone, to create endlessly. Those zeniths call me towards them.

Yet I walk within time that limits how high I can go, at least this side of heaven. But heaven will come. I will soar like a phoenix from the fire, reach zenith after zenith.

Beloved, please make me willing to accept the fire.

Y is for You Said You Weren’t Talking To Me

“Good morning God,” I sleepily greeted Him as I silenced the alarm. After a good stretch, I rolled out of bed and padded over to my closet. “What I should wear today?” I asked Him. “I’ve got that appointment before work, dance classes, and dinner.”

No image came to mind. No small inner whisper filled my heart. My forehead quickly crinkled and then relaxed. I shrugged and made my way into the bathroom to prepare for work. Half an hour later, I pulled garments from my closet, donned an outfit, decided I didn’t like it, tried something else, changed it for yet other garments, and finally slumped on my bed wondering what would be the best thing to wear on a day that included so many different activities.

“Why aren’t You helping me?” I inquired.

The inner silence continued.

“You always help me,” I reminded Him. “You’ve helped me since I was a child.”

Still silence. Sighing, I went to rummage through my closet.

“Please help me,” I pleaded in a small voice when half an hour had passed and I had found nothing suitable. “I’ll be late.”

“You said you weren’t talking to me any more,” the voice spoke clearly in the silence.

angry-womanMy mind flashed back to the threat I had tossed out the night before as I fitfully tried to sleep, “If You don’t let me go home, I won’t talk to You anymore.” The previous day had been filled with thwarted hopes. By bedtime, I was embroiled in a temper tantrum demanding He give me what I knew I needed and deserved.

My head lowered, “I forgot.” My voice was that of a very young child caught doing something she suddenly remembers is wrong. Then I looked up, “I’ll always forget. You know that. I can’t help but forget.”

Silence again.

“I shouldn’t have said it,” I confessed. “I was just angry and scared and so tired.” I pondered for a moment, “Maybe there’s another way I can let You know without threatening to stop talking to You?”

A tear started in my eye as the warm tingle of His embrace held me for a moment. The image of my black skirt, black ballet flats, and green striped white blouse filled my mind. “I thought that blouse was dirty,” I told God as I looked into my closet. My eyes lit up, I had hung it in the wrong section. Quickly I dressed and rushed off to the subway.

X is for X Chromosome

Chromosome_with_Labels_(for_wikispace)The minister I lived with after my parents died believed there was boys’ work and girls’ work. He loved to make and repair things with his own hands and expected his sons and the other boys who lived with him to take an interest. After all, they each had an X chromosome. Unfortunately for him, they had no interest, no desire, probably no aptitude for the work he loved. They loved cartoons, bikes, comic books, ball games, and food.

On Saturdays when he pottered in his workshop in the cellar, his voice could often be heard shouting for one of the boys. Unless he called for a particular boy by name, there was no answer even if one of them was in the kitchen near the cellar door. When he shouted a boy’s name, eventually, that child would appear at the top of the stairs.

Eyes shining, the minister would speak as if offering a great treat, “Do you want to come with me to look for parts?”

“I haven’t finished my chores.” Each gave the stock reply in a voice like lead. They knew any other excuse meant not only being hit and forced to accompany him, but also hearing a long sermon that evening on being a dutiful child and taking an interest in their father’s work as the girls mutely giggled. (Those boys who were not actually his sons probably rejoiced in silence. They had no genetic responsibility to be interested in his work.)

On Saturdays, the cellar, which housed balls and other play gear, was a dangerous place. “Come here and hold this 2 by 4!” the minister would shout to a ball carrying boy who had completed his chores and only wanted to play. “Don’t hold it that way!” the minister would shout, rarely explaining the way he wanted it to be held. “Put your back into it! Hold it tightly!”

At dinner that night, the minister would crow and regale us with exaggerated stories of some boy’s failure to be a real boy and do a man’s work. We remained silent, only laughing at appropriate intervals.

I, being without an X chromosome, was not allowed to help. When I offered, I was sent to work on my embroidery or to engage in some other activity suitable for girls.

But I was more than interested. I was intrigued, so intrigued, I’d make my way to his workshop when he was away and invent communication devices, spy tools, and all sorts of other neat things. They didn’t really work — there was no internet to teach me the things the man wouldn’t. Since I broke a number of items, including the minister’s workshop television, it was probably for the best that I was born before the advent of the internet. Occasionally, I was allowed to ride along with him when he went to find parts. It’s one of my favourite memories of a man who left me with so few fond memories of him.

As an adult, I enjoy embroidery and all sorts of things the minister would call girls’ activities. And though I still lack an X chromosome, I also love hardware stores, tools, painting, mathematics, repairing broken things — all sorts of boys’ activities. It’s such a shame he never knew that one child living in his house would have loved to learn about his interests. It’s such a shame he denied himself so much.

W is for Wow! Real Leviathans

I’m taking a bit of a writing break today. That leaves me with an opportunity to be a geek and post all sorts of neat things about real leviathans.

Kronosaurus Queenslandicus grew to about 30 to 33 feet long (that’s the same as or more than the height of five 6′ tall men). It was a carnivore and may have attacked humans:

Large, round bite-marks have been found on the skull of an Albian-age Australian …that could be from a Kronosaurus attack.

I get why Adam balked when he encountered Nachash. Meeting a real leviathan would terrify me; I’d have to pray (while fleeing) and ask God for courage to face it. Then, I’d probably hide hoping it would go away and only come out if I was convinced there was no other option. (Cowardice runs strong in my family and I inherited it.)

The most complete skeleton of a Kronosaurus Queenslandicus is at Harvard:

Kronosaurus Queenslandicus aren’t the only real leviathans. Cartorhynchus lenticarpus, the first amphibious sea monsters fossil that has been found, were even larger, up to 65′ (think tractor trailer). Though probably not carnivorous (in the sense of eating people), it’s size is truly terrifying.

We have no way of knowing what sort of Leviathan Adam faced. But looking at the sheer size of real leviathan fossils is enough to remind me that I probably would have done no better than he. I am also reminded that when I face real leviathans today, God must usually nudge me, sometimes even drag me kicking and screaming. I’m also reminded that the thing that I fear and what I dread rarely befall me. God has my back.

V is for Vital

“This is the vital thing,” I leaned forward and stared into Alain’s eyes. “I have to go home. I need to find my family. I need help remembering. Maybe if I can remember the specifics, I’ll be able to find them.” I sat back and drew a deep breath in through my nose.

“Memory is like a complex web,” Alain spoke gently. Though his face remained impassive, I heard a ‘but’ in his voice, “There’s no guarantee you’ll ever remember the specifics.”

“But I do remember,” I insisted. “When I’m really tired, I write in German. I only studied enough German to sing arias. I was never learned to write it. And my supervisor brought a German Struwwelpeter he had as a child and not only could I read it, I remembered my Papa reading it to me. All sorts of things trigger my memory.” Wrinkles had formed in my forehead. I tilted my head to one side like a puppy and pleaded in a small, high breathiness, “What can we do to trigger more memories?”

ptsd“We don’t know what will trigger it. The book connected you to a past experience. Tastes, smells, sights, sounds, tactile experiences will trigger memory. But I can’t sit here and determine which experiences will trigger specific memories.” He sighed, “Have you heard of PTSD?”

“Y-y-y-yes,” I stuttered. “I’ve read about it.”

“Why are you afraid?” Alain asked gently.

“I hate being labeled,” my shoulders rose and tightened. “And I don’t want medication!”

“You know I’m a CSW and can’t prescribe. If I thought you needed medication, I’d send you to a psychiatrist.” Alain waited as his words sank in; my shoulders relaxed. “The trauma you’ve experienced has left you with PTSD. You’re pretty good at handling it most of the time but you can’t control it’s affect on your memory. Your memories are so intertwined with the trauma, trying to force yourself to remember, no matter how vital, just won’t work.”

Energy drained out through my hands; in the silence, my fists slowly unclasped themselves. “So I just wait?” My voice was a small, plaintive wail.

“Yes,” Alain nodded his head. “You must continue on the long, slow path. Your hazy memory protects you from remembering too much too quickly. It’s a survival mechanism.”

“But I have an almost photographic memory!” I wailed.

“That’s part of the mechanism. You’re hyper alert and hyper aware,” he insisted. “You’ve told me you always know how to find your way out of any room and if there are no exits, you’re nervous and uncomfortable. That’s another survival mechanism.”

“Why couldn’t God have set a timer so I would remember when I was 20 years old? It really is vital. If either of them is alive, they might die before I find them,” my mouth was a small pout; a tear threatened to spill out of my left eye.

“I know it’s hard but this is the way God designed you. He gave the human brain the ability to protect itself. Your brain did exactly what it’s supposed to do. When you’re ready, you’ll remember what you need.” Then Alain added, “That might take some time.”

A sighing stream of air blew out of my nose. Head bowed, shoulders hunched, I examined my limp hands as they rested against my black linen trousers. After a moment, the corners of my mouth curled into a wry smile. My shoulders relaxed, my head lifted and gently nodded.

Five Minute Friday: Hide

O LORD, how manifold are thy works!
In wisdom hast thou made them all;
the earth is full of thy creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with things innumerable,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan which thou didst form to sport in it. (Psalm 104:24-26)

Orange-Leviathan_small“You made a sea serpent  to play in the sea!?” My hands waved spasmodically. Involuntarily, my shoulders shrugged. My head shook of it’s own accord. “If someone asks, ‘Why did You make Leviathan?’ You’ll answer, ‘The sea was big. I decided it could use a creature that would like to play in it.’ Again, my hands jerked up. “That is what it means to be God! In a nutshell. You make things for the joy of making completeness.”

Suddenly, I was aware of a hugeness and a hollow feeling filled my tummy, “It’s scary. I’d almost like to hide. Little Anthony’s monsters in The Twilight Zone episode, It’s a Good Life, comes to mind. Except he wills nothing good. He makes everyone pretend to be happy or else…

“But You make sea serpents so they can play in the sea. And You make humans to be happy. If we’re not, Your deluxe Imago Dei operating system causes us to long and reach for happiness. We can refuse happiness. But the longing remains even if we close our hearts to it. You have never let me stop at being unhappy, never let me fashion my unhappiness into a cross that You never gave me to bear. You haven’t made life easy but You have pushed me to reach for happiness in the midst of difficulty. Not complacency but the unbridled joy because living is so grand, my life is so grand, You are so grand.”

The immense hollow had become strong, warm arms holding me, “It’s still scary. (You do make sea monsters to play in the sea.) I still have an initial ‘maybe it would be better to hide’ feeling. You are beyond me. You are so far beyond me, I can’t begin to comprehend. You make sea monsters so they can have fun in the sea. Wow! Just wow! Then again, the sea is big…”

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Every Friday,100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers. Kate Motaung at  Heading Home provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We all link our posts there and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

U is for Unclench My Fist, Beloved

Raccoon TrapSee, it’s this way, Beloved. I can’t do it. I try. I really do. But I’m like a raccoon that has stuck it’s paw in a trap to grab some shiny thing. The shiny thing is in my fist but now I can’t pull my hand out of the trap. The more I pull, the more I hurt myself. If I unclench my fist, I could pull my hand out. But I’m stupid. Really, really stupid. My hand just won’t release that shiny thing. It’s not even real gold! It doesn’t have the weight, the heft; I think it’s melting or oozing in my sweaty palm. Still, I hang onto it for dear life.

You’ll have to do it. You’ll have to pry open each finger and unclench my hand. You’ll probably need to pull my hand out too; I’m sure to grasp that shiny thing again.

I wish I was strong and capable, but I’m not. Insisting that I must have at least one relative who wants to know me is like banging my head against a brick wall. My head is one endless ache. But I don’t stop. I don’t know how to stop. If there’s a rock, I flip it and look underneath only to be disappointed. Let’s face it, I’m a stupid raccoon. But You’re not. You knew how to work forgiveness in me. You used my curiosity to get me to pray for the soldiers. Then the rest just came naturally. You know how to unclench my hand. You know how to make me release the shiny thing that, at first, seemed so wonderful but brings only pain.
Please do. Please unclench my hand. Please help me to reach for things that don’t hurt me.

T is for Try Weed

Try Weed“Just try it,” Bina urged. Her outstretched fingers gripped a small, smoking wad of folded white paper.

“You gotta try weed.” Emily’s head waved to and fro to a lazy beat only she heard.

“I tried it once,” I replied and held up my half-full bottle of Dos Equis. “This is enough for me.”

“You still working on your first beer?!” Emily shouted with a wild laugh. “You gotta keep up!” The unheard beat pulled her head back to the lazy wave.

“This is some dank weed!” Bina announced as she blew out a long stream of smoke. “You gotta try it!” she urged. “It’s just a joint.”

“I know what a joint is. Cade smokes them like cigarettes,” I retorted. “I’m happy with a beer.”

“You gotta party with us,” Bina insisted catching my eye with a look that clearly proclaimed, ‘If you don’t party, you’re not my friend.’ I let out a long sigh and reached for the still smoking joint. “Inhale like a cigarette, hold it in as long as you can, then exhale,” she instructed.

“I know,” I replied drily. I closed the back of my throat as I did when smoking cigarettes, pulled some of the smoke into the back of my mouth keeping my cheeks unpuffed, returned the joint to Bina and waited. Bits of smoke made their way back through my imperfect throat seal. I would not let myself cough. After a moment, I slowly blew smoke out of my mouth.

“Howes dat?!” Bina excitedly inquired.

“It’s okay,” I replied and took a sip of my beer.

“Another toke,” she extended her fingers to me again.

“Nother toke!” Emily cried out.

“Nother toke!” they sang in unison. “Nother toke!”

I faked smoking as well as I could. After my third toke, the joint was gone. The room seemed to be sliding back and forth. The smell, like concentrated essence of grits, left me queasy. I munched on butter cookies as Bina and Emily began doing lines of coke. Neither invited me to join them. Cookies and breathing were plenty. Then the cookies were gone.

“I gotta get home,” I announced to a corner of the ceiling.

“Iss early!” Bina cried out as Emily sniffed white powder off a small mirror through a thin straw.

“Long… train… ride…” I pushed out with difficulty. There was a disconnect between my brain and mouth.

Once in the warm Spring air, I walked carefully to the subway station lighting cigarette after cigarette that I forgot to smoke. An open supermarket promised more butter cookies. As I waited to pay for them panic clutched my heart, What if she realizes I’m high? I pulled on my red sunglasses, pasted a bright smile on my face, paid for the cookies, and made my way down the subway steps.

The car was empty. Still wearing sunglasses, I found a seat in the middle of it. I want to be able to see everyone, flashed through my mind. A few people entered as I seated myself.

God! I mutely cried out as the doors closed. There are only men in this car. What if they attack me? I felt a strong urge to take another look. Lifting my sunglasses, I picked out several women amid the men. A soft sigh of thanks found its way through my lips.

But God! Another mute cry. What if they get off on watching those men attack me? The soft pressure of an invisible hand atop my head eased my panic. I munched on butter cookies until reaching my stop.

As I exited the turnstile, I lit a cigarette. I had puffed my way through two of them by the time I was rounding the corner to the street that led to my house. A shadow neared. Something stopped my right hand; I held a newly lit cigarette three inches from a man’s eye.

“Excuse me, Miss, do you have the time?” the elderly Asian gentleman who owned the dry cleaners inquired.

I stared mutely at him as I swallowed my desire to shout, “How dare you come so close to me at 11:30 at night?! You fool! I almost burned you!

I took in a deep breath. “11:30,” I exhaled.

“Thank you, Miss.” He hurried off.

Once safely behind locked doors, I looked at my red-eyed face in the mirror. “I don’t like this God!” I informed Him and my reflection. “Life is hard enough!” I adamantly insisted. “I don’t need stuff that interferes with my perception.” I huffed out another breathe, “Try weed. Nope.” I shook my head, “Never again.”

S is for Seeing

9 Crimes“What are You seeing that I’m missing? What takes You from, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ to ‘Praise the LORD…’?” My voice was a soft whisper in the still church. The 3 o’clock Good Friday service was over but the building remained open. Though I was alone for the moment, Kyra or someone else might come in. Please, let them stay away, I prayed silently. I need to understand.

I slid from my seat into the kneeler, propped my prayerbook under my elbows, and rested my face on my hands. Gradually, my shoulders relaxed. I let my eyes find the troubling words.

Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them;
but when they cry to him he hears them. (Psalm 22:22-23)

“He does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty,” I whispered aloud.

“Oh! Oh!” My eyes opened wide. A ray of light pierced the smoke darkened colours of the stained glass window, “You don’t despise or abhor the poor in their poverty?” Tears washed gently down my face. I let them fall. “But everyone else does.”

The volume of my voice increased slightly. My words spilled out quickly, “I’ve lost everyone who loved me, lost everything, even my identity. I can’t point back to anyone and say, I came from that person. Papa’s legs are gone. I can’t lean against them so the world knows I belong to him. I don’t belong to anyone. I haven’t belonged to anyone since I was four and a half. How could I be poorer? The people who survive are impoverished, we’re left with no one.

“No one really knows me. No one really loves me. They admire me or think I’m weird. But I have to keep everything that is me hidden away just as I tried to do with Cade. It’s easier now. They’re not around all the time. But I’ll be alone for Easter dinner. The Sunday after, they’ll say, ‘You had a good Easter?!’ The only acceptable answer is, ‘Yes.'” The corners of my lips turned up in a rueful smile. My nose had become too stuffy to breathe. The air pulled through through my mouth made a grumbling wheeze. I sat back in the pew and breathed slowly until the wheezing diminished.

“Does this mean You don’t abhor me in my poverty but when I cry out to You, You hear me?” The air was pregnant with a rich silence. The hand that had stroked my back when as a child I had had such difficulty sleeping, now stoked a warm fuzziness through my torso. “Have You been hearing me all along?” I listened to the intense silence. “You have. When nobody else hears me, You hear me.” I finally fumbled in my bag for a tissue, wiped the tears away and blew my nose.

“Why did I not see?” My forehead rumpled. I let out a long sigh. “I know why. I’ve expected people to see my poverty and help me.” I quickly reminded my Friend, “You do work through people. But I guess, I’ve been expecting You to work through people who aren’t open to hearing me, seeing me. They’re nice. I really like them, even love them. But we don’t know each other.” I sighed again, “Still, even though these people don’t hear or see, You do. Even if they think I’m weird, You don’t.”

My forehead rumpled again, “I guess the problem is that I get my identity from You. That’s probably why I’m weird. They’re seeing someone whose identity comes from an unexpected place. I guess I’m Yours.” I looked up, a little smile on my face, “You’re stuck with me. But I don’t really know what to do with that.”

R is for Rhapsodizing

D’Abby,

Hyacinth-BucketRhapsodizing! Again! That’s what Kyra was doing and we both know it: “Your faith is so strong…” It’s like Hyacinth Bucket rhapsodizing because a celebrity is coming for tea or a candlelit supper. Except, it’s not funny in real life.

All I did was point out that Job begins with platitudes, becomes angry, ultimately demands You respond, and when You do, though You answer none of his questions, Job becomes so giddy with joy he makes his daughters equal heirs with his sons. How does that relate to the strength of my faith? That’s the course. Isn’t a close reading of the book part of the process? From some of the whacky things people say in class, it’s as if they’re reading a different book. And Kyra usually remains silent but she has a good mind. Why pay for a semester of study and not participate? And how is intellectual honesty evidence of my faith?

Sometimes I want to scream, “Stop it! I’m not strong!”

I’m not. I’ve been hanging out with You since I was a child. I have no memory of a time when You were not a physical presence in my life. But you carry me. You’ve always carried me. If You stopped for even a few seconds, I’d curl up in a corner and become huge eyes watching the world pass in terror, hoping no one noticed me. You carry me because I’m not strong.

Those who don’t have all the warm, tingly feelings You give me, those who just follow You anyway, they deserve admiration. Those are the people who are strong. Thy don’t feel that You are with them, help them. They just soldier on.

I think You’ve always been so palpably present to me because You know how weak and desperate I am, how easily I descend into weakness and desperation. My biggest fear is that someday You’ll agree with those who chide me for having such a childlike faith. You might decide to stop carrying me and then I’d be lost.

St. Bernadette told those who were rhapsodizing about her that You had only chosen her because she was more ignorant than anyone else. You let me know You’re with me because I am weak. There’s no reason for anyone to engage in rhapsodizing about anyone except You. That would be intellectually honest.

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