Friday, December 15, 2017


I have never before had such a broken heart at Christmas.

I tend to look forward to Christmas all year long.  When I am dealing with hard life stuff in--let's say in late August--I often look forward to Advent.  In the last several years as I have dealt with grief over the loss of my vocation, or the death of my Mother, or a general sense of malaise--I have looked forward to these weeks in December.

This year Christmas keeps ripping the scab off of my soul.

When I was a child,  I never experienced big family Christmases.  My Grandparents were all gone.  My parents were estranged from their brothers and sisters or geographically removed.  My half siblings never came for Christmas Day.

Christmas was about my Mom, Dad, me, and for many years my brother Blake.

When I was young there was almost a ghastly amount of presents.  My Mom was poor as child and my Dad always tried to make it up to her at Christmas.

My Dad's love language was "gift giving."  I know, I know, consumerism is one of the many vices of Christmas, but my Dad made gift giving ebullient.  He would buy so many presents that the bottom of the tree would become invisible. We wouldn't be able to use the front door.  My Mom would receive this packaged love with all the delight of a child.  She would  wake us up at the crack of dawn with a cow bell to open our presents.  She would delight in the jewelry, the art supplies, the underwear.

There were always presents  from Santa, and the cats Fats and Skinny, and from Mom and Dad.
Three of the last four years my Dad has spent Christmas with us.  Last year it was all sort of desultory.  We were struggling a bit with money.  We were overwhelmed a little by all the new demands of the pastorate.

But, all-in-all, these years were magical--especially Christmas four years ago when my Dad arrived to Chicago by train.  He was in such good spirits!  When he arrived the toddler Sam guided him to the Christmas Tree and he remained for 10 days, making pies, preparing roast beef, shopping for presents, watching endless re-runs of Gilligan's Island and Matlock with Simeon.  It was all so utterly beautiful. Last year had its hiccups, but it ended with a lovely drive along Lake Huron where we made plans to spend the night in Marine City the following Christmas.  There was a little theatre downtown playing "Its a Wonderful Life" and a ferry to Canada.

I can hardly put words to my sense of loss this Christmas!

Earlier this week I attended the funeral of the ideal Mennonite man and Father.  It was beautiful.  He was exemplary.  Yet, in the context of my faith community, I keep struggling for words to describe my Father.   I keep struggling to find a way to describe how loved he always made me feel, how safe!  I struggle to find words to describe how much he loved my Mother.  How his faithful love allowed her to live with a terrifying mental illness.  I struggle to find words to describe the quality of delight that he took--in stories, presents, exploration and novelty.  I have been trained in my faith community to see the love my Dad provide as so fleeting--so many trinkets and baubles, at best as a kind of holding it together despite bad circumstances.  

I would not be able to claim him as the upstanding Gentleman so revered.   Somehow this just makes the grief worse.  I was able to find the words to affirm aggressively what my Mother meant to me--some how I cannot find the right words for my Father.

I do not know how to speak adequately of either my love or my grief.

I enter his Advent genuinely needing something that I cannot provide for myself.  Needing something that I am not entirely sure that my heart can bear.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Holy Saturday (10/15/2017)
I walked the trail by my house
on the day between being with you
and returning to you.
It began to rain and the gaps
between the trees were wide
It was early Spring 
And so I was startled by
a wild turkey. 
To come so near
this skittish creature.
You always delighted to see them in the fields 
you always spotted them before me.
Did this mean something
or nothing?
I don’t remember 
Though it stared back at me like
a prophet.
I came upon
a non-Evergreen tree filled with
Christmas ornaments
 I plucked one 
holding the points against the tenderness
of my palm
anticipating Christmas coming
without you.
When I arrived at church
I served myself communion
having missed Good Friday
traveling from you.
It was quiet in the church and empty.
But it was not cold.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

and I am the only one left

Almost 40 years ago--to the day--my Mom and Dad drove a moving van filled with furniture and
chickens out to a small, blue farm house on 10 acres in Buckley, Michigan.  My Dad was almost 50 with two failed marriages and a drinking problem.  My Mom had only left the mental hospital a year before.  I was weeks old.   In the earliest pictures I was red and enraged.  Sometime during that first Spring and Summer on that little farm I would grow improbably plump and blond.

There is a place in the narrative of the book of Job where, after the destruction, three servants come to tell Job of all that has been destroyed and in sequence they proclaim "and I am the only one left."

People age and die and so I am not experiencing a general cataclysm, but that feeling of being one of the  last witnesses has echoed in my head these last few weeks as I contemplate my parents' death.

Sometime in the first years my Mom wrote the following poem:


The blue and white chipped
Stood erect, but meek.

Enclosed in an aging bush.
    Green grass at her feet.

She seemed so out of place there,

 But then I had to pause

Love is everywhere. . . .
         And backyards can be the
                                                 Holiest of all.

Somehow on that simple farm, love brought life to barrenness--love shifting, moving, turning over, and making fallow.

When Doug held me in the room where my Father died he whispered in my ear "you were redemption's child."

This had turned out to be an identity as weighty and overwhelming as it sounds.

At times impossible to bear, really, as it is an identity that is made possible by the unreform(able)ed past.  Yet, it seems to me a betrayal not to continue to witness to that love.

I remember my Mom telling me her favorite book of the bible was Ruth.  At the time it irritated my evangelical sensibilities.  My Mom would pick the most boring book in the Bible-seemingly so devoid of God's definitive action in history.

Hesed is often translated as "steadfast, loving kindness"  it is redemptive and transformative love, and it is distinctively divine love.  And while Boaz becomes "the kinsman redeemer" in the story of Ruth and Naomi, it is Ruth, the Moabite stranger, that becomes the agent of redemption.   It is Ruth, the Moabite stranger, that demands that love is enacted through justice for her Mother-in-law; it is Ruth who bring forth new life for the bitter Naomi making impossible possibilities possible.

You can imagine the story of Ruth and Naomi occurring in dust bowl America, or almost any Refugee camp in the world. As such its placement in Holy Scripture should reminds us that divine love sanctifies those little human redemptions that are made possible through everyday faithfulness and love. We all know that real life is filled with impossible situations.  It is astonishing grace when things are set to rights.

Sometimes backyards are the holiest places of all.