Thank You for Moving Us

Moved!!!! Yeeessssss.

This Thursday is a lot different than last Thursday.  This Thursday: there are seven (note– just 7, not 27, or 77 or 700) boxes left in the living room, our doggie is content dominating her new squeaky toy, my husband is doing such strategic office organization that I am beginning to rethink his vocation and I am saying to myself, “Yes, I think you have time to go ahead and update your blog.”  Last Thursday, on the other hand, was a rainy, 4th of July move-in to our new home in Wilmore, Kentucky. After weeks of preparation best summarized by cardboard moving boxes and that packing tape roll-y/smack noise I was feeling pretty zapped.  I know it’s dramatic, but my mental picture of myself on that move-in morning is with little slit-eyes, a coffee IV, some kind of matted hairdo and weird shoes. Yep.

So, I’m not writing that you might have the unfortunate image of me looking like a mover–zombie. Instead, I’m writing to let you know that the Body of Christ has been ANGELS. True angels. All of those sacred phrases like “being the hands and feet” and “being known by love”  and “feeding and clothing and taking care” weren’t just phrases, but were walking, moving, talking GINORMOUS hearts and we were the receivers.  I have never had nor seen brand new neighbors come over to help you unload after 1. you pull your diesel truck into their sleepy-town and SLEEPING neighborhood  at 12:30 am 2. the rain is not stopping 3. it’s their day off 4. The moving ramp is steep, slippery and somewhat of a death wish.

But they did. Five new neighbors, they all came over with broad smiles and peaceful dispositions and Wilmore welcome brownies and they did.  And even as the rain kept doing its thing and the Gatorade ran out and their glasses got wet, they were easy and light.  Those were/are our Bluegrass angels.  East Texas angels, you are next.

I suppose one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is your belief in them.  And that’s where things started for us, Texas angels, with your belief in us.  When we started saying, “I think this is it. I think we are called to this ministry-thing for the long-haul and need to pursue formal theological education.” People can say lots of things when someone speaks out of their heart like that. They can say things like, “Hmm. That’s interesting.  I hope that works out for you!” They can leave things at, “Good Luck! We will be praying for you!”  You gave us more than that. Instead, there were lots of knowing smiles and sincere head nods and almost winks. Phrases like, “Of course you are! We were just waiting for you to figure that out.” It was the best because it was sincere and made us feel like we weren’t crazy, and maybe, just maybe, we were listening to the voice of God with the clear ears and the soft hearts I pray for. The Pastors, the staff, our whole community really were quiet fans declaring into our lives big, God-filled dreams like loving parents do for their children. To this grand community of dream-believers and us-believers:  thank you.  I speak for both of us when I say your words have burrowed their way deep in the soul of this journey and we feel them. We feel the way you have told us that we are a team and we complement each other well. We feel the way you told Luke he can be a great Greek scholar and I can be a devotional writer. We feel the way you tell us our ministries have spoken to you. And in times of doubt and the inevitable jerkiness of transition we will cling to God and your send-off chorus:  Have Faith. God is making a way for you. This is your path and it’s GOOD.

 And what’s incredible is that these words were just the first part. That moving week you were angels in word AND deed, who clapped and flapped your wings, flew behind us, packed our boxes, brought us lunches, filled our gas tanks, scrubbed our oven, weed-wacked our lawn, touched up the ceiling paint (serious saint), did our laundry and raised tuition support. The list is endless. And truly, it is because of you, this divine momentum and this Holy Spirit-push that we are here. Texas angels, you have sent us off with buckets, and I mean BUCKETS of self-sacrificing, Christ-like love. No wonder it was raining buckets when we got here– it was just reminiscent of the buckets you sent us off with. Love-Rain.  Sorry. I didn’t quite recognize it in my mover zombie state.

So now here we are (we’ve been saying that a lot lately) and to make this finale/beginning even grander, we recently received word that a number of personal contributions are being sent to Asbury for Luke’s tuition. Again, I say the heartfelt and inadequate words: thank you.  In faith, you have believed in us so much so, that you have opened your hearts, homes, time, words and wallets for us. I am head-to-toe honored to call you our friends and very unsure about an adequate expression of my gratitude. So, Ill tell you this: in 1 Samuel 20:41, the writer Samuel captures the intensity and humility of David and Jonathan’s friendship when David kneels to the ground and bows, three times before Jonathan. Even though I am not near you, I am before you in so many other ways, and as David bowed before Jonathan, I bow before you. And after I get up, we get up, after we stop unpacking boxes and saying things like “here we are” and “I’m not sure there is a shirt/shoes law in Kentucky” we will begin to live ourselves into this new work God has begun in us. We are in this together- you and us- an angel army of cheerleaders, of teachers, of mentors and scholars. An army of ceiling painters and cooks and organizers and lawn mowers and peacemakers.  A hospitable army, a merciful army, a wise army, a God-fearing one. Blessed be YOU, the angels who work for the Glory and the Kingdom of God.

Oh, and one more thing: we really miss you. All our Love, Sarah and Luke

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Swaddled: A Response to Sandy Hook

There is a wise lady at church, Sister Avis, who tells me that I am so young and how time goes so quickly especially as we get older. I think it was just after the Easter lilies were cleared off the altar that she said something like, “Christmas is coming!” And here we are. She was right. Christmas is here and 2012 nearly accounted for. The pages of the calendar have been full this year and of course, there are twenty bajillion things for which we can and must bow our heads. Luke and I are filthy rich when it comes to material and spiritual blessings: moving arms and legs, people that love us and cheer-lead us, employment that is meaningful and a Savior that we believe has come to deliver this weary world and secure our Hope.

Speaking of immeasurable blessings, scrolling through my Facebook news feed is better than peering through the windows in a maternity ward. So many lovely people I know are bringing life into this world.  Seriously, it feels like there are bellies popping out everywhere.  And next, the babies: these tiny hes and shes with perfect names and toes and expressions on their faces. They come out alive and  kicking and in a matter of moments, bam! love wins. Things are never the same. I have never held a tiny person I grew inside me and felt my soul change, but I do believe I have an itsy bitsy baby idea of what mothering might be like.

Sometimes, I think about my counseling room as an incubator all its own.  A little cocoon. Womb. A place where the babes I see get to be born some more, explore the world some more…alive, kicking, and wondrous like they were when they were two days old.  “I said that!” they get to say. ” I want more!” they get to dream. “I am okay,” they have sorted out. And I get to listen and say Yes. I have heard with all of my ears and all of my eyes and all of my heart what you have said and I acknowledge what this means. You do not know how my heart and tear ducts swell when I think about this very precious kind of swaddling I get to do.

And no matter if we are 3 or 11 or 27, don’t we all kind of need this at some point or another?  To be reminded of who we are like the  people that ooogled over us when we came out in that hospital room?  Don’t we all need to scream without abandon and be held that way too?  To be celebrated for the beautiful work, the beautiful life that has begun?  For gosh sakes, we are the same exact human being we were then. Bigger brains, bigger bodies. But still, vulnerable spirits and delicate.  Some days, we all need swaddles.

Last Friday, we felt vulnerability in the very worst-in-the-world kind of way.  And still, I feel pretty dead inside when I think about Sandy Hook. Everyone tells me to turn off the news and stop looking at their faces: their sweet picture day, jack-o-lantern, familiar looking grins.  So, sometimes I do. I do turn it off  because it is too big for me or it is time for me to go to sleep. But sometimes, I do not because we must grieve this together.  This tragedy belongs to us, friends.  Those families cannot be alone.  And if my horse-loving, craft-making comedian of a six year old was shot, I think I would want people to swaddle me, and to care.  Like, really really really care. Not in a, “oh that’s so awful I can’t think about it too hard”  kind of way.  That’s shallow, and if December 14th, 2012 taught us anything it might be that we cannot afford to be shallow.

In times of tragedy, I know we try to make a teensy bit of sense out of senseless things. I want to know, like everyone, if there was anything that moved this 20 year old boy to these actions.  I think of the kids I work with in my practice who are suffering emotional distress on a lesser scale. Most of the time, they have no blessed idea why. If I sat a child in my therapy room and said, “Now tell me why you are kicking the other kids in your class,” it wouldn’t work.  They know something feels uncomfortable, they hurt, they don’t like it, and their response is, well, less than stellar in our adult opinions.  The emotion runs deeper than the reason: this is a neurological fact in young children. In the same manner, we do not ask a boy with a fresh gash in his arm why he screams in pain. We figure out what he needs, what kind of wound it is and how his body responds to certain medicine. Next, the medication stings, he resists, but slowly, with help, he begins to bear the pain. Then, perhaps, he might be calmed down enough to tell us what in the world he was doing to create such a gash in his arm.  In the same way, we must give our children the tools to feel before they develop their self-insight.  We must teach our children to bear their own emotional pain and to help others do the same. We must teach them to use all of their hearts. And we must teach them with all of ours. 

Of course I don’t know what was going on with this monster of a shooter.  But I do know, he wasn’t always a monster. At one point in time he was our baby just like the victims are. And in my humble opinion, I might venture the guess that the shooter didn’t know what was wrong with him either, but by gosh, something was wrong, terribly wrong and now all we have is a horror story to tell.

I have searched Scriptures these past couple of days desperate for hope. Desperate for the light that people are talking about this season, the light that can’t be shut out, that flickers on. I have lit candles and read the names of the victims out loud. But most of all, I have clung to this verse from The Message translation of Hebrews 13:3  “Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them. Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you.”  

In Chapter 13, the writer of Hebrews is telling recently converted Christians how to be Christians. He is giving them practical guidelines. He is saying that we must lean into our brother’s suffering and musn’t ever, ever begin with judgement, but with pure heart: the really, really pure 7-year old, freshly swaddled kind of heart.

So let us start here. Let us all be mommas and daddies and professional swaddlers and givers of  light. And let’s teach our babies to do it, too. And their babies. And their baby-dolls. Whatever. But, please, let’s make this the most important thing. More than the rat race and the degrees and the enlightening experiences is knowing how to love. Please. I know this tragedy makes God weep. I also know that God loves to give us hope in the most unexpected ways, and we must be looking. We must be looking for babies in barnyard stables, lying in mangers in swaddling clothes of His own. May you experience the redemptive grace and love of this Peace Baby in your homes, in your hearts, in each other. May we all.newtown

Growing Old

Today, I’ll start here: Growing old is not for sissies.

The most notable transition in my life of late is a job shift  from counseling at the Children’s Advocacy Center to providing counseling at Hospice of East Texas.  It’s a PRN gig about twenty hours a week, and I have the opportunity to do private practice on my off days. After difficult goodbye(s) (s) (s) to my sweet former clients and colleagues, I walked out of the CAC feeling quite brave and quite grateful for the opportunities set before me. It’s not everyday that a flexibly scheduled, well paid, meaningful job opportunity shakes my hand and says: “Hey, just thought I’d let you know, I’m here if you need me.”  Over the course of two job searching weeks, that had happened. Twice.  So, on I went, hospice at one side and private practice at my other. My heart was open, my knees were knocking and my eyes were full of everything. Mostly, I was hoping my knees would just stop knocking.

Now, two weeks in, I’m deciding whether variety is thrill, or whether it’s whiplash.  The medical setting will make me a better t crosser and i dotter.  I have a few crookedly-crossed, halfway-dotted consonants in my life, so I’m gladly practicing.  Non-profits easily attract the idealistic-holistic- hippie (but don’t put me in a box) type. Hospice, as one might gather, attracts doctors and nurses.  While I’m sure some of these medical folks have an easy-breezy side to them, I’m staying preeetttyyyy buttoned up in my blue scrubs, name badge and hair pulled back.

My private practice is the opposite. There are purple walls, a large sandtray, and throw pillows with neon owls.  My clients talk a lot about Angry Birds (fine) and Justin Bieber (no he’s not your boyfriend), I have no boss, and the shag rug makes everyone want to take off their shoes, including myself. See what I mean? Whiplash, right?

My counseling clients don’t remember 9/11  and my hospice patients tell me stories about D-day and working for the New York Paper Company in 1951. Can you imagine if I took off my shoes at hospice?  I don’t think that would go over well. In fact, I’ve made a practice of singing happy birthday twice while I wash my hands in the hospice bathrooms. There’s a sign that says that staff should, so, I turn off the faucet right after “birthday to youuuu…” and feel quite satisfied, knowing I’ve just dotted another i. 

One foot in front of the other, friends.

So, my mind is buzzing with the life experiences that these people, my clients, are going through.  They seem very different. It seems very different to hear a teenager talk about the shame she carries than it does to watch a ninety six year old man kiss the shell of his wife. They are both profound and even more, profoundly sad, yet I think the connection is beyond the loss and the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors doctors like to offer me when I tell them about my work (just kidding. kind of.)

Very beautiful people whose anecdotes and insight line my bookshelf have written about the way learning how to die well means learning how to live well. How life is this mysterious and delicate string of births and deaths to which we must hold honestly. Honest holding, for me, is honest trusting that God has orchestrated this life and death balance in such a way that the death will bring the life abundant, which ultimately is closeness to God: wonderful counselor, mighty God, prince of PEACE (Is.9:6).  I want to walk the life-death-life-death tightrope, more than I would want to walk the life-life-life-life-life tightrope if it makes for such communion. Besides, I just don’t think I can balance very well when I am pretending to be in charge.

Dying people, hands up over head, nearly face to face with their Creator is not life-full. It is death-full and squeamish and oh-so not pretend or in charge for that matter. And this is the gift Hospice has given me: We are all going there. We will all take our last breaths, leave ourselves, get made-up like clowns and get put in the ground.  Eeeeeessshhhh.

So what if we weave our mortality, the knowledge of it, into ourselves in a different kind of way? I know we can do this in a carpe-diem kind of way.   I have been on this bandwagon, let me tell you. Be the change. Save the world. Suck the marrow out of life. Seize. The. Day.  I can totally talk on this because I love it, but tonight I won’t. I think hospice is teaching me something much different than grabbing life by the horns.

Hospice has this kind of whisper-speak to it, that goes: “be gentle, be very very gentle.” I don’t know that it’s a passionate whisper speak.  I also don’t know that it’s the kind of thing I want to proclaim with zeal and fervor. Strange isn’t it? Strange for something so rich to be so quiet.  But I am quiet. Because hospice says this, too: “be careful. be very very very careful. you are so young.”  And sometimes, I don’t know how to try to be humble other than to try to be quiet.

So, I sit, wonderfully small by the bedsides of people who have lived their life.  And when they speak, I listen and let the age-old wisdom pool around my heart. Growing old is not for sissies and really and truly, I want to do it well.

As for my living clients with their shoes off and their chewing gum? Indeed, they are  in the thick rather than on the edge.  But you know, they are dying, too. They are dying to the comfortable life-life-life balance and replacing it with a  finer life-death-life one. They are feeling the weight of the necessary losses.  For these clients, I think: You are brave. Growing up is not for sissies, either.

So tonight I think I will put extra honey in my tea, kiss Luke’s sleeping face and thank God for the space to Grow Up so Grow Old might make a graceful entry (maybe, hopefully…I know I am so young)  Oh, and the  kind souls in my life who help share the load? Thanking God for you, most of all.

Image found here

Xbox Joy

I got to give away an XBox to a nine year old on Tuesday night.

At this particular holiday shindig I ended up, somehow, with intercom in hand shouting out raffle numbers like a regular DJ.  “Number 1919241 come get your cooler of Omaha Steaks!” The desk where I did my thing was piled high with some desirable and other less desirable gifts: a membership to the zoo, a Santa shaped cookie jar, Chuckie Cheese tokens. Either way, they were free and it’s Christmas. Everything is special. Some children looped back around my DJ station so frequently I had their numbers memorized. “Sorry 1919257 that was a 4, I called and not a 5.” They would smile, skirting bashfulness, then shuffle away.

This night, one eager beaver waited tirelessly beside me, shameless and excited.  His eyes were wide, his smile was big and his face so bright. He reminded me of a lucky penny. “I want that,” he said gesturing to the Xbox. I smiled. “Yeah,” I said to him, “That would be great.”  Lucky penny let his grin go for a moment to furrow his brow. He poked me. “No. I really want that, Miss.”  I looked at him. Clearly, Lucky wasn’t pleased. My feet hurt.I had seen seven clients that day and in that last session, the amount of talking that went on may have been at odds with the amount of coughing. Eeegh.

Still, I felt bad about my glazed-over comment. “Sorry,” I said as best I could. I tried for a do-over: “Do you want to be the time-keeper?” He nodded (with vigor). Then: “You don’t have a watch on, Miss.” He tapped my wrist, concerned once again. This kid was sharp. I pulled out my cell phone and he nodded, satisfied with my make-shift solution.

Lucky was ready.

I set the timer for fifteen minutes and he watched my cell phone diligently, conscientiously, dramatically even, like he was the time-keeper of the universe.  “FIVE MINUTES!” he’d shout-whisper into my ear. That was my cue to pass on the count-down to other lukewarm party-goers: also excited, but not like Lucky.  Children left their frosted cookies or their snowflake ornaments at the craft tables and gathered around the Xbox. Lucky had this uncanny sincerity and I was anxious. “How can I rig this thing so he’ll win?” I thought. I chanted his number like a prayer in my head. 1919230. 1919230. 1919230. Please, please, please. How did I end up with this job anyway? I was beginning to resent my DJ microphone and this endearing lucky penny.

The timer went off and Lucky didn’t say a word, he slid me my phone and nodded. I listened to this soft gesture. “Okay everyone, our final gift-giveaway for the night is our grand prize! The next number that I call out will be the winner of the XBbox!”

“Yaaaa!!!” The crowd cheered.

Everyone wanted it, but not the way Lucky did. I knew this and was taking it to heart.  I shook the raffle tickets in the tin and heard them bat around for a bit- I pictured 1919230 flying to the top just in time for my fingers to grab it and…”the winner is…19192..1..8!” I’m sure my voice cracked. I was so sad. Lucky didn’t get it. Everyone was quiet, looking at their numbers, looking up at me, then looking around. Who is the winner? The crowd was on edge. There was no answer, until…

“Poppyyyyy!!!!”

It was Lucky. He jumped from his post beside me, dashed through the crowd, and grabbed a dark haired bundled up little boy. He pried open the toddler’s grip, grabbed the clammy ticket and brought it to my comparably sweaty hands.  He didn’t skip a beat. “218,” he said huffing, “Here, miss.”  Sure enough. Lucky’s brother, Poppy, had won him the Xbox and Lucky’s eyes danced.

Proudly, I handed the box to him, as if I had anything to do with it. Poppy came toddling to the front, quite uncertain about what he had done and quite sure that he liked the wild glee. Lucky kissed his little brother’s face. “Poppy, poppy, poppy…” Lucky’s family cheered and the moment they stopped, Poppy began again so everyone else might echo his baby shriek. They did. And then there was glee again. I didn’t understand what they were saying, they spoke a different language than me but it was no matter. When things are this deep and this full there are no barriers, everyone is included.

Lucky looked at me and then looked at his parents, telling the story of his waiting and watching.  He took my hand then, and said, “Thank You.” What do I say back? I followed Lucky’s lead, just like I had the past half hour. “Thank you.” And I squeezed his hand.

If there was anything true about this moment, which I think there was, it wasn’t the XBox, or the raffle, or the luck. It was the unspeakable joy. Preparation and celebration were glued together by grace.

As we also watch and wait, may we remember the promise of Joy. And may we usher it in with wild delight. Like toddlers.

Happy Advent. Merry Christmas. Joy to the World.

Copyright, Kate Daisy. Check it out here.

My Marriage (My Rooftop)

I’ve always made space for my day-dreams and night-dreams. I think it’s an exercise in listening more than anything else.  Dreams are for mystery lovers since they are so absent of order. We wonder (as we must), how on God’s green earth did I cook up that? 

At my childhood home, there was a roof I could easily climb onto from my bedroom window. An oak tree over the rooftop provided generous shade and gentle shadow. Peace was on that roof and she rested deep in the oaky light. The invitation was:  “Come. Be Here. Sit.”   The rooftop sat pretty right outside my window and I couldn’t look away. I remember early Saturdays before mornings were adolescent and dreadful, squeaking my window open and slipping out into early light. One leg went slowly over the window-ledge before the next. I was cautious and hesitant to crack open rooftop life.  My hair was muffled but the day was new and pink light covered my girlish shoulders and crooked hair-do. I positioned myself on the shingle and poised myself for nine-year old dreams. There was a tug stronger than my own imagination, pulling from my bangs to my bare feet. It moved me from thought-dreams to day-dreams to hope-dreams to prayer-dreams to prayer to washing.  The near tidal movement came from deep within and I rolled.  This smooth, rinsing rush was the real thing. I don’t know that I named it at nine, but rooftop life was this: RENEWAL.  So I sat, warmed by the sun with pen in hand and I wrote: pen to paper, poem to prayer. This was my experience.

Perhaps this sounds like an ideal to abandon: a child, with prayer-poems on a roof. And perhaps, that’s all my meditation on day-dreams and night-dreams and rooftop-dreams is: sugary nostalgia. However, there have been many rooftops in my life. There have been many moments of dreamy real-ness of sleepy altert-ness and of despairing peace. The loveliness is the tidal transformation and the heavy lightness of being. The oaks and the pinky light are oftentimes just extra dabs of God’s grace. Here you go. Bask for a moment or two.

At breakfast yesterday, I talked about this with Luke– my thoughts on rejuvenation and renewal and asking God for both. This past month has led us to our fair share of asking, especially as nights have been achy and sleepless.  It seems, we gathered over eggs and coffee, that truest prayers do in fact come out of us, maybe like a crazy dream, when we are quiet and surrendered: “I guess those were my words?”  We stumble through sleepy and contemplative speech.

As I pushed away my plate, I reflected on my most recent rooftops.  Luke cleared, wiped and swept. I watched him in our kitchen. Just one year ago I stared too, but with skeptical hope: Is he for me?  I remember this question and all the questions, for that matter.  The frantic questions. The ones I asked God. I asked myself. The questions asked of me. The way I answered.  These questions were a part of it, the figuring out and the knowing. The questions aren’t the dreamy real thing, though. The real thing is the love: the sweet love that is fresh and arabesque like deep light on a rooftop morning. Deeper still is the transformation, the together and the washing ourselves of ourselves. The discipline of prayer, openness to our Creator, begging for constant renewal, not just for me, but for Luke and for us.  This moves me to perhaps, a deeper surrender than I’ve ever known. I think, (the dishes are dry now) my newest rooftop reverie, has been this: someone to sit with.

Image “Rooftop” found here

Paradise Found

I’ve been dealing with a lot of rattled kids lately. It’s funny, rattled sometimes equates with hope. Hopelessness happens at the irreversible end of things; when I talk to the dried-out shell of a long-lost child. You can just tell the important parts have been scooped out. It’s so sad. The rattlers offer a whole lot, though, it’s just a matter of helping their energy along. (Read: patience, please!) To help my self along, I purchased this great book on Amazon called “Windows to Our Children” by Violet Oaklander.  I wish Violet and I could get a coffee together. Her tone reminds me of the play therapy literature I’ve studied- she values deliberation AND vulnerability. Kids smell this kind of balancing act and they’ll just eat you alive with their enthusiasm for you and for life and this moment.   Among other smart things, Violet’s work includes a lot of guided imagery exercises for coping.  I love these word lullabies, and have begun to create some of my own. For those of you who aren’t familiar with guided imagery, it’s relaxation via visualization. Word paintings, really.

This brings me to you with a confession: on my off-days, I wish I could be a professional guided-imagery person. A verbal word painter. I know this isn’t even a job, but when I talk about guided imagery, it’s by nature, kind of nonsensical.  To walk people through these lovely reflections…well I suppose it’s appealing because nuanced storytelling would finally have a means to an end and together it would soothe both of us. Practical metaphors. For now, I haven’t quit my day job. I just incorporate guided imagery when I can, and I always, ALWAYS, include the animal friends.

Kids love the animal friends. They come in, oh, about mid- journey and it  goes like so:

“Now, imagine you are walking along a gravely path, there are flower beds on either side of you. Bright flowers! The brightest colors you can imagine oranges, and reds, blues and yellows…you bend down to pick some.  Now a light is guiding you, warming you, relaxing you and bringing you peace. It brings you to the end of the path where you see a couple of animal friends waiting for you at a gate…”

The moment I say “animal friends” a faint smile usually crosses his or her face as if they are testing out the child-like idea of an, ahem, “animal friend.”

This friend leads you to a small rock and underneath it is a key to this gate.  You know it is your key, made especially for you, because it has your initials on it” 

After the gate swings open, my little dream-weavers walk through their regular paradise, caught by the beauty of low-hanging fruit trees, thick bamboo, and rivers running through it all.  This really is God’s Green Earth, lush and moist, and people are just like animal friends: wild, exploring and open.  Their smile is confident now, not creeping, after all, you can’t judge your dreams, and this is fun, imagining and wandering with these animal friends through their Eden.

I look often for Gardens of Eden, even when I’m not imagining with my clients.  The Edens that I imagine are before the homesickness and the battle and the loss. I think often of paradise perhaps, to balance out the snippets of hell I hear from their small mouths. I don’t want the darkness to rot my spirit, and I don’t want it to rot theirs either, so I must make an effort to echo aliveness. So, as I’m guiding, I’m really sharing a bit of my own Eden, my plush Eden-y pillow, so she, sitting on the couch in my bright yellow therapy room, might find a bit of hers, and maybe, for a moment, lay her head down.

When the exercise is over, my clients create a picture of their Eden with two stipulations: they must include their self in the picture and they must use all art mediums to put it to paper (chalk, paint, crayon, glitter glue). This is a reminder of a picture because paradise must be accessible, especially in their desperately difficult and important worlds.

Their creations are always so diverse!  It brings me such joy to listen to them explain what it is they saw, but mostly, I think I’m seeing what they felt. In Eden, despite all the green, the feelings come first.  The animal friends usually show up in their creations, and their depicted selves are rather creature-esque too. They portray themselves with feathers, wings, speckles…swinging from tree to tree…mermaids are probably the most common of all. Isn’t this funny? It is a little bit. But mostly, I think it’s simple and right. I think it’s right that in places of paradise we become wild and untameable. Threats, insecurities and funerals don’t stand a chance, not when the Earth is so beautiful and it has grabbed a hold of us and infinity and this moment just like so.

“I think if I were a mermaid, I would live forever.” 

I do too. So we talk about this, living forever, and swimming in rivers, and sunning our fins.

And it’s good.

Painting by Lawrence Yang: “Garden” found here 

Mamas.

I once had a conversation with an old lady of deep convictions. I’ll call her Carla. Most of the time, she ricocheted from point to point. She was hard to follow, but as you might imagine, always interesting. One day,  she told me this: “Miss Sarah…you know me. You know my family we don’t gotta lotta money, but I tell you one thing. We don’t give up our own.”

She told it to me, too. Her concern was possessive but hardly judgmental. She told me who she was without telling me how I should be, and when this sort of conviction has the kindness that it  did—well, I listen. “All my babies call me Momma,” she continued. “It don’t matter if they my grand-baby or my nephew…to me, all my kin, they just like a child that came right outta me.” She was the truest momma bear. She was deliberate about her dedication and her eyes were warm and fixed. Soulful.  And speaking of souls, I would like to see hers, because I think it would be very beautiful.

When I think of mothering, I think of lots of things but one of them is usually Carla. Carla never had biological children of her own.  She took in distant relatives and friends of friends. She’s a matriarch and people came to her just because they could.  Newborns, teenagers and even grown-ups who had lost their way…Carla made room as if she’d been waiting for him or her all along.  She had not been pregnant in the baby bump way, but she was certainly pregnant with so many lives– stuffed full of her babies and glowing with admiration.

The non-conventional mother is important in thinking about vulnerable children because it makes room. It makes room for the littles whose mothers forgot the mothering part.  Women like Carla replace the desolation of abandonment with the power of belonging; and in so doing, they give great gifts to our children, our communities and our world. To be an unconventional mother you don’t have to be a bear like Carla.  Some mamas speak softly and listen more than they talk. Some might even do their mothering from afar with encouraging words or letters in the mail. Perhaps some will teach them how to make cupcakes or plant a flower or swim the backstroke. I think it takes a village. And I can find my role here, in this village, for these littles. And this makes me feel like I can help.

I suppose when it comes down to it, we can all relate, can’t we?  I hope I have babies someday and I know I will want to pick them up and smother them with kisses. But still, the village will be important for them.  And I hope people step up.  And the hardest, most important thing? It might be teaching a grown-up baby to mother herself.  To be her own parent. To nurture herself, not orphan herself. To whisper to herself when she is on the edges: “Go ahead…be born….LIVE.”