Monday, April 26, 2010

On Service and Sadness

This past Saturday I had the wonderful opportunity to serve in my church's food pantry. It was, in many ways, a very good experience. It was also an experience that left me sad.

I have this desire to invest myself wherever I am. As I am relatively new to the church I attend, I haven't had the opportunity to do much with the church. I was delighted to learn that they have a food pantry that serves the local community. Equally delightful was the fact that while it's open only one Saturday a month, it is open on a Saturday, and I have the time and freedom to volunteer.

And so, this past Saturday, I made my way down the brownstone next to my church, and I sat in a small room with two other women, and handed brown paper sacks of non-perishable groceries to people who came seeking a little help. It was wonderful to chat, if only for a moment, with so many people, to offer them a genuine smile and warm greeting, and to say a prayer as they walked away.

What saddened me on this morning was how my co-laborers spoke about the people who came to the pantry. They spoke of the half-way house across the street--where the majority of those who were coming for the first time reside--in hushed tones of disapproval. "He just got out of prison," one of them said with something akin to judgment of a man with multiple tattoos, crudely done by hand. They spoke about the methadone clinic "around the corner" from which at least two of the women come after their morning session, and who they strongly suspect (or perhaps have even witnessed) of selling the food from the pantry in order to buy drugs.

The things that made me saddest, however, where the comments about 1) handcuffs (that it's incredibly shameful, and who could possibly live with that experience) and 2) those who came in with the smell of alcohol on their breath (because couldn't these people even for one morning consider their personal hygiene).

My father is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. All three of my siblings are alcoholics and drug addicts. Though two of them have overcome their addiction to methamphetamine, the third still, to my knowledge, uses "heavy" drugs; all of them continue to drink and smoke marijuana.

I cannot remember a time, growing up, when my father didn't smell of alcohol. Once my mother began to work outside of the home, my father was at home during bedtime. I remember waking him from his drunken stupor every night to get a hug and kiss before going to bed. He, I am sure, does not remember this at all.

Three members of my immediate family have been arrested--carted away in handcuffs. Two of them have spent time in jail. One is dealing with, or recently dealt with, the court system on drug charges.

As someone who self-mutilated for seven years, I am myself acquainted with addictive behaviors.

I sat in this food pantry this past Saturday, hoping that my presence and willingness to serve would bless those around me; hoping that my service would be understood as an act of love for those less fortunate than I. I was saddened by the way others spoke about those we were serving. Saddened because they were speaking, by extension, about people I know and love deeply. Frightened to say anything, because it so easily could have been me picking up a bag of food, smelling of alcohol or stopping by after getting my treatment at the methadone clinic around the corner.

God has been very good to me.

God delivered me from a dysfunctional family in which drug and alcohol abuse are prevalent.

God delivered me from my own addiction to self-injury.

God healed me of years of sexual abuse by a member of my immediate family.

God healed me from the trauma of rape and sexual assault.

God delivered me from the deepest valleys of despair and placed my feet on higher ground; the solid ground of His love.

God transformed my identity from one of "cutter" and "victim" to "Child of God," "Daughter of the Most High," "Heir to the Kingdom," "Co-creator with the Almighty."

God has been very good to me.

The reality is there is nothing about me that is more unique or special than anyone else. There is nothing about me that makes me more deserving of His incredible grace. I cannot tell you why He chose to be so very good to me. I can only tell you that He has been, and continues to be. I am daily overwhelmed by the love He shows me in all the small things that make me smile, the ridiculous things that make me laugh out loud, the delightful things that set me to giggling, the big things that bring tears of joy and gratitude to my eyes.

I deserve none of this any more or less than anyone else. I know how fortunate I am. I know that God has been very good to me. I am convinced that I do not know even a fraction of how good God has been to me.

As I sat there in that room this past Saturday, I wished that these women could, for one moment, see what I saw in those who came to receive a bag of food--God's children, broken and hurting, needing more than food, needing compassion and a blessing.

I truly hope that none of the people who came through this past Saturday heard or interpreted these women's comments as judgmental or condemning. But if they did, I hope my presence made a difference to them. I only wish I had done more, said something, shared part of my own story, encouraged understanding and compassion. I wish I had been less afraid of their words being directed at me. I wish I had been less afraid that their comments would be directed at those I love and deeply cherish. In the end, in many ways, my greatest love was for my own comfort and safety, for my own desire to be accepted and not judged.

I had a wonderful opportunity this past Saturday to serve. I was saddened by the judgmental comments of others.

I was even more deeply saddened, perhaps even a bit ashamed, by my own failure to speak up in defense of those I love and of those God loves even more.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Poetry and Dreams

I had an interesting dream last night.

A very dear friend of mine has been struggling lately, having made a significant life change, and finding himself in a place much different than he anticipated, and not sure where to go from here.

In my dream, the poet Rumi came to me and gave me a poem to pass on to my friend. I did so joyfully. SB, I hope your pain is fruitful.


Pain comes from seeing how arrogant you've been, and
pain brings you out of this

conceit. A child cannot be born until the mother has pain.
You are pregnant with real

trust. The words of the prophets and saints are midwives
that help, but first you must feel

pain. To be without pain is to use the first person wrongly.
"I" am this. "I" am that.

"I" am God, like al-Hallaj, who waited till that was true to
say it. "I" at the wrong

time brings a curse. "I" at the right time gives a blessing.
If a rooster crows early,

when it's still dark, he must have his head cut off. What is
this beheading? As one might

extract a scorpion's sting to save it, or a snake's venom to
keep it from being stoned,

headlessness comes from your cleansing connection to
a teacher. Hold to

a true sheikh. Strength will come. Your strength is his
gathering you closer. Soul

of the soul of the soul, moment to moment, hope to draw breath
from that one. No matter

how long you've been apart. That presence has no separation
in it. Do you want to understand

more about friendship? Read the sura called Daybreak.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Memories I Cherish

  • A ball of chocolate colored fluff that fit in the palm of my hand--2.25 lbs
  • The day I took him over to my sister's apartment--the only time he really barked like crazy as a puppy--we figured out pretty quickly that the smell of blueberry Krispy Kremes drove him nuts. Once the blueberry donuts were eaten, he was silent.
  • Our first walk--less than a quarter mile and I had to pick him up and carry him
  • Teaching him to sit, lie down, wait, hold hands, kennel
  • Watching him fall all over himself, slipping on the floor and sliding around in his efforts to get turned around, as I called him with the promise of Pupperoni dog treats
  • Watching him sleep
  • The way he'd stretch out and his back legs made me think of a frog
  • His little face looking up at me with absolute joy and adoration
  • When he stretched out and I rubbed him down, his entire body from the base of his neck to the base of his tail was the length of my hand from wrist to finger-tips
  • Our first walk in NYC, and meeting an Irish Wolfhound
  • The way he avoided puddles and hated to get his feet wet
  • How he pouted after a bath, grabbing his treat and running off to find sympathy from another person
  • That at 5 pounds, he absolutely cowed his best friend--a 120 pound yellow lab named Chewbacca
  • The day I came home from work to find a squirrel skin turned inside-out on the sidewalk, stripped clean. No bones, no muscle, nothing. Just the empty, inside-out skin. I called the vet and they told me to watch for diarrhea. That never materialized. I did, however, wake up at 3:00 the next morning when I rolled over and put my foot in a puddle of vomit comprised mostly of squirrel parts.
  • The way he would curl up behind my knees when we napped; or on my hip; in front of my belly
  • That he was protective of me, even when it meant standing between me and other people he loved
  • How much he loved his Nanna
  • Walking around the lake
  • The way he hunted rats--squeezing his whole body under the refrigerator, and shimming out again backwards
  • How demanding he could get about ensuring I went to bed on time
  • That tying my shoes took thee times longer than necessary because I had to play fetch and tug-of-war in the process
  • That his favorite toys were the ones given to him by Pompa
  • Dressed up as Santa for Christmas
  • Dressed up as felon for Halloween
  • How much he hated to wear hats
  • That he fit perfectly inside my jacket, with just his head popping out at the neck
  • That I could put him in my shoulder bag, and carry him around, sound asleep
  • The way other people responded to him when we were out and about
  • That he refused to potty outside in the pouring rain
  • His energy, warmth, and light
  • He was the primary impetus for sustainable health changes--and the accountability I needed
  • How much he loved blueberries;
  • and raspberries;
  • and blackberries;
  • and strawberries;
  • and apples;
  • and pears;
  • and bananas
  • How comfortable he was with most strangers
  • His little face staring up when he'd beg
  • The way he curled up in my lap or next to me as I read or watched TV
  • The digging, digging, digging at pillows to ensure they were in exactly the right spot before he would curl up for a nap
  • That he wouldn't lie down on the floor unless their was a pillow, blanket, or other soft object between him and the floor. Carpet didn't count.
  • He finally got over this last point his past winter when he'd curl up on the kitchen floor near the radiator while I cooked, or in the common room near the radiator while I ate. But if I was on the couch, so was he.
  • How often I would find him ignoring his kennel, and his blankets, and any assorted pillows in order to curl up in my work-out sweats
  • That when I left the blind up, he would find a spot in the sun on my bed
  • How much he loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved;
  • and loved me, and others, unconditionally
  • How forgiving he was
  • The way he checked in on our walks, glancing up every few moments to make sure we were on track.
  • The way his body moved and the look of joyful delight on his face when he ran full-out

Monday, April 5, 2010

Twenty Questions for J.K. Rowling

These are all questions based on the premise that the world J.K. Rowling created is one of logic and reason, and demonstrate my freakish insistence on continuity as well as my slight obsession with Harry Potter. And really, there are twenty-eight question groups.

1. How is that the end of book 1, Sir Nicholas hasn't eaten in nearly 400 years, but in book 2 he's celebrating his 500th death day?

2. How is that in book 4, the false Mad-Eye Moody (Barty Crouch, Jr.) takes Harry's Maurader's Map, which is never returned, and yet Harry is once again in possession of it at the beginning of book 5?

3. When Hagrid returns in book 5, he uses dragon steaks on his face and green blood dripped no his beard, but in book 6, Slughorn uses dragon's blood convincingly as human blood on the walls. How is this possible?

4. Book 1, 4, and 5 tell us that the quality prized above all others by Godric Gryffindor is courage. Yet, in book 3 we learn what a coward Peter Pettigrew is. How did the sorting hat manage to miss this?

5. If people can see thestrals only after seeing death, why didn't Harry see them at the end of book 4 as the carriages returned the students to the train home?

6. Furthermore, Harry remembers the flash of green light and his mother's screams when Lord Voldemort murdered her (and we know he recollected these facts prior to the dementors in book 3, as in book 1 2we were introduced to Harry awakening from a nightmare of these events). Why then couldn't Harry see the thestrals from the end of book 1 when he headed home the first time?

7. In book 5, we're told that prefects can't dock point, but in book 2, Percy Wesley docks 5 points from Ron for hanging around the scene of Mrs. Norris's petrification. Did the rules change?

8. If there are only 2 prefects from each house, picked in their 5th year, are there no 6th year prefects, or does ever other class miss the chance at having prefects? We know Percy was still a prefect in his sixth year...

9. In book 4, having perfected it for his first task, why didn't Harry use the summoning charm to collect the Maurader's Map and egg he dropped when his foot fell through the trick step?

10. If a house-elf's enslavement requires they follow their master's command, why didn't Kreacher show up at Christmas in book 5 when Sirius called him? This is especially curious as we see him show up immediately in book 6 when Harry calls him...

11. In book 7, Harry has a rather strong reaction to the necklace (locket horcrux) when he has it in his possession. Why does he not have a similar reaction to the diary in book 2 or the tiara (diadem) in book 6?

12. If it took Fawkes to get Harry, Ron, Ginny and Professor Lockhart out of the Chamber of Secrets in book 2, as the entrance was an enormous slide, how did Ron and Hermione get out in book 7? While it is possible that Ron took brooms with him, or summoned them, we also know that Hermione is not an adept rider.

13. At the beginning of book 5, Harry summons a patronus to save Dudley from the Demoentor's Kiss, but doesn't think to feed him chocolate after. What's up with that?

14. In book 1, Dumbledore comments to McGonagall how foolish it is not to use the Dark Lord's proper name--Voldemort. Yet his proper name is Tom Riddle, which is how Dumbledore addresses him in person in book 5. Why does Dumbledore insist in book 1 that his proper name is Voldemore, when he already knows Voldemort is Tom Riddle?

15. How can Harry be surprised at the distance from Hogsmeade Station to the school in book 6 when he's been walking to and from Hogsmeade for three years?

16. How can Hogwarts be off the connection from the floo network (HBP, 349) when Sirius has been using it for the previous 2 years? Unless Hogwarts being taken off the floo network was part of the security measures? But then this would mean security was pretty lax for the first five years...

17. If felix felicis is so rare that Professor Slughorn has only taken it twice, and if he is hesitant to take up the post of potions master at Hogwarts that he didn't accept the appointment until six weeks before the start of term, and if it takes six months to brew felix felicis because it has to stew, what was Slughorn doing with a ready cauldronful on the first day of classes in book 6?

18. If the ban on speaking Voldemort's name is how Harry, Hermione, and Ron were found in Tottenham Court Road, why could they speak Voldemort's name freely at number 12 Grimmauld Place? Is that part of the fidelis charm? Or is that how the Death Eater's showed up outside number 12 Grimmauld Place (DH, 201)?

19. Harry believes Voldemort put a charm not hes tone basin to prevent the magical summoning of the horcrux (DH, 188), but his logic is mistaken. While we know the inferi leapt from the lake, it was to prevent the taking of the horcrux, Harry was "unable to summon the fake locket" (DH, 188). This, however, is due to the fact that Harry said, "Accio horcrux" when there was no horcrux to summon, as he and Dumbledore did not know which horcrux was supposed to have been in the cave. Is there any chance he would have gotten a different result if he had said, "Accio locket"?

20. Regardin the ban on Voldemort's name, number 12 Grimmauld Place, and the Fidelis Charm, how can it be the case that the Death Eaters know they're in the area, as Lupin says they're staking out everywhere Harry has a connection? So then, it must be the case that the fidelis charm or other enchantments action on the house keep them from knowing wizarding law was broken.

21. Speaking of enchantments at number 12 Grimmauld Place, if the freezing charm broke when the caster, Dumbledore, died, why did all the charms in and on the Black house not die with their casters?

22. Harry insists that "Bathilda" didn't want to talk to him in front of Hermione because it was all Parseltongue. But how can that be? When they got to the house, "Bathilda" said, "Come!" from the second room, cause both Harry and Hermione to jump. As Hermione heard this and did not recognize it as Parseltongue, it must have been spoken in English. re we then to assume that the snake had some control of Bathilda's vocal folds, tongue, mouth, and lungs? Is this a new way to animate a corpse?

23. If speaking Voldemort's name breaks magical enchantments, why didn't it break the enchantments at number 12 Grimmauld Place? (DH, 173)

24. If, as someone once explained, the Ministry of Magic can only track where magic is done and not by whom, trusting parents in magical families to keep their children from using magic during the holidays, and this is the reason Harry was blamed for Dobby's hover charm in book 2, why in book 5, and subsequent books, are members of the Order of the Phoenix able to apparate, disapparate, and perform other spells in and near Harry's house without Harry getting into trouble for it? Particularly if their movements are secret...

25. If Bill is secret keep to Shell Cottage, and we know from book 5 that only a secret keeper can betray its whereabouts to another, how was Ron able to tell Harry about Shell Cottage? How was Harry able to tell Dobby? (DH, 397 and 468, respectively)

26. If Harry's parents died on October 31, 1991 and book 1 opens the day after their death, how can it possibly be a Tuesday morning, when October 31, 1991 fell on a Thursday?

27. If Quirrell could not touch Harry because of love in book 1 (and it was that love which gave Harry his protection), and if by using Harry's blood to regenerate his body, now sharing that protection and able to touch Harry, why could Voldemort not possess Harry at the end of book 5?

27. As to the destruction of a horcrux, shouldn't a piece of Voldemort's soul not be able to reside in something so full of "a force that is at once more wonderful and more terrible than death, than human intelligence, than forces of nature" (OP, 843)? Or is it the case that love is not "something so destructive that the horcrux cannot fix itself" (DH, 104)? And as Harry is a horcrux, then nothing short of basilisk venom or the Elder Wand could have killed him, could it?
(Even Nagini was killed with the sword of Gryffindor). Why then the concern, at the end of book 1, that his fight with Quirrell would have done him in?

28. The biggest question of all: If the protection of his mother's love makes it impossible for Voldemort to possess Harry, even if he can touch him after sharing that blood, and Dumbledore himself says, "Lord Voldemort's soul, maimed as it is, cannot bear close contact with a soul like Harry's" (DH, 685), how is it that Harry is able to be a horcrux?

29. When writing HP&HBP, was Professor Slughorn's mistake in calling Ron "Rupert" a nod to Rupert Grint who plays Ron in the movies?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On Being Common

Luke 22:40-46

On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation." He withdrew about a stone's throw away beyond them, knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."


I have a confession to make.

I want to be special. I want to be unique. I want to be one of a kind.

It seems somehow ironic to the point of absurdity to look at those statements and realize how common these desires are to pretty much everyone I know.

Tonight, attending a Christian Seder meal and hearing the words of Jesus, recorded in Luke, I realized how incredibly common I am. It seems people have not changed much in the last 2000 years.

I have been exhausted lately. In some ways this is great. As an occasional insomniac, it's truly fantastic to sleep a solid six or eight hours without waking. The downside is that I've been sleeping so hard I often awake with a horrible headache. Naps are perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time, and I'm fortunate that I have the freedom to take them, but if I'm not careful, a two hour nap can kill my productivity for the remainder of the day.

While grief is exhausting, perhaps the worst part of grief is the temptation. I have a history of making incredibly poor decisions when I'm grieving. I came to this realization recently, as I thought over my previous loss, and how my response to this one has been so radically different. I mentioned to my accountability partner this "history of really bad decisions" when grieving (which she well remembers), and she responded by assuring me that this is pretty normal. I didn't believe her.

And there it was tonight. Jesus finds the disciples asleep, exhausted from grief, and commands them to pray so that they do not fall into temptation. When Jesus finds the disciples sleeping, he does not tell them, "Pray that you don't fall into temptation." He tells them, "Pray so that you don't fall into temptation." Reading this, I get the sense that it does not matter all that much what they pray about, so long as they're praying.

Prayer is a conversation with God. Nothing more, nothing less. It can be intimate or casual, public or private. I think God doesn't care all that much when or how or where we do it, as long as we do it. I've been doing a lot of it lately. I have not fallen into temptation.

After the service this evening, I stayed in the pew for a bit, praying. I thanked God for the work that He has done in my life, for the difference I see in myself now as compared to two and half years ago. And I was overwhelmed by God's goodness and His faithfulness to me. I began to weep tears of gratitude. God has been so incredibly good to me. I have a blessed life and so much more than I could ever deserve. I am honored to be His kid.

As I sat there, thanking God for His goodness and mercy, His love and grace, the abundant joy He has put in my life, and the overflowing blessings that surprise, delight, and astound me every day, I recalled an image I received a few days after Willy Wonka died. I had been praying, knowing that Jesus was there when it happened, knowing He is with me always. As I prayed, I saw myself scooping up Willy Wonka in my arms and cradling him. Then, I saw Jesus scoop me up into his arms and cradle me, and heard him whisper in my ear, "When Willy Wonka fell and you rushed in to catch him, I was rushing in to catch you."

God has been so good to me. And so I began to pray that God would be as good to others. I prayed blessings for my family and friends. I prayed sustaining grace and abiding peace. I prayed knowledge of who God is, and who they are in Him. I prayed they would know that Jesus also rushes in to catch them. I prayed that they would remember to pray so that they do not fall into temptation. (It may read like I prayed for hours, but I'm certain it could not have been more than a few minutes). Then the church came around me and prayed for me. I felt loved. I felt well cared for. I felt the presence of Jesus in the room, and I was blessed.

Going into Good Friday, I have an acute sense of the hopelessness and despair of loss. I take comfort, though, in the sure knowledge that Jesus is with me always, even when I cannot see where he is. I have joy, knowing that he is faithful and true and will never leave me nor forsake me.

I pray every day. Despite being tired, I pray so that I will not fall into temptation.

And if I slip, if I misstep, if I fall into temptation...? Well, I know it will be okay. Jesus understands. He understood it 2000 years ago when he charged his closest friends to "Pray so that you do not fall into temptation," knowing that they would.

But Jesus knew something else, and I know it too--he came to we might have life, and that we might have it abundantly. Jesus knew that come Easter morning there would be nothing that could separate us from the love of God.

Tonight, I realized that I am utterly common. Being tempted in a time of grief is nothing new. Jesus spoke of it 2000 years ago. This thought brings me comfort. It means he knows, and he understands. It means that I am not alone. It means I'm pretty much like everyone else. It means if he has forgiven his closest friends, he will surely forgive me. It means if others have stood up under temptation, I can too.

Tonight, I realized that I am common. Right now, that feels like a pretty good thing.