Faith · Grief

creation in grief

So. This year has been hard. Like…really hard. I’ve been plagued by health issues which, while not life-threatening, have been debilitating and, frankly embarrassing. (It’s one thing to tell people about your torn ACL or migraines. It’s another thing entirely to have to decide whether or not to tell your boss that you have an anal fistula as a complication of a Bartholyn cyst…).

So I say again: this year has been really hard. I cried a lot more than I had planned. At the end of 2020, with the promise of a COVID-19 vaccine looking like an increasingly likely thing, it seemed like brighter days were ahead. I couldn’t know that on January 6, 2021, I would walk into my gynocologist’s office and learn for the first time what a Bartholyn gland was.

That has been the defining point of my year. My autumn took another huge hit when a colleague (we’ll call them VWT) was suddenly gone without explanation, leaving me to do the jobs of two people with only a sliver of the information that would have made the process easier for me. The slow trickling of information over the past six weeks has left me feeling very abandoned, angry, and betrayed by someone whom I trusted a good deal. At the risk of sounding like a broken record…2021 has not been my scene. I have been barely clinging to a lifeline for the past ten months. It has not been easy. I haven’t been able to do so many of the things I long to do.

So. Fast forward to this weekend. I sing with a choir in my home city, and yesterday we performed a piece called The Sacred Veil–an intensely personal work about the love of a couple before, during, and ultimate surrender to ovarian cancer. And the lyricist, Tony Silvestri ,said something that touched me profoundly, “I think we really underestimate the role of creativity in grief. When you have trauma in your life, I think you need to create something–write a poem. Paint a picture. Bake something. Do something. Create something that you can pour your grief into and then put on a shelf and say, ‘There it is. I can let it go now.'”

And I think that is really A Word to me right now. I am grieving. I am grieving a loss of a year that wasn’t what I wanted. A year of watching people get what I longed for–a baby, a job, recognition, fresh starts–while I struggled just to keep my head above water.

So I guess that brings me here. To this place. To try to create through my grief. Through the anger. Through the disappointment. Through the loneliness. I know that God has been beside me through this journey, but maybe this is how He wants me to speak. To give voice to the pain and the agony and to look up toward the sunrise to a new dawn.

Faith · Life generally... · Teaching

Bag Lady

My friend, “Abby,” is our school’s art teacher, and never, but never leaves work with any less then three bags–and I’m not talking about little “fits three pieces of paper bags.”  Oh no.  I’m talking about those giant, metal reinforced Thirty-One bags with monograms and stuff on the side.  Even her purse weighs about a ton because it’s made out of seat belts.

But Abby is not alone.  My mother, also a teacher, has a bag with those suitcase wheels because it’s so big, and half the time, I think my dad has to get it out of the trunk for her because it’s too heavy.  I have secret theory that one of our sixth grade teachers converts each of her children’s old diaper bags into an additional “for work” bag–needless to say, I think she’s got four kids.  My male colleagues (not enamored of the Thirty-One fad of their female counterparts) still walk out of work with a bulging messenger bag or backpack.  Not even I, myself, am immune.  In my defense, I only have one teacher bag…and that bag of music for my voice lessons…and the bag with all the scores for choir rehearsal…and the reusable grocery store bags in my trunk…Okay, okay! So I have a problem!

Conclusion?  Teachers are bag junkies.

I don’t know why, really, since the common thread I glean from most teachers is that we never do any of what we bring home in those bags.  We choose to do other things, feel mildly, naggingly guilty about it, but we don’t actually do it.  You think we’d get wise–leave it at school for when we head back into work where we will actually do this stuff.  But no.  We keep lugging the same seventy-five pounds of student work and professional textbooks and school laptops back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Maybe it’s just that we’re eternal optimists, who truly believe that this time, this time, we’ll decide we’d rather dive into those forty essays on Of Mice and Men than go out to coffee with our girlfriends.  Or go to the grocery store.  Or sit in a semi-catatonic state on the sofa and binge watch Parks and Rec for the fifteenth time.  Seriously.  What is wrong with us?

Mostly, I just think we’re nuts.

I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism and the minimalist movement lately.  And while I think some of it is kind of extreme (skip having a bed frame and just have mattress on the floor…don’t have anything hanging on your walls anywhere…) there are some things I really think resonate.  The theory behind minimalism is that the more stuff you have in your life (the more stuff on your counters, in your closet, in your head, in your heart) the more stressed and the less happy you actually are.

There’s a really valid point here, I think.  So many people I know live in these crowded worlds.  Dresser drawers crammed with clothes they can’t find and don’t like, rooms cluttered with the dross of a “them” that vanished years ago,  minds crowded with regrets about pasts they can’t change and worries about futures they can’t control.  I find myself doing it, too.  I take home work I “should do” sometimes.  I let myself get talked into doing things that absorb the few precious hours of free time I had earmarked for “me” in the week.  I pray that I will be less stressed out about X-Y-Z, and be able to just allow God to do His thing and be in charge of it.  But then, rather than trusting the God I purport to believe implicitly, I find myself lugging all my little worries around with me–just like my bags.

It’s really exhausting being a bag lady–the physical or the emotional kind.  So lately I have been trying to not be one.  Throwing out that stack of old papers on my desk.  Actually folding the blanket I’ve just used (even though I know I will use it again tomorrow.)  Sticking to my guns and not letting myself stress out about things I can’t control, and I know that God’s in charge of, anyway.  Not feeling guilty for saying no to things I am too busy (or don’t want) to do.  Looking at the things in my teacher bag and think, “Am I actually going to do any of this?” And when the answer is, “No,” just leaving it at school.  Because it will keep.  The sun will still rise.

So take the challenge.  Stop freaking out about the stuff that you have no control over for just the time it takes you to drink your morning coffee.  Clear out one dresser drawer of all the clothes you keep “just in case” you need them, but secretly hate.  Just for one night, leave the teacher bags at school.

Try it out.  You might just like not being a bag lady.

Culture · Faith

Ash Wednesday

I kicked off the month of March today with Ash Wednesday.  For all of you non-religious or non-Christian types out there, Ash Wednesday is recognized in the western church as the beginning of the forty days that precede Easter (the high point of the whole Christian year, no matter what the marketing campaigns may try to convince you about Christmas…) It is traditionally a time of fasting, restraint, as Christians all over the world re-read, tell, and reflect on the story of Calvary.

I am your standard, non-denominational protestant for my druthers, but I have to tell you, my high church friends really know how to do those special, stand-out days in the Christian year.  So when my friend, “Ryan,” a good and practicing Catholic (and my chief “Faith, Religion, and Philosophies on Life” buddy) asked me if I wanted to go with him to Ash Wednesday Mass, I went for it.

There were definitely some funny moments, including but not limited to when we were kneeling during the preparation and blessing of the Eucharist.  (We will ignore the fact that I almost got my shins taken out as I didn’t realize the kneeler was coming down right when it was…) They were singing a song that apparently everyone  knew by heart except for me, so I’m trying to (discretely) thumb through this twenty page bulletin trying to figure out where on earth we are.  We Protestants tend to keep our songs all on screens in the front or out of one hymnal, and our memorized songs are pretty much limited to the Doxology, which is ten measures long–twelve if you count the “Amen.” Bulletins are strictly places to include announcements and the name of the sermon.  Anyway, so here I am, trying to figure out where on earth this dumb song is so I can sing it, but trying to do it discretely, on a kneeler, without giving the person in the pew in front of me paper cuts.  Finally, Ryan can’t take it anymore and he takes  my bulletin, but I feel much better when it takes him a while to find the song, too.  But, fortunately, it is a refrain that we sang a bunch of times, so I still had time to sing it once I got there.

There is nothing quite like being the low church protestant at a Mass.  I’m getting better at it, though.  I have learned, from past experience, that when you say the Lord’s Prayer, you stop in the  middle so the priest can say some things.  (Not that I ever barreled right straight through and was in the middle of the “forever and ever” before I realized I was the only one talking or anything.  Because I totally didn’t…)

But, for all the getting lost and confused, and trying to make sure you’re standing at the right time, I love visiting my Christian brethren and sister-en of other backgrounds.  And as I was sitting in church tonight, I reflected on how amazing it is–all over the world today, people from so many denominations, nations, and backgrounds, all gathered together to recognize the darkness of our world, our need for a Savior, and focusing our attention and spiritual eyes on the road that leads to the cross.  It is a powerful thing to think about.  Even though we are all so different–some stand and some kneel, some shout praises and some are silent in wonder, some sing songs hundreds of years old and others songs with ink that’s barely dry–we all end up in church.  Through all of our uniqueness, our foibles, and our preferences, we are all still bounded together in the One we worship.  That is an awesome thing.  And that makes my bruised shins worth it.