I Cried In Church Today

I cried in church today.

Not that I’ve never done that before. Anything can make me do that – a song, a prayer, a hug from an old friend.

Today I cried because I saw something I rarely see: community.

We gathered in a building behind the Tim Hortons – not just me and my people, but them and their people.

Multiple churches, multiple dialects of faith, all in one spot because it’s the end of the summer and this is what we do at least once. We pile in, we sing songs that we all know collectively, and someone chosen from the community speaks a message. We drink coffee together and we leave, feeling like real connection was made in that hour. Pastors, deacons, elders, middlers, young adults, teenagers, children, men and women – anyone who has a habit of going to the Church on a Sunday morning is there in equal measure.

Today, however, felt different.

The bodies were so close, the voices were so loud. I felt surrounded by a choir. My voice joined in, weakened by tears, strengthened by the words.

One pastor stands up, introduces the mayor and two female police officers. One of them is decked in the Mountie Red, another is on duty in black. They’re all asked to share why they are here today.

The mayor takes the microphone and smiles nervously: “I am here because I believe in the power of community. I am not a man of religion, by any means, but listening to you all sing just now – I felt the Spirit of God here. It’s undeniable. Smithers will benefit because of you.”

The woman in red takes the microphone. She’s young, new to town and new to the force. She’s a police officer, speaking publicly in a church building; she is practically a modern miracle. And why shouldn’t she be?

“I came here as a police officer because I want to help people. I know everyone says that, but it’s really true for me.”

The woman in black takes the mike from her. She starts to say something, but then she pauses, putting her finger to her ear. We sit in silence, wondering. After a moment, she says, “10-4, on my way” or something similar. Then she tells us, “I’m going to make this really quick.”

A laugh ripples across the crowd.

“I am here representing Cops for Cancer. We bike across the province every year to raise money for pediatric research. And if you don’t think pediatric research is relevant here – we all know of a little boy who is in Vancouver fighting for his life right now.”

We nod, and tears fill my eyes again. One of our own, a 10 year old boy who hadn’t been feeling well lately, had discovered his body was made more of cancer than blood and flesh and bone. Just a few days ago.

She tells us what we can do to help, and then she runs down the aisle of the sanctuary and disappears, because that’s her job. Any time, all the time.

We take up an offering. I pray that it goes directly where it is needed.

And then a man from the Salvation Army comes and speaks to us. He shows us a picture of this sculpture that is sitting in Toronto at this very moment.

 

 

It’s called “Jesus the Homeless.” He is lying on a bench in a shroud, and the only way to know that it’s him, is to see his nail-pierced feet peeking out. He speaks volumes.

We are led all over the Scripture, reading portions of passages where Jesus did nothing but reach out and spend his time with the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the unclean, the addicted, the outcast and the sinner – and the religious leaders did nothing but condemn him for it.

These passages are called The Gospel, or “Good News.”

Except it’s not news.

It’s not news that Jesus was a bit of a rebel, that he broke a lot of rules, made a lot of people angry with his all-surrounding compassion for just anyone.

It’s not news that Jesus would rather have dinner with a prostitute or a tax collector than a religious hypocrite.

It’s not news that Jesus never avoided anyone for the sake of his reputation.

It’s not news that he didn’t notice skin colour or background or age or gender.

So why do we act like it is?

I wept when I saw that homeless Jesus. I’ve seen him before.

I’ve also seen the poor Jesus, the aboriginal Jesus, the sick Jesus, the hungry Jesus, the black Jesus, the addicted Jesus, the gay Jesus, the mentally ill Jesus, the prostitute Jesus, the angry Jesus, the bitter Jesus, the strung-out Jesus, the imprisoned Jesus, the orphaned, abandoned, helpless, overlooked Jesus.

And I have not loved him.

I cried in church today, because we were all there. We all heard it, we all saw it. Even the mayor knows it now.

He’s right there, shrouded in the form of our community, just waiting to be picked up, dusted off, and taken in. It’s not too late.

Because once we’ve seen, we cannot unsee.
Because maybe, if we’re more like Jesus, then more people will want to become like us.
Because we all have a story, and we are all more than our labels, our backgrounds, our denominations or our mistakes. This is not news.

I cried in church today, and I think maybe God did too.

 

A Barista’s Guide To Traumatizing Small Children (Without Really Trying)

As most of you know, a few weeks ago, we left Vancouver to visit my hometown of Smithers, in the wake of our miscarriage.

As most of you may also know, after that vacation, I left a cryptic post here.

Or maybe you’re one of those lucky people who have had quite the vacation-full, Internet-less summer. Are there people out there still fine with that? Saints preserve us.

So I’m here to finally decode the crypt.

I moved. Back home, to Smithers, approximately 5 days ago. Without my husband. *le sob*

Let me back up.

Obviously, our summer was crappy. But Smithers has ALWAYS been our eventual destination, for having kids and maybe money and a house. (Vancouver, you do us no favours.) It was just a matter of when.

So when we visited Smithers and heard about the current economic boom it’s experiencing, as well as witnessed many “Help Wanted” signs posted in windows (bless the quaint-ness!), we decided to toss our fishing rod out there in the form of a resume and see what took a bite.

Long story short, I am a barista again! In a Safeway! In the only Starbucks present in a town of 5,000+ people!

2014-08-28 16.23.39

* has no idea how to make your Pumpkin Spice Latte*

Gosh, I feel so corporate. I’m part of a union now. I have other foreign words like benefits and direct deposit and Training Against the Success of Shoplifters.

Soooo….you’re saying I CANNOT take this action?

You know what I do not have? A nose ring. Again.

Four years ago, I briefly dated someone who was, shall we say, an uber conservative Baptist boy who was training up to go be a missionary in Africa – complete with a backpack full of pressed cotton shirts, pants, pamphlets and Bibles. People asked me more than once: “Is he Mormon or JW?”

He was not amused by the nose ring. So, like the lovesick fool I was, I took it out.

The day after we broke up, I found the hole and re-pierced it with much blood, sweat and tears. It had been healing for 5 months.

Ever since then, I’ve had one butt-ugly little stud permanently attached to my shnoz. I had always kinda figured that my skin had started to seal around the stud inside AND out, but I didn’t realize how much until yesterday.

I already knew that Safeway’s conservative dress code was gonna mess with my jam – no piercings, no visible tattoos, no funky hair colours. (Oh, but that cashier in aisle 3 can have a hair-hive higher than Marge Simpson’s! That doesn’t make people stare at ALL.)

But I forgot about my nose-ring until yesterday afternoon, just before my orientation was due to start. I had double-checked everything: black pants, black shoes, SIN card, void check. I was good.

Nope nope nope. Not good.

I had just sat down in the cafe area, enjoying my Blackberry Mojito Iced Tea in my brand-new mug from Steven,

2014-08-26 13.07.32-2

Isn’t it purty and culturally appropriate?

when I realized that I was about to get called in at any minute, and there was still a highly offensive piece of jewelry defacing my…face.

So, as discreetly as I could, I started twisting and pulling at the tiny metal bit.

It did not go well.

Ow.

Ow.

Owowfuckityow.

Owowfuckityow.

It is stuck. I give up.

Half way through, like Pooh Bear after eating too much honey.

It could neither come out, nor go back in. I gave myself a break, because I was starting to sweat. I needed a sip of tea.

I looked up, and saw a family of 4 small children staring at me intently, eyes wide.

Was she picking her nose? Why is she crying?

I took a sip of the tea and promptly swallowed it too fast, causing me to start choking and coughing like a sailor on his first day at sea.

“Are you okay?” said the mother of the 4 traumatized ones.

“I’m *cough choke* fine! Just *choke* went down *cough* the wrong *gag* tube!”

She couldn’t help asking, it was programmed in her now, she said.

A couple moments later, a very brisk (but ultimately nice) Customer Service Manager came to pick me up for orientation, along with one other young man who was training for Night Crew. She gave me until the next time I arrived for work to bring the nose ring to full completion away from my face.

We spent the next 4 hours together in a backroom with paperwork and educational videos, as well as a tour around the store for things I’ll never need.

She left us alone at a computer with no speakers for the video part of the training. I now know why.

1. ) You can barely hear anything. Because no speakers.

2.) They are gen-yoo-wine made-in-the-80s godawful. If you’ve ever gotten your Food Safe Training and seen those videos, these are pretty much the same, but with worse actors and less vomit.

There were 3 modules for Shoplifting and 12 modules for Hazardous Chemicals used in the work place. There were quizzes for each module, to make sure you’d been paying attention to the videos you couldn’t hear. And every time there was printed information instead of a video, Night Crew Boy next to me mouthed every. single. word. on the screen along with the woman’s robot voice. Maybe his superpower is memorization through his tongue? That would be cool. No, weird. Cool. Weird. Wool.

I was so bored by the 9th module that I started pulling on my stubborn stud once again. After a few minutes, it came out. I (and small children everywhere) rejoiced.

And that’s basically all I’ve done with my new life so far, besides search high and low for rentals that are still available for us Buttons to live in once Steve gets here. My actual training for actual Starbucks begins tomorrow at 9:30am. I already have high hopes that I’m going to have no clue what the f*ck is going on.

So I’m just gonna sit here in my cupcake onesie until then.

 

Come To The Light Side ; Sometimes, We Have Cookies.

I’ll never forget the first day I was allowed to bake cookies by myself. I was close to 9 years old, with an apron that went around me twice and a flour-splashed countertop in front of me.

I was ecstatically waiting for them to emerge from the oven, gooey and painfully delicious to the lips. Moments later, however, I would experience the bitter disappointment of too much baking soda.

My mom had mentioned that baking involved math and the use of proper fractions, but I had been sure that this rule could be bent. How could something so fun require something else so terrible?

Nearly 20 years have passed since then, and I know how to bake cookies now. About once a month, I get the urge to leave a lovely disaster of flour and broken egg shells on my countertop, despite the math involved. A small part of me even loves the math; it’s reliable, grounded and gets the results I want.

2013-08-14 15.56.45

On June 14th, 2014, I learned that I was taking on a different kind of baking venture: the ultimate bun in the oven, a baby.

As a birth doula, it’s already part of my job to know things about pregnancy and birth and infants. But I was determined to do this right.

So I read and googled and stopped lifting heavy things and eating sushi, and started drinking more water, and quit my job when it became apparent that it was too physical (and possibly dangerous) for the first trimester, and read and googled some more.

If this cookie was going to successfully bake for the next 8 months and emerge from my oven all gooey and painfully delicious to the lips (and my heart), then I was willing to do the math, sacrificially take care of my body, and follow the recipe to make it happen.

On July 20th, 2014, a mere month ago, the cookie emerged from the oven. All gooey and painful, nothing delicious.

Why?

Sure, it was my first go-round, but I had followed the recipe, hadn’t I?

Why had my precious little egg fertilized and then…never grown? My husband and I were both young and fairly healthy.

Why had my body still produced hormones that made my breasts ache and belly expand, when my pregnancy was over before it even really started? I’d never taken birth control or had any extreme hormonal imbalances before.

What had I done? What had I not done? This recipe does not add up.

And then I realized that I’ve been operating my entire life this way, at an If/Then Pendulum.

If I’m nice to people, then they will be nice to me.

If I pray and go to church regularly, then God will be happy with me.

If I work hard, then I will be rewarded.

If I’m healthy and hardly drink and take care of myself, then there’s no reason on earth why I shouldn’t have a perfectly healthy and happy baby from the very first moment I ask for one.

It’s just not true.

Sure, recipes can be followed in the kitchen, and formulas should most definitely be followed in the chemistry lab or math department. But Life is the master of Maybe and No Guarantees.

The truth is, we are in an unrequited relationship with Life. We are head-over-heels in love, and we want to spend every possible minute with it, maybe see the world together.

Meanwhile, Life doesn’t really give a shit about us.

Is it supposed to?

Does a manual exist somewhere that says if you’re a good, kind person, then nothing bad will ever happen to you? That if you only eat organic food and don’t cuss people out in traffic, then you’ll get a Golden Star of Immunity?

Do we think we’re entitled to a suffering-free existence?

Because you can do all the right things. Pay your bills on time, love your in-laws, serve your country. And one day, you may still find yourself losing everything that you thought made you a person.

It’s not that Life hates you. It’s almost worse, in that it’s nothing personal. Life is Switzerland, completely neutral – throwing a pebble in your pond and walking away, having no idea what it just destroyed or created. No one to blame, no one to exact street justice upon, no deals or bargains, no if/then.

What is the point? Right now, I’m not completely sure.

An ancient King said it pretty well:

“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them…I amassed gold and silver for myself…I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before…I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labour, and this was the reward for my toil.
Yet everything was meaningless. So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun is grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chase after the wind…so my heart began to despair…what do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?…grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest.”

Ugh.

In the past, whenever a personal event has taken my breath away and torn my clothes in grief, I always notice that the world continues on. Even though my world has stopped, most people keep going about their daily lives as though nothing has happened. But for me, everything has changed, and I wish that, for just one second, that the rest of the world would stop with mine and acknowledge my pain. To know that it’s worth stopping for, that I’m not just making it up.

But.

The week that my baby died, planes started dropping out of the skies. Most of my province caught on fire. In the weeks that followed, war in the Middle East escalated, Ebola reared its ugly head, America-the-land-of-the-free-and-the-home-of-the-brave became a little less free and a little less brave, Robin Williams’ light left our atmosphere.

For the first time that I can remember, my world has stopped…and so has everyone else’s. And it sucks.

Again we ask, why?

The same King who doubted his life’s meaning wrote this beautiful passage a little later on, and it has become my hope:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace…
God has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Maybe you don’t believe in God right now or at all.

Then believe in the seasons, how you’ve seen them change year after year without fail.

Believe in the words of Mumford & Sons,

| But if your strife strikes at your sleep, remember Spring swaps snow for leaves.|

Believe in the sun that has kept its promise every single damn day for the past eternity, after hours of enclosing darkness. Always.

Believe that, when you’ve been battling your enemies in the mud and the rain for 4 nights in a row, Gandalf is going to come to your aid in the light of the 5th day, just like he said he would.

Believe in whatever keeps you here, keeps you fighting, keeps you floating above the water’s embrace. Believe that your Phoenix will rise from the ashes, if you let it disintegrate into the death it’s meant for.

No, there are no formulas or recipes or guarantees of anything in this life, but we DO have a time for everything, good and bad. We may not know why, but we know we are not alone. Death may hurt like hell, but we know that new life will always come from it. We may not know when it will be over, but all things do end, and our story will ring out that “YES! There IS a light at the end of this tunnel, I KNEW it!” and others may not be in the same part of the tunnel as you are and they may not believe you, but you can reassure them to keep walking, it’s coming it’s coming it’s coming, don’t give up.

This is what I will teach my children. Yes, MY children, because I have no doubt that they will come to me when they are ready. And we will make cookies together, and I’ll tell them about their older brother or sister who couldn’t stay, and what I was taught by their leaving.

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
when grief sits with you, its tropical heat,
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a  body withstand this?
then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes I will take you,
I will love you again.

–Ellen Bass—


(Source)

The Immortal Mermaid

jessica

This is Jessica.

She is Cayce’s older sister, who was one of my childhood friends & fellow classmates. She was 3 whole years older than me, but she didn’t seem to know that when it came to friendship.

She (and her glorious hair) became my object of worship. I loved that girl; she was second only to Ariel as the mermaid queen of my heart.

She was only 10 years old the day she died; I’m the only one who saw it happen.

August 18, 1995 — 19 years ago today. With Cayce’s permission, this is our story.*

—————–

Summer was drawing to a close in Whitefish, Montana. I was soaking up all the lake days with my friends that I could, but there was one particular, special, day that I was looking forward to.

Swimming Pool on the Mountain Day.

My mom was planning on attending a Big Adult Conference of some kind, along with Cayce & Jessica’s mom. The hotel (?) that was hosting the event was at the ski resort on Big Mountain, and had its own pool. It was one of the fanciest things I could think of, and Jessica was going to spend the whole afternoon swimming with me there. I don’t remember what Cayce’s plans were; I just remember being sad she couldn’t come.

The only thing I noticed when we entered the pool area: we were literally the only people there. No guests, no lifeguards. But we were strong swimmers, and having a whole pool AND hot tub to ourselves was the stuff of dreams.

We played and splashed and laughed for hours, alternating between the big pool and the hot tub. I never wanted the afternoon to end. I kept my eye on the clock, knowing how many minutes were cruelly creeping by until our moms picked us up.

Our skin was starting to wrinkle and I was getting cold.

“Let’s go in the hot tub one last time to warm up!” she said.

“Okay! Wanna play the hold-your-breath game?” I replied.

She smiled. It was a competition we’d been duelling at all afternoon. One turn at a time, dunking under, the other person watching the clock to count the seconds. We averaged between 30 and 40 seconds each time; one minute was the winner we’d never achieved.

She dunked, and then I did. She dunked again, and then I did. She was determined to beat me the third time. I counted the seconds on the clock. When she passed 35 seconds, I knew she would win. 40…45…was she going to seize the one-minute winner-takes-all goal?

People often say, when a life-changing trauma occurs, that “everything happened so fast.” For me, it was the exact opposite. The seconds crawled by like snails, and she was still under the bubbles. Despite a pit in my stomach that said something was wrong, I laughed and said, “Okay, okay, you win! You can come up now.”

Maybe she didn’t hear me. Almost two minutes. I reached into the water to tap on her head.

Nothing.

I grabbed her shoulder and started shaking her.

She was stuck.

“Jessica! JESSICA!” I started screaming and glancing around. As had been the case all afternoon, no one was there.

Suddenly, her body bobbed to the surface, but her head was still down in the water, and I couldn’t. pull. her. out.

I don’t understand. What is happening. Why won’t she come back?

I fled the hot tub, determined to find help. I reached the door, opened it and stopped in my tracks.

Carpet. Nice, clean, fancy carpet. And there I was dripping wet, remembering that someone had told me to never step on anyone’s carpet when I was wet. Mold would grow underneath, and the carpet would be ruined.

This thought kept me from running any further. So I stood at the doorway, calling out over and over, even though I could see no one.

In desperation, I ran back into the hot tub, and tried with all my strength to remove Jessica from it. Screams echoed off the tiles.

It felt like hours. It felt like being abandoned. It felt like all my fault. But there was a tiny part of me that was sure she was going to pop out of the water like a fish any second now with a smile on her face, declaring herself the winner of the game for all time.

SLAM! The door burst open, and a man ran in, like a guardian angel who’d gotten caught in traffic.

“What happened?” He had dark hair and a strong build, but even he strained to free her.

I froze, my words pouring out slowly. “We were playing…a game…she was holding her breath…and…she never came up.” Would this angel blame me?

“Okay, honey. I’m gonna go get some help. Are you okay here for a minute?”

I nodded. What was one more minute?

I never left her side. I had started to shake. I thought I was cold, but now I know it was probably something else.

The door opened again, this time with 6 big, too-late guardian angels to help me. I sat on the edge of the hot tub, curled up with my arms wrapped around my knees as they suctioned to the bodice of my swimsuit.

I had no concept of the time anymore.

It took all 6 of them to finally bring her limp body out of the water. Her princess hair covered her face, and as they laid her down on the concrete, one of them began CPR, sweeping the hair away. She was a light blue.

That’s when I started to cry.

——————-

Every time I recall that day, it feels like a dream. I’m certain that I blocked some memories in self-preservation; what 7 year old wouldn’t? I remember the helicopter that took her away, the gravel that bit my wrinkled feet as I walked across the parking lot, covered in a blanket.
Later, at the hospital, they wouldn’t let me see her, just told me what I already knew. Her hair, that I’d wanted so badly, had gotten sucked into a filter at the bottom of the tub. We’d never seen it coming.

Nobody asked me what happened. Not the hospital, not my mom, not a pastor or a therapist. I was never asked, so I never said anything. I just tried to forget, and kept my hair short, avoiding hot tubs at all costs.**

I didn’t see Cayce much*** after that; I was pulled out of school to begin homeschooling less than a year later. 

But this I do know: Jessica was a piece of goodness and kindness and gentleness that the absolute senselessness of Life elected to take out before she could spread her beauty beyond her corner of the world.

I hate that, and I hate the part that I played in it. That will never be taken away from me, from her family. This is a scar we will always share, as though she had been the blood and bone joining us together until we were ripped apart.

But I have absolutely no doubt that we will see her again one day.

I can picture her now, swimming towards me, laughing and splashing, saying, “THERE you are! I’ve been swimming all day waiting for you, silly! Hey, did you know we can be mermaids here if we want? Come on, I’ll show you!”

And when I jump in the water, all the pain and fear and confusion of that day will be washed away in the waves. The sun will never set, and skin will never wrinkle from swimming too long; lungs will be more than lungs and we will be more than girls. Finally. Forever.

* Some location and timeline details may have changed due to my faulty memory. Apologies.
** I can say that I love hot tubs again, and that, this year, I’ve let my hair grow the longest it’s ever been.
*** We are now reconnected through the lovely Internet, and all has been restored, thank God.