Rhonda Cagle

Posts Tagged ‘faith’

I’m Still Here, Dammit!

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2016 at 5:04 pm

I get it – 2016 sucked for a lot of people, including me. For most of the year, I fought cancer. If anyone has the right to bitch about a bad year, I’m at least toward the front of the line.

But is it worth bitching? And was it really a bad year?

Cancer treatment left me with large gaps in my 2016 memory. The scraps I do have are mostly filled with pain and loss. My family, who acutely remembers all the things I don’t, tells me it’s probably best to leave the gaps unfilled.

But this past year also holds other bits and pieces of remembrances, memories worth noting and keeping. Friends who brought me food and gifts to help make the fight bearable – and winnable. My husband, who put his political and professional life on hold, to help me fight and win my battle. My children, who saw me at my weakest and worst, and loved me in spite of myself.

And then there are the memories of me. Me finding my voice and being an advocate for my own health and life – even when it meant changing doctors and, at times, pissing off the ones I kept. Me choosing to continue working through treatment, even when my doctors told me to take some time away from my professional life. Me staring down the demon of my late husband’s death from cancer and determining that my story, by the grace of God, would be different.

To say that 2016 was a hard year is an understatement. But it offered some hard-learned lessons – ones that are worth mentioning.

Make the pain pay. Inevitably, hard times come. Loss can be overwhelming. Disappointment can be bitter to the point of being disillusioned. Then what? For me, the answer is cry, curse, spit, rant – whatever it takes to get through the deepest and darkest of the pain. But then make the pain pay. Turn back around and use every hard-learned lesson to help someone who doesn’t yet know they, too, will emerge on the other side of darkness.

Work as though your life depends on it. Doctors don’t know everything, but they sure as hell like you to think they do. I frustrated my doctors because I refused to stop working during my treatment. What they didn’t know is that my work was sometimes all there was between utter despair and me. My work is full of purpose. It gives children who are too often marginalized and minimized an educational choice that results in a second – and sometimes an only – chance in life. I worked in order to survive the brutality of my treatment; otherwise I might have given up. Whatever brings purpose and joy to life is something worth doing, regardless of what anyone else says.

Don’t “should” on yourself. Should have, could have, would have serves no good purpose in life. Would my cancer have been caught earlier if I had been more diligent about screenings? Maybe. Then again, my sister was diligent and she ended up being in treatment longer than I for the same kind of cancer. Could my late husband have survived his cancer if the doctors had taken his warning signs more seriously? I don’t know – won’t ever know. The truth is that we all do the best we can with what we have to work with at the time. To “should” on myself only brings negativity and wasted energy into my life. Reflect, revise, and move forward, failing a bit better every step of the way.

Know what sustains you when all else fails. When body parts are cut off and poison begins coursing through your veins, you decide what you truly believe in a hurry. More than ever, my faith holds firm. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth… The disappointment, pain, and fear of 2016 makes my faith more sure than ever.

I’m thankful to be turning the page and beginning a new year. But I’m strangely thankful for 2016. I’m keenly aware that its hard-learned lessons will be needed more than ever, come January. For all the brightness of a New Year, storm clouds are on the horizon. There are more battles to come.

That’s okay. Thanks to 2016, I’m ready. I’m still here, dammit. Still standing. Still fighting. Still believing.

Ain’t it something?! Cheers.

2017

Sinners and Saints

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2016 at 12:42 pm

Ang’s Facebook post was the first item in my newsfeed as I did one last social media check before going to bed. “Writing my first-ever sermon for class. Focusing on the refugee crisis and how it relates to the Book of Ruth. Any ideas on imagery? Focus area(s)? Neeeeeeeeeeervous.”

Suddenly, I was wide-awake. My genealogy includes generations of preachers, including my father. I teethed on a Bible, married Dennis, an Anglican priest, and wrote more sermons than I can remember; some with my late husband, many as a consultant to religious non-profits.

Ang’s words were an alarm clock to a part of me that has been sleeping for a long time. My professional life no longer includes ghost-writing sermons for preachers. And my new husband’s profession is politics – a different kind of preaching.

My eyes welled as Ang’s call for help awakened memories of Saturday afternoons spent with Bibles, commentaries, and prayer books strewn across my dining table. Dennis and I would discuss, research, and sometimes debate a passage of Scripture; drawing out wisdom and distilling it into a homily for Sunday’s services.

Without hesitation, I replied back to Ang’s request for help. It was late. Chemo has made me weary. But none of that mattered. There was a sermon to be written. A friend who needed help. And in that moment, I felt more awake and alive than I have in a very long time.

For more than an hour, Ang and I exchanged private messages through Facebook. We began by discussing the poetry found in the King James Version of the Book of Ruth 1:16, “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

Soon, we found ourselves seeing the plight of today’s refugees through the eyes of Ruth. What courage to let go of all that she knew to embrace the unknown of what God had waiting for her in a new land, in a society of new people! It is easy to see God’s purpose when we already know “the rest of the story.” Much harder and messier when we are living the story in real time, with real refugees, real terrorism, and real questions.

The ghost of this once ghost-writer was back at that dining table, blowing dust off of the commentaries; wiping away the internal cobwebs from this long-ago part of me.

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Ang and I discussed. We researched. We found ourselves marveling that Ruth’s words enable us to see with God’s eyes into the heart of today’s refugees – informing our own hearts with renewed compassion.

When I finally went to bed, my heart overflowed with happiness, dripping from my eyes to my pillow. For that hour, I was awake again, alive again. She was the one who asked for help; I was the one who received it.

A few days later, I woke up to another private message waiting from Ang. It was her first sermon, finished and ready to share. “There it is!!!,” she wrote, “You so, so inspired me. THANK YOU!”

Reading her words, I saw pieces of our exchange, coupled with her own wisdom. The end result is a timely, poignant opportunity to see with God’s eyes the news of today filtered through the lens of faith, courage, and love.

Sinners and saints; we are a mixture of both. When we call out for help – when we are willing to receive help – grace calls out to the better version of ourselves. My exchange with Ang reminded me of this truth.

With her permission, here is the entirety of Ang’s sermon. Thank you, Ang, for your words. Through them, I hear grace calling…

Angela Rupchock-Schafer

Hebrew Bible II

SERMON – RUTH

James Martin, SJ, is a famous Roman Catholic priest and social media all-star. Active on Twitter, he is adept at placing into 140 characters or less mini-sermons of a sort. Earlier this week, a tweet of his caught my attention in particular. “Jesus is ready to cross the sea but everyone has an excuse for not following him. Leave behind what hinders you and get on that boat.”

A boat. Crossing the sea. Leaving behind excuses. We have all seen the heartbreaking images of desperate Syrian families attempting to escape violence in a rickety boat across the Mediterranean Sea. The United Nations estimates that more people are displaced now than at any other time since World War II. More than a million refugees fled to European shores in 2015, seeking safety, often in the confines of dangerous boats.

“Leave behind what hinders you and get on that boat.”

Is Father Martin suggesting that to follow Jesus and the Gospel takes a leap of faith akin to the faith of a refugee to cross the sea? What does a leap of faith for a refugee look like? What does it take to put your children – your entire world – into a boat that could flip at any moment and drown you all? What would have to be chasing you to make that terrible choice the BETTER option?  Imagine what it would take for YOU to run from everything you know, to seek safety in a completely unknown land. What could possibly make you do that? How bad would things have to be at home that you would be willing to risk all that you hold dear in a completely foreign land?

The Book of Ruth is the Book of the Refugee. Like so many refugees, Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, are escaping a place they can no longer safely call home. “She started out with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab; for in the country of Moab she had heard that the LORD had taken note of His people and given them food” (Ruth 1:6). Naomi and her daughters-in-law have all three lost their husbands to early death. Unexpectedly they are without their husbands in an extremely patriarchal culture. The women now face famine and the terrifying specter of endless hunger and eventual death.

Imagine what it would take for you to grab what clothes you can fit into a backpack and run. How bad would things have to be? How would your faith in God factor into your decision? Running into the unknown. Running away from the only home you have ever known, into an uncertain future and foreign land.

Staying in Moab meant certain death by starvation for Naomi and Ruth. They had no more options. Flight was their only option. Flight meant traveling back home for Naomi, an Israelite. But for Naomi’s Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, fleeing to Bethlehem would mean leaving behind her entire life, the land of her people, and trusting in something more.  

Ruth had to let go of everything she knew and embrace what God had in store for her. Ruth’s leap of faith was taken the very moment she decided to become a refugee. One of the most passionate, eloquent statements of love of the Hebrew Bible comes from Ruth’s lips, in this exact moment of fear, trepidation and tremendous FAITH. “For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). Hunger drives Ruth from her home, but her faith in God and her love of family is what took her to a new land.

It takes raw trust in the Divine to become a refugee.

Pure faith is Ruth’s amazing strength in her moments of greatest fear.  Willingness to surrender to God’s purpose yet to be revealed. A fountain of love for a woman, a mother-in-law, she had no obligation to follow or honor. Hesed. Yet follow, she does. Hesed. Whether thou goest, I will go. Hesed. Your people shall be my people. Hesed. Your God, my God.

Father Martin believes that when it comes to getting in that boat to follow Jesus, “everyone has an excuse not to follow him.” Ruth used no excuses, she got on that fragile boat and set out on the sea. But let’s take this metaphor all the way to its conclusion. Who was waiting on the other side of that metaphorical sea to receive Ruth? Who are waiting on the shores of Europe, on the shores of the United States, to welcome the Syrian refugee families fleeing untold violence and terror?

In one word: Boaz. And WE are Boaz.

Boaz was a well-respected Bethlehemite. He had land, he had power, he was a man of substance. In short, he had nothing to gain whatsoever by taking an interest in Ruth, Naomi and their sad situation. He could have simply sadly shook his head and walked away, as so many in his situation typically do. Ruth was a completely unknown commodity. Boaz was minding his own business in Bethlehem when in strolls this refugee woman, Ruth, looking to glean from his fields. Suddenly everything changed.

Ruth was foreign.

In what ways does society make us as a people immediately cautious and fearful of the unknown? Of the foreigner among us? Contemporary politics is hitting us on all sides with tales of xenophobia and refugee and immigrant-directed violence after the Brexit vote. The presumptive Republican nominee has proposed a ban on all Muslims from entering the United States. Equally preposterously, fear tactics are being used when debating policy for granting asylum and resettlement for refugees in the U.S.

If we think we as a people are being primed to fear the refugee, imagine what Boaz must have been taught. Ezra and Nehemiah were part of Boaz’s cultural heritage, and neither prophet put trust in someone from outside of Israel. “Make America Great Again” might as well have been “Make the Temple Great Again” as far as some early Hebrew Bible prophets were concerned. The inter-mixing of bloodlines was strictly frowned upon and all of this would have been front and center for Boaz as he met Ruth. Boaz had every excuse in the Book to not meet Ruth and welcome her boat at the shore.

The first time they meet, Boaz and Ruth speak on her journey to Bethlehem. Boaz tells Ruth, “‘I have been told of all that you did for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and came to a people you had not known before. May the Lord reward your deeds. May you have a full recompense from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have sought refuge!’” (Ruth 2: 8-12).

The Book of Ruth goes on to tell us of Ruth and Boaz’s eventual marriage. Together, they became the great-grandparents of King David himself. The end of the Book of Ruth ends with the birth of a son to Ruth and Boaz. “They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, father of David.” (Ruth 4:17). The greatest king Israel ever knew, eventually the Messiah Himself, were both descended from the union between a refugee woman and her unexpected suitor.

It is easy for us to see God’s purpose when we are able to read “the rest of the story” … but much harder when we are living the story in real time. Ruth and Boaz had no idea how their story would end. No happy endings were promised to either of them. Ruth and Boaz certainly would not have expected their love to produce the House of David. They were living in the moment, same as you and I are today.

The refugee crisis we face right now is in real time and made up of millions of real lives. But Ruth enables us to see with God’s eyes into the heart of the refugee and inform our own hearts with renewed compassion. On one level, it is easier to see the courageous faith a refugee needs to get on the boat to cross the sea… but what of the courage of Boaz? What of his faith? To be the one who watches from the shore as that boat approaches, filled with…. what? Who? How? God demands courage to both get on the boat and also to welcome those who arrive with open arms.

The authors and editors of Hebrew Scriptures wanted readers to understand that the greatest Israelite monarch, David, is the descendent of a foreign immigrant and transplant through Ruth. The writer of Matthew thought it important to connect Jesus’ lineage to this same tradition. The plight of the refugee, Ruth’s story of exile, was significant to the author of Matthew. We must meditate on this. We must not forget. There is deep meaning here and it is meant for us, in this moment, to grasp it. To welcome it.

Father Martin tells us, “Jesus is ready to cross the sea but everyone has an excuse for not following him. Leave behind what hinders you and get on that boat.”

Getting on that boat and WELCOMING that boat to shore are both acts of faith.

After all, it takes as much faith in God to declare oneself a refugee as it does to welcome a refugee into your home.

Works cited

Berlin, Adele and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds. The Jewish Study Bible. Second Edition. New

York, Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.

Martin SJ, James. “https://twitter.com/JamesMartinSJ” Twitter. 27 June 2016. Website.

27 June 2016.

 

Merry Broken Christmas

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2015 at 12:24 pm

For more than 20 years, decking the halls has always begun with assembling the Nativity. Call it a nod to the reason for the season or simply a warm-up to the time-consuming tree trimming; my porcelain Nativity is always the first decoration of the season.

In the past 20 years, my Nativity has seen its fair share of wear and tear. It’s been moved countless times, logging more miles than the Three Wise Men on their quest to find Baby Jesus. The crèche is a bit mangled, with one of the posts that supports the roof warped and scratched. And the gold paint adorning the angel and Wise Men is faded and chipped in places. But it is the Nativity I bought when my own daughter was born and the one from her childhood, so it is the only Nativity for me.

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Baby Jesus has survived more than his fair share of trauma. When my daughter Megan was a toddler, I would frequently find tiny porcelain Jesus removed from his manger and wrapped in pieces of Kleenex or toilet paper. Exasperated, I finally asked Megan why she continued to disobey me and touch breakable Jesus.

Her beautiful green eyes, round with fear at my anger, filled with tears as she explained that Baby Jesus looked cold and she was trying to keep him warm.

Touched by her tiny, tender heart’s compassion for cold, naked Jesus, I brushed the tears from her eyes and mine. I told her we would wrap Baby Jesus up together, and then leave him swaddled for the rest of Christmas.

She happily agreed and busied her little fingers, carefully wrapping Jesus in Kleenex, while my own hands served as spotter and safety net in case she dropped him.

She didn’t. And, for the rest of the season, she left Baby Jesus untouched, nestled warmly in his Kleenex swaddling clothes, lying in the manger.

A few years ago, Baby Jesus suffered major trauma. Knocked from his manger by over zealous dusting, he hit the ground. His arm broke clean off, and several bits of his chipped body scattered in pieces on the floor.

I gasped in horror. What kind of karma does one get for breaking the Son of God during Christmas?!

Thanks to Gorilla Glue and a magnifying glass, I surgically reattached the Savior’s arm and glued most of his body back together. You have to look carefully now to see where Jesus has been broken and chipped.

This year, while placing broken Jesus in his manger, I thought about all of the years I have repeated this ritual. Some years it has been easy and joyful. In other years, the brokenness of my own life has tinged the ritual with sorrow; even anger.

Broken Jesus has become more precious to me because of the years and the miles we have traveled – and survived – together. Gazing down at his naked porcelain body, I realized broken Jesus is exactly the Savior my manger – and my life – needs.

This year, I am surrounded by so much brokenness in life. People I love are fighting cancer and without jobs. Terrorists are blowing up people and countries. The economy remains uncertain. There are big questions in my professional and personal life with no answers in sight.

Each one of these issues is another chip from my individual and our collective wholeness. News headlines splinter and shatter any sense of well-being or safety. With a few words, a doctor’s diagnosis sends shards of life flying in all directions.

All of this brokenness was reflected back to me this year as I placed broken Jesus in his manger. More than ever, I realize how much strength I draw from the story of a Savior who fell to earth and became broken like me. For me. In these moments, when I am keenly aware of life coming apart, I am grateful for His grace; the glue that mends and restores.

Merry broken Christmas. A thrill of hope; a weary world rejoices, indeed.

 

 

 

Learning the Real Value of Choices

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2015 at 7:21 pm

I was raised to worry. From my earliest days, there was pressure to “get it right.” To be perfect. Never to make a mistake.

Failure wasn’t an opportunity to learn and grow. Failure meant you had made the wrong choice. You had let down those around you and disappointed God. Pretty serious stuff for a seven-year-old.

After a lot of anxiety, not to mention medication for stomach acid, I’ve come to the realization that there are very few choices in my life that are right or wrong, black or white. There is only the opportunity to do my best with what I presently know and what I have to work with.

The choices I have made in life have often resulted in detours and paths that wandered down unexpected and sometimes unwelcomed roads. They weren’t always the most direct route. They resulted in a lot of experiences and relationships that didn’t seem relevant or even helpful at the time.

Were they the wrong choices?

I’m not so sure.

Photo courtesy of tastytabletopics.com.

Photo courtesy of tastytabletopics.com.

I married, and ultimately divorced, a man who resulted in a lot of emotional damage and years of therapy. But I got the most beautiful, caring, bright daughter as a result. And entering therapy has helped me grow in ways I might never have experienced. I have become braver than I thought possible and discovered I am more competent and capable on my own than I ever imagined I could be.

The choices I make in life rarely come with a clear-cut right or wrong label. I do the best I can with what I have at the time. And I pray. And I trust that somehow, God will both guide and use my choices to help me “fail a little better” each day.

I still worry. But I worry less about making the “right” choices in life. These days, I focus more on the choices that allow me to journey, at least for a time, on roads less traveled. I want my choices to create the opportunity to explore the byways that I might have overlooked or ignored by making the “right” choice.

It’s messy. It’s unconventional. It’s a philosophy that is counter to my upbringing. But it’s how I choose to live. And it’s a choice that offers more life than I would have imagined.

Of Patriots and Patriarchs

In Uncategorized on October 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm

There’s something about being out of my element and off of my routine that causes me to see the world differently. It’s as if – suddenly – I see my surroundings and myself through an entirely new set of lenses. The world – and my response to it – is infinitely more colorful and clear.

A recent trip to Boston was the catalyst for such a moment. In full disclosure, this trip had been on my bucket list for a long time. My late husband and I had planned a trip that included Boston in the fall, complete with reservations at postcard-perfect B&Bs and some of the landmark restaurants in the area. He died two weeks before we were scheduled to leave. Instead of being on a plane, I was in a cemetery, burying my beloved.

In light of this, I tried to approach my trip to Boston with low expectations. After all, it was primarily a business trip with an additional 48 hours of weekend tacked on. But it was Boston. In the fall. During peak leaf season. And I couldn’t keep my expectations from reaching a bit higher with each passing day.

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My new husband was accompanying me on the trip. Somehow, he knew how important this was to me and went out of his way to make it exceptional. We walked the Freedom Trail, which was something not on my original itinerary. I reveled in every step, retracing the founding of our country. The floors of Boston’s Old State House creaked under my feet as I walked toward the balcony where the Declaration of Independence was read to the people of colonial Boston for the very first time, just a few weeks after it was penned. We walked the trails of Boston Common, the site of our nation’s first public garden.

Everywhere I looked, I was surrounded by history. By the fiery hues of the changing season. And by the people. The richness of diversity, language, and culture was captivating.

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And, of course, there were the churches. Trinity Church. King’s Chapel. The Old North Church. Walking into each one felt like coming home. I entered the center aisle of each church, genuflecting; oblivious to the tourists around me. Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord, Amen.

A few steps forward, and the details of the altar became visible. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory; forever and ever. Amen.

Finally, I found myself at the front of the church, immersed in the faith once delivered to the saints. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

The architecture and décor was majestic. The historicity of the church so breathtaking, I could barely breathe as I walked through the sacredness.

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And then I walked out of the holiness and back into life. And I looked again at the people. The homeless – the hurting, ill, and broken among us – sat on the steps of these sacred spaces. They no longer had the will or wherewithal to go inside. Instead, they huddled at the edges, eyes down, hands out; praying to God for something – anything – to bring some comfort or relief.

Perspective became inescapably clear. I would not catch glimpses of God by looking up at the soaring steeples. Instead, I needed to look down and into the outstretched, dirty hands of the helpless in order to see him.

And the history of this country I call home became real in the eyes and lives of these down-on-their-luck citizens. This nation, borne of those who fought for the belief that all men are created equal, could be seen in the furtive, desperate glances of those daring to hope for this same opportunity.

To one I offered the leftovers from the meal I had finished and intended as my breakfast for the next morning. To another, I offered a few dollars. I had watched as church-goers literally stepped around her in their efforts to get into church on a cold New England Sunday morning. I simply could not walk on by.

As I placed the folded bills into her hand, I grasped her chilly fingers and rubbed them with the warmth of my own. Startled, she looked up. I smiled and, for a brief moment, her hand clasped mine. “Thank you, God bless you,” she whispered.

“No, God bless you. And thank you.” I replied.

“For what?” she mumbled with a look of confusion.

“For helping me see God today,” I replied.

As I walked away, I looked up. The steeple of the church was clearly visible. Suddenly, God was, too. I was off of my routine and out of my element, lucky enough to see the world differently while walking in the city of patriots and patriarchs.

In the Chapel of Everyday

In Uncategorized on August 24, 2013 at 9:32 am

It’s amazing what happens at 2 a.m. when I can’t sleep. Since I frequently cross time zones multiple times each month, this happens more often than I’d like. Facebook and Pinterest are my companions during these lonely hours, which is how I came to read a phrase from one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Berg.

On her Facebook page, Ms. Berg was describing her early morning routine, complete with the aroma of coffee and the sounds of birds and nature coming to life. She wrote about the company of her dog who was imploring her to cook bacon and promptly drop some for him to consume. Before she moved onto other subjects, she noted that she was in the “chapel of everyday.”

Those words pierced me. For days, they have been my companion as I have criss-crossed the country and sat through endless meetings. That phrase has echoed in my mind as I’ve drifted into fitful sleep; whispered to me as I’ve regained consciousness in an attempt to meet another day.

The chapel of everyday is vital to my existence. It’s different than going to church. Let’s be truthful. No matter how much we insist otherwise, church is a place where we clean up, make-up, and shut up in order to fit in, find acceptance, and maybe just a little salvation. I still attend from time to time, but church seems less about experiencing God and more about fitting into an image or mold that makes those who bear His name more comfortable.

In the chapel of everyday, however, God comes looking for me; almost like my cat wandering over to rub against my legs and mewl at me to pick her up. It happens at unexpected times and places and usually comes without warning. In the chapel of everyday, God is familiar and comforting, inviting me to pour a cuppa and put my feet up while we chat.

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A few years ago, those words would have seemed to me sacrilegious, bordering on heretical. Not these days. There have been too many miles between here and that lifetime ago. And the funny thing about this journey is that God has been there, every step of the way. The further I’ve moved away from the church, the more real He’s become, especially in the chapel of everyday.

In this chapel, the stained glass is the sunset seen from my back patio. The hues are rich with light streaming from heaven, causing my eyes to look up. The hymns are heard in the birds singing and my fountain gurgling; in the winds and rains that provide their own Gregorian-like chants.

Instead of altar flowers, there are hanging baskets and pots of flowers that I have planted – a labor of love and a gift of creation given back to the Creator. Vestments take on the form of an apron or work overalls, with the work of my hands serving as an extension of God’s hands to care for and serve those around me.

In the chapel of everyday, there are no soaring rafters or marbled aisles. There is not a single gilded candlestick or a bit of fair linen to be found. Instead, I am surrounded by what is broken. Mismatched. Ordinary. Cracked. Misfit. Makeshift. Marred. I am surrounded by – confronted with – me. And those like me. And our inability to be good enough, right enough, pure enough, loving enough, or fill-in-the-blank-enough. 

That’s about the time the cat shows up. And God. And the smell of coffee brewing and my own dogs hoping, like Elizabeth Berg’s, that I’ll fry up bacon and drop some so they can feast. And, with all of us gathered together, the chapel of everyday turns my space into sacred space.

The broken pieces are suddenly transformed into a beautiful mosaic, with even the tiniest shards forming symmetry and beauty. In the chapel of everyday, what I have set aside as cracked or marred becomes rich with God’s patina and character. Somehow, He makes a place for everything and everyone in the chapel of everyday. And it all melds into something sumptuous, seamless, sacred, and safe.

In the chapel of everyday, my soul finds rest as God wanders in looking for me, inviting me to pour a cup of coffee and settle in for a chat while I’m frying bacon and tripping over the dogs. Thanks be to God!

 

 

These Strong Women

In Uncategorized on December 1, 2010 at 8:28 pm

A few weeks ago, Megan had to write a paper about our family heritage. Where does one even begin?! And what is one supposed to say about such things? Do people really need to know that we had members of our family fighting on both sides of the Civil War? Does one really share how great grandfather so-and-so was both a preacher and child abuser? How does one distill the legacy of generations of kinfolk into 1500 words or less?

Megan’s assignment got me thinking of generations of Pentecostal preachers, moon shiners, farmers, and hillbillies. These Native American, Irish, and African-American kinfolk create a rich and colorful family tapestry – sometimes a bit too colorful. To be sure, my life continues to bear imprints of these distant relatives; however, it is the women in my family who leave an indelible impression on me.

The matriarchs of my family are strong women. These were not women of means or privilege. They were daughters and wives of farmers and ranchers. Mostly poor and uneducated, they were self-made women at a time when women were expected to be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. These strong women were strong because they had to be. They were entrepreneurial and thrifty because they were often the primary breadwinners in the home. Many were married to preachers. And despite their lack of education and society’s limitations, a few were preachers themselves.

My great-great grandmother, Rosie, was a preacher. She lost her first husband, a full-blooded Cherokee, and remarried later in life. By all accounts, her second husband was a scoundrel – a drunk. While he was nursing the bottle, Rosie was nursing her children, her grandchildren, and those within her community. Known for her faith, she was often called to preach at home church gatherings in outlying communities. On these days, she would dress in her distinctive white dress – a trademark of Rosie’s. She would take her children and her Bible with her, and her services always included the urging” Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” Rosie did “say so.” With her words and her life, and in the lives of her children, she preached and lived the faith that sustained her.

My great-great grandmother, Josephine, is another strong woman who found herself unexpectedly widowed with small children at home. Her husband was killed in a stagecoach robbery, yet Josephine was determined to hang onto the homestead and make a living for her children.

Struggling to make ends meet, she decided to sell her head of cattle and one team of horses. Her neighbor persuaded her that a livestock sale was too rough for a lady and offered to sell the horses and cattle for her. The man left with her cattle and horses – and never returned. Josephine lost the farm and she and her children lived in their wagon, working as field laborers in the surrounding farms to earn enough money for food.

My dad's mother, Beatrice.

I think of my own grandmothers and am amazed at what they endured. I never knew my grandmother Beatrice. She died when my father was just 14 years of age. He left home a week later and never went back. My dad remembers a spunky woman who faced unimaginable poverty while her preacher husband was gone for months at a time going from town to town, holding evangelistic services. He tells stories of Beatrice pulling bread from the oven as he arrived home from school and dancing a jig in the kitchen when her husband was gone. In my grandfather’s world, dancing was a sin, but grandma loved to dance. Her eyes would sparkle and she and the kids would laugh as they coaxed her to dance in the middle of the kitchen floor. I wish I could have known her.

My grandmother, Beatrice, washing clothes.

My "Papa," Austin, my "Granner," Jackie, and my uncle, Jerry.

My “Granner” is another strong woman and the living link to the matriarchs of my family. Now 92 and facing cancer, Granner grew up on an Oklahoma farm. This tiny woman who is not quite five feet tall chopped down trees with her daddy’s axe, hitched up teams of mules and horses to plow the fields, lived through the Great Depression, my grandfather’s diagnosis of tuberculosis, and his sudden decision to become a preacher after God healed him. My grandmother had no desire to be a preacher’s wife – she had married a rancher. But she took this news the same way she took much of life – with grace and fortitude.

Papa, Granner, and my mom, Jan.

I often think of these strong women. Most days I picture them peeking over the clouds of heaven, shaking their heads in disbelief, wondering how they produced a wuss like me. But occasionally, I see in myself glimpses of these women. As I held my husband’s hand while he was dying, I thought of them, remembering that I come from a long line of widows who somehow, someway, found a way to carry on and begin again. In trying to make a living for my daughter and me, I remember that I come from resourceful, entrepreneurial stock and I do my best to live up to their example. I understand my love of wearing white and attempt to live my life in such a way that I am known as a woman of faith. And in hard times, I dance in my own kitchen, hoping my daughter will one day tell her children about a grandmother whose eyes sparkled as she laughed while jigging across the floor.

Me and my daughter, Megan (back), Mom and Granner (center), my sister, Shelly (right), and her girls, Elena and Larisa.

Sometimes timid, often afraid, and always imperfect, I am one of these strong women. So is my sister. Our daughters are, too. Perhaps it’s not the makings of a college essay, but this family heritage is most certainly worth noting in the making of a life.

 

Ink It

In Uncategorized on June 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Some people fantasize about being rich or thin or powerful. They envision themselves effortlessly entertaining like Martha Stewart or chatting up David Letterman while they promote their latest movie or best selling novel. My fantasy is, well… uh, a bit more eccentric.

For several years now, I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo. Toyed is the operative word here. I hate pain and am phobic about needles, so thinking about the actual act of getting the tattoo raises my heart rate and makes me break out in a sweat. Hence, this remains a fantasy and not a reality. But still, I dream of ink. Not something cheesy like a rose on my shoulder, mind you, where it’s visible and tacky when wearing a cocktail dress. Not that I wear a cocktail dress all that often. But I digress. My desire to get inked has nothing to do with displaying it for others to see. The tattoo I fantasize about is solely for me.

Momento Mori is the Latin phrase I dream of inscribing on my lower back. Roughly translated, it means, “remember thy death.” I realize inking my back with the admonition to think about death makes me odd in the eyes of my peers. But it’s my body and my fantasy and I believe it’s important to contemplate such things in order to figure out why and how we live. Previous generations thought so, too.

In the days of Roman conquerors, triumphant generals would return from war to the accolades of adoring citizens. But walking immediately behind the conquering hero was a slave whose sole job was to call out to the mighty warrior, reminding him that he would one day die. The call of death served as a reality check for how the warrior lived in that moment, that day.

Momento Mori also echoes in the voice of ancient Christendom. The devout, facing the choice between recanting faith or martyrdom, embraced faith by also embracing death. Remembering the day of death formed the basis of how they lived – even if it was only for another few hours or days. Centuries later, I thought of these ancient saints as I listened to a bishop tell stories of his friends and brothers who were recently martyred in Africa. Faced with firing squads, they were not without fear. The bishop recalled many of them crying and soiling themselves even as they walked toward the soldiers firing at them. But in the face of death, life – its essence and importance – was more clearly seen, felt, grasped, even as earthly hands were stilled.

Our modern western world does everything possible to avoid thinking of death. Desperate for eternal youth, we tuck our tummies, lift our faces, liposuction our backsides, and plump our lips – all for that “naturally effortless” glow of youthful beauty. Meanwhile, our souls shrivel for lack of substance… meaning… purpose.

But regardless of our efforts to avoid and sanitize death, it comes. For my husband, it was at the young age of 56; for my mother-in-law, it was at the ripe old age of 88. Shocking or expected, prepared or not, death is certain. Those left behind examine the footprints left by those who have gone before. Somehow, the shadow of death makes the imprint of their steps more vivid, leaving a clear path in which people like me can follow. Their lives – their breathing, walking, and doing – were filled with purpose. Embracing death’s certainty means living more fully – as if every day is the last.

Momento Mori. Someday death will come for me, too. I think of this even as I walk toward tomorrow. By the grace of God, remembering the day of my death will bring life to today. That’s a concept worthy of being indelible – on my body and soul.

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