30 January 2010

End of January, Full Moon, What's Next?

How about something purely personal? My brain is fuzzed with both religion and politics these days and I've been wrestling with a big hunger that didn't have words to describe it. Top Ramen was not fitting the bill and neither was chocolate. I didn't want to go anywhere. My Thursdays (beginning of my weekend) have been spent in exhausted slumber.

Couldn't write. (I see ya, Fran, and raise you.) Even reading was a bust. For someone who used to read by the bathroom light visible through the frosted glass or by the little orange nightlight, not being able to read is something truly serious.

I checked out The Solace of Fierce Landscapes from the library. Twice. Only made it to the middle of the book in six weeks. Got mouthy at work--not something I do out loud very often. But when I was asked for at least the 1795th time in 10 years, "How are Catholics different from Christians?" my answer was, "We were here first."

It could have been worse.

But there's been this nagging hole in the pit of my stomach and the only thing I could attach it to was the Heidi-girl. Let me explain.

It began back about this time in 1991. I'd been doing the Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, a version of the Jesuit 30 day retreat, spread out over nine months. By January of 1991, all I was hearing in prayer was, "Get a life."

You can hear my eyes rolling. I can tell.

At the urging of my spiritual director, I went with it. "What does it mean, God?" "Get a life." The only other thing I knew was that I was a loving and lovable woman who didn't need to wait around for Mr. Perfect and his 2.5 weekend kids to show up on my doorstep.

I spent three months checking out children to adopt. Newborns, foreign countries, older kids. I went to workshops. I checked out books. I'd seen an article in the paper about a 14-year-old girl named Esther who wanted to be adopted, and my inner self said, "Fourteen? Heck, in four years she'll graduate from high school and go to college. I could do four years."

Esther had already been adopted, but I eventually got connected with the Casey Family Program which works with older kids who are harder to place in foster care. Casey's goal is long-term foster care with lots of support. By August, all the paperwork, workshops, and background checks done, Heidi Jo moved in.

She was 10. ("No diapers. No daycare!" was my mantra) And we looked uncannily alike. It was an amazing journey--all the way back to her infancy, we rocked and read bedtime stories for months. She had two sisters, one in foster care nearby (the girls couldn't live together--they would have killed each other) and one in a group home in Portland. We foster moms got to know a good deal about the girls' family life and spent much of our energies loving them well.

Right after Heidi turned 14, my grandfather died. Heidi had gotten to know him very well. He was the only Grandpa she knew. The loss was hard. Two weeks later, she blew out of the placement and went somewhere else. There was no working through the tough emotions. She was just gone. In four years.

When she was 19, I called the Casey people and said I'd like to be in touch with her again. A week later, she called them, wanting to get in touch with me. She had a new baby girl that spring of 1999. Three years later, she had a boy. And sometime in 2003, we lost touch.

The phone was disconnected. The apartment was empty. Nothing came up when I googled her--except the suspicion that at some point she had ID that says she was older than she actually was.

This week, I went looking for her again. Five minutes of looking on Facebook (no luck) and then MySpace--and there she was. She's 28 now, married for two years, with a third child, working in a business that suits her so much that it's funny. For all her struggles in school, she called yesterday to "brag on my son who got all Es in his kindergarten class!"

And so we are reconnected. It is a tenuous connection; it always has been. We have struggled through the years to define what it means to be mother and daughter, but like a few other things in life, there was an ontological change way back when and there's no going back. We may not look like the typical mother/daughter duo, but then, these days, who does?

That hole in my stomach? Still there, but I have these old lessons coming at me again. I can love and be loved.

23 January 2010

Answer needed from: The Chaplain

"Please sign me up for 'Read to me, Daddy' so I can read a book on to tape for my kids. Thanks."

The request was written two days before Christmas. I didn't see it until Sunday, January 3rd, because I'd been on vacation. It has a permanent spot hanging from the shelf right above my desk. It's never going to be answered.

The man who wrote it committed suicide on New Year's Eve.

Just a week before, he'd had some hope, some plans. Things changed.

I look at the note and think how important the present moment is
and how fragile our grasp on now can be
The note reminds me of the shadow side:
I don't always know all the needs
nor can I answer every need

I'm not God

And my greatest spiritual dilemma
is this:
Do I trust God to handle things?


I once told one of my younger brothers to stop doing some annoying thing.
Mom was sitting right there, reading the newspaper.
She scolded me.
"I'm right here. You don't have to discipline him."

"But you're not doing anything! Someone has to!"

And that would be me.

And that's how I'm squinting at God most days.
"You're here? But you're not doing anything. Someone has to!"

My lifelong root sin, I'm thinking...

20 January 2010

Memorial Service 6 January 2010

They filed in somber and awkward
loss etched on their faces and in the slump of their shoulders.
They filled the seats
not shy about sitting hip to hip,
tissue boxes strategically slid across the floor.

A line of blue uniforms
and blue badges stretched across
the back of the room:
officers, superintendent, mental health
all here to bear witness.

We began with Amazing Grace
and rolled out holy stories
that ranted about the unfairness of it all.
Why is this happening?
My bones are dust.
If you had been here,
my brother wouldn't have died.

And then I laid it out:
the holidays
and now this suicide
the ugliness of it all.

We lit candles against the gathering darkness
and sang, "Sleep in heavenly peace."