Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bone-Wearying Tired

That's what happens: I get so tired I can, quite literally, barely move.
I love so much of what fills my life.  I love being a pastor: preparing and preaching sermons, planning and leading worship, spending time with people through ordinary moments and crisis moments, helping with outreach and events, nurturing a visioning process.  I love teaching in a college, watching those young people just beginning to figure things our and watching their passions ignite.  I love doing spiritual direction, listening to stories and opening the doorway for those interested to, as one friend one described it, "learn to pray in 3-D." 
And I haven't even mentioned my family life: the husband moving toward retirement, the young adults stepping into the future, the father approaching a final decade, or maybe two.
It's a varied, fascinating, engaging, and very full life.
But every moment of it is undergirded by the loss of my son, the young adult who is not stepping into the future.   And I get so tired.  Every day, an onslaught of reminders.  Pictures, articles, posts, songs, dozens of them, about places and things he loved.  Every day, at least two or three, sometimes many more, conversational moments in which I can feel the curtain thump down between my inmost feelings and the pleasant facial expression I adopt.
I guess it's the crushing weight of what I know now.  I re-posted an article on FB yesterday about a young Ivy League student who died of suicide.  A couple of friends responded that her story is sad and heartbreaking, as it is.  But my thought?  It's OUTRAGEOUS.  It's outrageous that the world works ~ or doesn't ~ like this.   It's a heavy load, to know that helpless outrage every day.
I am still learning, six-plus years later.  What to do with some time off. (Nothing.) What to do when the days get too full. (Cancel.) What to do when the phone rings one more time. (Ignore.) 
I am sleeping full nights now, for the first time in six years. Seven, eight, consecutive hours.  It's as if my entire body is groping for rest.  I would not call my sleep peaceful.  But at least I can put the hours in. 
Six years.  Just sayin'.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reading and Watching Mysteries

"What does this mean?" I asked my grandmother. 

About to leave for my first year of college, I was standing over her dining room table, sifting through the stack of condolence cards she had received after my first step-mother's death a few weeks earlier.

"I guess you've pulled out a stack of mysteries again," a college friend of hers had written.

"Oh," she sighed.  "After your mother and brother died, I used to lie on the couch every afternoon before you came home from school and read an Agatha Christie novel.  I couldn't bear real life, so I buried myself in mysteries in order to escape."

She shrugged her shoulders.  My first stepmother had not generated the sort of love that my mother had, a decade earlier.  My grandmother did not, in fact, require a pile of novels the second time around.


I was never much of a mystery reader myself.***  I can't stand suspense, and I certainly can't enjoy the artistry of a work of fiction ~ novel, play, film ~ if I am tortured by an uncertain ending.  I almost always read the end of every book that comes my way within a few minutes of getting started. ( I've already read the synopses of all of this season's Downton episodes, which appeared in Britain months ago.)

Real life is enough perhaps?


But some months ago, inundated by challenges at work and reaching a point at which I felt I had nothing to say for myself about anything at all, I started reading mysteries.

The newest Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus book, which happened to come out just as I needed it.

All ten Inspector Gamache novels.

The first couple of the Kate Shugak series. 

The three Grantchester books, which as of last Sunday night are appearing on television in Masterpiece Mystery form.


I'm not sure what this means.  Approximately one mystery a week  (and my work as pastor and college teacher requires a LOT of reading, plus I am always reading other books as well ).  I have been practically inhaling murder and mayhem, geographic longing (I think everyone who reads Gamache wants to go to Quebec tomorrow, and I'm feeling the same way about Cambridge now that Grantchester has been launched), and the lives of characters whose personalities are as intriguing as the crimes they solve.

Maybe I'll review a few of them.

Maybe I'll figure out the appeal.

(***It seems that 1.5 years ago, I was equally baffled by a wave of mysteries in my life.  Hmmmm.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Marts Lives Here Now

When she came to my daughter's attention, she appeared to be a scrawny, parasite-infested, injured kitten who had appeared out of nowhere in a friend's yard, having apparently crawled out from under the house next door.
Back story: Abandoned, and leaped from the attic window always open in the house in question?  Thrown from the same window?  They're called carpal hyperextension, these injuries that cause her to walk on her wrists rather than the pads of her feet.  The vets have been mystified, but I've read that they're often caused by a jump or a fall from a great height.  Shaken by a dog?  Hit by a car? Her back legs and hips wobble and her tail is permanently bent.  Crawled under the house to hide, and emerged only when she was almost completely lost to starvation?
Vet:  Cleared of terrible feline diseases, treated for all those crawly things, given her shots and some meds, age calculated at eight years, maybe more.  Not a kitten, but a starving adult.
At my daughter's: She began to grow, and coarse, rust-colored fur began to reappear in the patches from which it had fallen out, but she hid out in the basement, thanks to the predatory resident cat. It became apparent that she is totally deaf.  She acquired the name Martha Washington: an old lady found on Washington Street.
Here: Marti came for a visit and ended up staying.  She spent the first couple of weeks hiding under a blanket on the guest bed, coming out occasionally to gaze solemnly at me from her silent world.  She kept eating, gradually learned her way around the house, and defends herself against Glinda's unfriendly attentions.  Her fur continued to grow, and now it's soft and black.
Sometimes I feel such dismay for her.  She can't run or roll on her back. She can't leap into a window or onto a mantle; she can barely scramble onto the couch.  Her past (eight?) lives must have been sheer hell.
And then I am astonished. As damaged and abused as she has been, she is an affectionate, contented friend.  She nudges my hand with her nose, reaches for my arm with her foot, and squawks a meow.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Who Ya Gonna Call?

When you are confronted with a huge decision concerning life and death, to whom might you reach out?  Your pastor?  Your family?  Your best friends?  The medical professionals involved?
As a new semester begins, I find that I am thinking yet again about questions raised last month.  I teach as an adjunct at a Catholic university. Usually I teach a section of the introductory course in Theology and Religious Studies, but last semester I had the opportunity to create a new course in Religion and Law. 
In our discussion of bioethical questions, we read an article about a case involving the separation of conjoined twins in a Philadelphia hospital some years back.  As the family and doctors tried to make decisions about a surgery that would surely result in the immediate death of one of the babies and offered only an uncertain prognosis for the other, a multitude of faith questions arose.  The parents were Orthodox Jews, the father a rabbinical student, and they called in some of the heavyweight rabbis in their world to deconstruct the issues, layer by layer.  Although the hospital was nondenominational, many on the nursing staff were Catholic, and raised similar questions with priests.  The surgeon was C. Everett Koop, someday to be Surgeon General of the United States, a man who surprised the rabbis when he turned out to be a devout Presbyterian who read the Bible at the beginning of each day.
As we began our conversation, I asked my students, six Catholic, one Protestant, and one Muslim, whom they thought their family would consult in the event of a major medical dilemma. 
With one exception, they all said that something like that would be a matter for the family and the doctors.  The lone exception was a student whose father has been friends with the family's priest since high school, so they have a close personal relationship as well as an "official" religious one. But even that student did not see the family friend and priest as playing a significant role in what the family would understand to be its own decision. The rest of the students were sure that no one in their families would ask for a chaplain or call in a leader from their own religious community in the context of a similar situation.  They were surprised by the idea that someone who preaches about life and death each week might be a source of wisdom when those questions become personal.  They were even more surprised by the idea that decisions about life and death might not be solely medical, or private, but might be matters of concern addressed by resources in the community beyond the family.
My own experience is mixed.  I have been with families who have asked me to support them in end-of-life decision-making through conversation and prayer but, more often, families don't call me until after a death, when they need to make funeral arrangements.  And I consider myself to be a fairly open and available person, knowledgeable about and comfortable with these issues and willing to ask questions when information beyond my ken is needed.
I know that some of this reluctance has to do with past experiences with pastoral care.  Here I'm thinking in particular of my brother, visiting with a pastor as he considered becoming involved in a church.  "So," he said, "my mother and brother died when I was four, two of my stepmothers have died, and now my sister's son has died.  What can you and your church say to me about all of that?"  "Wow," the pastor replied. "Wow.  You are way out of my league there."
And, thanks in part to experiences like my brother's, as well as to an avalanche of other factors, some of the same reluctance has to do with a general cultural sense that the church is irrelevant to the daily crises of our lives.  Surgeons, social workers, therapists, pop-psychology experts ~ they are the ones to whom we turn when our lives spin out of control.  Not people who might bring the words and rituals of God to bear upon heartache and turmoil.
A surgeon might bring the expertise of an entire operating staff to a medical problem.  A social worker might marshal the resources needed to provide care and counseling.  A therapist might help to pick up the pieces afterward.  All of them invaluable experts.
But why is it that we so seldom turn to those who might open a book or a vial of oil, draw in a community of prayer and consultation or offer a hand to clasp, and invite us to turn to someone beyond ourselves?

Sunday, January 11, 2015


To the best of my recollection, I was baptized in March of 1982, at Church of the Savior, a large United Methodist congregation in Cleveland Heights, the city which would turn out to be my home for all of my adult life.  (So far, anyway.)  I was 29 years old, and I had no idea at all what baptism meant.

The reasons, as I might have articulated them then:

My husband and I wanted to become official members of a church congregation, and baptism was a requirement.

The church in question had been built in the 1920s and was modeled upon a French cathedral, which was good enough for me.   These days,  I try to remember the then-significance of that building for me, as my own congregation struggles to hang on to an edifice which outreaches its needs and budget.

I had spent January listening intently to a sermon series on the subject of "What Would Jesus Do?" Those sermons spoke deeply to my corporate lawyer heart, starved for some degree of meaning in life beyond the making of large suns of money.

That about covers it.  I was looking for community, loved the building, and wanted to do something more with my free time than go to the Thirteenth Street Racquetball Club and Saks.

This morning, like thousands of other preachers in the Christian church, I spoke to my congregation about baptism as God's naming of us: Beloved.

I guess that I learned something more about baptism in the years that followed my own.  And God did have something in mind for my time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Writing: I Think I'll Hide Now

 I have writer friends who relish seeing their names in print.  Utterly confident in what they've said and how they've expressed themselves, they contact everyone they know when they're about to be published and tell them to be on the lookout for their latest foray into the literary world.
Like Elphaba, I'm not that girl.
The first piece I ever wrote for eyes beyond my own  was for a small magazine, Welcome Home, targeted at moms leaving the workplace to care for their children full-time.  I wrote four essays for them over a period of a couple of years; I think the first was one of those standard articles about the process by which I decided to become a stay-at-home mom after my daughter, our third child in three years, was born.
Since the magazine's circulation was small, and it was available only via mail subscription, I was confident that no one I knew would see my name in print or read my first and, no doubt, inadequate foray into published writing.  I was proud and pleased ~ but not to the extent that I wanted anyone to know what I'd done.
Within days of the my first article's appearance, a friend shouted all the way across the community pool as I headed, entourage in tow, for the baby pool, "ROBIN!  GREAT article!"
I wondered whether I might dive to the bottom of the big pool and stay there until everyone I knew had departed.
If anything, I have become less eager to see my name in print.  Once in awhile a friend does me the honor of linking to a blog post on a Facebook page, and I usually wonder whether I might melt away before anyone sees it. 
Apparently, however, I'm ambivalent about the prospect of being read.  I do blog, after all, and occasionally I submit pieces for publication.  But I cringe when I re-read them. I said that?  Why didn't I put it differently?  Why didn't I explain myself?  Someone is going to be hurt.  Someone is going to be offended.  Someone is thinking that I am an idiot.
And now . . . I've done it again. I am honored to have my work included in the upcoming book, There's a Woman in the Pulpit, a collection of essays by RevGal writers about our experiences as clergywomen, out in April.  I'm especially honored when I see who else is included ~ sensitive, imaginative, stellar writers.  And I'm wondering what I was thinking, to put my experiences out there.
Surely there's a pool somewhere out there into which I could take a dive?


Thursday, January 8, 2015

A New Year, A New Beginning

Plod, plod, plod. 

Scribble, type, cross out, delete.

Such has been my writing for months.

I miss writing, but I am devoid of ideas.

I think I'm going to try posting some short pieces, 500 words or less.

Pithy, cogent, compelling. 


Don't expect much.

I'm redecorating, too.