what happened there

three questions

i feel my eyebrows crinkle, my chest tighten just a little, my son asks me why i’m mad at him. “i’m not mad.” “you look mad.”

“oh, what is happening here?” the question a friend taught me to ask myself.

my mind rushes to my stories, pages bound and strong by the spine: is it like the light is really bright after being hidden away for decades or like i’m walking around with that big elephant and everyone can see it or like i’m scarred in all the places they touched me or like i have a wound exposed and the air hurts it and the sun stings it or like i’m still diving down the ocean depths or like i’m on a path and there are boulders popping up that i have to navigate?

it is like all those but none of them are right. none of them soothe.

nor do the myriad of rationalizations i have tucked away: that every moment was all part of god’s plan or that i was divinely chosen to receive the evil and keep it safe from others or that i am a cosmic superhero who went in the place of another child so she wouldn’t be hurt.

none of them settle my body anymore.

now when my eyebrows crinkle and my chest tightens and breathing gets shallow and i can’t think of words to say and i go to ask myself, “what is happening here,” all i get is a faint sense to ask, “what happened there?”

my mindfulness work of the last year and a half is going back in time. it’s taking away the stories and the analogies and the assumptions; the book shelves full. it’s taking away the rationalizations that are like cheap fleece blankets: immediately pilly and too small with a machine-made blanket stitch around the edge.

i concentrate to smooth my face and breathe deep and wait for the answer. “what happened there? just the facts.”

like walking in the forest and seeing what’s there: just the facts. the tree that lost bark a couple feet up, the hedge apple at its base, the yellow leaves on the ground, green ones on the branches. the bird moving from elm to oak, the squirrel tracing a trunk like a candy cane stripe. the sun slanting at a 5:00 in the afternoon degree, the shadows long.

“what happened there? just the facts.”

and oh, it’s hard. the facts are horrible. they are worse than the analogies. they are bathed in fluorescent light. they are sharp and ugly. without the excuses i’ve made for decades, without the reasons i’ve created, without the hope that it was meant to be, what happened there? textures and smells and words spoken and time passing. the facts alone are almost too much. the moments right before and the moments right after, the door squeak, the steps, the confusion. my heart increases to write it. my eyes nearly close. i breathe as deep as i can, it is still shallow.

blanket

this is where i am and the blankets don’t cover the truth i’m exploring: i lived moments of my life that were outside of god’s hope for me.

i’ve never considered this. it was too terrifying and would take too long to grieve. it was safer to believe that god made those things happen and i would understand someday. it was even safer to think that god approved of it and i just had to show how well i could take it. it was safer to think that i did something bad to cause it and therefore, i could do better and it wouldn’t happen anymore. all of that was better than thinking that i was outside of god’s power, which i equated with love.

teeny

but i think that’s it. the same truth my friend told me years ago: she can’t believe in a god who would predetermine or approve of abuse happening to children. now i understand that.

i don’t know what that will bring, my questions are much greater than my answers. my loneliness is great, but at least i’m not alone. and i’m not mad at you, sweet boy, i’m tired. and thank you for the reminder to see what is right in front of me now.

breathe in, breathe out, be aware, notice. what is happening here? what happened there?

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what it’s like || five parts

 middle of it  

   part one

it’s like i’m walking through life with an elephant on a leash.

she keeps it slacked and doesn’t need anything from me.

on the wood chip trail she breathes deeply and lets the branches brush her sides.

down the aisle of the grocery store she keeps her eyes down avoiding the fake light

while i walk stunned that people aren’t shocked to see her.

in my house we coordinate our efforts, making sure to leave enough room for others to pass.

there are times the rooms in life are so small

she’s getting climbed on and crawled over and walked under

all the while invisible.

there are times she finds a friend, a near mirror image and we all walk together.

i love her because she simply is.

she is the facts, no story attached.

part two

it’s like i have a classroom of needy, scared, tired, pent up, invisible children spanning the ages of infant to 13.

it’s like a side job, a lens for the rest of my living.

it’s like living my life and tending to their needs all at the same time

and bit by bit they are getting met

bloom

  part three

it’s like i’ve been swimming in only the top few feet of a river

the water warm and predictable

no undercurrents, no predators,

the frozen bottom slick and smooth

 and it’s like the river bottom cracked, the frozen melting

hairline fissures that leak from the depths

jagged chunks that span the width jarring loose and letting a flood in

it’s like the water i swim in gets colder

until it mixes together…and one can’t be separated from the other

i find holes in the frozen and dive down

trusting there is beauty on the river’s true bottom

part four

it’s like a child running up to me,

wide eyed and frantic, crying and mad

barefoot, sun dress, small legs, fine hair

blurting out stories

tattling the tales denied

pointing fingers

she runs over

regardless of time or place

surprising me in the aisle of the grocery store

she must have been hiding behind cereal or the soap

church, bed, wal mart

school, car, fair

forest, prairie, lake

out of the blue

a sneaky strong thing

  part five

it’s like the moment i see her

others come too.

slightly older with shorter hair

slightly younger with confused eyes

jeans and high tops

hairspray and small wrists

brave smiles and swirling stomach

embarrassed and ready to bolt, one lets the others speak for her

defeated and confused one shuffles and shifts her eyes

sullen and pissed off one leans on a wall testing me with her mere presence

they flood over sensing relief.

and oh, the bliss to know the power i have

to guarantee them it’s over now.

then it’s like i’m on a horse, wearing a cape riding through and gathering them up

it’s like i’m a summoner, small animals and children circling my feet

it’s like i’m magic, healing everything i see

stand

martha + marty + baby

20140828-202928.jpgmartha had her second calf today, again in the rain.
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it’s a little bittersweet: one year old marty had to be put in a separate pen. she’d started nursing again these last weeks so after baby was born, she got moved over. reminds me of the growing pains in our human family, too. you can see her peeking over the fence in the distance.
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flashback to baby martha: 20140828-205054.jpg

and here.

and the movie of her going to school here.

flashback to baby marty:
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it’s amazing to watch the mini herd grow…and a nice distraction from the depths of life.

sit next to me

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sit next to me
at church
on the hard bench, peace sign sneakily carved in
and i’ll translate the hymns for you
every proclamation of god’s love and protection
will confirm that it’s not available to all
in him there is no darkness at all
i wonder how to get in him

sit next me
on your porch swing, you friend of 20 years
when you tell me you love me
i know how to lean in, our sweating glasses of cold wine clinking.
when you tell me nothing can change your love for me
my body stiffens and i swing:
first to quickly rebuild the walls, you don’t realize you just lied
then to roll over, a disarmed position of numb love
and finally the swinging stops and i arrive in the middle
aware of the arc

sit next to me
where there are children
and i’ll tell you how they feel
i’ll send your eyes to their bodies
the grown ups around them
the big boys near by
the big girls looking at them
the sun’s slant
the animals, the bugs, the concrete
teaching you what to notice
and what doesn’t matter

sit next to me
at the coffee shop
hard chairs grounding me
fingers hunting the keyboard
to find reason for what i fear
eyes scanning for home
i’ll angle the screen for you to read
while i breathe the comfort
that someone i don’t know
has written what i could have

sit next to me
and play a game of objects
show me anything and i’ll lead you
to the threat:
a pink and purple kleenex box
a picture of a newborn
a banana
a pair of flip flops
sunscreen
chunky knit winter hat
i’ll take you on the quick trip
to the signs of danger that each is
then i’ll tell you the only value of those trips now
is to take them for the last time

sit next to me
with a slick wooden bar between us
in a mysterious bubble of privacy in a crowd
and confide in me your story
my heart swells for you so much
i escape my own worth
keep talking and i’ll keep feeling
as i grab the roots and plants and pull myself back down
to keep from fleeing the fear
that i have nothing to complain about

sit next to me
by low light in a cozy room
and tell me the worst thing you can imagine
you might get uncomfortable
as i follow the tracks back and rationalize it
and if i can’t make sense of it
i’ll resign to the mystery of god
then tell me the most beautiful thing you can imagine
you might get sad
as i degrade every sweet nothing to a message of warning
and if i can’t articulate it
i’ll trust that the divine message will come to my prepared heart
and then my chest will burn and my eyes will close
and you might see tears push the boundaries of my eyes
as i recognize the filth of bullshit that this is

sit next to me
and enjoy the side show of my mind
the one that’s been fueling fear for so long
the reel that has surprised my therapist
only after it surprised me
the thoughts that are in honor of myself, my selves
the baby, 4 year old, 7 year old, 9 year old, 12 year old mes
the conditioned mind that the 40 year old manages
and the ageless one soothes
in a full spectrum of gray

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don’t stop

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don’t stop touching me slowly.
every crawl up my leg is a chance for me to heal.

don’t stop telling me i’m beautiful.
i’m not afraid of it anymore.

don’t stop wanting me.
i’m practicing it not being conditional.

don’t stop choosing hymns for sunday morning.
i’m ready to notice what my mind says.

don’t stop reading scripture about god as protector.
i like to purge myself of the pain.

don’t stop praising god’s undying love.
i like to wonder about it.

don’t stop lamenting for those who are hurting.
i want to consider myself worth of compassion.

don’t stop announcing yourself.
i’m grateful not to startle.

don’t stop asking me what i want.
my “nothings” have been replaced with “i don’t knows.”

don’t stop asking me how i am.
no matter what i tell you, there is truth in it.

don’t stop asking me to tell my story.
it’s like you just told me you loved me.

don’t stop telling me jokes.
laughter is the greatest escape.

don’t stop offering me drinks.
i know why and when i do now.

don’t stop giving me food.
i’m a baby again with all my needs met.

don’t stop remembering the times i seemed happy.
i am starting to believe it wasn’t all a show.

don’t stop remembering the times i seemed scared.
i no longer deny it.

don’t stop saying it’s okay to cry.
someday i won’t hold back.

don’t stop encouraging me to let go.
i like to see what i have a death grip on.

don’t stop praying for me.
i like to imagine the purpose of it.

don’t stop sending me quotes and pictures and cards.
i’m letting myself be seen.

don’t stop hugging me.
it feels different with my shell cracked.

don’t stop chewing watermelon gum or using dial soap or drinking tang.
every memory of the smell is me releasing it.

don’t stop telling me your dreams about me.
they may or may not be for me.

don’t stop sending me good vibes.
i think it’s an exchange.

don’t stop avoiding the topic.
i’ve come to love the elephant.

don’t stop telling me that nothing can change your love for me.
being scared of love is different than being scared of pain.

cottonwood

vigilant power

reflections shared at new creation fellowship church

june 8, 2014

- – – – – – – – – – – – – -

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i go to church ready to face my conditioned mind under a single light bulb in a small room, my inner children awkward and needing regular reassurance, my 40 year old self tired but often calm. a week ago we were invited to move through a guided scripture meditation where we would imagine ourselves in the story. i stopped my doodling…guided? meditation? imagination? i was in, had nothing to lose. after imagining the dusty ground, the beige colored clothing, the hot sun, we were invited to imagine the “holy spirit coming to us.” clear as day, the holy spirit apologized to me for not being enough.

a graspless, figureless, just beyond my sight yet right in front of me feminine power said, “i’m sorry i wasn’t enough.”

today i’m not sure if this is a whispered blasphemous confession or a testimony celebrating a personal encounter with the divine.

it wasn’t completely comforting to consider the holy spirit’s apology: i’ve worked for decades to believe that god’s will reigned over my entire life, including childhood sexual abuse and fear. i’ve held a white knuckle grip to the belief that everything happens for a reason, including repeated violation and limb draining fear. for the holy spirit to apologize for “not being enough” triggered my hidden-child-self, afraid-of-not-worthy-of-love-and-care to believe my fears were true: god had abandoned me, the power of the holy spirit was not enough to keep me safe, after all, even jesus died at the hands of those who hurt him.

a quote from laura truax hooked me: i see power differently now. power doesn’t look like domination any more. power seems to begin by imagining that a person can live differently. think differently. act differently. it’s an awakened imagination.

i. know. how. to. imagine. my imagination has kept me safe and sane.

through the past week i’ve imagined another possibility: the holy spirit wasn’t enough to prevent the actions of others. that the holy spirit wasn’t enough to overpower the will of humanity. i’m sorry i wasn’t enough to keep their hands off you. i’m sorry i wasn’t enough to remove your fear.

and that is the tragedy of children being hurt and scared and violated within the circles of neighborhood and church and family.

i spent a lot of my childhood escaping to imagination, time traveling back to reimagine my experiences.

in my role as director and teacher of new creation preschool, i continue doing that, along with an added drive to imagine what our space could provide.

there’s a two tiered attack of imagination: there is the overarching bow of imagining an experience for each child to be free of fear. there is the active role of imagining any reason why that might not be true and respond to that.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

he is small. he is told he is small. and with every remark, his anger seems to grow. the quiet comments snuck past us right to his source. first it was precision-like propelling of wooden puzzle pieces to the center of the foreheads of his offenders. a few months later it reduced to furniture tipping, anger transformed to the strength to knock tables over. months later still, a further reduction to a methodical slow quiet act of laying down every chair in the room. controlled, beautiful anger. and now, time has tricked me into forgetting that he ever did those things. his anger is shown through words and cuddling and is trusted with us. i’m not at all surprised, it was what i imagined.

she walks in and i spot her across the room. she’s arrived at the carpet landing before taking the final step down to the hard floor of our classroom. she has a dead center view of the entire space. i notice her mom behind her, her brother next to her. she is scanning the room and i notice her eyes stop. before i even glance where she is looking, i imagine what could have caught her eye…is someone there? is something there? does she see something she wants? i notice her mouth. it’s slightly open but her teeth look clenched. is she scared? was she unsettled before she even came in? i notice her eyebrows, smooth over relaxed eyes. her hands, limp but alive. is she concentrating? a mere split second has passed and now my eyes see what her’s see: someone is climbing on the shelf up to reach the bottle of oil and water on the windowsill, left from tuesday’s science experiment. is she afraid that he’ll fall or is she protective of the bottle that she helped prepare or is she irritated that someone else got to it first or is she surprised to see how the oil and water have separated…i imagine all of this in preparation to provide honor to her as i say, “welcome here. do you notice something happening with that bottle?” i imagine she does.

he rocks on the wooden boat, seemingly delighted to be in command. he yells with curled lips and furrowed brow and smiling cheeks. has has wrapped the red retro phone cord around his wrist as he calls for the restaurant to deliver him food-fast and he doesn’t want bread. he has two friends across from him equally calling orders, but yes to bread and no to juice. yes to pizza and yes to rainbow cupcake but no to a plate. the boat is theirs. the play is theirs. the game is theirs. i imagine myself like a wave, no matter how gently i roll in, no matter how subtle my voice, i will disrupt as i announce, “soon friends, you will be off the boat so other friends can have their turns.” the commander looks at me with the same curly lips but with now flat cheeks and says, “never! i am the ship driver of this boat!” “you are now and soon someone else will get their turn.” “never!” “soon.” i don’t know if they’ve sailed an ocean away or stayed anchored in place by the time i come back and make the transition. the commander’s fellow passengers leave their boat without comment while the commander tucks his toes under the boat’s seat and clenches his hands around the handles and the phone. “never!” “now.” he’s removed like a wiggly magnet from a post. his hands empty of everything but his power, he clenches them and clenches his teeth and his lips contract between curled and straight: “i am so angry at you.” “you wanted your turn still?” a near growl “yes” followed by “you will get another turn…pick what to do while you wait.” i imagine a roomful of possibilities, all of which will lead to him getting another turn.

they were lined up, 13 children like cats in a tunnel and i overhear a child yell at another teacher that he hated him. “it’s okay. here, here’s some soap to wash your hands.” about 20 seconds later, this little friend came smiling from the bathroom, as grounded as ever, sharing with others some joy filled story from his week, his hate forgotten. i imagine that the teacher took some of the fear of powerlessness and handed it back to him as love.

during this last year of my own journey of healing, a new friend visited preschool. she sent an email to me immediately after she left saying: “You are such a genius. All along you have been creating the space in which to heal yourself.”

i’m getting comfortable with that. i can see that i have used my own hyper vigilance for good, that the trauma in my childhood stoked a passion in me to save each child’s dignity. almost effortlessly, i imagine a myriad of reasons why a child might not feel safe in our preschool. in what can almost seem like mind reading, i tend to fears or concerns before they are even said. in what feels like shape shifting, i recognize the timidness and cautious joy. like a time traveler, i find possible scenarios that children are reacting to. i’m not ready to say that i needed to experience what i did to be the kind of preschool teacher i am. i am ready to say that it is my life’s fiery passion to create spaces where children feel safe. it is my wide hope that children sense their own power. it is my voice that longs for humanity to lean into the exchange of this holy power.

imagine warm playdough, colored golden yellow from turmeric that was added to the flour salt water mix.

imagine a child gives you a grapefruit sized chunk and asks you to make a ball. receive it and mold it into a sphere of warm gold. hand it back to her and imagine she squishes it. smile at her. she gives it back, asks you to make another ball. mold it into another sphere of warm gold. give it back and watch her roll it between two tiny hands, dimpled at the knuckles, until it’s long like a snake. she gives it back, this time asks you to make whatever you want. imagine receiving it: a warm, uneven, coiled opportunity.

solid

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i’ve felt like I’m in “palliative care”…working to keep myself comfortable while allowing thoughts and feelings. working to create a world of ease while anticipating the unknown. i’m sure that i’m not dying as much as becoming and labor images keep visiting:

when i was in labor i believed in the goodness of the birthing ball, an orb big enough that i could back on to it without effort. i was weightless, the bottom of my belly meeting the top of the ball, my breathing alone moved me just enough. then a contraction hit and the ball became a magnet for pain, holding the echoes and giving them back to me, over and over, even after the worst had passed. i was stranded on the quivering pain and barely strong enough to lift myself up to stillness. i got off the ball. made sure i was where i could lean on something that wouldn’t waver or roll to my side and let someone make me a baby bird, feeding me water one drop at a time, or sink to my hands and knees and let the ground hold me like a table, ready to be set for a feast.

berries and honey

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the world has been an odd friend.
when it changed my perspective of myself, i made it my feared ally.
i would cozy up to it
like one might to a bear
when trapped together.
if it was only you and her
in a cage or in acres of forest
with no escape,
you would try first to hide
then move slowly so she wouldn’t notice.
lonely with her.
one night your breathing matched
and you knew she knew you were there.
so you get close
in case she ends up protecting you
or making you her cub.
what if she gives you berries and honey
instead of shredding your skin?
what if she pulls you in with her heavy fur self
instead of coming down on your neck?
what if she leads you through the forest
instead of batting you around as you die from worn out fear?
what if she believes you can climb trees
and catch fish with your hand?
what if she sees herself in you,
fur and flesh becoming the same?
cozy up to this bear world,
capable of ruining you and saving you.
imagine the what ifs,
the honey on your chin,
the smiling eyes of the beast,
the lumbering through a slanted sun woods,
the enveloping warmth that swells with her breath,
her weight increasing with every inhale.
the protection.
the companionship.
the quiet exchanges.
then with time test her.
make her a fire and mash the berries into a sauce.
pick her wildflowers and tuck one behind her ear.
rub her back and pull the burrs she can’t reach.
arrange stones in a path to her cave.
make her a crown of ivy and periwinkle and climb on a stump to reach her.
give her gifts she could never give herself.
close your eyes,
smell the smoke,
feel her breath passing through primal fangs,
feel your fingers tender from the burrs,
swallow again the last sweetness,
close your eyes and lean in
to your odd friend, capable.
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alone but not

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what it’s like.

our three baby chicks are put together in a box. maybe never having known each other until now, they huddle together, three heads each working to get under another one’s wing. they find the light and huddle under it. too cold or scared or new to sit down, they sleep standing up. for a moment they are all asleep, then one peeps and the other two wake up. for another moment they are all asleep, then one teeters and the other two wake up. for a moment they are all scratching around on their own, then one cheeps and the others come running. for a moment they are all in the cage, then one flies out and they all call. in piercing long calls, the one out of the cage calls, another one flies to the ledge and calls, another one is left behind and calls. all desperate for each other, not sure who should make the next move.

there were three girls coming and going from an apartment down the street that someone was moving out of. they must be the grandchildren or friends or the daughters of a cleaning woman. i walked my route and on the way home saw them ahead of me on the sidewalk. they must have permission to go to the park, they were probably bored, the youngest one getting in the way. i was gaining on them and saw how it was: the youngest one was no more than four. she had on a long dress and shoes so dainty she could have been barefoot. she stopped every few feet, poking at this, picking up that. i never saw her face, her long hair acting as a veil. no one talked to her or told her what to do. the middle one must have been seven. she looked straight ahead, eyes on where they were going. she stopped when the little one stopped, i never saw her face either. the oldest one was about 13. she looked ahead and behind and all around. she stopped every time the little one stopped. she stood vigil to her play and kept the coast clear. i knew she had seen me, i knew the others hadn’t. i didn’t want me or my dog to give them anything else to do. but before i could make my move to cross the street, the oldest one picked up the littlest one, making eye contact with me. and as though looking in a mirror, i sheepishly smiled and waved at them, my voiced “hi” no more than a whisper. with barely the raise of her fingers she waved back.

i lift the stump, wanting to create a half circle around the fire with stump seats for five. without thought, i utter an apology. they are scattering franticly. on the bottom of the stump, on the ground beneath, with no regard for the now split tunnels they used to travel. in seconds they’ve moved up and out and around me. the very moment i lifted the stump, it was too late to put it down. things had immediately changed. to stay alive the stump couldn’t be set down where had been even one second before. their own stump would kill them if i put it back.

i’m on the road and one lone bird sits on the wire. i see her and since i like to believe she sees me, i telepathically thank her for being there. i practice my quiet walking in hopes i don’t startle her off. triumphantly, i get right beneath her, then she goes. and then she stops again, on the wire a few feet ahead. then i get beneath her, and then she goes. and then she stops. and then i get beneath. and then she goes. and then she stops. and then i get beneath. and we walk like this for a magically long time. and then i look at her. say thank you outloud and then she goes. all the way.

i’m on another sidewalk and see i’m parallel to a deer in the field, a well traveled two lane street between us. she’s way out there, but we see each other, and both start walking north. she has a limp. i call my husband because someone should know. i keep her pace. she stops. i stop. look at each other. she limps forward, i keep her pace. she stops. i stop. look at each other. again with keeping her pace, stopping, looking. again. and then i decide to stop watching. i can see out of the corner of my eye she’s limping forward. she stops. i keep going. i like to think she made it to the tree line.

this is what it’s like. fragmented parts of me nudging each other, leaning on each other, falling on each other, keeping each other awake. parts of me oblivious in created safety, parts of me focused on the task at hand, parts of me vigilant, looking everywhere at once. watching, keeping pace, catching up, exposed and scattered with no option to go back. alone but not.

the chicks have grown for a few weeks. the heat lamp is gone. they push their bedding out of the way and are content on the cardboard. my tip-toeing into the dark kitchen to start the coffee doesn’t wake them anymore. now they sleep splayed out, heads awkwardly to the side. alone but not.

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Nuthatch

by Kirsten Dierking

What if a sleek, grey-feathered nuthatch
flew from a tree and offered to perch
on your left shoulder, accompany you

on all your journeys? Nowhere fancy,
just the brief everyday walks, from garage
to house, from house to mailbox, from
the store to your car in the parking lot.

The slight pressure of small claws
clasping your skin, a flutter of wings
every so often at the edge of vision.

And what if he never asked you to be
anything? Wouldn’t that be so much
nicer than being alone? So much easier
than trying to think of something to say?