Making angel wings

Making angel wings

img_5597My latest art project is my most ambitious: a pair of angel wings, each wing on a 40″ x 60″ piece of foamcore.  The feathers will be made out of colorful paper.  My hope is that these will be displayed in different place where people can stand in front of them to have their own angel picture taken.  I’m borrowing from others’ ideas on this one; my twist is the collage of colored paper.

My friend who’s also a spiritual director and an artist is always encouraging me to consider what my current project is saying about me.  I’ve thought about that with the angel wings.  I’m just back to the church after a three month sabbatical, and I must confess there’s a part of me that would like to fly away back into the Land of Sabbatical Zen.  So there’s that.

I’ve started working on the wings during the week of the abysmal confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.  I’ve wondered about the timing of that, too, and what – if anything – these wings are saying about the hearings.

{crickets}

Well, I imagine there have been plenty in that room who would wish they could just fly away.  Those wings could have given Dr. Ford an escape out of that apathetic place, a flight above the heads of politicians and reporters.  I’d like to add beauty in the midst of so much ugliness.  I’d like us to rely on the better angels of our natures.

I’m making these wings because I love beautiful paper and I like to make pretty things.  I’m also making them because I know so many people who are doing so much good in my community and the world, and I want them to know that I consider them to be angels, messengers of good news, of hope, of justice.

But then I thought (and yes, I do tend to overthink) what if someone poses with the wings who isn’t a good person?  Who ridicules them? Who pretends to be angelic when they are anything but?

demonIn Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 novel Childhood’s End, mysterious aliens who have been hovering in earth’s skies for fifty years finally reveal themselves.  These benevolent Overlords look like demons – horned, winged, hooved, and tailed.  People are shocked – how can these good creatures look like the epitome of evil?

What if an evil or just bad person poses with my angel wings?

This week, while prepping for the wings and avoiding broadcast news, I’ve also been working on a sermon which attempts a hint of a suggestion of how a divided people might move forward.  It’s iffy.  I’m not sure I want to move forward because I want the bad guys to lose.  I just do.  I want to make devil’s horns and a pitchfork and a barbed tail for them to stand in front of so everyone can see their true colors.

Jesus still has a lot of work to do with me.  Obviously.

What if we all have wings?  What if we are all in possession of something that allows us to fly away to escape, to fly away so we can run away?  What if we all have wings that when unfurled will push aside those who hinder us?  What if we all have wings that can embrace and comfort?  With our wings we can pester, too, or shoo away that which annoys us.

* * * * *

In order to make these wings, I first make feathers.  I take my stencil, and trace it out, and cut it out.  Then I fold the paper in half, and to make the barbs, cut slits in the paper, up and down.  It’s time consuming and the repetition is meditative.  Cutting those slits has felt like putting notches in a belt or scratches on the wall – a cut for every survivor of sexual assault who isn’t believed; for every survivor who is afraid to come forward; for every person of privilege who is afraid of losing their power; for every man who treats a woman as a second-class citizen.  So far I’ve make about 50 feathers, each one having about 100 slits.  That’s 5,000.  I have a lot more cuts to make to keep up with all the things I’m keeping track of.

If I ever finish these feathers, and if I ever finish these wings, and if they are ever on display and people pose with them, few will know everything that was going through my mind as I made them.  That’s okay.

But I hope if someone does pose with them, they will consider – at least for a moment – the deep responsibility of being an angel, of being a messenger.  And I wish that I could make magical wings that would fold up on the unworthy.  Perhaps with such a thought, I would be the first to be swallowed up by my own creation.

img_5603

Finished piece, “Better Angels”, 10/10/18

Advertisements

Missing the ones who are gone

It’s been 8 1/2 months since my dad died, and I’m walking this weird road of grief, more nuanced and shaded and blatant than I had ever expected.  Yesterday in church we were singing the closing hymn, and as I started to sing the first line of the last verse, my throat closed up and my eyes started to water and I was done: “That, when our life of faith is done, in realms of clearer light, may we behold You as You are, with full and endless sight.”

One of the blessings of having had this three month sabbatical is the spaciousness of time which has allowed me room for grief that I had not realized I needed.  If anything, I miss my dad more now than I did at first.  My first birthday without him was like a sword in my heart; my parents’ anniversary popped up in my digital calendar and I was shocked at the affront I felt that he wasn’t here to celebrate with Mom.

It helps so much that others grieve, though I do not wish grief on anyone.  Grief finds us all, I suppose; it’s the price of loving.  Today as I write, I think about my dear friend from college whose father died within days of my dad’s death.  I think about beloved church members whose names we will recite this year on All Saints Day and how awful that will be.  I think about my neighbor and his family living the last year with the diagnosis of a stage 4 glioblastoma.  John McCain’s death, and all that surrounded that, gave me such empathy for his family in their grief. I think about the family of Botham Jean, the man shot and killed in his own apartment by a police officer who thought he was in her own apartment, and their grief that is compounded by – well, everything.

My father’s death was not tragic nor was it the stuff of nightly news.  For that I am immensely grateful. But I miss him so much.  I miss skirting around politics and playing cribbage and losing to him at dominos.  I miss our inside joke about watching the cottonwood trees shimmer in the breeze.  I miss his common sense, and his unending curiosity about things.  I miss having a dad around, right there at the other end of the phone line.

Halloween decor is flooding the market place now, the next big holiday to sate our consumerist hungers.  I don’t much care for Halloween – I don’t like to be scared, and there’s a lot of free-floating sugar going around.  I’ve started wondering if on Halloween, on All Hallows Eve, my dad will come visit in some way.  Weird thinking, I know, but grief can do strange things to one’s belief system.

I hope he doesn’t come visit, because it is my deep hope that he is resting in peace, whatever that means.  It is my deep hope that all he needed to accomplish was done by the time he took his last breath, so that there is no reason for him to come back.  Maybe in the end, all of us whom he loved knew that he loved us: the great accomplishment, and maybe the only truly necessary one.

Saints, not ghosts.one-bird-flying-in-empty-sky-nature-background-with-wildlife_r09fknvge_thumbnail-full01

The wedding shoe

As we near the end of our delightful and refreshing three-month sabbatical, my husband/co-pastor and I are finally doing all those little house projects we’ve been meaning to get to.  Yesterday we moved things around in the basement, which serves as our den, laundry room, and second guest room, and in moving stuff, we cleared out the closet.  As we went through only two plastic bins there, I found my wedding shoes.

“It’s probably time to give these away,” I said.

“Probably,” my husband replied.

I LOVED my wedding shoes.  My dear friend Alison, my co-bride who like me was getting married for the first time in her early forties, whose wedding was three weeks before our own, agreed to go shoe shopping with me. We discovered a charming store in uptown Chicago that specialized in wedding shoes.  She found what she needed, and I found what I needed.  Off-white satin with pumps with an ankle strap and rhinestone buckle, with what I thought would be a very comfortable 2 inch heel.  Fifteen minutes into the reception, not so comfortable.  But no mind. I loved the shoes, which no one saw, and which I happily took off later in the evening.

When we returned from our honeymoon, I realized that I would rarely wear these beautiful off-white shoes again, so I had them dyed black.  I believe I wore them once after that, because a few months later I got pregnant, my feet swelled, and after the baby my feet were never quite the same.  So the shoes have been sitting in this bin for 13 1/2 years and I don’t need to be a KonMari practitioner to know that if you haven’t worn something for 13 1/2 years, it’s time to let it go.

We went to the Goodwill drop off this morning and the gentlemen took our things.  The bag holding everything broke so it was a bit of a mess, and as we drove away, I saw a lone, dyed-black wedding shoe lying there in the dust.

There are many things I would do differently if I were to marry Gregg again.  I would not make my bridesmaids wear matching periwinkle dresses.  (Thank you, thank you, AM & EF.)  I would get a different dress.  I might ditch the tiara that held my veil in place.

But there are so many things I would do exactly the same.  I would marry Gregg again.  I would have AM and EF stand up with me.  The wedding party would enter to everyone singing a hymn.  I would walk down the aisle with my dad, a memory that is so poignant now that he’s gone.  I would have all those beloved family and friends there.  I might not register for gifts, but I would eat cake and dance and take all that joy all over again.

Of course, a wedding is not a marriage, as I tell betrothed couples .  A wedding is a herald of what’s to come, but in the years that unfold, cake gives way to boxed mac ‘n’ cheese, and veils give way to hats that hide a bad hair day, and beautiful satin shoes sit in the closet while sneakers are laced up or clogs slide on and socks mysteriously lose their mates in the dryer.

As I mentioned, we’re near the end of our sabbatical, and I’m so grateful for this time away.  One of the things I have most strongly realized is that I really love my husband.  Perhaps this should be obvious, but when you work with your spouse, and when you share an office with your spouse, you can lose sight of all the reasons you married that person.  We’ve spent all but five days of this sabbatical together, but there has been space to breathe and see each other anew.

I have no idea if he would say the same thing about me.  Maybe, maybe not.  But I’m still so grateful for a fantastic wedding that heralded a marriage that would be filled with beloved family and friends, and dancing, and cake.  But we promised each other never to give shoes as a gift – maybe that’s the secret to it all.

Getting lost with your husband (or some kind of significant other)

img_5309Having said goodbye to friends who had spent the week with us at our vacation place, my husband and I decided to go for a drive.  We knew which road to take, and which dirt road to take after that.  We had a number for the dirt road we wanted to follow, and a map, and a destination.

Ah, what fools these mortals be.

We had borrowed my parents’ pick-up truck for the drive, and my husband agreed to drive, so I had the dog on my lap.  I also had with me two bottles of water, two tangerines, a fourth of a bag of Juanita’s Tortilla Chips, Advil, and my hiking shoes in case we wanted to walk.  There were Kleenex, toilet paper, a flashlight, some rope, and jumper cables in the truck.  We were prepared.

img_2221So up a lovely forest service road we went, enjoying the beauty of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, waving to the occasional oncoming car.  Up up up we went, Mt. Rainier peeking through the tree line until at last, we rounded a bend, the trees cleared, and there was beautiful Tahoma.  The view stayed with us for a few more bends, until we were headed downhill and back in the forest.

Down we went, avoiding the potholes.  Down we went, approaching each intersection with some caution, consulting the map (the “map” would be a better description), looking to see if any road had a number on it.

Finally, having driven downhill for a while, we came to a stop sign in the middle of nowhere.  We found this hilarious, and I wish I’d taken a picture.   The road ended at a T, and we scrupulously consulted the map, looking anywhere for a T in the road.  Having found one (or so we thought) we realized (mistakenly) if we turned left, the road would end.  So we turned right.  And started going uphill.  At this point, a good hour into the drive, I started congratulating myself that I had brought not only water but also provisions.

It was about 6 in the evening, and the sun was getting lower, so we knew which way west was and we were pretty sure we wanted to be heading mostly north and a little east.  Happily, sometimes the road went that way.  Unhappily, sometimes it didn’t.  But a car would pass by now and then, so we knew we hadn’t completely left civilization.  Plus I had my dog and tortilla chips.

Then we saw a sign – in the middle of the forest at intersecting dirt roads – that gave us three options.  The town nearest to the house was a mere 26 miles away.  So we took the right and started making our way on a one lane gravel road in the middle of the forest.  We did cross a well-maintained bridge over a pretty little creek.  I saw a chipmunk.

And then we were heading up again.  Up.  Up.  Up.  Up the side of a mountain.  I HATE the sides of mountains – I must have died from falling off a ledge in a previous life.  We were going up a pothole-filled dirt and gravel one-lane road up a mountain and all I could do is tell you which direction is west and where the tortilla chips are.

“Should we turn around and go back?” I asked my husband.  I knew I could get us back – I just had no idea where forward would take us.  And we were on the side of a mountain, which I HATE.

“No, we’ll get there eventually.”

“Are you okay driving?”

“Oh sure, I’m fine.”

So up we continue.  We passed a few cars and a camping site, and some sort of encampment in the middle of nowhere which we landmarked as the meth-makers colony.  We continued going up and the road was narrow and bumpy and I was so sure we were either going to die, falling of the edge of the mountain, or the meth-makers were going to need to rescue us.  “They can have all my money and the chips, ” I said, “but they can’t have the dog.”

At least I still had my priorities straight.

Finally we reached the top of whatever Hell Mountain we were on, and there was an enormous puddle in front us, which I was sure was either a sinkhole or a ledge just waiting to break off.  “Do you want to walk up ahead and see how bad it is?” I asked my brave husband.  “Sure,” he said, calmly, as if he was enjoying himself.  Which he totally was.  Which both infuriated me and gave me courage.

I started reciting Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where will my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  I felt better and in that moment, we did not die.

We went on.  We made it through the puddle.  We started going downhill.  The one-lane dirt road eventually becomes two lanes, and then a paved road, and then we saw it.  A bright yellow rectangle bearing the number 6: a beacon from heaven.  We knew where we were.  We had made it to the road that will take us to our driveway.  We will not die in the wilderness.

Over dinner that night I did thank the little Lord Baby Jesus for seeing us safely home, and I thanked my husband for being calm and keeping his sense of adventure. That night I started the new book I had downloaded on my Kindle: Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown.  I totally got the metaphor.

So here’s what I can appreciate, now that I am home-home, on flat ground with nary a mountain in sight: sometimes it’s really good to get mostly lost with someone you love. You have a deeper appreciation for their gifts and for yours and for the way you tolerate each other’s weakness.  You have to be in it together.  You have to have your priorities straight.  You have to be able to laugh and to pray.

Mostly, though, when you get lost with someone you love, you have to trust that you will get home again, with them, and that some day, you’ll be glad you had the adventure.

img_2220

Thanks, Mom, with love

I have always appreciated Mom – at least the way I remember it!  I’m sure there were a few adolescent years when the appreciation lay buried deep, but that same appreciation blossomed fully when I became a mother myself.  That’s when I realized that I grew up in a house with a superhero.

In the past few months, my appreciation and love for my mom has changed.  It’s as though it has been burnished by grief and devotion, with a rich patina that can come only from experiencing together sorrow and loss and a recognition of love.

At first Mom was surprised when we all came after we heard that Dad was dying.  We weren’t surprised to do that at all – that’s how we had been raised by the two of them.  You show up.  You wait for each other.  You leave pretense at the  door.

So we were all there, gathered at his bedside.  We four kids would go to our own rooms for the night, but Mom slept in Dad’s room, on the most uncomfortable cot in the world.  She didn’t complain.  She wanted to be there with him and for him, as she had been for 58 years.

And then – I can hardly write this – she stood with us as each of us had to say goodbye to Dad.  Three of us left before he died. I know how I felt when I left his room for the last time; leaving him was the hardest thing I have ever done.

But Mom was there for me, and for my brothers, as we each said goodbye and then cried and cried.  In her grief, in her exhaustion, she was still Mom.  She was still there for us, holding us, comforting us, being present with us in the rawness of grief.

So this year especially, I am grateful for my mother.  I am grateful for her humor and her wackiness, for her generosity and wisdom, and especially grateful for her devotion to Dad through it all, and for her presence with us in those bewildering days in December.

“Thank you” seems such an inadequate thing to say, and “I love you” does too.  The words are paltry, but all that is behind them is not.

Thank you, Mom.  I love you.

Family pix 001

Church basements

A few years ago I did a wedding at the church for a couple who were not official members of the congregation.  The first time I met with them for premarital counseling, one of them asked if they could check out the church basement.  Sure, I said, with a slight hesitation, as we had already determined that they would get ready elsewhere and would not need “the bride’s room” to get ready.   As it turns out, this bride was the granddaughter of a pastor and she had a particular fascination with churches.  When we got downstairs, she took a big sniff, and said, “This smells just like a church basement should.”

I wasn’t sure how to react.  We had just done some renovations that included new drainage that would prevent the plaster walls from seeping water, so I was hoping she was not smelling fresh mold.

I’ve served a lot of churches, most of them with musty old basements.  In my first call, the choir music was stored in the basement and got moldy, so we had a good old-fashioned “wipe all the music down with diluted bleach” party.  We also availed ourselves of the opportunity to throw away the life-sized nativity set, since Joseph’s head was bashed in and one of the wise men was missing a hand.  That was before we found fifteen bags of bulk mail that were never delivered as someone hid them in the bowels of the church basement.

More recently, I’ve begun to think of church basements as magical places because of the great changes that begin in them.  How many 12 Step groups meet in church basements, in uneven circles of beige folding chairs, where people admit so much truth in their lives and seek deep transformation?  Those groups don’t work for everyone, I know, but I also know people who know they would be dead in some gutter without them.

This week I attended a meeting in the basement room of another church.  It was as you would suppose – acoustic tile ceiling, fluorescent lights, that unique slight smell, beige metal folding chairs, long tables, pillars in the middle of the room holding up the sanctuary one floor up.

Forty of us gathered in that church basement to talk about poverty, and the new Poor People’s Campaign, about being civilly disobedient to let the powers that be know that we really are serious about our friends who live with so little while we live with so much.  We signed things, and talked about why we were there, and promised to do something.  I wonder what spell J.K. Rowling would write for that, ending poverty.  Luxurios totem, maybe, or abudentsia totalis.

It didn’t seem very magical, if you looked at any one part of it – a few church people, more non-church people, xeroxed paper, beige folding chairs.  People who care about rents, and immigrants, and housing.  People like me who may or may not be courageous enough to be disobedient, albeit civilly.  People who believe that change can happen.

Even change that begins in a church basement.

church basement

The first year without

img_3459

Heart of Love and Sorrow I

Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday, and he would have been 87.  It is his first birthday that he’s not here for; the first birthday in which none of us will call and sing Happy Birthday to him, or be there with him while he blows out candles on the pie because he was a pie person and not a cake person.

My daughter asked what we would do to celebrate Papa’s birthday, and suggested we get a cake, but then I said no, a pie.  Then I remembered that she’ll be gone the night of his birthday and a pie for three is a bit much, especially when two of us have given up sweets for Lent.  But I thought Dad and Jesus would be okay with us celebrating his birthday a little, so we compromised with miniature lemon tarts in lieu of the whole lemon meringue shebang.

So far I’ve made it through my first Christmas without him.  It was okay.  It wasn’t terrible and it certainly wasn’t great.  It just was.  Slowly all of us who loved him are trudging through this new swamp of grief.  Some days we find a solid patch of dry land and we get through the day pretty well, and something we see might make us remember him and laugh.  Other days it’s all muck and quicksand and gnats in an existential stew of remembering he is not here and won’t ever be again.

I am grateful that I was able to be with him in his last few days, and especially grateful that I was able to look him in the eye, and tell him I loved him, and say goodbye, while he looked right back at me and told me he loved me and nodded his head in understanding.   As hard as that was, it was also a gift, a gift I would want for everyone.

I think about those people who have months or years to say goodbye to their beloveds as death takes its sweet and inevitable time with cancer or ALS or Alzheimer’s disease. More often, though, I think of those who have no opportunity to say goodbye, or thank you, or I love you. In this last week I’ve been thinking especially of the families and friends of those seventeen beloveds killed in Parkland, Florida. As if those deaths weren’t horrific enough, violent and sudden and meaningless, they left so much unsaid.  I hope all those people who were killed died knowing that they were deeply loved.  They are now deeply missed.

Grief can be an extraordinary motivator. We’re watching those grieving friends and parents put their grief into action, and it hurts when their grief is mocked or belittled.  If death doesn’t make us weep, we might as well turn in our humanity card.  I hope for these brave friends and parents that all they are doing and saying turns out to be healing for them, and for us.  We cannot stop death, but maybe we can stop it from coming too soon or too violently.

My personal grief over my father’s death is a smaller motivator, I suppose.  I am aware of making sure the people I adore know that I love them.  I’m working to say thank you more often.  I’m aware that there is an end to this life, that we don’t have unlimited time to love well and practice forgiveness and reconciliation often.  I am trying to keep my goodbyes current, as a chaplain friend once advised.

Big grief is a motivator too and every single morning since December 14, 2012, when my daughter goes off to school in the morning, I tell her I love her.  And I mean it more deeply than she can know.  I do not want to celebrate a single one of her birthdays without her here on this earth, or any Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or Easter.

My heart goes out to those families and friends who have begun their first year without.  May their words and deeds begin to drain the swamp, at least a little.

img_3457

Heart of Love and Sorrow II.  I made these collages from sympathy cards I received.