Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Floating, and Breathing, and Standing

Last week, my in-laws took care of our kids for three days & nights so Greg and I could attend our denomination's national gathering, and it was fantastic to take part in the larger American Baptist family life.  Hopefully I can get some of my thoughts about that to congeal, but that'll be another post.  This post is about swimming.

On Friday afternoon, while Greg was busy in meetings, I went to the pool.  I was excited about swimming alone, because since I became a mom, trips to the pool are pretty much just jet-fueled freak-outs about my babies drowning mixed with swimsuit chafing and pool hair.  Not great.  I've never been much of an athlete, so serious and strenuous swimming isn't really my thing, but I do love the water, and I really, really love the sensation of floating.  It's so quiet, so peaceful to drift along in the water, the noise around me drowned out by the water, muscles relaxed, nothing but my breath holding me up.

On Thursday morning, we had taken a little road trip to see one of my childhood homes, about an hour east of Kansas City.  It was really cool to see a couple of houses where I used to live and my first two elementary schools.  Higginsville is, to me, the quintessential Midwestern small town: surrounded by farmland, shabby little main street, railroad tracks, and mismatched houses making up quaint little neighborhoods.  It's the town I picture when John Mellencamp sings "I was born in a small town...".

The first place we visited was a little house my mom and I rented when I was in first and second grade.  Greg, knowing my background, asked if this was a happy place or a bad place.  I told him it was both; like so many things in life, the good and the bad are all mashed up together, impossible to separate from one another.  Bad things happened here, but good things, too, and the visit was not uncomfortable in any way.  It was fun to see my old home, abandoned though it has been.

The house was divided; we lived downstairs on the left. 
 It was also fun to visit my old school, too, even though when I was a student here, I was terrified of the secretary because of her crazy, pencilled-in eyebrows.

I remember walking down that brick street in front of the school with my second grade class, on a field trip to the town theater to watch Lady & the Tramp.  Good times.
In fact, the morning was terrifically easy, all remembered streets and intersections, silly stories of grade school antics, and sunshine lighting the big, blue Missouri sky above us.

And then we got here.



"I could be wrong, but I think this highway turns, and a dirt road continues on straight, and the house was just there, at that junction," I said as we drove down the narrow, two-lane highway toward another former home.  And indeed, the highway turned, a dirt road continued on straight ahead, and there it was.  Or wasn't, rather, because the house I'd lived in burned down in 1987.  But I recognized the little plot of land, and I pulled in the drive, knuckles white on the steering wheel, hair standing on end in sudden apprehension, remembering.

Before the fire, a two-story farmhouse stood here.  My mom and I lived there for a year, maybe a little more, with my step-father.  He was horrible, and he did unspeakable things to my mother, my baby brother, and to me, right here, right on this spot where nothing now stands but tall grass blown by the wind. Greg stood, his arm around me, and we stood together, watching the breeze ruffle the grass, the butterflies flitting from one wildflower to the next.


And we stood before the trees that line the remains of the driveway, and I recalled
the day, when I was five years old, that my biological father showed up and, gun in hand, tried to take me away from my mother.  I sat in his car in that driveway, between those very trees, terrified for her life (not for the first time, or the last).

After the initial fight-or-flight response faded, we just stood there, looking around at the lot.  I explained some of the things that had happened here, stories Greg had heard but were now real in a new way.  We stood together, trying to discern where the foundation had been, remarking on how peaceful and beautiful a place it is.  And I felt crazy, because I both witnessed and experienced horrific physical abuse in the house that once stood here, but all I could think was that I wish I had the money to buy this little plot of land.  I'd build a house on it, maybe a halfway house, or a safe house for abuse victims, or a home for runaways.  Maybe I'd live here sometimes, come and spend time in the Missouri sunshine, plant a big garden on the south side, grow flowers and make this place beautiful again.

As we drove away, Greg voiced almost identical thoughts, furthering my theory that we do, indeed, belong together.

And the day showed us other former homes and schools, uncovered other memories both good and bad, and it felt profound and joyful and powerful and I wanted to write about it, and I couldn't.  I had nothing of substance to say, no coalescing thought about the experience, until I found myself floating in that pool the next afternoon.

In the biblical languages, the word for breath (pneuma in Greek and ruach in Hebrew) is also the word translated "spirit" and "wind."  So when I was on my back in the water, only breath/wind/spirit was holding me up.  And as I floated there, buoyed by the air in my lungs, I realized that it isn't just what happens in the water.  Breath, and wind, and spirit -- they are a gift from God, and that holy Breath is what made me able to stand there, staring my past in the face.  Thanks be to God.

Is there someplace you need to stand and breathe?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fathers

Reposted from Facebook for Fathers' Day

I spent part of my evening pitching wiffle balls for several of the neighborhood kids to bat. It was fun, teaching little three-, four-, and seven-year-olds to line up for the pitch, square their little shoulders, hold their bats correctly. I did that because they all love playing wiffle ball with my amazing husband, Greg Mamula, and even though he was away tonight, I felt so grateful that my kids get to call him their Daddy. 

And my kids are lucky to have such a good father, who also has a wonderful father in Peter Mamula. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and Peter's one of the best "trees" I know. He's raised two wonderful kids, and I love being a part of his family.

But I'm only well enough to be a part of this family because in 1997, Phil Jester had the courage to take a drug-addled, black-fingernailed, burnout teenager into his family. Phil didn't have to be a father to me; he didn't know me, bore no responsibility for my well being, but he chose to be my father, to let me call him Daddy, and I here because of his decision to love me. I miss you, Dad.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Overwhelmed

It's been two months since I wrote a blog post.  Not that I haven't tried; I have gotten as far as opening a new post window at least half a dozen times, but I haven't been able to come up with a single meaningful word.  It feels a bit like a log jam inside my head, like if I could just find that one right log, that one train of thought, then yank hard enough, the whole thing would clear and things could float freely again.

So every few nights I open this webpage and search around for that one thought, and nothing comes.  I'm thinking about a million things at once, all the time.  Sophie starting school in August, how to live well on basically one income, how to manage home repairs we need and can't afford, what to do about my broken-assed car, friends and family who are sick and hurting, raising my children to be good people not entitled little pricks, studying for certification tests at work, learning to manage the church finances, tending our various flowers, plants, and trees, soaking in the sunshine at every available moment, etc.

You know, just life.

And then a few days ago, I found a word I could latch on to: Overwhelmed.  I feel over-full and overwhelmed, by both the mundane things and the beautiful things.  I just feel full.  Spent.  And not in a bad way, not spent and exhausted and depressed.  Just that there is so much of life right now, I feel like after I've done what I need to do within a day, I don't have the energy to go back and reflect on it.

Things just Are, right now, and all my Big Questions are still here, casting shadows across the grass beside me as I pull weeds from the flower beds, but since the sun finally came back to us, I feel I can breathe again.  After months of limping along, I can run again (metaphorically, of course, let's not go crazy).



Monday, April 8, 2013

Feels Like Hope

Last night during the bedtime process, as I helped Joel into his pajamas, I overheard a conversation between  my five-year-old and her dad.

"Sophie, did you brush your teeth?"
"Yes, I did."
"Sophia, did you brush your teeth?"
"Yes."
"If I go in the bathroom and feel your toothbrush, will it be wet?"

And I was and am okay, but I feel like maybe I shouldn't be.  See, when I was Sophie's age (and remarkably similar-looking), I had an almost identical conversation with my step-father.  Afraid of the dark bathroom and unable to reach the pull-string to turn on the light, I lied about having brushed my teeth.  He locked my mother out of the bathroom, bent me over the toilet, and beat my bare ass with the buckle end of his belt.  In the morning, my mom had to peel my underwear, caked with dried blood, away from the gashes.

It's funny, how you can be simultaneously so removed and yet so close to an experience.  I've had a great day today; visiting with a couple different friends, spending time being creative in my newly-organized craft room, hanging out with my awesome kids.  But since overhearing Greg talking to Sophie last night, a little part of my brain has been back there in that dilapidated farmhouse bathroom, listening to my mother scream and beat on the door trying to save me, or in the bathroom stall at school the next day, hoping I didn't bleed on my pants, or on the steps of my step-father's parole officer, listening to my mom explain my injuries and plead for some help.  

It's inexplicable, a paradox: I am here, and yet I am there.  Like the already-but-not-yet of God's Kingdom, in a way.  Maybe.  Hell, I don't know.  But I do know that I'm here, and I'm okay, and always, always in these situations, I think about the ones who have suffered similar things and worse, and who aren't okay. And sometimes that feels depressing as hell, but then sometimes it feels like hope.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ashes

I have ashes on my forehead.

We had an intimate, experiential Ash Wednesday service tonight at our little church.  A little media, some hands-on prayer stations, some meditation time.  It was nice.  I didn't get a lot of reflecting or meditating done, having a toddler on my hip, but mothering is its own kind of worship, so I didn't feel bad about staying back and observing for most of the night.

But the ashes... I wanted them.  I wanted to be marked, to join with the rest of the Church in this observance.  The truth is that sometimes I'm hanging by a thread to this thing we call Christianity.  Last December, the night after Newtown, Mumford and Sons' "I Will Wait" played on my radio as I drove in to work, and I found that I couldn't sing those words out loud, because I didn't know if I meant them.

Two months later, that's maybe the only thing I know, the only thing I trust: Jesus.  Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.
So tonight, when I saw my friend at the back of the sanctuary with a palm full of ashes, I walked forward, toddler wiggling on my hip, and I let myself be marked, let myself be connected.  It took a good bit of strength to look him in the eye as he said the blessing over me and over Joel, to bear up under that kind of Grace.  After all, all I am is ashes.

Yeah, Mumford.  I'm with you.  I'll wait.