Chapter 19: On Pain (and healing)

Most of us know that pain is gorilla-glued to the human condition.  I even think that most of us can summon some sort of peace in that knowledge—a nod, an honoring, I see you.

Trying to ignore the redemptive power of pain and healing in our world takes a lot of energy.  Because proof is sprouting from every inch of charcoaled land, bouncing off the bald heads in infusion rooms, and radiating from the walls of AA meetings, therapy sessions, and homeless shelters.

Wherever humanity finds a home, pain will unpack also.

But did you know that healing is stuck in that sticky, gorilla ooze, too?  That restoration is as human as tears, or pores?

There’s this patch of skin on the outside of my left heel that I just can’t stop picking at.  Little flecks of skin mostly, and every once in a while I larger piece that I rip away when the kids insult my cooking or David works late or another hurricane rolls by.

In middle and high school I tore away the entire bottom of my heel pads so that each step I took could remind me of my shit-stain status; so that I never forgot about the pain inside.  The pain proved I was alive, I could bleed, I was human & not a robot.  My wounds allowed me to fix something in my world of chaos and uncontrollable grief.

A bandaid might not be able to keep Ellen alive but it can help with the blood pooling in my shoe.

I’ve detailed the physical pain my bone marrow transplant & cancer treatment caused.  What I never had a chance, or the words, to describe, was my physical healing.  The one that gave me my life back.

You see, therapy worked really well for the first fifteen months, until it didn’t.  The pace slowed after the first year or so and I felt stuck.

But I’m still picking at my heel and my cuticle.

The aches aren’t easing.

I don’t want bandaids anymore, God.  Where is my wholeness?  I want to be healed!

…like the bleeding woman…and all humans ever…

We just want healing.  We want to feel unafraid and electric.  We want power, not too much that God would expel us from Eden, but enough that we don’t feel an overwhelming need to consume every croissant within reach.

Did you know that showing up for our healing, our purpose, our life is literally the most courageous choice one can make?

In the middle of my six-week stint at outpatient rehab, a brawny paper towel man lookalike—who was graduating and forced to sprinkle a little inspiration on the newbies—stood in front of the group and drenched us.

“As a fireman, my buddies and me, we’re considered heroes.  But you know what?”  He says with tears pooling.  “You all are the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

I want to be fucking healed!

So for the first time in my life the patch of skin is starting to heal.  It’s heel-ing.  Yes, I’ve gone months without abusing it before, but then I could fall back on butter and coffee—that is not the case anymore.

There’s nothing to fall back onto except Grace, and a Goodhardgood God.  Thanks God, for adoring me even when I black out and yell at my kid so loud she pees in fear.  Thanks for holding that so I don’t have to ingest it, or pick at it, or cut it, or drink it, or anything else with it.

Inhale.

Exhale.

How could I stop showing up for the free kingdom compost that God so gladly shovels out?  Ellen showed me how to do that, too.  She never stopped planning her “healed party” because pain and healing are a part of the glue that hold us together, something my sister understood well.

What if I told you that sometimes I go talk to Jesus in my bedroom?  And while laying on my white cloud bed in the dark I allow Him to massage me with these healing flashlights that He keeps in a burlap man purse.  A warm red glow softens up my body and melts away the fear.  And then the pain is gone.  Do you want to go?  I’ll take you to Him.

What about the fact that my brain never fully believed my cancer was gone, and that’s why radiating pain plagued my limbs for years, even after the scans came back clean?  Because in my mind and body the cancer was still killing me.

Or that it wasn’t until I realized I was finally, and truly, safe from my mom’s belts that my back pain started to soften?  Because when my roots felt safe, my core muscles could finally relax and contract, strengthen, move.

Did you know that dread causes pain?  Do not be afraid.  No wonder!  God doesn’t want us to hurt, God wants us to heal.

If pain is a part of our world, then healing is, too.

The Brawny Man is correct.  Showing up for all of your life and trusting a Healer is harder than cancer treatment, the death of a loved one, abuse, infertility, parenthood, divorce, infidelity, trying to explain to foreigners how Trump got elected, and running into burning buildings.

Hold and honor your pain, yes.  It is an awfully beautiful part of your story.  And then, when it starts to feel too itchy & the circles under your eyes become darker than you remember, you have my permission to step toward the redemption that Love offers us all every moment of every day.

To craft and claim a New Story.

It will be the hardest work you do.  It will cost you more than you thought it would.  But I can see that you’re tired of bandaids.  Me too.

Continue Reading

Chapter 18: On Forgiveness

Once Rae said, “you’re touching my yuckiness,” as I massaged her preschool feet.  Forgiveness has something to do with this, I am 99% certain.

***

After typical summer mornings here at home the old fir floors require some quick sweeping, and the pillows need straightening before I’m permitted to I sit on the big gray sofa, in front of the big open window to breathe.

Nap time is a little taste of Kingdom Come.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exha—

What was that?  The front gate rattles open.  Nooooo, I just tidied up!  These are my moments.

When I peek out the big window I see my mom approaching.  Oh hell no.  We haven’t really spoken since I sobered up, when the freedom finally felt safer than the codependence and yelling.

She climbs the front steps and stands in my entryway, staring straight ahead into the living room like a Buckingham Palace guard.

Pat follows her moments later and stands to her left, shoulders almost touching, but not, because—divorce.  I haven’t seen him since he left for a third time after shoving my mom across the living room a few years ago.  Sometimes the girls ask where Grandpa went, I tell them I don’t know, which is the truth.

In a strange turn of events a 15-year-old Claire shows up next and stands beside Pat.

After that, a little baby Lucy crawls through the threshold and plops down at my younger self’s ankles.

What the hell is happening here?   If only I had closed that door…

My viper tongue & dictator rage combined with years of muzzling creates a volatile chemistry inside, and I lunge forward toward the four of them.

“You’re the meanest bitch I know!”  I hiss at mom.

Moving down the line, “You’re such a fat fuck!”  I yell at the missing man.

The spewing continues and “You piece of shit!” lands onto my younger self.

Finally, arriving at baby Lucy, “I have no clue how to love you.”

Whoa.

Now they’re all crying the kind of tears a sad little kid cries after the balloon slips from between her fingers, while getting verbally abused.

Stop crying, I need you to stop right now.  I just swept the floors, and the dishes are done, and I wanted to read my book and snuggle into a blanket.  You were not a part of this plan!

They cry louder.  GET OUT!  Nobody moves.

So I turn around and take ten steps back to the big gray sofa.  Fine, cry.  You all deserve to feel the pain, anyway.

After a minute or two my insides feel afraid & gray and I want to ask for help but David’s at work.  An angel, big and golden, steps through the side door that leads to the Garden out back.

What’re you doing here?  Scorn clings to the words falling out of my mouth, and the itchy wool cloak of anxiety covers me.  When my angelic intruder refuses to acknowledge the question I huff and I puff and I finish blasting shame lasers at my kin in the entryway.

They need beds, they want to go to sleep, I realize.  Or maybe the angel hints.  But I don’t have enough quilts and pillows.

Looking to the angel I say, “You’re the bed maker aren’t you?”

Yes.

Okay.

We get to work.  Mama likes her beds goosey, so we dig out a hole in my floor and fill the dusty cavern with linen glory.  I lead her to the bed, tuck her in, and begin on bed number two.

Pat‘s addicted to sand and palm trees, so the bed angel digs another hole, fills it with sand, plops two palm trees and a hammock down.  Even though I can barely look him in the eye, and I hate the feeling of his hand in mine, I escort him to the hammock and sway him to sleep.

When I was fifteen, demons devoured me in my alone moments.  I was alone a lot.  Looking at little Claire I knew she didn’t want to sleep alone, she wanted to share a space with someone who could give her all the security that parents in hospitals never did.  Here, lie down near me, motioning to the sofa; she plops her greasy head on my lap.

Finally, my baby.  Come here sweet girl.  She crawls up and rests her head on my shoulder.  Within minutes they’re all asleep.

What the hell just happened?  And why are these people literally embedded in my home?  Forever?  The angel steps out with the same abruptness in which s/he entered.

For so long I fought to keep my rage at these beings outside the doors of my mind and heart. Maybe these people have something that will help with the yuckiness I feel inside?  Maybe the frenzy and chaos just needs to find a safe space with straightened pillows and some soft blankets.

Someone said anger is just fear with armor on, and I’m finally ready to trust the most repeated words in the Bible: do not be afraid.

May I remove this armor yet?  Can I get cozy?

Oohh…I exhale.

Those one-liners, the single sentences that summed up my resentments at the four people who now sleep in my living room—they are the four most defining lies I hurl at own self.

But I am not the meanest bitch I know, and neither is my mom.

I am not a fat fuck, neither is Pat.

I am not a piece of shit, and I never have been.

And who made me feel unlovable?

Oohhhhhhh…

So maybe that quote about resentment and anger being a poison you accidentally ingest yourself is true?  Maybe we get cancer and heart burn and rashes and high blood pressure because we are gluing our own self-hatred, doubt, and fears onto another?  (The cancer part has not been proven, yet.)  Maybe our resentments eat us alive?

Make us drink or shop too much?

Keep us from tapping into our Love Hulk superhero status?

Prevent us from finding down-feathered goodness and sweet slumber?

When we realize that most of the ill will we hold toward others is just a despised or feared version of ourselves forgiveness starts to flow freely.  It’s tricker with abuse, and that’s where wounded not wicked really helps.  But God loves abusers, too, remember?

Once we realize that the people who took advantage of their power and used it to hurt us were just slightly (or severely) more wounded versions of ourselves, the arteries start to unclog, we begin to beat and move to the rhythm of Love.   And the longer we sit in God’s love for us, the more understandable God’s love for those ass hats is, too.

Maybe if we closed our eyes and opened the doors of our hearts instead of rejecting the person or institution or system that upsets us we could see our own humanity in the object we despise.

It feels so good to stay mad though, doesn’t it?  Until you get cancer and heartburn and skin issues and start drinking too much.  The thing you want to hurl at another is the poison you’ve allowed to eat you up.

What if forgiveness means that you’re okay with the yuckiness of others because you’ve become goodhardgood friends with your own grimy parts?

My mom used to hit me, a lot.  And she spoke fear into my life for years.  She is also a beloved child of God who did the best she could.  I know now about the rage she let dictate her discipline, I have found my own self in it.  And if I am not bad, neither is she.

My biological dad was addicted to food, just like I was.  His size used to disgust me, until my own saggy flesh entered the picture.  Now, to hate him would be hating myself.

Teenage Claire was maybe a sociopath trying to survive each next moment.  I wasn’t bad for hurting people inside and out, for all the marionette-ing and manipulating.  I was a beloved puppeteer of God who forgot about what S/He said in the Garden.

And Lucy, my sweet girl, she is squishy and fun.  The lies I pasted on to her were rooted in my own fear of my own un-loveable-ness.

Who or what do you have a little leaking vile of poison saved for in your heart?  When you close your eyes, and imagine that being before you, what do you want to say?  What would hurt him/her/it the most?

Now how does that sentence relate to you?  Because you are the only human you can change.  I’ll give you a hint, it’s always rooted in our fear and forgetfulness.  What would life look like if all that anxiety and anger had a cozy place to retire at the end of the day?

Don’t be afraid, you were born for this.  Or be afraid, but remember that you received a radioactive injection at creation, one that breaks your heart wide open and lets your Love Hulk burst out, ready to massage everyone’s yucky feet.

Just like Jesus did.

Continue Reading

Chapter 17: On Gardening

It’s 8/28 again, but this time there’s no cancer.  Instead of imagining my face without eyebrows I am cuddling my fourth miracle, Nell Garden.  We’re resting on wooden patio furniture under the big apple tree while her three siblings run naked through the sprinklers.  Tomato fetuses run down their chins and chests, water splatters on the pumpkin leaves sending powdery mildew spores up into the sunlight, and bits of sod have begun to brown.

It’s perfect.  Nothing missing, nothing needed—what I imagine Eden felt like, but with less serpents.

***

Four babies, in four years.  All healthy.  All here.  How?  What did I do right?  I feel like I did so much wrong…

A voice gently rumbles from behind the trellised beans.

“No Sweetie, there is no such thing as right and wrong.  Only what is.”  The Lion saunters over.

“Hi!”  I smile and scoot over.  S/He opts for the grass because my patio furniture is janky.

“The metrics you silly kiddos use don’t apply to Me.  I don’t need to see the NICU or the abuse, I don’t even see the glory of nudie sprinkler time.  I just see Love, or the lack of Love.  It is My first, second, and third language.

“Imagine a color wheel, or a spectrum.  Each one of you is made up of certain ratios of those hues.  Some people have more pink, others more blue.  In the Garden, when I scooped up that mud and molded Adam, the exact amounts, identities, affinities, and aversions were barely visible.  It was his inherent goodness that made me smile, not his skin color or stance on the death penalty.

“Now imagine each color represents a characteristic.  Hitler probably had a lot more of several different colors than Mother Teresa had.  RuPaul’s maybe looked a little more sparkly than Abe Lincoln’s.  You’re all so different, and so perfect to Me.”

“But what about our behavior affecting Your Shalom,Your perfect peace?  We may be perfect to You, but we also grieve You and make You cry.”

“Yes, that is true.”  S/He repositions a hind leg.  “When you act outside of Love I break and roar and curse.”

“Love seems so subjective.  How can we know for sure what is loving and what isn’t?  Especially when religious texts makes so many conflicting statements on right and wrong?”

“Well that’s why I’ve put a little piece of Me inside each of you.  You don’t get to assume or judge another’s Next Loving Step. How could you intuit what I’ve done in another’s soul? Imagine what our world would resemble if each of you remembered your divinity, keeping a constant awareness of your own Next Loving Step?!”

I gaze down at Nell slurping her bottle.

“But what about murder, terrorism, molestation?  Those are never loving steps.  Can’t I condemn those people?”

“Nope.  Wounded, not wicked.  Remember?  Unloving, not unloved.”

He can sense my agitation.

“You know I’ve seen your secrets, your ‘un-love.’  Was causing your son to stay in the NICU not an act of abuse?  Did you not victimize your own flesh and blood?  When you prayed for stage 4 colon cancer to root inside that one woman, do you think it translated any different from murder in My native tongue?  You may never have slept with another man while married to David, but your heart and mind and cell phone betrayed him.

“I’ve felt the heat of your hot rage, it’s the same heat that I felt near King Nebuchadnezzar when he threw those boys into the fire.  You may not have thrown people into fire, but you have devoured hearts with the shaming flames from your tongue.

“When you keep silent at the expense of your black and brown siblings all I see is KKK.

“And as for terrorism, causing others to feel intense amounts of fear.  The other day, when you chased Lucy up the stairs with your red eyes and foaming mouth, she was as afraid in that moment as anybody who has been captured by the Taliban.  I saw her heart, and I’ve seen the hearts of people strapped to chairs in dark, sandy rooms—identical, if only for a moment.

“You, my love, are a terrorist, too.  You’ve victimized and abused and murdered with the best—or worst— of them.  How many pieces of clothing have you purchased that were sewn by the tiny hands of little girls like your own?  Are you any better than the slave traders of old?  Every time you purchase furniture and food that was grown in a way that hurts my earth I could just call you Exxon-Mobile.

“Do you see what I am saying here, Sweetie?

“You’re all the same, just with different blends of colored clays & different types of wounds.  I don’t care to see any of the glitter in RuPaul or the grays in Van Gogh.  Personal preferences, politics, orientations, citizenships, pre-existing conditions, felonies, infidelities, report cards, years married, security clearances, religious affiliations—the colors—they don’t interest me as much as the Love does.”

“But I thought You knew the number of hairs on my head?  I like believing that I matter to You.”

“I do know how many hairs your scalp contains, 102,271 as of five minutes ago.  But I don’t care about that, unless it has something to do with Love, in which case it’d be impossible for me to ignore it.  I am Love, rememeber?  I cannot go against my nature.  Here, I want you to see something.  Look under My mane.”

I lay Nell on the big quilt and walk over to the Lion.  His long shaggy hair feels like conditioned hay.  Pulling & parting I begin to see names tattooed on the flesh of Love incarnate.

“Where am I?”  As I move across His body I see all the names of every human ever, even Rumplestiltskin is there, just under that fluffy left ear.

Trump.

Clinton.

Pocahontas.

Jihadi John.

Robert E. Lee.

Casear Chavez.

Liberace.

Sean Hannity.

Confucious.

“Here I am!  Right next to Genghis Khan and Hugh Hefner.  Okay, so we’re all here.  But how do I know what is right and wrong?”

“Ah ah ah.”  S/He walks over to the roses and takes a sniff.

“Sorry, what is loving and what is not.  How do I know what my Next Loving Step is?”

“You know the answer to that, My love.”

“I know it involves getting quiet and calm.  You reminded me earlier that I have a little Christ, a little God, a little Love installed somewhere in my hard drive, so I find that.”

“What else?”

You’re destroying my soil, that’s what else. Please get out of the herb garden!

“I stay sober, because when we ingest mind-altering chemicals it inhibits our ability to listen and hear clearly.

“I ask my people for input, because sometimes my Next Loving Step feels a little too hard to make on my own.

“I meditate and pray and strip away as much of my stiff layers as possible so my fresh, juicy true self can breathe for a minute without the strangling effects of ego.

“I read all Your love letters to humanity and ours to You.  I read Rohr, Chodron, Herschel, and Macklemore, too.

“I go to Church, or rehab, or AA meetings, or mountains.”

Nell fusses so we take a walk to the green patch at the southwest corner of the yard.  The piece of land that feeds my family, fills my vases, and heals my heart after a Goodhardgood day.

“I step out into my garden and remember.  You are so pleased of Your Eden, and of Your treasured companions, humans and animals alike.”

The sun bakes the Lion’s back and I wonder if S/He is hot or feels panty like Winnie, the dog, in the blazing Denver afternoons. “I like the heat,” S/He mentions.

How could we have forgotten all of this perfection?  Just over there, Adam bites into a juicy tomato and seeds splurt down his growing beard.  Eve is watering the dahlia patch with the Still Waters of Psalm 23.

“You loved them so much.  You love us all so much!”

S/He tears up.  “So much.”

In art classes they showed us how to make the color of mud: combine all the pigments.  In my garden, we stare up at the seventeen-foot sunflower towering above and I start to understand that I actually am all of humanity in one human; and God doesn’t hate that.  On Tuesday morning I yelled at the kids, but by the afternoon I was as calm as Pope Francis.  I am generous and greedy.  I am all of it, and none of it.  How could God love us based on our actions when we are all the actions wrapped into one bag of flesh and bones?

“So all You care about is whether or not I take each Next Loving Step?”

“Yep.”

“What if I fuck it up and forget about love for moment, or for years?  What about those who forgot about it for a lifetime?”

“First of all, you cannot fuck it up, you know this.  As the Master Gardener, I am also a magician when it comes to compost—nothing is wasted.  Second, it’s never too late to remember.  Love’s power in you can redirect even the most stubborn trajectory, so just stop, breathe, and decide where the next bit of energy goes.

“And third, one day you can talk to the Buddha about what happens to those who spend lifetimes choosing un-love.  Do you think I would remove free will postmortem after getting you all so acquainted to it in your earthy life?”

“Does that mean Hitler came back as a pediatric oncologist to make amends for all the shit he pulled?”

God laughs.

“Hitler got to choose where he wanted to go and he had three options.  Eden, Seperation, or back here to help love win, to help unshatter Shalom.  And with that, I will leave you to your hangry children.”

Okaayyyy…It’s going to take me years to unravel what God just said in my garden.

“A lifetime.”  S/He replies.

Continue Reading