I just want to be clear – I have nothing against bugs for the most part.  In fact I generally find insects very fascinating and typically have my little bug lab going on my kitchen counter all summer long.  Beloved JR says he doesn’t mind, really.

I guess I come by this this interest naturally – my grandmother was an entomologist, even discovering a new species of colembolla, which was named after her.  She got married before she finished her doctoral thesis, though, which, in those days, in 1915, was the end of that.  I will probably write more of her another time – she was a spritely character.

So, bugs.  I watch them.  I watch them hatch, I watch them eat, I watch them poop, I watch them mate, I watch them lay eggs.  I also squish them, when necessary.  I carry my ‘bug bucket’ with me into the garden (maybe another post on this, too, one of my can’t-go-without garden tools) and don’t hesitate to handpick any manner of bug that is abusing my perennials.

EXCEPT Tomato Hornworms.     I HATE Tomato Hornworms.

These grotesque creatures are the most camouflaged creepy insect, and you never, NEVER see them before you almost touch them.  Enough to make you jump right out of your skin.

I’ve learned to look for the signs, like de-nuded branches and half-nibbled baby green tomatoes and the tell-tale little black droppings on the leaves below.  I’ve learned to search assiduously – before I begin picking the fruit, so as not to be surprised.  When I find the critters, hiding in plain sight along a little leafy branch, I can’t bear to touch the icky things – besides, they cling tenaciously to the branch and it becomes a tug-of-war.  So, I pull out my handy garden nippers, hold the bug bucket underneath, and just snip off enough of the branch so that the whole thing – worm, twig and all – drops Plunk! into the sudsy water.  Easy-peasy.

Unless, after harvesting at least half a dozen juvenile-sized hornworms, and double-searching to make certain you haven’t overlooked any, you begin to pick the ripened tomatoes – even popping a plump red cherry one in your mouth, warm & juicy & delicious like nothing but a fresh ripe tomato can be – when POP! There is the Mother-of-all-hornworms right at your nose!  *** S H R I E K ***

When I finally caught my breath, I was able to comprehend that there was no way this huge hornworm and the branch on which she(?) was hiding would even fit in my little bucket.  It would require a different sort of mega-method.  And I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine what that might be, I was still trying to keep my stomach from turning inside out.

That’s when I called over my personal handy Hero.  To my knowledge he has never worn a cape, but my beloved JR obliges me by dispatching troublesome little rodentia and slimey rotting watermelon with equal chivalry, and he was willing to help out this damsel in distress.

I was handing him my clippers to remove the whole branch, when he suddenly reached in and took hold of that revolting monster with his bare hand.  I. FREAKED. OUT.  By the time I quit flapping around and had stopped hyper-ventilating I was half-way across the yard and JR had already successfully wrestled the beast into oblivion.  I’m so thankful he wasn’t laughing, because non-violent, peace-loving me might have punched him one.  What he did was, he came over to where I was twitching and emitting rapid little squeaks, and wrapped his big arms around me and said, “I’m sorry.  Next time I’ll warn you to look away first.”

It took a few moments to calm down.  Quite a few.  This morning, warily cleaning out under the overgrown daylilies, I actually picked up a slimy slug with my fingers and deposited him into the trusty bug pot.  And I gently remembered yesterday, and JR, and I smiled; and I thought of how God looks on my irrational fears, and His arms are always there too.  But I haven’t been back to the tomato patch.  Maybe I don’t even need to put up any more sauce this year anyway.

“Do not be afraid of sudden fear…For the Lord will be your confidence.” (Prov.3:25)

Let me ask you a question… 

When you hear “photo-time, smile for the camera” do you panic and find you have a sudden urge to hide in the bathroom until the photo taking is finished?  Do you instinctively cover your face with your hand? Do you suffer through comments like “what are you so unhappy about?” when you’re only aware of feeling good?   Does the helpful suggestion “Smile!”  make you want to cry?  When you meet someone new and offer them your best smile, do you recognize the flash of awkwardness and discomfort that crosses their face in a micro-second before they recover enough to greet you?  When you’re un-self-consciously enjoying yourself, talking and laughing and smiling freely, do you notice others staring, looking away, or looking uncomfortable because of you?  If not, if you don’t relate to situations like these, maybe, without realizing it, you have “smile privilege”.  What I mean by this is, maybe you have the privilege of enjoying a normal smile without ever giving it a thought.

I know I did.  Until I lost the ability to simply smile with fullness and ease.   I never considered what an elemental gift it is to be able to communicate openly with a smile — a simple and effective non-verbal instantaneous communication that says “I like you.  I am interested in you.”   Psychologists know that smiles have a powerful and instinctual effect on us as humans.  The simple act of smiling is often contagious; people typically react favorably and are more comfortable around you when you are smiling. Who doesn’t take for granted the fact that smiling transmits happiness, friendliness, warmth, and liking.  So, if you smile frequently, you will be perceived as being more likable, friendly, warm and approachable.   bp half smileBut for those who can’t smile, the loss is very, very real. The immediate, non-verbal communication is broken, the person may subliminally be perceived as unfriendly, unlikeable and unapproachable.  Two-plus years with residual Bell’s Palsy and permanent facial nerve damage to one half of my face, leaving me without the ability to move the muscles that automatically produce facial expressions, has certainly opened my eyes to the unexamined ‘smile privilege’.

And led me to be thinking about all kinds of other privilege as well.  You know, the things we take for granted that make life easier, if we think about it.  Like, for example, ‘white privilege’.  Or, if you’re female, you bump into ‘male privilege’.  Put these together, and you get the Biggie:  White Male Privilege, or WMP.

Our denomination has been working carefully at a program called the Damascus Road Project: Dismantling Racism.  This process begins when the “light goes on” so to speak, and we’re “knocked off our horses” and are transformed.  Until we recognize, personally, that we  — racially white in the United States of America I mean — live with an unexamined prerogative to access, education, acceptance, inclusion, familiarity, etc, we can have no concept of racism and white privilege.   If you are white, since when did you go to a drugstore to buy bandages, and choose the package that says “flesh-colored”.  Really?  Whose flesh?

I always thought racism was contemptuous, prejudicial, biased thoughts and actions.  “I’m not racist,” I would have insisted, “Look at my African-American friends.  Remember, I’m the one who got rocks thrown at me over the hedge and teased ‘nigger-lover’ by other children in my neighborhood, for playing with the kids of a family from Nigeria.  I’m not the one who’s racist.”  Only lately have I come to understand that racism is much more subtle than being overtly prejudiced.  It begins with ignorance of the privilege that comes with being white.  It begins with taking something as simple as bandages for granted.  And the process of dismantling it begins with recognizing, in the first place, that privilege exists.  The same goes for sexism, I might gently add.  Or Good Healthism.

Which brings me back to smiles.  If you’re a “smilist”, I hope that the next time you smile today, you will enjoy the privilege, bask in the ease and access it provides you, and delight in its rewards.  And then smile again, for me, and for all those who live with Facial Nerve Palsy.

When 1 + 1 equals 2.
Brain confusion: Which side of the face do you automatically respond to??


Well, the crows pulled up half my corn, in spite of the black cloth effigy of a dead crow fluttering there.  So grows my garden.

Then, for the past week or more Vermont has been beset by substantial rain storms and besieged by high temps and humidity – so my time in the garden contending with weeds and bugs and rodents is set aside for now…

But, hunkered down indoors, feet propped on cushions and laptop on my – lap! — I’m cool and dry (and clean) and I’ve been discovering another kind of gardening.  A new field, untilled soil, unknown crops; and the best part of gardening – the surprise of miracles (now how did THAT happen?) and satisfaction of hoped-for-but-unexpected results (wow! look what I did!).  And did I mention that my fingernails stay clean?

I’ve been discovering how to create a website.  Like jumping off into outer space, zero gravity, unknown worlds… To me, it feels like I’m going where no one has gone before.  This site has been in the some-day-maybe stage for a couple of years, but the time now seems to be RIGHT.  Plus, no one else in the family was doing it.  This site is a family history, genealogy, story, connection site for (we hope!) several generations.  Descendants from one Eben Whitney Chaffee of Ellsworth, CT; creating a successful land company in the Dakotas when the prairies were first being opened; his son (my great-grandfather) taking over the company and becoming the “managing genius of the Bonanzas” (quoted from the ‘definitive’ book of the era); and tragically, sinking with the Titanic, leaving his widow to carry on the great business; and, finally, generations scattered from North Dakota all across the continent.  It’s a big job, this website, and I’m learning a lot!  I even (#excitedlypattingmyselfontheback) wrote a little bit of my own html the other day.  WOW!!  That’s HUGE for me  ((:

Now, those of you that live and breathe this techy stuff can have your chuckle.  Here’s a middle-aged lady who barely passed algebra II, and gets freaked out about how a telephone works.  So, in spite of the strange and alien cosmos I’ve entered, I’m boldly surging ahead, and trembling ever so slightly each time I click on the “update” button, like heading into a black hole, not sure if I’ll even know how to get back if it doesn’t work out.  Outer space, for sure.

For my dear Chaffee family reading this, of course you’ll get a special notice whenever the site is launched, which I hope won’t be too long.  Let me know if you want in on the ‘beta’ testing.


IMAGINE – This is God’s Garden!     Some of the photos in this video are absolutely breathtaking.


My life as a spring morning

I can’t help it.  I am delirious.  The yard is freshly mowed, the temperatures are perfect, the air clean and fresh, the sky blue with those small, puffy white clouds, and I get to have my hands in the dirt.  The warm, rich, black dirt that we made from leaves and yard clippings, with the help of Roscoe, our intrepid herd of red worms imported to the compost bin for the job.  Everywhere I look, it is beautiful.  Plus, there is a bird song that I don’t recognize breezing up from the woods, so I have my binoculars close by, along with my tool basket.  I just don’t see how it gets better than this.

This is the time of year I love my gardens best.  It is all potential — before the gold rose chafers overwhelm the iris beds and the japanese beetles devour the berry patch and the slugs make mush out of the daylilies.  Any unplucked weeds are imperceptibly tiny, and the tomato hornworms aren’t even eggs yet.  The fresh mulch still has its warm cedar smell, and new annual flower seedlings are beginning to poke up in the flower beds (thanks Jan :)).  The baby chickadees are peeping in the bird box at the fence along our little apple orchard, and the young swallows have already fledged and are chattering along behind mommy as they swoop and soar, snatching bugs from the air.  And I will pick a big bowl of spinach for supper tonight.  The vegetables, too, are all full of potential, neat and tidy and sprouting green rows in their new beds.  Oh how loud can I write  I  LOVE  THIS!

And I marvel, how is it that I get to spend the morning in my garden on a perfectly glorious Friday in June…

I imagine part of my delirium comes from deeply knowing it is such a gift. Part of the delirium is gratitude; worshipful receiving.  I have this joy today, but keenly remember that it wasn’t always so, and there may well come a day when it will not be again.  I carry the hardship of facial palsy every day, and the memories of affliction and sorrow not too many years ago, and the scars of childhood wounds in my soul.  But these are now all in the light, where Jesus touches, as peonies open in the sunshine.  I am conscious of those I know and love who bear much worse, and weep aloud with cries of  ‘O Lord, where is the gift for them?’  But in the moment, my moment, I receive this gift with open arms, lifted heavenward like the perfect iris blooming, turning a face to the Creator, and the tears aren’t of grief, but an Ode to Joy.

Surely Heaven has gardens.  Lots of them – dirt, bugs and all.  We know Eden did, so maybe it’s an important part of being human.  I know my heart sings and worships best in a garden, with the intimacy of miracles all around.

“On my word,

a single May

is too heady for my blood.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, The 9th Elegy

White iris – praise uplifting

Momma phoebe flying over the hillside garden

Veggies coming

Mother’s Day:  In honor of my mother, and in loving memory of my friend Beth, I’m posting a reflective essay I wrote five years ago, a few months before Beth died at age 88.  She was quite a firecracker.

My friend Beth

My friend Beth was crying yesterday.  She sat in her comfortable green recliner, her last remaining possession, and cried; not the self-conscious tears of trying not to be a bother, not the self-pitying tears of a disappointed child – but honest, innocent tears of confusion and grief.  The nurse came in to give her her medicine, crushed in a spoonful of applesauce, a small white paper cup of water for a chaser.  “Are you all right, dear?” she asked.

“This is my friend,” Beth smiled through her tears, and patted my hand.  Her freshly cut silver hair bobbed against her cheek.

She was immediately distracted by an advertisement for cat food on the muted television which was always on.  “There it is!  You see!  I told you!” she laughed now, and pointed to the jumping kitten on the screen.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  The nurse moved on to the bed next door.

She has dainty, manicured fingers and translucent skin.  Her fingers flutter as she gently brushes her thick bangs to one side and pats her hair. “The little girl, she was there,” she turned to me – the kitten and her tears, both forgotten – her green eyes, soft with eager hope.  “She was there, right there,” she says, hugging herself with girlish delight. Suddenly her twinkling eyes lose their light and turn dark once again.  “They came, but they made me stay.  I was so mad!”  Her small thin-skinned fingers curl into fists, and she is ready to start punching the air, twisting about in her chair.  She has been like this before.  I think she is remembering a foster child she cared for briefly, years and years ago, long before I knew her.  She never realized it was temporary care and the little girl was not to be her own.  When they took the girl away, Beth broke down in hysterics and had to be restrained in the hospital for several weeks, so I was told.  Beth never spoke of it.  Now, her lower lip trembles, and a sound like a muffled wail comes up from the depth of her soul. “And Bud doesn’t come,” and she is in tears again.  “I want to go home.”  She is crying softly, bewildered.  “I want to go home.”

She looks old, and tired.  Home.  Her little one bedroom bungalow where she lived for 65 years, first with her fresh, young husband, a worker on the railroad who died without giving her any children, then, with her blind, diabetic mother.  Then alone, feisty and fiercely independent, taking in sewing, creating and selling beautiful quilts out of her tiny garage turned into a tidy studio. She was the Avon Lady, and was known by everyone in our small town.  She could carry on both sides of any conversation, with wit and laughter, and shared her mighty opinions freely with no one in particular – the grocer, the pharmacist, newspaper carrier, mail person, town clerk, town manager, chief of police, pastor, and the senior citizens in her quilting club or the customers in her little shop.  She composted and dug and planted her own gardens every year until she was 83 and couldn’t remember any longer how to pay her utility bill, or remember to put the milk away in the refrigerator instead of the closet.

As we cleaned out her little house and reluctantly moved her into the nursing home, we began to discover she had not been functioning well for much longer than anybody realized.  With sad affection we found the envelope, stuffed with every kind of colorful advertisement along with the overdue phone bill, and every square inch covered in postage stamps as though she knew she had to mail something but couldn’t quite remember how to go about it.  We found the shoes, lined up in the kitchen cupboard, and stacks of unopened mail stuffed in the dirty laundry basket.  The last months of Beth’s creeping apprehension about leaving her house began to make sense.

Her little home has been sold, the proceeds going to her only brother, Bud, who lives far away and doesn’t care; he has a life and worries of his own.  He arrived soon after we alerted him that Beth wasn’t well.  He stayed about a week, had Beth sign the deed to the house in his name and empty her savings account, and then he went home again.  My husband JR manages her social security check, to pay for her medication and the nursing home bill each month.

At first, Beth had many visitors, friends and neighbors, curious.  Even Bud came to see her once, and sometimes used to call her on a Sunday afternoon.  But now, she has faithful visits from one dear long-time friend, Joan, who manages her health care; and me and JR.

My heart fills with sorrow and wants to break, when she cries with such genuine confusion and pain.  Of course she wants to go home.  To go someplace where things are right again, and familiar, and personal.  To have meaningful and satisfying work to do, and conversations that make sense.  To a small world that is her own world, where she is known and she matters.

Now, she cries alone in her green chair, staring at concrete walls and a droning television, day after long day.  And although she doesn’t remember that a book can be opened, that there are words and pictures on the inside, she does know that Bud doesn’t come, that she isn’t at home.  I try to imagine a very alive soul’s conscious ache for connection, still burning, when the capacity has been snuffed out.  It’s a prison I cannot bear for long.

A small black leather trunk sits in my attic; Beth’s mother’s name is stenciled near the latch.  It holds the precious memories of a life.  There is a photograph of two men in uniform; I recognize Bud and Beth’s husband, standing proudly beside the hibiscus bush that still blooms at the corner of the little bungalow.  A framed childhood photograph of Beth, precocious in her long ringlets and big hair ribbon, seated on a chair with her legs dangling in thick white stockings, trim black boots crossed at the ankle.  Her grandmother’s marriage certificate dated 1878, in bold, colorful calligraphy. Two ticket stubs for Beth and her mother from the last train ride ever between Woodstock and the Junction, before the rail line was terminated and turned into a highway.  A small catalogue of products from the woolen mill where Beth worked alongside her mother while the men were in the war, before it was closed down and turned into a boutique mall.  There is a half-used booklet of yellowed WWII food ration stamps.  There is a program for a long-forgotten school concert, Beth’s name listed as a participant. There are stacks of photographs, of people who once mattered.

This is a mother’s trunk – keep-saking the reminders of a life stored in a mother’s heart.  I see only these bits and pieces of the story of Beth’s life, gone now and long forgotten.  But these were once held dear by the very one who knew the life, the hope, the yearnings, the celebrations, the joys, contained in each memento.  The one who carried this life in her body, and then carried this life in her heart, lovingly kept these treasures as a precious reminder of the child she knew and loved.

There is a secret, divine domain within a mother’s heart, to contain and comprehend the measure of a child.  Though she has birthed and nursed and ultimately released this other, separate being, still the cells of her body recognize, yearn for (and all too often fail at nurturing) the whole potential inherent in her child.  It is from this secret place that she saves the remnants of the life she still carries, somewhere, within her.

Her own mother has been long gone, and Beth herself is a child again.  The little black trunk holds some of her story, but who holds her measure?  Who can hold onto the hope for her, can see all that she is, in her deepest self, since she is no longer able to see it for herself?  Who will see her glory?  For what else could Goldmund have meant, when he said “How will you die, Narcissus, when your turn comes; for you have no mother?”  Narcissus had only himself; and in the end, it isn’t enough.

Her friend Joan and I, in a small way, are mothers now to Beth.  But her soul knows.  Her soul knows even as her mind does not, that her longing to be known is as deep as life itself.  It is no small thing that she wants to go home again.  There is nowhere else to go.  In the end, perhaps, the best we can offer, all of us, is to honor and marvel at the measure of another.  Maybe in some way this, too, is our discipleship of ‘loving one another’.  And maybe Jesus was also thinking of his beloved John when he said, of Mary, “This is your mother.”

Beth with her mother, Mamie
Woodstock, Vermont 1922

My Mother Romi, 1949


JR meditating at the edge of the ocean
Outer Banks of North Carolina

Why, I’m wondering, is it so difficult to.  just.  stop.  We’re winding down our wonderful vacation week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and I’m finally winding down myself.

Our very first morning, waking up to the sun rising over the crashing blue and white surf just off our bedroom deck —  I quickly wrapped myself in a soft fleece blanket against the brisk dawn ocean breeze, grabbed a pair of binoculars and plopped myself down on the deck, watching the gulls & pelicans & willets along the shore.  There was one figure – a man I think – with two dogs, far down the beach.  I watched a small doe, likely whitetail, make her way along the dunes until she gently ambled out of sight far to the south.  My heart skipped when I glimpsed a plume of spray offshore –  first thought = Whale!!  But then realized it was simply a pelican, dive-bombing for breakfast.  As I watched the big bird on the water through the binoculars, my eye caught a playful pod of dolphins, also cruising for their meal.  The sun, rising higher, spread gold across the misty morning horizon.  What else, what else?

I was watching all this quiet liveliness against the backdrop of constant ocean roar, and suddenly realized how busy I was inside — seeing, naming, scanning, searching ….

How automatic and natural that internal pace:  Looking for the next thing before I’m done noticing the present.  Even remembering ‘I’m on Vacation!  Time to quiet down inside!’  only underscores the reality.  I recognize that this internal pace is my own creation — my response to always more that needs/should/can/ought  to be done.  My list is long, my obligations scattered among the many hats I wear in our unscheduled, people-oriented life, not to mention caring for an old rambling farmhouse and keeping up with overflowing gardens.  Internally, I’m usually two steps ahead of myself, organizing and anticipating and tryingtogetajumponthings in my mind.  Funny though, that in the land of the living I move slow, quite slow, and transitions and disruptions are unsettling set-backs to my careful order.

Bundled on the  deck with my blanket in that early warming sunshine with the sky and the sea spreading out forever, I didn’t realize how thoroughly I carry my internal channel with me until I tried. to. stop.   And just be.   And not process anything, but simply pause, present to the unfolding day.

In the middle of the week — during one of our unambitious strolls down the endless and nearly deserted beach, there was a young family out for the day.  Dad was building sand castles with one small male child, while the other – a skinny, dark-haired boy of 5 or 6, was playing at the edge of the surf, mother nearby watching with protective amusement.  This seemed to be the boy’s first encounter with the sea – he was giddy with excitement – squealing and dancing and skipping and charging the waves and darting away again with screaming delight.  He was absolutely and thoroughly absorbed in the thrill, oblivious to mother, father, brother, seagulls, us, as he pranced on his tiptoes chasing back and forth the foaming edges of the surf.

I thought, how long has it been since I’ve been like such a child….abandoned to the simple, profound joy of being alive?  I can’t recall such a thing.  Perhaps never.  Certainly not in my anxious and terrified childhood.  Even now, strolling along the beach with nothing to do but breathe in the glorious fresh air, I can’t seem to resist the compulsion to stoop and pick up and organize the smooth, pretty bits of shell that catch my eye.  White ones today; purple and gray ones tomorrow; then pale orange ones next.  The black shells, I’ll wait for another year.  (Right.  I really think like this?!)  I certainly can’t enter that precious, un-self-conscious freedom while rabidly organizing my next task.

The struggle surfaced again while lazing in the hot-tub that evening.  Now — this is the first time, ever, that JR and I have intentionally taken such a vacation, with one goal:  To Relax.  We deliberately chose a place with no family and few people; lacking touristy attractions; miles of nothing to distract or stimulate; with broad expanses that invite rest; and with a hot-tub overlooking the ocean.  The plan was simple — sleep, eat, soak, walk on the beach, and sleep some more.  So, soaking there in the hot-tub at sunset, sky turning pink and lavender and waves glowing peach as they tumbled with lazy reach onto the shore, we mused together about faithfulness and idleness.  Relaxing in that hot tub, with NO ministry objective, felt unfaithful, self-indulgent, too close to sinful in fact.  Using up resources just to pamper ourselves, total unproductive idleness, especially when there is so much need in the world …. this is supreme selfishness, right?  This mantra is a relentless master.  And an unhelpful one.

For over the course of our short week at the beach, slowly opening ourselves to be aware of the present moment only and allowing ourselves to sink into the enjoyment of that as a gift, we began to discover, both of us, the response to our inner quieting was a deeper sense of worship.  There was no effort for ‘morning devotions’ in order to draw close to God; the growing stillness and presence in my heart seemed enough to allow more room for Him.  And we learned, JR and I together, the beauty of that kind of faithfulness.  For it takes a far greater Trust and Dependence to allow the ‘Blessed Controller’ to actually be in charge and to intentionally receive each moment as a blessing.  The temptation is to try to wrest satisfaction, safety and sense of purpose from life as if that were faithfulness.  The quiet and peace in my heart, today, is very different from the frenetic joy of my first morning at the beach.

Now, re-entering Real Life, taking up again the lists and obligations, we are gently trying to remind each other that it is really OK to continue breathing deeply, and to let each moment unfold.  My challenge will be to remember to abide here.  A handful of bits of colored shell, memories of the hot-tub and dancing at the edge of the surf  will be happy companions on this journey.

hot tub at the OBX


glass of shells=1

Just a bit of the beach

O Sacred Head…

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend, for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.


Here’s one thing true about myself:  I’m a Home-body and an Introvert.  I prefer to sit on the edges and watch rather than get in the mix, and I’ve known that since the first grade.  I discovered that children can be sort of mean to each other, and I guess I got enough of that at home.

Watching, I’ve learned, is a fascinating occupation 🙂   But there’s a degree of invisibility about it, too, which doesn’t seem to belong to a child of God.  I’ve struggled with that.  Thinking of Palm Sunday coming right up, I’m offering here an entry from something I wrote two years ago.  This is a lot of disclosure for me, but it’s also a step out into the playground of the world  🙂

Just this morning I’m getting a glimpse into why I might enjoy spending so much time alone.  Maybe because there have been so MANY people around lately.  Both extra bedrooms seem to have been in constant turn-over since we got home from our intense week in close quarters with the crew on the boat.  A few hours with myself, and I begin questioning all the feelings surging inside…

Since ever I can remember, I’ve been acutely (painfully) aware of subtleties of other’s fleeting (unconscious) communications:  eyebrows, twitch, glance, tiny face muscle.. nothing I could catalog, but as plain as reading a book.  And nothing I’m conscious of either, til recently (relatively).  I watch others with interest:  tell stories, laugh, joke, share understanding and language, something common and bonding.  This was most intense on the boat with everyone living under each others noses, always in the same room; and then with company here.  Well, family here.  Lots of laughter.  Like I said to JR, ‘a real junior-high experience for me’.  Not quite fitting in; watching from the sidelines; tentative forays into the unfolding mix; awkward; tolerated more than enjoyed; not really much to contribute; like in a foreign country; not my native culture or language…  At the end of the day, I feel alone, lonely, aware of not really being liked — in that jr.-hi way.  sigh.

This morning I read in my simple book of devotions: Jesus riding on a young colt, the foal of a donkey.  Insignificant beast.  And I see the rightness and joy of being peripheral.  Just for me, just now in my life.  It’s OK.  Jesus, may You teach me the simple quiet joy of contentment with the person I am —  awkward and unimportant as if it were a Gift from You; no need to be ashamed, hide, or try to be like someone else.  So- I don’t have anything clever to add to the laughter.  Nothing profound to add to the conversation.  My presence can be sincere and accepting, just as I am, just being there.  Being “liked” is so CLEARLY the wrong measure for me.  Help me to see Your eyes, for I know I find eternal delight there…

What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…     Ste. Therese of Lisieux

Jesus entry into Jerusalem

what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…

what pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty, the blind hope that I have in His mercy …. That is my only treasure…

The bright male cardinal is back at my kitchen window again today. He is sitting on the sill outside, bonking himself against the glass pane. From time to time, he will peck at the glass, and then goes back to bonking again.

Cardinals are territorial birds, and this male is trying to dissuade the rival bird he sees in his reflection. It is a thrill for me to have a nesting pair in our garden that stays all year ‘round; they have been here for only a few years as the species is slowly expanding into the north. I love the dramatic red plumage, and the drama of their social life as I observe them through my window…

So: Why does he do this? Is this a ‘male’ thing? I wonder if maybe it’s true, that we do observe a bit about created nature — male//female — by noticing what the ‘creatures’ do. While I don’t buy into the extreme stereotypes that all men = martians etc.,or that, because of what I notice with some birds, all passerines are territorial, I really do believe (and find it repeatedly reaffirmed as we work in counseling and spiritual direction with dysfunctional relationships) that men and women are inherently different by nature.

It is too grievous to me to consider what the Church has done with this, and how, particularly, it has used Scripture to support extreme bastions of hierarchy through the centuries, both in the Church and in the home. One has only to honestly and faithfully consider the nature of God as He describes Himself (meaning, LOVE), Jesus as we come to know the Servant in the gospels, and Mr. Cardinal, to figure out that dominion, subservience, power and authority are not a part of the Kingdom.

The beautiful creation story in Genesis 1-3 has inspired some theologians to justify the subordination of women. And the same passages are studied by feminists to refute the same, and establish female independence. I find much richness and depth in this story; much wisdom for understanding motivations, fears, temptations, struggles, and joys in the created peculiarities and fallen complexities for both men and women. It seems to me that God is letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that we are different. I also discover that we are inter-dependent. But, what I can’t discern from these passages, is that Adam is meant to control, dominate, have ‘authority’ over, or otherwise subjugate Eve.

The relationship between this first pair of humans is expressed by the term ‘ezer ke-negdo’. This unusual phrase most likely indicates mutuality. The noun helper can mean either “an assistant” (subordinate) or “an expert” (superior); but the modifying prepositional phrase, used only here in the Bible, apparently means “equal to.” The phrase, which might be translated literally as “an equal helper,” indicates that no hierarchical relationship exists between the primordial couple. This sounds fine to me, leaving room for differing natures and mutual relationship, and fits the ‘Kingdom paradigm’ as Paul says, “There is now neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus…

My dear, dear sister said something to me recently that nearly broke my heart. She said, “I think I’m becoming more masculine…” When I asked her what on earth she meant, she went on to talk about her journey of discovering her own personal, strong identity, distinct from her husband’s, and realizing that she is becoming more assertive. She said she is losing her “softness”. Wow. My thought was, ‘what a screwed up notion of femininity we’ve perpetuated!’ I was thinking of the culpability of BOTH men and women. Now, I don’t think for a moment that she has lost any of her lovely softness. But perhaps she has lost some of her squishiness. Her nature is still soft, nurturing and inviting, her attitude submissive (in the very best sense of the word, as in “submit yourselves one to another”) and her new-found inner strength and dignity are very attractive. I think she is discovering the woman God created.

What about men? Well, I am trusting that men can have a similar journey of discovery. Our men might discover that they, too, have a quiet and gentle strength that is a wonderful gift from their Creator, and find their greatest joy in using that strength as an act of submission as well. Now, wouldn’t THAT be something? Yes, we certainly have done much damage to our relationships, and have made our Church ugly rather than winsome by applying (and acceding to) rules, structures, expectations and hierarchies that have more to do with power and avoidance and control-driven human nature (both male and female) than with God’s intent and original design. That’s why I’m thinking about my cardinals today.

By defending his territory, Mr. Cardinal is acting out an (apparently) innate instinct to protect and provide for his mate. While she is sitting on her eggs in a few weeks, fulfilling her instincts, he will be bringing her food. Now, lest anyone think I am trying to say they are an example of a God-ordained division of gender roles, I just want to point out that I have also been following a live feed of a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks at Cornell University in NY,  and the male is spending as much, or more, time on the nest as the female. This is typical of the RTH, and sometimes the male will even develop a ‘brood patch’, or area on his breast that has no down under his feathers, for warming eggs during incubation, just like the female. Does this mean that he lacks a ‘male instinct to protect and provide’? Seriously don’t think so. And of course we’ll remember the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica, as the males will incubate the egg while the female wobbles nearly 150 miles round trip to fetch food. Does this mean she has abandoned her ‘female instinct to nurture?’ Obviously not. Our human insistence on gender roles, within and without the church, seem to have totally missed the point. As always, God the ‘I AM’, calls us to ‘BE’. He is searching the heart, not the job. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cardinal sits in the lower branches of the spruce tree, enjoying and resting in the un-self-conscious display of protection on her behalf, knowing that Mr. Cardinal is not, in the least, suggesting that she is incapable of looking out for herself. That’s not how the math works out.

Women Workers

Macho Man Apron


‘Til We Have Faces

a hero without a face

I have my heroes, same as everyone else – Mother Teresa, Neil Armstrong, Helen Keller — people whose true stories are greater than my simple imaginings, and who share their lives as open encouragement and inspiration for others.  Well,  today I am awed by a new hero, one who is inspiring me when I feel down and freakish with my bell’s palsy  – an unlikely young man who suffered the loss of his entire face in a freak electrical accident. He spent a time with no face at all, just a layer of skin and muscles grafted from other parts of his body, stretched over his skull where his face should have been.  He was eventually the first successful full face transplant in America, now wearing the face of a much older man.  His name is Dallas Wiens.

How does one even imagine what it would be like to live without a face…  Our face is how we recognize ourselves, how we BE ourselves, the symbol of ourselves to others, our vehicle of expression and identity.  Without a face, why, we would be nobody, nothing, in a prison of solitude at best — at the worst, we would be a freak.  So much of the sense of who we are is what we see in the mirror every day.

Psychologists tell us that an infant forms her personal identity by what is mirrored to her in the face of her mother.  Or his.  The child begins to gain a sense of self through what the parent mirrors back:  you are loveable, you are delightful, you are clever, you are fun, or you are stupid, you can’t do anything right, you are in the way…  It is the mirror that tells us who we are; otherwise how would we know?

Dallas Wiens with his young daughter, before the accident; credit:Fox 4 News DFW

Dallas Wiens’ journey took him from having turned his back on God years earlier, straight into the depths of hell.  Quite literally.  In his “near-death” experience he tells of being sucked into an infinite void.  “I saw every sin flash before my eyes, and then I felt a pain that I never before or since felt,” he said.  “It wasn’t physical and it wasn’t internal.  It was like being forsaken, that’s the only way to describe it.  I remember crying out and hearing nothing, and it was utter impermeable darkness.  It was basically separation completely from the divine, and then coming back with God’s arms around me, and an overwhelming sense of peace.”  Dallas Wiens lost his face that day, and without the option of seeing himself in a mirror, it was the mirror of God’s love and grace that began to forge a new identity deep in his soul.

Mr. Wiens’ experience has of course put my puny struggle with facial palsy into a sort of perspective.  Yet as he talks about being “reshaped …into someone new”, I resonate with the truth of what he is saying.  Letting go of an unexamined reliance on the idea that the person I see in the mirror is who I am has been both a bitter and, in the last few months,  a more peaceful process.  The initial trauma was very real, the ongoing adjustments to a half-functioning face have been slow.  It has been nearly two years now since the onset of  Bell’s Palsy, which left me with only 30% function on the right side of my face and new nerves that have cross-wired.  This means that my face is not symmetrical, my eyebrow doesn’t work at all, my cheek muscles are pulled up into an Elvis sneer and my right eye doesn’t blink but it does close and twitch when I eat.   I can manage a smile with only half of my face, so when I feel that I am smiling broadly the effect is actually more like a grimace.  I recognize the micro-second process that happens whenever I meet someone new:  Something is wrong with that woman, I shouldn’t stare.  That response is a kind of mirror of shame that I have needed to learn not to look into.  But I understand their response.  I find that I do the same thing when I involuntarily catch myself in a mirror.

When I catch myself in a mirror, (or, horrors, a photograph!) there is a mighty strong reaction to look away.   That person isn’t me!  What I am discovering, instead, is that there IS a steady, strong me on the other side of my face.  A quieter me.  A gentler me.  A truer me, perhaps.  A Me that is, at any rate, more restful and trusting in God’s reassuring presence.  In the mirror of His love I am finding a connection to a deeper well, a deeper source of identity.  I expect that I will, in time, even grow to love my face.

Kathleen Bogart, (a psychology researcher at Tufts University in Boston who has Moebius Syndrome,  a rare congenital condition that causes complete facial paralysis) states, “The face does form our first impressions, but once we populate our knowledge with the rest of the person, the face recedes to the background.”  I know that my family and friends no longer ‘see’ my dysfunctional face.  They know and enjoy my smile and laughter for what it is.  Talking with only half my mouth becomes a quirky part of me.  The discomfort and stress I FEEL in my face will continue to recede over time, and I will become less and less conscious of it.  My own sense of self will continue to integrate, I pray, as is Dallas Wiens’.

What he says is this:  “What they saw wasn’t me; it was just a mask that I wore, just like their faces were masks that they wore.”  In a way, we all wear masks, don’t we…  And when your mask stops working, you discover a beautiful freedom becomes available, if you let it….

the ‘new’ Dallas Wiens, with his delightful daughter

For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I am fully known.

I Corinthians 13:12

*Quotes by Mr. Wiens are from an article in the New Yorker magazine, Transfiguration, by Raffi Khatchadourian, Feb.13&20, 2012

You can read another post related to my experience with Bell’s Palsy here:  WHAT’S IN YOUR SMILE?  and here:  CUTENESS