Saturday, January 30, 2010

When Eviction is a Blessing

Prayers I hadn't yet prayed were answered today.  

Furball and I braved treacherous, unpredicted snow and a slippery mountain to remove JSB's belongings from his apartment.  Once again to be put in storage as part of the recurring  six-to-eight-month cycle of living in an apartment, involuntary commitment, long-term hospitalization.

We are determined to break this cycle, Furball and I.  But JSB thinks he can give it a try one more time on his own.  "Just one more time, mom, I know I can do it this time...."

Our plan was to get his things out and tell JSB he was evicted.  Then deal with the apartment rental company to get out of his lease.  You see, mental health services are easier to obtain if one is homeless.  Because, I guess, then it's an "emergency."   I'm not going to get started on the mental health laws and funding for services today.  Some day I just might blog on that.

Lo and behold, what greets us posted to JSB's door today?  Notice of Eviction.  Yay.

JSB, now recovering at State Mental Hospital, is in a kind of exile.  

I try to seek guidance in scripture when I struggle over anything.  Good old EFM taught the art of Theological Reflection.

I decided to take a look at some Old Testament Exile - since JSB is in a kind of exile, a No-Man's Land of homelessness and illness.  In my search, Jeremiah popped up.  Jeremiah has been popping up a lot with me.  He's kind of stalking me, so I think I need to listen. 

I've been paying more attention to this Prophet lately, trying to figure out how this Old Testament Prophet speaks to me through Scripture today.  What is the message for me and for JSB?

In his call to the exiles in Babylon, he wrote:

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." 

He told them to find peace in their city of exile.  They were going to be there for a long time.  I can pray that for JSB.  Instead of continually trying to live without support, find peace in your exile, JSB.  I've had to learn to seek the peace and prosperity of this exile as well.  In a different form, I experience JSB's exile with him.  Jeremiah experienced exile along with those to whom he would prophesy.

Another important thing to note is that Jeremiah called on the Diaspora to return to God and to rely solely on God.   They no longer were a sovereign nation, but lost in a foreign land, in exile.  He called on them to turn their faces and hearts to God, and God would not forsake them.

So, my dear JSB, my prayer for you is to listen to the Call of Jeremiah.  He knew those in exile couldn't do it alone.  He pointed to Christ, as he does in this icon, and tried to convince them to rely on God and only God.  They could prosper in exile.  So can you.  If only you realize you can't do it alone.  

So this is my prayer for JSB.  That he finds peace and wholeness in his exile, that he turns back to God, and finds prosperity in a land flowing with milk and honey.   

Pray for me, that I may have the grace of faith to believe this shall come to pass. 

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Not Made By Hands

It's been a very difficult week for my family.  Long story short, JSB is involuntarily in the State Mental Hospital awaiting a hearing for a longer-term involuntary commitment.  He is so very ill and I am feeling pretty helpless right now.

So, your continued prayers for him and for the rest of us are most greatly appreciated.

In the midst of all of this upheaval, suffering, and anguish, God has made His presence known again and again.  So, I'm going to acknowledge my pain and frustration, and still count my blessings.

Blessing Number One - Wednesday was a horrible day which involved a commitment hearing dismissed on a technicality, me running to the magistrate to issue another emergency custody order, finding JSB, police cuffing him and returning him to the hospital in the span of an hour.  

My church has eucharist at noon On Wednesdays.  I went immediately after the ordeal and was joined there by some of my most beloved friends.  Lovely Vicar greeted me with a warm hug and was the chalice bearer, Arty Friend and Guy Friend joined me at the prayer rail to receive a healing prayer for JSB.  New Friend joined me there as well.  Powerful stuff prescribed for me by God.

Blessing Number Two - Met with a new Spiritual Director (the last one wasn't a good match for me) and had a fabulous meeting.  She is a Priest at a Church On A Hill.  She gave me wonderful suggestions for my prayer life concerning healing and my faith in God in light of it.  (hope that makes sense)  At any rate, it is a lot of spiritual meat for me to consider in relationship to God and my life and my call and my motherhood.  Again, more powerful stuff prescribed for me by God.

Blessing Number Three - Lovely Vicar invited me to join her Icon Writing Class.  It's something I've wanted to do for years.  I'll blog more on that process as I get more in to it.  But, it is a spiritual discipline - you're not painting pictures of Christian figures, you're praying the icon into existence.  It's a contemplative process jam-packed with mystery and theology and I LOVE it.  

I observed the class on Saturday and was thumbing through books of icons looking for a nice first icon for me.  I thought I'd probably start with the Virgin Mary because she is a central figure to my faith.  But, an icon of Christ grabbed me and demanded my attention.  This is it:

Irena, the master iconographer and teacher, explained to me that this is one of the first known Christian icons. It's called Not Made By Hands.  According to the legend, during Christ's earthly ministry, Abgar, ruler of Edessa in Syria, had leprosy all over his body.  He had heard of Christ's miracles, and wrote to him asking him to come and heal him.  He sent his court painter with the letter.  Christ wiped his face on a towel, leaving on it an image of his face.  This was returned to Abgar along with a letter from Jesus commending Abgar for his faith.  Abgar wiped his own face with it, and he was healed of his leprosy.

A lot of healing vibes around me all week.  Coincidence?  No way.  Another act of grace prescribed for me by God.

So, into the next week I go.  Another hearing for JSB's commitment on Tuesday, back to work, and to Icon Class on Saturday.  I pray to step more deeply into my faith, to listen, to be healed, and to witness the healing of my son.

To my faithful friends: I love you guys.  So very much.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Blow, blow, thou winter wind

Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.

Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship if feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As a friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship if feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

--William Shakespeare
As You LIke It

It's cold here in Virginia.  Most of the country, in fact, is in the bitter grip of some serious winter weather.  

That leaves many of us cursing the sky, the wind, and the snow.  While I haven't been cursing it (probably because it brings this teacher highly desired snow days), I have found myself daydreaming about a more tropical climate.  I'm fantasizing respite big time.

But winter is simply being winter.  True to its nature, authentic.  Winter is supposed to be snowy, windy, cold, and sometimes brutally so.

Shakespeare reminds us in "Blow" of that.  But, the character in "As You Like It," has been betrayed by a friend, and compares it to the season.  Winter?  Bring it on.  Betrayal, "man's ingratitude,"  no thanks.

So, I've been thinking about the homeless a lot since this frigid cold has wrapped its arms around us.  My friend, Priest in NYC, blessed me with his stories of bringing the homeless in from the cold when temperatures and conditions become life threatening.

It's difficult to convince people to come in off the street even if it means the difference between survival and freezing to death.  For a lot of reasons.  Mental illness being a significant one.

I was greatly impacted by his witness to this reality and his ministry to the least of us last year.  I am even more impacted this year.  JSB was homeless for about a week this summer.  We had no idea where he was because he had been released from the hospital while we were out of state.  He refused shelter because taking meds was a requirement.  He chose the street.

For a week, we had no idea where he was.  Whether he was alive or dead.  Finally, he contacted us and we put a roof over his head.  Since then, that's about all we've been able to do for him.

At any rate, the men and women of the street are on my heart and on my mind as I sit cocooned in my toasty living room, and reach for my second cup of coffee.  There is this nagging and gnawing going on at the fringes of my consciousness.  It tells me:  "Do something.  It doesn't have to be grand and world-changing.  Just do something."

Okay, then.  On the home front, Furball is going to do the welfare check on JSB.  We haven't heard from him in days and again, have no idea of his condition.  I would appreciate a little prayer for him, if you would be so kind.

On the local front, I'm going to do some research to see if there is something I can do to remember my friends who make their home on the street.  Because my own spiritual poverty is diminished when I show compassion to anyone in need.

Oh, and God, thanks for that gentle reminder today.

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.
Proverbs 14:31

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Furball and I sought refuge from the cold today and went to see Invictus.

It is powerful and hit me square between the eyes and smack dab in the middle of my heart.  No doubt, my impression of it was enhanced by my recent trip to Africa.

My experience in Africa is something I continue to gnash around, wrestle with, and "process." I'm getting sick of that word.  Process.  But, it aptly describes what's going on in my brain as I try to make sense of and discover the deepest meaning of that trip.

First, see the movie.  It is simply incredible.  Bravo Mr. Eastwood.

I found myself continually drawing comparisons between the South Africa depicted in the movie and the Liberia I visited last fall.

There are so many parallels.  Let me say right off that I am not an expert on South Africa or Liberia.  What I am about to say is prefaced with a significant caveat -- I'm speaking off the top of my head as an American middle-class white chick who has spent a little more than a week in post-war Liberia trying to help teachers improve the educational system.

As I watched the movie, and saw the shanty towns where the black South Africans lived, I had flashbacks of Liberia.  The level of poverty I witnessed there was assaultive on many levels.  As I was driven through the streets of Monrovia, it seemed surreal and was hard to take it all in.  It was as though a part of me had to shut it out in order to accommodate to the harsh reality of life there.

It wasn't just the material poverty that was so unsettling.  I was expecting that.  The entire time I was there, I had a strong and disturbing "sense" of atrocities that were committed during the war.  It is very difficult for me to explain or articulate, but I felt as though my soul was aware of it and was absorbing it.  Unpleasant doesn't begin to describe it.

In the film, the animosity and distrust between the Afrikaners and the black South Africans was palpable.  It's easy to minimize the magnitude of enmity that must have existed after having gone through something like Apartheid.  It's easy because I haven't experienced it.

In Liberia, two brutal (and I mean brutal) civil wars raged for 15 years.  It came to a fragile end in 2003. The peace is still a fragile peace.  That was very obvious to me as we spent time in the country.  Painfully obvious.  

Children in first grade and younger are the only ones who did not live through it.   It's not a black-white issue in Liberia. Its a complicated mix of tribes, warlords, factions, and much more than I know. Now the country strives for Truth and Reconciliation.  In order to move ahead, they are trying to "forgive but not forget."

Forgive but don't forget.  

It would probably be easy for me to minimize or somehow compartmentalize the horrific war experiences of the Liberian people.  I certainly can't comprehend it.  But having been there and having witnessed the shambles of the country's infrastructure, I can only imagine the physical, psychic, spiritual, emotional wounds of those who survived.

Well, this isn't intended to be a commentary on oppression and inhumanity.  Quite the opposite.  Where's the beauty in all of this?

In Invictus, Nelson Mandela shows us what qualities it takes in a leader to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness in the aftermath of oppression, inhumanity, and hideous violence.  It would be so easy to continue in the pre-peace mindset, continue to mistrust, to abuse power, to engage in corruption.  That would be a very human thing to do.  But, he called on the South Africans - black and white - to behave and perform according to a higher standard than they expected of themselves.  Higher than the expectations of their "enemies."

The World Cup Rugby match was a marvelous way to demonstrate that concretely and metaphorically to South Africans.  To the world, actually.

In Liberia, I met several people who emulate the same qualities as Mandela.  The Reverend Father comes to mind immediately.  Here was a man, who like Mandela, has a strong sense of what it takes for reconciliation and forgiveness when the circumstances seem so overwhelming and unforgivable.   

Both men are powerfully gentle. By that, I mean there's no Pollyannaish sense of "Can't we all just get along."  But, there's is an acknowledgement and no denial of the pain that has been inflicted.  The wounds are deep, devastating, and very, very real.  And then, there's a strong moral conviction to not continue inflicting pain -- even on those who were your oppressors.  

It is a moral conviction - or a moral authority - that simply must be divinely ordained.
Because it seems beyond what we can expect of human beings who have suffered greatly at the hands of fellow human beings.  It is the best of humanity.  Our world has been blessed by a few leaders over the years who have this insight, this vision, this conviction.

This brand of leadership has to be divinely inspired.  

Because it is like Christ.

He came to reconcile us to God.  We are separated from God through our own actions and we cannot be reconciled by our own means alone.  

I felt the presence of God when I met the Reverend Father.  It manifested itself as love. 

I imagine people experienced the same phenomenon when in Nelson Mandela's presence.
 Love. Not fickle romantic love, but profound, truthful love.  Love when it is the most difficult thing to do.  Love where love is not expected.

Powerfully gentle.  Like Christ.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year.  

It's always been a quiet holiday for me and was again this year.  Furball and I enjoyed some great wine, cheese, and other treats and settled in to watch a movie or two.  

True to form, I didn't make it past 10 p.m.  When given the choice between seeing in the New Year and a good night of sleep, I go for the sleep.  

Pony Girl went to an all-night party (which contributed to my good night sleep~ no worrying about her out on the road).

Not sure about JSB - we're checking on him today. So, wish us luck.

I wish everyone All the Best in 2010.

  For us, "the best" would be continued health and reasonable prosperity for Furball and myself; Pony Girl continue in her studies and discovery of herself as an adult; JSB to resume treatment for his illness, to be delivered from his torment, and to find some peace.

I covet your prayers for our "best," especially for my children.

Oh, and it wouldn't be New Years if I wasn't starting on a diet to try to remove about 40 pounds.  But, I'm not going to talk about that because then I will jinx it.  Just wish me luck battling my genetic load and advancing age ;)

Here's a little blessing for your New Year, excerpted from my fave, John O'Donohue:

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May he protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of Love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

--John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

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