Tuesday, September 27, 2016

State of Grace: Sharing a birthday with Judah

Yesterday was my birthday.  My best friend had flown into town on Saturday so we could take a road trip to Marfa to celebrate.  God had a different road trip in store for us.

A member of the parish, Judah, age three, drowned during a family cookout on Saturday night.  After much heroic effort, professionals were able to restore his heartbeat.  Our curate, Alan, and I spent Saturday evening and early into Sunday morning with the family as the medical professionals stabilized Judah.  Sunday, Russ, our deacon, was with the Browns while Alan and I walked this hard road with our parish family back at St. Mary's.

Monday, my birthday, my friend and I were up before dawn to drive to the Medical Center.  God gave us a beautiful sunrise for the nearly two hour drive into town with the other early morning commuters.  A stop for coffee on the way was blessed by a birthday call from my mother.

My friend spent most of the day in the PICU waiting area, listening to family members, fetching food, and being a pastoral presence.  God used her skills as a hospice volunteer to provide unexpected, unplanned care.  This was not the trip she'd planned for this Monday, but this was the trip  God had placed her on, and Ginny was beyond gracious.

I spent my birthday mostly in the PICU with Judah.  I sang and prayed with him, and felt a cloud of witnesses who had gone before us surround us in the room.  In particular, I was aware of the praying presence of Jamie and Andy, two other young people from St. Mary's who had died before we were ready.

Conversations with medical personnel, with family, and with Judah as he prepared to die were the most holy way I could have ever shared this day. Time and again, God put me in the path of the right people to gather and to provide information, to pray, and to offer unexpected ways of support and to offer God's care.

When the time came late in the day to make the kind of decisions no parent ever should have to make, I was ready to offer all my years of living to this family.   The words holy, holy, holy kept whispering in my ear.

After it appeared things were in a stable place, I left to have dinner and to travel home for the night.  My friend had found a restaurant to celebrate my birthday near the Medical Center with the lovely name, State of Grace.  Because we were between meal times, we sat at the bar and ate food that cannot be aptly called bar food--a feast of sumptuous smallish plates.

Drinking club soda in preparation for the long drive home, we began a conversation with our server, Ed.  As we told him the story of my unexpected birthday with Judah and his family, he gave us words of good wishes.  Then he poured me a large flute of champagne, and as he served me, he said, "I'm not done with you yet!"  He said he would be bringing us dessert, and then offered us cappuccinos.  Turns out Ed didn't bring us one but two different desserts.  I don't know when I've enjoyed a birthday dinner more, which included receiving a hilarious text from our bishop.  I was truly in a State of Grace.

My friend and I were on our way to walk a labyrinth to wait for the traffic to clear when we had a call asking us to return to the hospital.  The final tests would be completed that evening to determine whether or not Judah was dead, and clergy presence would be helpful.

So with prayers for energy, we returned once again to the Medical Center.  I was there to support the family and friends holding vigil in the lobby, and to encourage their own self care during this time.  Then our bishop arrived for a visit, and we were at Judah's bedside finishing our prayers when the medical personnel told us the test results--Judah's brain was no longer alive.

We stayed as the family processed and began to plan the next part of Judah's life journey--deciding to give whatever tissue and organs possible to other folks so that their lives could go on, and their family and friends would have the gift of hope and joy.

Eighteen hours after I had awakened on my birthday and begun this state of grace, I got in the car to drive home.

When I awoke this morning, grateful for the birthday God had given me, and one I would never ever planned, I realized that there was yet one more birthday the day before.  I now shared a birthday with Judah.

In the Christian faith, we have three birthdays:
The day that we are born into this world.
The day that we are baptized and born into the family of God.
The day that we die, and are born into eternal life. That third day is the day that we become saints in God's kingdom.  September 26 is now St. Judah's day.

With a heart full of sadness, I celebrate your day, Judah.  You are in the truest State of Grace.

Friday, September 2, 2016

My heart is the cross

Tomorrow I travel back to Houston. Flying, not walking. 

While on retreat, August became September, and in the Georgia mountains I saw the first tiny glimpses of fall.  Today Hurricaine Hermine brought cloudy skies and cooler temperatures, and I wore longer pants and an extra layer when I walked. 

The gift of delicious food prepared for me from local ingredients in a beautiful setting has been spiritually nourishing. The meals with friends always included good conversation and laughter. 

Sitting amidst the trees on the porch to write, to read, to pray, and to knit (and eat those meals with my friends) has been a place of peace. I've felt creative ideas bubble up; the good ones will remain, and perhaps bear fruit. 

On the morning walk along the Tallulah River today, we played In My Heart is the Road and did our prayer dance. This  afternoon, after a stop at Osage Market for peaches, we walked a labyrinth at the bottom of the ridge at yet another Presbyterian Church, this one in Wylie, Georgia. 

This labyrinth overlooks the highway, and I walked the moss--covered path as trucks and cars raced by down below. This path has surprises of rocks and crosses and acorns and green plants and strange mosses.  The labyrinth is built on the slant of the earth, and my steps were a series of ups and downs. 

When I got to the center, I created a cross from twigs that scattered the pathway. As I placed my simple cross on the center rock, I prayed.  I was reminded that what the cross means for me is to offer my whole self to God.  That's what Jesus did:  offer every bit of himself to God.  Our lives, and how we choose to give them to God, are the cross. 

As I walked back from the center, each step was a prayer for all the other cross walkers in my life.  When I returned to the entrance to the labyrinth, a brisk breeze began to blow. My head told me it was the very edges of the hurricaine. My heart told me it was a blessing from God. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Walking a retreat: In my heart is the road

In my quiet on the porch during this mountain retreat, I'm continuing to spend time slowly moving through Christine Valters Paintner's, The Soul's Slow Ripening:  Celtic Wisdom for Discernment.  Todays's reflection was the invitation to dance with Betsey Beckman. 

I'll be honest.  Though I enjoy dancing, the day on this retreat that I have to watch one video, take time to learn a dance that is a movement prayer, and then do the dance is the one I find most challenging. I always feel closer to my spiritual self afterwards, but it's a real journey to get there. Hmmm. Not such a bad thing. 

Anyway, today the video was filmed at a retreat center in New Mexico, and since that's a place that is part of my rhythm of annual travel, it felt like home. Then, Betsey's instructions were simply to let the music guide your feet as you listened to the song provided--doing it once contemplatively, and the other playfully. 

I downloaded the song by Richard Bruxwoort Colligan to my phone. The words were inspired by Psalm 84:

In my heart is the road
And I will not be turned
In my heart is the road
Bless my feet on the journey
To Jerusalem, to Jerusalem. 

On the river walk today, my friend and I played the music and danced the Psalm. 
Yes, in a public place. We were filled with joy as we let our feet do the praying.   Playing and praying. They are good spiritual companions. 

When I began my retreat this week, I didn't imagine that taking steps would be a central theme. But beginning at the airport in Houston when I walked between terminals because I had extra time, and happened on a surprise sunrise riding down an escalator; to the labyrinths of recycled glass, an Eagle Scout project, and hidden crosses; to an invitation to dance; I've been praying through my feet. 

I'm walking on holy ground.