Saturday, October 31, 2009

Life Goes On

A year ago today, Little Warrior got her face painted, and played carnival games, and wore a costume, and trick or treated.

And then we left the hospital.

One year ago, she was completely bald, with no eyelashes or eyebrows, and so very skinny.

This year:

How is it possible that it was only one year ago? Surely it was at least 5.

My dad called tonight. My godfather died today from the flu. We are sad, but truth is, mentally he died a few years ago. A brilliant book man, talented musician, brought down by Parkinson's.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sunrises, Interviews, and

So, lotsa stuff happening, everything braided, woven together. There are some people who can live more compartmentalized lives, but for me, it's all smooshed together in some way. So, like the book of Jeremiah (absolutely no order or rhythm):

* I finally had the long-awaited ministerial interview last week. This is normally one of your first steps toward ministry, but because Saturn was in the seventh house, and my minister was leaving the church right as I was beginning seminary and then of course we had cancer, and then I made an appointment, and then there was the recurrence, and then some other complications, and well, finally, I had the interview. And my interviewing minister was just a joy to talk to, even I wanted to turn the interview around and ask her a million questions. And she was far too nice in her assessment of me, but then, she doesn't know of my unnatural fondness of the word asshat. Shh. That'll be our little secret.

* Continuing to love my seminary classes. Have been asked to preach in chapel next week. A little skeered. But preaching on Isaiah 6:8. What's not to love? Bring me a burning coal, I need some lip gloss!

* The Halloween Party returned! Great time. Good food. Good friends. We had a duty to do 2 years worth of partying, and we did so admirably.

Okay, so there's the catching up. Interwoven in all of this is last year. I can't take a step without last year walking along with me. Halloween 08 was Little Warrior's last day of treatment for the recurrence. We had a big day in the hospital, then made it home in time for trick or treating.

She pulls on her pumpkin costume, the same one she wore last year. Now, she has a full head of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes. I see both of her.

I drove to school this morning. The sun was just coming up. Last year, so many mornings I watched the sun come up from our hospital room.

Same sun. Same Little Warrior. Same me. And yet, as the saying goes, you never step into the same river twice.

And it's all woven together.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Not better, but different

I have written about this before: the proposition that having lived in the world of childhood cancer with my daughter, that I will be a better minister.

Almost as soon as she was diagnosed, some person made that point. "Gee," this person said, "I know this is absolutely awful, but ... (the significant pause of one who feels they are saying something profound) ... this will make you a better minister."

Well, piss on that, I thought at the time.

It's been a difficult thing for me to work my way through, as I had to get past my maternal emotions -- I don't want to benefit, or the world to benefit, in any way from my baby daughter getting cancer! -- and my confusion as I tried to reason it all out:

a) There was something deficient in you before that only childhood cancer could fix
b) A person who has experienced childhood cancer is inherently a better ministerial prospect than someone who hasn't

Both of which I reject.

And yet ... life gives us experiences. I don't believe they happen for a reason, but I do believe we should pay attention to all the accompanying lessons they bring.

Have I learned anything from my child having cancer twice? Um, 1097 lessons at last count.

You know how someone can say, or write, something very simple that puts it all in place? Well, of course you do. That's one of the beauties of our religion and a reason why I loved our old "Church of Myrtle" ads. (Wasn't it Myrtle? I can't remember her name.)

Anyway, the New York Times has an article today about M.D. Anderson cancer hospital. One of the patients they talk to is a doctor who had cancer. He debated this same concept, was he a better doctor for having had cancer?

“Then I realized I am not better, but I am a different doctor,”
he said.

And I thought, Yup.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Or "Kids Understand More than You Think They Do."

Little Warrior is getting her memories back from when she was on treatment. She seemingly repressed them for about 6 months.

A week ago, she got in bed and cuddled with me. We talked about things we remembered from last Halloween, including a driveway party at our neighbor's. "And there were 2 ladies there who were cancer survivors," I reminded her. "A survivor is someone who survives cancer. Do you know what 'survive' means?" I didn't think she did, and planned on making some kind of "It's when you go through something difficult but you're okay later and ..." euphemistic statement.

No need. She looked me in the eye and said, "It means you don't die."

Four years old. And yet, a lot older.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Leaving and Returning

I went to Colorado last week, leaving behind The Husband, the munchkins, and my mother-in-love, who came up to watch all of them and do mountains of laundry, because that's just something she likes to do, and we are happy to oblige her by providing a Himalayas of laundry.

No, you can't have her.

The occasion was my father's 80th birthday. My family of origin all converged at my Successful, Elegant, Never Had Kids brother's house, with its sweeping views of Colorado Springs and distinct lack of clutter, fingerprints, or -- let's face it -- dirt.

It was a wonderful four days, filled with tall tales, family lore, and laughter. My dad's twin brothers came up for a day, adding another dimension to the experience, as the three of them told stories from their childhood.

And after childhood. They all went to the same college. Here's one from my Uncle Intellectual: "I remember going over to your Dad and Mom's apartment after school. We'd drink cognac and listen to Bolero and talk about art and literature." My Dad and his brothers were country boys from Shelby County in East Texas where such things were unheard of. How sophisticated they must have felt, just kids themselves, round about 1951, standing around a record player, sipping their cognac. Can't you just see it?

Every morning, I'd wake up to silence. No Thunder Cats with their elephantine feet pounding over the stairs. No children with their abnormally loud voices debating the merits of cereal vs. oatmeal. I'd slip out of my iron bed with the crisp sheets, tiptoe across the hand-scraped oak floor, and sit on a luxurious sofa, sipping my coffee, looking out at the quiet, peaceful morning.

Yesterday, my sister and I hopped a plane, sharing the first leg of her journey. For two hours, we barely drew a breath, as we dissected the visit, teared up at various points as we remembered certain tendernesses exchanged by my parents with us, and with each other, and caught up on each other's life.

I kissed her goodbye as I headed to baggage claim, and she to her flight home. Grabbed my bag, waited for The Husband, kissed him quickly under the watchful eye of the TSA agent directing traffic, and headed for home.

No one was in bed yet. Hugs and kisses all around. "Out of my whole trip, the best part was coming home to you," I said to each of them. And meant it.

"Mom! Mom! Mom!" a voice whispered urgently this morning at 6 am. I opened one eye. "Sookie (the cat) pooped on the couch in your office!" said the Princess. I gave her instructions for its disposal (the poop, not the cat, though that was tempting) and curled back into the Lizard Eater sized hollow in our mattress.

TAP TAP TAP. Someone is tapping on my forehead. It is Little Warrior. "I want to cuddle with you."

No, you can't have her.

She climbs next to me, wraps her arms around my neck, and falls fast asleep. Sleep is long gone for me, and I lie there, listening to her breath in my ear, and the thunder of cats without little fog feet and Bo Peep and the Boy discussing the superiority of cinnamon waffles to plain waffles and The Husband reminding The Princess to put away her violin and I know that I am home.

And I am glad.

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am a cook."*

And as such, it affects how I think of things. Things like diversity.

I read that at this past General Assembly, "(Rev. Mark) Morrison-Reed believes we need to recapture what we had as children, before we had been taught racism, classism, and conformity all sorts, when we had a natural attraction to what seemed different or new."

I didn't hear the talk, as it wasn't posted online, but just that idea, of our natural attraction to what seems different or new, resonated with me and has stayed with me.

Chefs get this. A chef, looking for new ideas, will travel to another country. She is excited when she gets to taste something she's never had before. An explosion of inspiration.

Today, Rev. Sean is sharing an excerpt from Audre Lorde’s essay Sister Outsider. In it, she writes about viewing differences "as forces for change."

I am attracted to differences. If you have something in your life that makes you different than me, I want to know all about it. What was it like, growing up Dutch in a Houston suburb? What did your Jamaican mommy put in your lunch? Do you ever regret being mainstreamed with non-deaf students?

(That last is a question to my husband. And his answer is no. A story for another time.)

"People of a like mind." Sigh. I understand it. I've probably used it. Especially when you live in a larger community where the majority are your opposite in politics, in tolerance, and often, in values. In an area like that, a Unitarian Universalist church is a haven, a sanctuary.

The problem is when we want "people of a like mind" to be exactly like us. When we only want people with no children -- or only married-with-children. When we only want college-educated. When we only want atheists, or only want theists. Only vegetarians. Only non-smokers. Only Democrats. Only want those who will worship quietly, hands neatly folded. Only want those comfortable with linking hands and chanting.

Different is good. Different expands the choices. Different is richer, more complex.

If we have "different" in our congregations, we get to see that different isn't really that different. We get to see it as a benefit. New flavors. New experiences. And then we get to take that into the greater world, attracted to the differences. Not just tolerant. Not just accepting. Welcoming. Radically inclusive.

Now, there will always be those who view the new, the different, with mistrust. Going back to my earlier metaphor, the French chef, looking down his nose at anyone who ventures outside of Escoffier. They do not want their cuisine watered down by outside influences, their liturgy, their culture. Are there those French chefs among us, unwilling to make room amongst the NPR bumper-stickered Priuses for a pickup with a gun rack or a lowrider?

It's okay to want to be around people of a like mind. But on Sunday morning, let's limit that to religion. Ours. People who embrace continuous revelation, personal spiritual responsibility, and individual moral authority. Be they in their gimme cap, gypsy skirt, three piece suit, Star Trek tshirt. Carrying a drum, a tambourine, a Bible, or a bag of runes. Planning on lunch afterward at the sushi bar, the taqueria, or Mama's Sunday dinner.

And hey, if you go somewhere new, invite me, 'kay?

*C.B. Stubblefield, of Stubb's BBQ, where The Husband often filled his belly. back in college.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A quick note of appreciation

I must get back to blogging, as I'm having a backup of ideas that are making my head tight and my hat small. But not this week, as in addition to school, I'm having to rush through testing and the tons and tons of autobiographical writing you must do before your ministerial candidate career assessment. (Just between you and me, I have to confess that I am just sick of myself and ready to discuss something more interesting.)

But I did get to discuss you guys! I'm writing about my spiritual and faith development, and I just couldn't let that go by without talking about being a member of the UU blog community. I know I've written before about how appreciative I am for all youse guys, but I don't know that I've written about how you have added to my development of each. Reading y'all's blogs, thinking of your ideas, arguing back and forth and over there and over here as things pinged around the UU-blogosphere ... it has had a big influence on me. There is a tremendous honesty in our blogs -- we open ourselves up, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

Thank you for sharing your ideas.

Thank you for sharing your feelings.

Thank you for sharing your beliefs.

Thank you for sharing your lives, your dreams, your beliefs.

Thank you for sharing you.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Flashback to Summer, and being a Texan

My friend the Hysteric Cleric posted on Facebook an article Molly Ivins wrote about Texas. That made me remember that this summer, on the road to New Mexico, I'd scribbled some stuff. So here it is.

Saturday, June 27, 2009 3:02 pm

We are in the panhandle of Texas. We left our house at 6:15 am. Planned on stopping at an interesting cafĂ© in Fort Worth, but we made such good time, we weren’t yet in the mood for lunch. Went a little further, til we go to Decatur and saw a Chicken Express. Loaded up on their marinated chicken strips and fried okra and ate it on the road.

Every person I’ve met who was a kid in south or coastal Texas has memories of road trips that always began with the first day of travel being get out of Texas. You drive and drive and drive, and you’re still in Texas.

My parents were – and are – frugal. When we took a vacation, we’d get up early in the morning and hit the road. I can see Mom, once we got out on the highway, carefully holding mugs over the floor in front of her feet, leaning over to pour hot coffee for her and Daddy. At lunch time, we’d stop at a rest area, and Mama would pull out a red and white flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth and we’d sit at a table eating pimento cheese sandwiches from the cooler and maybe some potato chips.

This morning, The Husband and I stopped at Starbucks first thing, then picked up the fried chicken. We need to take a page from my parents’ book.

It’s funny, the things that you remember as a kid. Comic books and chocolate pop-tarts. Those are two of the things I remember. Junk food for the brain and tummy, and the only time they were allowed was on vacation. They’d let me get a couple of comic books to take in the car – I usually chose Archie or Richie Rich. And we always stayed at a kitchenette, so we didn’t have to eat out. The kitchenettes would usually have a toaster (we didn’t have one at home), and Mom would let me have a box of pop-tarts.

We passed through a little town here a ways back, and in the parking lot of a used car dealership, there was a big tarp set up, with people sitting in folding chairs underneath. A big banner identified it: “Holy Ghost Revival.” I begged The Husband to turn around and go back, but he wouldn’t.

Texas Culture is written deeply in my soul. And I mean real Texas culture.

George W. Bush. Not a real Texan.

On my mother’s side, generation after generation were Texans, on back to the Texas Republic. Real Texas culture is very egalitarian because living out in the west, you didn’t have the clear cut definitions between what was women’s work and what was men’s work. Ranching and farming required the whole family. More recently, during the Depression, it took everyone’s help just to survive. My great-grandmother took in boarders, during WWII, my grandfather helped build the POW camps.

I don’t mean to romanticize. There was some ugly stuff about the early Texans, especially the Texas Rangers, and what they’d do in Mexico. Or the origin of Juneteenth.

I don’t say that I’m “proud” to be a Texan, anymore than I’m ashamed to be a Texan. It simply is a big part of who I am. It’s in the stories I heard, growing up. It’s in the food that I eat. It’s in my heroes, like Molly Ivins, Liz Carpenter, Ann Richards. It’s in the fact that for me, the plural of “you” is “y’all.” And paying for AAA, which I do, is really kind of silly, because everyone knows that if you get a flat, there’ll be a big pickup coming along in just a few minutes filled with three good ole boys who’ll get your tire changed r’at away. And with an “it was our pleasure, ma’am,” they’ll be gone.

Don’t be fooled by the Rick Perrys of my state. Sure, there’s provincial knuckle-heads in my state. I have yet to find a state that is knuckle-head free.

We are further in the panhandle now. Every here and there, you see a house out on the prairie, ringed with trees to protect it from the constant dust storms.

I haven’t seen the camels yet.

Many a traveler through here has done double and triple takes, as they’ve spotted, amongst the cattle ranches, a herd of camels grazing. They’re wild camels. No, really. Several decades ago, some one got the bright idea of bringing camels over. Similar climate and all, thought they might work better than horses or burros.

Well, it turns out that though camels are real good at carrying their own water, they just stink at herding cows. The cowboys probably found them less comfortable than their ponies, too. So they were left to fend for themselves, and did okay at it, mating and continuing on just fine. So every now and then, you’ll see them wandering around.

One of the things that’s kinda interesting about Texas is the West-East difference. See, if you’re in East Texas, you’re in the South. Accents are more akin to Mississippi – the food and attitudes, too. Nothing spicy here, but you’ll have collard greens and black-eyed peas, cornbread, and hominy grits. Boiled peanuts. Cotillions and southern belles.

West Texas, well, now, you’re in the West. Cowboys and cowgirls, honky-tonks and Mexican food. Tex-Mex.

My dad sums it up well. He said that you could always tell if someone was from East Texas or West Texas by asking what they did with the hog’s head. East Texas, they made souse, also called hog’s-head cheese. West Texas, they made tamales.

Seems to me, West Texas was always a lot more “live and let live.” In the piney woods of East Texas, you had more racism – racism against anyone not white. Black, Mexican, “other.”

West Texas, people were more spread out and there was more of a need for everyone’s help. My second-cousin, a grizzled, crusty and shy old fellow, was a cowboy, and it was from working ranches with other cowboys that he learned how to cook cabrito, mountain oysters, and sugar pickled onions. The other ranch hands were Mexican, black, white. And I am not oversimplifying when I tell you that when you see a bunch of 60 year old cowboys, who have worked out in the hot sun their whole lives, they all pretty much look to be the same race.

We’re in Amarillo now. Been seeing the billboards for the last three hours advertising the big ole tourist trap steakhouse. Literally three hours plus. The signs will tell you, “Three Hours to the Big Texan! Tour buses welcome!”

We’ll pass. We ain’t tourists.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Check In

There will be nothing poetic or even vaguely inspirational about this post. It's a simple check-in for our home viewers. (And if you haven't checked in lately, drop me a line down in comments, willya, and let me know what's going on in your life?)

* I finally rescheduled that ministerial interview. Oct. 23.
* Which is the day before the Big Mondo Halloween Party. And we've got to party like we missed a year. Because, you know, we did.
* And I have my Career Assessment set up for November. 2 days before my Big Fat Old Testament Midterm.
* Also in November: scans.

Loving my classes. Family doing great. Little Warrior doing great. A little crazy, what with preaching, school, trying to become a candidate stuff and hey, did I mention the 4 kids?

(And did I mention that I truly am married to the most amazing partner?)

But all good stuff.

Classify THESE as good times.