Friday, September 30, 2011

God is in the very wood

I tease Jeff about his knocking on wood... as if that will do anything.  Still, I have my own versions of knocking on wood.  I would love to know what to do to prevent another seizure.  Truth be told... I don*t.  I do what I can, of course.  My dear friend Keith advises me to live life and keep writing.  This I can do.  So I am and I do.  I ask for prayer and I know people are praying.  They gather around.  No, I am not a Druid, but I also know God is still in the very wood.

Today I awaken with the thought
If I take my medication
Exactly twelve hours apart,
Pay close enough attention,
See the range of specialists,
Listen to their advice,
Sift for what is right and true;
If I find the exact right diet,
Work out daily,
Prevent all infection:               
I will never have a seizure again,
Wake up in the Emergency Room,
Tell the doctor our president is Obama
Today is Wednesday
And I am in the hospital.
The first time was
The first time.
I didn*t see it coming.
The second time
The second time
I didn*t see it coming
I had beaten the odds
By three months.
I didn*t see it coming.

I tease my husband about his knocking on wood,
As if that will prevent anything.
I sit in a wooden chair
At a wooden table.
Wood is everywhere within reach.
I believe in God.
I definitely believe in God.
God is even in the wood.
I know God is in the wood.
He holds me when I sit, when I stand,
When I lean,
When I am completely unaware of anything
Around me,
When I don*t take my medication
Exactly twelve hours apart.
God is in the very wood.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Turtles, turtles, all the way down...

I know every field has its specializations.  I*m more conversant in the religious or mental health ones, than the medical parsing of the body into finer and finer pieces interfacing with each other.  Each one stands on the back of the one underneath.  From time to time someone gets the bright idea to simplify things.  The thought that the family doctor puts it all together, stands underneath the specialties, coordinates the specialist dance, is an interesting idea... and perhaps holds true when the dance involves an ingrown toenail.  Maybe there is a secret manual somewhere.

Years ago I married a man
Who was determined to be an
I can still barely pronounce it.
He did his research on T-cells.
He used hamsters with big cheeks.
He is still an otorhinolaryngologist,
Only now he is called
A head and neck surgeon.
He is not my husband anymore.
But this is not about him anyway.

Now I am embarked on my own series of specialists
Standing on the backs
Of specialists
All the way down
Or up.
It depends on how I see it,
Which way I turn my head,
Squint my eyes,
Whether I look through the left eye blur
Or close it entirely.
The journey goes from Emergency Room
To ophthalmologist
To retina specialist
To neuro-ophthalmologist.
I suspect it will end up back
At the plain neurologist:
So much simpler
Of course every neurologist
Specializes too.
But that*s not for now.
Now is to be categorized
By specialists
All the way down
Or up.

There is clearly an order to all of this.
Clearly there is a secret book
Everyone follows.


I wonder as the seminary moves near the airport, as the bishop*s body has been re-interred in Wisconsin, as the stained glass saints are now part of Northwestern University... what will happen to Michaelmas term?  Fall term doesn*t capture it in the same way at all.  All the angels will need re-inventing in the new place near the airport.

I remember the beginning
Of Michaelmas term
In seminary.
I had never heard of Michaelmas
Before then.
I was very Protestant,
Though a number of my classmates
Nodded knowingly.
At least they pretended
To know.

Michael and all the angels
Stood on our shoulders,
Sat next to us,
Inhabited the stained glass.
We stood and knelt,
Prayed and sat between the stained glass saints,
William Palmerston Anderson
(his body)
Buried underneath the altar.
There was something of comfort
About all the angels gathered,
Led by Michael the dragon-slayer.
I remember
It was something of comfort
In this new place.

My sister and Mary

It is not a surprise to me that my sister talks with Mary.  She is far from Roman Catholic or even Episcopalian, but how could she not pay attention when Mary comes on the scene with the scent of roses.  The smell lingers in the air even after she has gone.  Mary singing the Beatles Let it Be is mine.  It is probably what I need to hear.  And train whistles in the middle of the night.  My sister... gets roses.

My sister calls on Mother Mary.
She comes with roses
In the air.
Mary tells her what is right to do.
Like most of us,
She does it.
All night I dream the Beatles
Let it Be
Mary speaking words of wisdom
Let it Be.
I hear the train whistles.
I remember my sister talks with Mary.
She comes with roses.
Mary tells my sister
It is time to visit her sister.
She will come by train
From Santa Fe.
Mary sings
Let it Be.
A lovely voice,
Contralto, I think,
Let it Be.
Of course I would hear the Beatles
And every train whistle
In the night.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

God brings the whole world to my door

I am in the rule-out phase of things with the doctors.  While I wait for things to be ruled out, it seems God has decided to bring the whole world to my door,  My sister arrives Sunday to visit for a couple days.  Friends and acquaintances and people from my past show up on my doorstep, literally and not so literally.  I am learning to welcome them, make a pot of coffee, a cup of tea, I realize that there is more to come, and having company is a good thing.

God brings the whole world
To my door:
The front sidewalk swept by the wind,
The weeds cleared by the lawn people,
The purple clematis
In its last bloom
Of the blooming season.
I see them all through eyes
That limp along in a blur,
Create new things,
New perspectives,
New possibilities.

The whole world comes
To my door.
God brings the people
For coffee or tea.
I see them through the blur,
We put our feet up
Converse about the weather,
The seasons changing,
As they always do.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Possibility of God

Ah the next round of doctor visits.  Today a colleague says he thinks it is always a good idea to have someone with you when you see the doctor.  I go back and forth.  I want to be seen as fully effective in myself.  But really it*s amazing what another set of caring eyes and ears can do.  I take a lot of back and forthing before I realize this thing I need to re-learn again and again.

I bring my husband with me
To the doctor.
I go back and forth,
Back and forth,
Is this is a good idea?
Will I be seen as someone
Who needs help?
Who asks for help?
Will I be known as someone
Who gracefully invites company
Into the doctor*s office
To ask bold questions,
Perhaps to hold the answers
up to the light,
See through them
To the possibility of God
On the other side.

I bring him with me
I ask for help
Fitfully, gracefully,
I invite his company into the doctor*s office
Together we look through the answers
We look
For the possibility
Of God.

Fall balance

I am still looking for balance.  The brain only compensates for so much.  This morning through the rain I see the sugar maples have turned.  In the gray and the rain the contrast is striking.  As I write this the sun comes out for a spell.  There is balance here too.

The sugar maples turned overnight.
They must have known the autumnal equinox
Came and went
Last week.
They had to catch up
Show the gray and rain
A thing or two.
The burning bush outside my office window
Shows red
Through the left eye blur.
Rain and gray seem right
The sugar maples too,
The burning bush.
The left and right are held in tension
The color in focus, in blur,
They show the rain and gray
A thing or two.
They think there might be balance

Monday, September 26, 2011


It is apple-picking season.  Someone else is going to have to pick apples for me this year.  It*s not like I pick apples every year.  I don*t.  But this year I am very aware of not picking apples, and also knowing that others are picking them for me.  And making apple butter and apple cider and even apple pie.  

The necessary conversations
Have been had
For Monday morning in the rain.
I have made the doctor appointments.
They coordinate with people who can drive
And tell jokes
At the same time.
Forget walking and chewing gum.
Coffee waits, blurred, at my left hand.
I would like to write
About apple picking
Except I have picked
No apples
This fall.
Instead I see snippets
Of God*s timeline stretched out.
I pick a date here,
An occasion there.
I know it all comes together
At the end,
In more than a bushel basket
More than apple cider
More than apple butter
More than the best apple pie
Baked with the most love and care
In the world.
It all comes together in the end,
Whether I ever go picking apples
This fall
Or not.
Even if it all stays blurred
Like the coffee
At my left hand.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Blurred vision

The eye doctor said yesterday he wanted me to see a retina specialist, and then maybe a neuro-retina specialist.  He seemed surprised when I laughed and said of course.  I apologized for laughing.  The levels of specialization in every field, particularly the medical field, are amusing to me.  I wonder if I am now in the time of life that I will see more and more specialists.  Probably.  My vision is still blurred in my left eye, but already my brain is compensating for the blur with the right eye.  I can only tell when I close the right eye.  Being both priest and mental health clinician, I am interested in how we perceive the world around us.  For me God is always there, even when my vision is blurry in one eye.

Is God not always there
In the dry hard rocky places
Even when we pretend He*s not
Or simply cannot see?
Even when our vision is blurred,
We have to close our left eye
Look through the right?
The eye doctor ran me through
Every test yesterday.
My vision is still blurred
In the left eye.
Already my brain compensates
For the blur.
The miracle that is eyesight
Says OK
So your left eye is blurry
Let*s figure out how to make it work
The miracle that is our God
Brings water out of the rock
The miracle that is our God
Hears the complaints of His people
In the desert
In the wilderness
In the dry hard rocky places
In the blur.
The miracle that is our God
Brings water to a thirsty people
Where there seems no water.
The miracle that is our God
Shows us the opening
In the Rock,
Blurred vision once again
Shows clear.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


I write this through a blur.  I am holding the hands of kind people, most especially my husband, who gets my sense of humor, and understands my need to laugh through things, particularly hard things.  My supervisor/therapist (thank you, Steve) offered the thought that the people who surrounded me when I had the seizure and concussion provided me with a kind of holy container.  That feels right.  He said that before my vision suddenly blurred in my left eye at 11:00 AM yesterday.  People, kind people, have continued to surround me: the ER, the ophthalmologist, my wonderful kind funny husband Jeff, who gets my sense of humor,  Wonderful containing people.  I am blessed, no matter what comes next.

God provides a container
In the people around me.
It is clear to me now.
As each new thing hits,
It seems unrelated
To the others.
The only thing they hold in common
Is the people
Who gather around me.
Whether my head or eyes,
They hold my hand.
They understand what I find funny.
They share the joke:
The spiritual care people who wear green
In the ER,
One who looks like a gnome
Without the red pointed cap;
The Indian Mutt and Jeff
I met again last night in the MRI:
They recognized me from before,
Offered the same show they gave in June.

All of them contain me
See me
Share the joke
No matter what comes next.

Friday, September 23, 2011


We all have personal computers set up to our own personal configurations.  I am worlds better now than last week... but still... concussed.... and I haven*t had my cup of coffee.

She calls at 8 in the morning
From school.
She forgot to print off her paper due
This morning.
Could I email it from her computer?
Her mother
Did I mention concussed?
(I do not care whether this is a word)
(It sounds good enough)
Her mother
Still concussed
Finally turns the job over to her father.
Why did the mother not think this should happen
In the first place?
Did I mention concussed?
I thought I did.
This will be a family joke
Next week.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It all lines up

Today I was supposed to be done with internship and on to the next chapter in my life.  Today I am reminded again that it all lines up... just not in the way I had planned... exactly.  Right.  This is not new.  At all.  Yet it is... again... new.  

Today was the finish line,
The last day of internship.
I was focused.
Then it changed to next week.
There were other plans
Oh I*m not going to say God wanted me
To have
A urinary tract infection,
A seizure,
A resulting concussion, but it seems
The right people were lined up
To catch me,
To call the ambulance,
To understand my laughter when it seemed the doctor
Didn*t know
the President of the United States.
The right people called on the phone this last week
At the right time.
The right person was there
To marry years ago,
Said the right thing
I will.
It seems I discover new rightness
Every day,
When I look at it,
Skewed or straight,
It lines up
Exactly right.
It lines up
Even down to my telling the doctor
In the emergency room
Last Wednesday
It is Wednesday.
It lines up even down to
My husband and the doctor
Being amazed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


One week out from the concussion.  I use the morning Sudoku to figure out the state of things.  I figure out there is no consistency, no clear progression up.  Oh, bother.  Why do I think this will present some sort of clear progression up?  I have always bought into the learning curve idea.  Maybe it*s time to learn from the cat and sleep.

Forget the president,
Or what day it is
I use the Sudoku to figure out
Where I am today.
Today is not so good.

In the middle of the night
I wake up and think maybe
The last 55 hours of internship
May take me the better part
Of a year,
The six months of no driving
Is the least of it.
I had no idea.
When I say at least I will understand
Clients who are recovering
from a concussion,
Jeff says
Have you heard the word vicarious,
Sometimes it*s good to read about things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The exact right assortment of people

I am blessed with good friends, and a good assortment of friends. I am truly blessed by their presence and perspective.  Yep.  Blessed.  I continue amazed at how God has the foreknowledge to line everyone up the way He does/the way She does.  Amazing.  The cat helps too.

God has sent
The exact right assortment of people
Into my life
At this time
Right now.
Only I can know how they all
Sort out.
I sit in the listener*s chair.
One sees the light in my eyes.
One has years of life
With a brain injury,
Tells me not to forget
To live,
To write.
One, no two, extol
The wonder and beauty
 Of naps.
My husband notes
I can next drive
On the Ides of March,
Auspicious day.
God has named
The exact right assortment
Of people,
A navy blue soft blanket
From the time before,
And the large grey tabby cat:
He reminds me
To sleep in the sun.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Some weeks call for minimal goals.  This week they are quite minimal.  

The advertising voice
At the other end of the line
Wants to know who is in charge
Of the electric bill.
I can say
With no shadow of a doubt
This week for sure
It*s not me.
This week for sure
I am in charge
Of standing upright
Perhaps hearing when the mail arrives
Oh … and naps.
This week for sure
I have naps

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I am grateful for anointing today smack dab in the middle of the service.  Going to church this morning reminded me that recovery from the concussion will take a bit longer than a couple days.  Thanks to Jen for quoting Ian*s talk at the Story conference about God making creative use of the debris of our lives.  Yes.  Sometimes it takes a while to understand what that use will be, but I am grateful for a God of infinite creativity.

After the fall
There are wayward pieces;
They take a different way
Back home.
The seizure and concussion came
In the company of friends,
My husband home from school.
I find myself among the debris,
Blessed and anointed
The scent of Chrism.
It reminds me that health can be found
Among the scattered parts.
The pieces sift in and out
Of place,
The aroma of Chrism
Holds them,
Sleep calls them together.
After the fall
Wayward pieces find a different way

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Blue jays

It wasn*t until this year that I realized the robins fly south in August.  Maybe this makes the blue jays more noticeable in September.  I don*t know.  Their numbers have increased since the West Nile virus hasdiminished.  There*s something about their call, their color, and now greater numbers: they call attention to themselves.  Can*t miss the blue jay.  I am grateful for blue jays.

The trees have begun
To turn.
I am grateful for blue jays,
Their comeback in numbers,
The hoarse voice chorus
The jay jeer
Spurt of blue through the trees;
So many now
The robins gone
I notice the numbers
Of jays,
They take over where the robins
Left off.
The trees begin their turn
To new colors,
The jays pose
Against the leaves.
Swoop and blend
With the sky,
Jay jeer as they fly,

They own the fall.

Friday, September 16, 2011

More interesting answers

Altered states.  Let this be a lesson.  When people start asking questions with obvious answers... perhaps there*s a reason they*re asking.  I think of all the bio-psycho-social forms I*ve filled out which show a person oriented to time/date/place.  Seizure aside, a knock on the head can cause one to think someone else has forgotten who the President is...

My supervisor looks at me and asks
How are you?
How odd, I think.
 I*m fine
I say
Just before I lose all awareness,
Wake up on a gurney
in the Emergency Room,
With a doctor who asks
Who is the President of the United States?
I think he doesn*t know,
So I inform him.
Poor man also doesn*t know
The day of the week.
It takes me two days to figure
I got a concussion
Along with the seizure.
He was checking to see
If I was fully oriented.
I think I fooled him.
I*m not sure I have ever been
Fully oriented.
The President
The hospital
The day of the week
They are just
The tip of the iceberg.
Today I have
More interesting answers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Second time around

Seizure #2 yesterday, at internship.  It*s been nine months since #1.  I thank God for the last nine months (and before).  I thank God for my being able to learn from such things.  Still, some learnings I could do without. This doesn*t seem to be my choice.  Rarely does such learning come with choice.  I knew this.  Now I know it again.

The second time around on anything,
It*s amazing what we learned the first time.
Sometimes it*s not until the second time
That we see
The sun still shines
The birds still sing
Even the fall light shows things
The second time we wake up
Our friends and family
Are newly awake as well.
Here we all are
 in one place.
We pick up again.
We know this has happened

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The smoke has finally cleared

The smoky smell had everyone guessing yesterday here in northern Illinois.  It turns out we were smelling smoke from a fire on the Minnesota/Canadian border.  I know there*s a big scientific explanation, but really I think that we never know exactly where the wind will blow next, or how hard it will blow, or how far it will come.  As a child I somehow thought my dad was in charge of such things.

The smoke has finally cleared.
North winds brought the fire
In the Boundary Waters of Minnesota
Here to the western suburbs
Of Chicago.
Everyone was surprised the smoke
Could travel so far,
Carried on the wind.
I heard the news last night.
It reminded me of my Minnesota
I remembered Dad, head bowed,
As he researched wind patterns
In Northern Minnesota,
As he contemplated plans
For the fallout shelter.

Dad, you could not have predicted this,
You could never have predicted this,
Never really have anticipated
Just how far the wind would travel
Or even its direction.
Back then you were in charge
Of the wind.

Here the smoke has finally cleared.
Here and now I never know where the wind
Will come from

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

First we learn to be blips

I am back to practicing.  It is tempting to look at other people and think they*ve got it made in the shade.  They*ve learned this business of being a human perfectly.  That*s just it, though: it*s a temptation to think this, and rarely is it true (if ever).  No matter what we*re working on, first we need to take that first step.  Before we learn to make a good three-point landing, we have to learn how to be blips on the radar.

First we learn how to be blips
On the radar,
How to be caught on the edge
Of the screen.
Then the approach,
Entrance into the air space.
We declare our presence to the air traffic
Radio in for the landing.
It takes a long time to learn the controls
The balance
How to keeping the plane level
In the air.

First we learn to be blips
We learn to be blips
On the radar.
We learn to radio our presence before anyone
Teaches us how to land.
We know it will be bumpy
At first.
It is always bumpy
At first.
But first
We learn to be blips.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bread crumbs

My sister and brother and I are the oldest living generation.  It seems to me that we are now on the path back home.  At least that*s what it feels like.  Each of us is very different, yet each of us is so darned independent.  I know we will arrive home from different directions.  Of course home will have the same address, but look different.  It always does.  Perhaps we*ll remember how to do the dishes... together.

There was no set path away from home,
So we each made our own.
We dropped bread crumbs
On the way into the woods.
They were eaten by birds.
We encountered terror
In sugared gingerbread houses
It threatened to bake us alive
In ovens.
It didn*t.
We escaped.
Now we each find a different path
Out of the woods.
The bread crumbs have been eaten.
We are on our way
Back to our father*s house.
Back to our mother*s house.
Our paths will converge again
When we get there.
He will be there to welcome us home.
She will be there
To welcome us home.
The house will smell like fresh bread
There will be flowers from the garden
On every table.
There will be sunlight streaming
Through every window.
We will know then what it is
To be fully welcomed.
We will each be there.
We will wash and dry and put away
The dishes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The dishes

Writing about the Cuban Missile Crisis I found my sister had her own memories about the occasion.  My brother chose not to share any reflection.  We have each worked from our own experiences (of course).  And come to different conclusions (of course).  I suspect all siblings do.  But the set piece of there being three of us, and no automatic dishwasher: one of us washed, one dried, and one put away the dishes  (the roles were interchangeable as we got older).   That was a certainty.  

It*s not surprising
But it is.
It still is.
My sister and brother and I
Remember different things
About growing up.
Our paths diverged early on
And soon enough
We grew up in completely different houses
At the same address.
Our parents were different
Yet pictures
Would tell the same story.
We went to completely different schools
In the same neighborhood.
We came home for supper after kick-the-can
Took up our different places
Washed, dried, put away
The dishes,
Three children,
Young adults at holidays
Washed, dried
Put away the dishes
In completely different houses
At the same address.
We breathed different air
Saw different things.
Put away the dishes
Exactly the same:
One at the sink
One with a dish towel
One between the counter and the cupboard
After every meal shared
For years.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cuban Missile Crisis

I wrote this thinking I was following parameters for a three-minute, 600 word NPR entry.  I read it over and realized something different came out.  So I post it here.  I suspect we all have such formative experiences.  I realize how much my understanding of this childhood event has been re-shaped and re-formed as I have grown as a parent.  I imagine 9-11 will continue to have a similar resounding impact on parents and children alike, in different ways.

She grew up going north to the cabin on the lake every summer.  It is what everyone did in Minnesota in the 1960*s.   Of course everyone went to a different cabin on a different lake and headed north on different roads.  Still. there was comfort doing what everyone else did, heading north from the Cities, to spend part of the summer at the cabin on the lake.  It was familiar territory.

At the cabin on the lake her father built an underground fallout shelter with double-thick concrete walls and ceiling, double the thickness of any Civil Defense fallout shelter plans.  He built it with three extra turns in the entrance to be three times as safe.  Her father researched wind patterns at the lake and determined the weather at the cabin on the lake was always different from Fargo or Duluth.  The cabin on the lake, north of the Cities, in the woods, was certified safe.  He planted the top of the shelter with clover so it was indistinguishable from the cockpit of stray enemy aircraft as anything other than a clover field in the middle of the woods.  The shelter held two weeks worth of supplies for two adults, three children, and the two family dogs.  It had water and canned food, a porta-potty and double thick walls.   It had a new unwrapped boxed game of Scrabble. 

When she thought of it later, as a teenager, she realized no one else had a dad who had built a fallout shelter from scratch in the north woods with double thick concrete walls and ceiling, and a clover field on top.  Later she also remembered the dog food and Scrabble.

That year was different from other years.  It was long past summer, almost Halloween. She had her cat costume ready to wear.  She had even braided the tail from dyed gray sheets.  The ears were grey terrycloth.  She was seven, her brother ten, her sister eleven.  That year she and her brother and sister packed up their costumes as they were told. The family left the city and drove north as it was getting dark.  Once at the cabin they listened to the radio and played endless games of mahjongg.   The next day was Halloween. After supper, she and her brother and sister dressed in their costumes, trick-or-treated from the front door of the cabin to the back door and around to the front door again.  Her cat tail dragged in the dirt.   Her parents changed clothes in between.  They answered each door and pretended to be different neighbors, admiring the costumes in different ways each time.  She never knew they could act.  Her mother was particularly good at being the neighbor lady across the street.  The fallout shelter hunkered down the hill from the cabin, in the dark.   She listened to the radio that night with everyone else.  Her father kept changing the dial.  She did not know what they were listening for, but she knew it was important that they listened.  She and her brother and sister sat on the cabin floor and sorted the candy they had collected. 

The next morning they drove home south to the City, and unpacked the car.  Her father returned to work in the Foshay Tower.  Her mother cleaned the kitchen.  The next morning she walked to school with her brother and her sister.

Nothing looked different.

Inside she knew somewhere, somehow, there was shelter.  It was not north and it was not made of concrete. 

Inside somewhere, many years later, she realized her parents were somehow less than they seemed.

 Inside somewhere, really only recently, she realized her parents were more: much much more.