A poem for you

I read this poem last week and can’t get it out of my mind. I thought about it when I heard that Gabe is in a coma. I read it again after I talked to someone else dealing with a different trauma, her eyes red and chest heaving, who told me the prayers “didn’t help”. And I thought about it while I prayed my own scattered thoughts this morning. Here it is…

When Prayers Fall

When your prayer falls
weighted and dull
at your feet,
betraying all your
brave and fragile
hope,do you kick it
scuffed and dusty
to the tangled ditch
or do you kneel
beside it on
that sharp gravel,
breathe on it
the heartbroken
breath of a child
collecting, with
tenderness, the hollow
bones and feathers
of a dying bird?

By Kirsten Krymusa… You can find more of her work here.

***

On a more mundane note, HELLO! It’s nice to be back here after a long break. I  miss gathering the scraps of what happens in our life and folding them up into words and sentences that won’t come undone or get dirty again in three hours. Lately, all the time I have for myself is spent on Wonderscape, the creative wellness retreat that happens next weekend in Riding Mtn.!! I can’t wait to see who shows up, listen to their stories, hear their music, and have some time to go hiking in the woods. I’m sure you’ll hear more about it when I get back!

Sending you the all the brightness of this elm outside my window,

Tricia

 

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A letter to the One in Charge

To the One in Charge,

I’ve started this letter four times already and nothing seems quite right. It should be easy–I pray to you everyday–but it’s not. It’s hard. Maybe because my reason for writing isn’t easy either. Of course, if you are who you say you are, you know exactly why I’m writing which makes this a seemingly pointless exercise, but then, if you are who you say you are, things like this, like me writing on a scrap of paper to ask you for something, can change things.

So here I go.

We need you here.

I don’t mean that in a rhetorical sense. I mean we need you here. Right here. In this town, in early November, in a very real way. I mean I have a dear friend who is facing something so unexpected, so ugly and scary, that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else. Except that I do. I wish it was happening to someone else so she and I could talk about it together in passing, while trading kids or over lunch, and shake our heads while reminding ourselves that life is fragile. Then we’d move on to the weather and our plans for the weekend and forget.

I’d like to forget about this but I can’t, and I know my friend never will. Even though denial seems like the best option now, while my brain stumbles around the information and my head pounds in rebellion, I know this is not something we can wake up from, that will disappear, or even be made right. Unless, of course, you step in. Because although I’m not sure what I believe right now, I don’t see any other option besides some holy intervention.

So what exactly do I want you to do?

I want you to show up.

To show up like you did for Elijah. Surely you remember the time you sent flames to lick the wet wood your prophet had doused with water? Did his heart tremble when he called on you to do the impossible; to light a fire when there was not even a spark, only a trench full of water around a dripping altar? And what did the others think–those who had spent hours calling on other deities, dancing and even slashing themselves in the frenzy, without an answer? As they looked on, watching Elijah put you to the test, did he whisper, quivering with doubt, or shout his demands? “Answer me, O Lord, answer me so that these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

If you can cause fire to fall from the sky and a frantic crowd to fall in worship, surely you can do something here. Something that would reverse, undo, and transform. Like a healing. I’m whispering and shouting at the same time now. Whispering because it seems impossible; shouting because I mean it. I’m pleading for action. A miracle to mystify physicians and family is what I really want, but if you’re not going to renew sinew and bone then pour out your power just the same and do a mighty work with soul and spirit. Redeem something from this ugly mess of multiplying cells. Because if sunsets and babies’ breath are the only signs of you then this prayer isn’t worth anything. If we can only feel you in the lovely why should anyone turn to you in the ugly?

But you seem to be in the business of showing up in the middle of ugliness, like the filth of a stable and a violent execution. I can’t know this for sure though, that you birthed yourself into a real, live infant and bled on a cross, because I wasn’t around two thousand years ago. It’s only what I’ve read and what I’ve been taught. And believe me, it’s easy enough to doubt all of it. But when I start at square one and evaluate the alternatives I come back empty-handed and humbled. What are the chances any of us ended up here to question you in the first place? How else could we shake our fists at you, ignore you, or yearn for you on this freckle of earth in the face of the exploding universe if you didn’t put us here? In other words, you started all this so you better finish it. You started something when you created us from nothing. You started something when you took your first breath through the lungs of a newborn. You started something when you died. And you started something when you knit together the one for whom I’m praying. So I’ll wait for you. I will wait for the big finish. Knowing, hoping, doubting, and believing all at the same time, you’ve showed up.

Tricia

A Prayer: Things I’d forgotten

Two public health nurses come visit us on Thursday. Stan is folding laundry on the couch and Belén and Susanna are perched beside him. I’m nursing in the armchair, tucked in with pillows and swaddle blankets. Our living room is messy with books and burp clothes, but not squalid. The nurses settle in and begin by asking a few screening questions. How are you feeling physically? Fine. Is Baby latching well? Perfect. Do you have family support? Check. Are you aware of the baby blues? Yep.

I’m answering all the questions just like they want me to. Which doesn’t feel quite right.

“I know I sound normal, and it is all going well, but still, this is really something,” I start to explain.  I want them to know even though we look good on paper, we’re in survival mode. These first few days have been nothing less than epic in my little world and I wonder if they should dock some points off my file for good measure.

Later, years later, I know I will wonder what exactly made this first week so momentous. Besides the obvious, a new family member, I want to remember the all-consuming details. Details I’ve forgotten before. When I make my mental list while nursing, or drifting off to sleep, each one seems to come with a prayer. The prayers are short and of the Anne Lamott variety–Thanks, Help, Wow–but they come like a cool breeze on a humid summer day; some are even pin-pricks* of light from the world beyond my nursery. Read on if you’ve forgotten too, or want to pray along with me.

Things I’d Forgotten

Baby shoulder skin and fleshy upper arms that will one day be biceps… Most of us remain topless the first week so we are ready to snuggle Vivia at a moment’s notice. She inhales all our scents, learning who is who, and we get to feel her skin as she curls into our chests–the Cadillac of all baby-holds. These moments inspire the Wow-God-I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-again prayers. And another, Wow, for all the things that need to go right to make a healthy human.

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Voracious hunger… I keep my eyes out for easy calories like nuts and avocados, downing un-whipped whipping cream and anything else fatty. Normally, food prep and eating is a pleasure but now it’s a hurdle just to satiate my appetite. After hunting through cupboards for my next snack I open an appeal letter from the Canadian Food Grains Bank. Describing the situation in South Sudan one aid worker writes:

They were on the run, searching for a place to hide, trying to think of somewhere near, running, desperate for a safe haven, carrying only what could fit in their hands, a bag or two, a child on one arm, and some clothing.

While honey and butter melt on my hot toast, I imagine the scene and think about mothers fleeing with their newborn children.They are voracious, like me, but without stocked pantries. Without organic nuts in fancy packages. Without whipping cream. Carrying only what could fit in their hands. God help them.

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Voracious hunger… I’m not the only one with an appetite around here. Interestingly, when Susanna is holding her sister, Vivian is never hungry.

Me: It looks like she’s rooting around for something, why don’t you pass her over?

Susanna: Oh, don’t worry, Mom. She’s not hungry. (As in, I’m not planning to give her up any time soon.)

Vivi: Slurp. Suck. Sharp inhale. Head slam against chest. Another slurp.

So far, Susanna has sustained only one minor injury for her Nope-not-hungry-with-me philosophy. A hickey. (This point doesn’t come with a prayer, unless laughter counts. Unfortunately, Vivia doesn’t seem to have a sense of humour yet.)

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Cousins Josie and Charlotte with the Reed girls

Stan’s voice… Even though he jokes that the name Vivian means “accident of God” in Cree, I know by the sound of his voice and the lullabies he sings, Vivi is carving a place for herself just like Susie and Belén did. And while his prayer of I-can’t-believe-we-get-to-do-this-again, might be prefaced by a “help” instead of a “wow”, his tender tones towards his newborn daughter are an answer to prayer in themselves. Thanks God for surprises and the grace to accept them. Give us more grace, for ourselves and each other; we’ll be needing a surplus in the coming days.

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Labour is only half-over when the baby is born…The uterine contractions last for at least three days and although the delivery was un-medicated I need drugs, and more deep breathing, to get me through them. When the cramps lessen my milk comes in; taut is the word that comes to mind. For relief I know I need to nurse, but every time Vivi latches on a lightening bolt of pain shocks my whole body. Motherhood is a big kick in the pants, I think, and this is just the beginning. But still, I have my baby. When I pick her up to try nursing again I wonder about women who lose their babies. Women with swollen, aching bodies but no child to hold or feed. Whether they choose their path of sorrow, or their babies are taken from them, God help them.

The sunrise after a night’s work…When I make it through the night, after hours of changing and burping and feeding, I feel as if I’ve gotten a little bit closer. Although to what, I’m not sure. The sky lightens and like a weary traveler I arrive on the doorstep of another day. We did it! I want to say. We did one more night! Thank you, God.

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-Tricia

PS. All the nicest pictures in this post were taken by my sister-in-law, Amber.

PPS. Thank you, friends, for your well-wishes and response to Vivia’s birth.

*More pin-pricks: this read-aloud novel, enjoyed by all 4 of us, and this blog post.

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy

There’s nothing quite like leaving your baby for the first time. The day after Susanna was born I went for a walk, by myself. As cars passed and pedestrians crossed my path, I wondered if everyone knew what had just happened. Did they know why I was shuffling along slower than usual? Could they sense I’d given birth, just hours ago, on my own bed only a block, or two, away? My tender abdomen and swollen breasts reminded me of my recent labour and on one hand, it seemed ridiculous my feat wasn’t obvious to passersby. On the other hand, it was my own precious secret.

As people went on with their ho-hum lives, answering phone calls and filling up their cars with gas, I had brought a new human being to this world. When Susanna gulped her first molecules of oxygen, and I lay shaking with exhaustion and wet with sweat, my neighbour was probably feeding her cats or sweeping the floor. While the rest of world went on as normal, Susanna had inched her way out of me and with every contraction I, too, felt myself inching towards a strange place. A borderland, where the newness of life seems awfully close to death, and where a bellow of pain, in one slippery second, can turn into a gasp of relief accompanied by a baby’s first cry.

In the same way that panting through childbirth made me feel privy to a different reality, so did living in Bolivia. Of course, during the years we lived there I wasn’t in a constant state of enlightenment, but after we returned to Canada, I’d get flashes of perspective when I remembered where we’d been. This was especially helpful as a substitute teacher facing high schoolers I didn’t know—half of whom were bigger than me, most were apathetic, and a few were angry and offensive. To keep from being intimidated by the latter, I’d think of Bolivia. Of clambering onto a truckload of corn and sliding around the muddy curves of the Inca Wasi, where graves dot the side of the road instead of guardrails. I’d think of my friend, Lucia, who told me she cried at night when she was worried about what she’d feed her family the next morning.

And so, when some fifteen-year-old would tell me to “F— off”, I’d reflect (in a 3-second-sweaty-armpit way) that if I could learn a tonal language, survive parasites and wash my clothes in a river, I didn’t have to be scared of an adolescent tantrum. Secondly, I reminded myself of the world outside the classroom; even though the kid in front of me was making a fuss, millions of other people were foraging for food and fighting for their survival at the very same moment.

Thinking about where I’d been at times like these, was like tapping into a confidential file. Not that my personal experiences made me better than everyone else, but they reminded me more is happening on our planet than the daily circumstances in front of me. The secret feeling I had after having a baby, or returning from an indigenous community in South America, came from getting a peek at the edge of life and my own mortality. These experiences illuminate the tight-rope we’re all walking on, when most of the time we barrel forward distractedly, not even aware we’re dancing on a 2-inch thick cable.

It happened again when Stan called me, while I was on the road, to tell me about Lucy. Before he even started, I knew something was wrong by his voice. It was soft, sad and sorry at the same time.

“They think she’s got cancer,” he told me, and then said it again when I responded in disbelief.

How could I believe my eighth-month-old niece has cancer, when a few weeks before she was standing in my lap, pumping her legs and grinning with one slobbery fist in her mouth? (The details of this position may not be completely accurate since my sweet, baby-snatching daughter, Susanna, whisked her away every time I’d get her.) How could I imagine what Philip and Anne, Stan’s brother and his wife, were going through when we’d just spent days lazing around a pool together, playing tennis, and challenging each other to foot races? (Philip is the fastest sprinter of the four of us, by the way.)

Over the next several hours, on my drive home, I had that same secret feeling. Only this time it was awful, and instead of making me braver or wiser, it left a taste in my mouth of something gone desperately wrong. When I stopped for food, I numbly paid for my meal while customers around me laughed at dumb jokes and poured cream into their coffees, not knowing how the world had changed. Not knowing that nothing will ever be the same—no matter what happens–for Lucy, Philip, Anne, and the rest of us who care, again.

As Lucy undergoes chemotherapy and her little, but fierce, body fights to survive, I am praying every day. In fact, I know people that don’t even pray, who are praying. We are praying she won’t suffer the side effects of the treatment, that she can still breastfeed, that she sleeps peacefully, that she doesn’t remember any of this when it’s over, that Philip and Anne don’t lose their minds–or their patience and love for each other, that Lucy’s big brother is protected from the pain around him, and that Lucy lives.

But I’m also praying for something else. I’m praying that if there are others like me who are pushed just a little closer to the edge, out of the blinding normalcy of work and every-day routines, because of Lucy they find something else besides a dark chasm. And that when they cry for Help, whether cynical, apathetic, or angry, swinging their arms wildly to maintain balance on the wire, Jesus meets them right where they are.

If you are able, please pray for Lucy. If you aren’t up for prayer, start a conversation with someone about the moments you’ve experienced “the edge” in your life and how it affected you. Either way, I wish you peace, wisdom and strength for the length of tight-rope you’re walking today,

Tricia

Aunty Anne finally gets a chance to hold her own baby!

Lucy and her beautiful mama, Anne (photo taken in April)

Power-trip cure, ferments, and chive blossom vinegar

Know anyone who’s on a power trip? Someone who needs to be taken down a notch?

There’s a remedy for the power-hungry and those with an inflated ego. It’s called subbing in a grade nine classroom. I am convinced even CEOs of multi-million dollar companies would tremble before a class of belligerent 15-year-olds, given the opportunity. I like to think my people skills are up to snuff, but last week they were put to the test. After spending an afternoon with hormonal, hyperactive young men and woman my perspective on life, and who I was, warped. Think of plastic in hot oven.

Later, a friend called to confirm the details of a fermentation workshop I was leading at her permaculture institute. She reassured me about the presentation and told me not to get too nervous. “I’m not worried,” I told her, my recent teaching experience fresh in my mind. “Talking to a room full of adults keen on cultivating bacteria sounds dreamy…”

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Kefir, flavoured with orange juice concentrate, ready to be bottled for its second ferment.

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Susanna, and her friend Kirsi, enjoying some “orange crush” kefir. My kids are very skeptical when I promise something will “taste good”. This time they agreed with me and were asking for more.

Besides sharing some homemade kefir at the workshop, I talked about fermenting salsa. Remember the stuff I made over two months ago? It had so much garlic and cilantro, I wasn’t sure it would ever be edible. Now it’s mellowed considerably and I wouldn’t think of composting it. (Something I had considered with all thirteen jars.)

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Mellowed salsa… this one took a lot longer to ferment than other batches (because of the garlic/cilantro), but you can see the air pockets indicating carbon dioxide–a by product of lactobacillus bacteria.

Long Keeper tomatoes: these were harvested last summer and kept perfectly in my neighbours basement until now.

Long Keeper tomatoes: these were harvested last summer and kept perfectly in my neighbour’s basement until now.

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Fresh tomatoes (Longkeepers and store-bought) with 1/2 cup of fermented salsa–a gateway food to the world of ferments.

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Make-shift salsa tasting station

And lastly, because some of you will soon be able to harvest chive blossoms, here’s a picture of some vinegar I infused last year. It’s easy to make–just throw blossoms in white vinegar (I add a few sprigs of thyme) and wait until the vinegar turns a brilliant pink. I infuse my vinegars for about 2-4 weeks. Strain, cap, keep, and share!

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I took this pic last summer: chive blossoms infusing in vinegar on the left (with a jar of olive oil behind them); finished blossom vinegar on the right. You can leave a few blossoms in for aesthetics–but the vinegar will last longer if you strain them.

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Our first local salad (from a greenhouse) of the season, with chive blossom vinegar, olive oil and salt. I don’t even bother mixing up the dressing before hand, it just dirties another dish.

Have a springy week!

Saluting all substitute teachers, everywhere,

Tricia

PS. I didn’t tell the whole subbing story. After I came home from school I talked with mom, and my mother-in-law. Both of them said they would pray for me the next day. I was grateful for their concern but not terribly confident anything would change. The next day, the class that had given me so much trouble previously was practically comatose. I was so so confused/amazed/thankful I actually asked the principal (I had to find out who he was first) if he had talked to the students about their behaviour. He didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. End of story. 🙂