What I’d have said

I was invited to speak at the dinner tonight at my church for the Central Vermont Community Land Trust. Unfortunately, I have had a minor medical problem (some follow-up stuff from my miscarriage that necessitated a trip to the hospital, but I’m out and home and fine now) and have been confined to my house for the remainder of the day.

But here’s what I wanted to highlight in my comments this evening, and what I hope to convey to the CVCLT and other who work with issues of poverty and housing particularly.

First, there are a bunch of people who work on issues of poverty and housing. We need to find ways to utilize one another’s skills and areas of influence. The faith community can and should be a tremendous resource (more than we are currently being utilized) for these efforts.

Second, when it comes to organization, we need to do a much better job helping people into and through the process of receiving assistance and moving toward sustainability. Too many people fall through the cracks or come to an entry point (like me!) who is under-informed about how to get them the services they need.

Third, the voices that we need to hear about this are the voices of folks who live without housing or on the verge of homelessness or inability to pay for rent/utilities. They know the ins and outs of the problem and they have ideas about what they might need. Ask those folks if we should have a homeless shelter in Montpelier. Ask those folks where affordable housing should be established and what type of units are needed. My suggestion (which I’m working on with the church eventually) is to have a dinner, monthly, that’s free to the public, where those who struggle with affording housing engage middle class folk, non-profit workers, and government/political folks in conversation about their goals and ideas about housing.

Sermon- Standing on the Promise: Salvation

“Standing on the Promise: Salvation”

(March 22, 2009) We have curiously taken a symbol of death and oppression and hopelessness and turned it into a symbol of healing and hope and life. This is the ultimate promise of God: healing both in terms of illness and alienation, and restoration through grace. (Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21)

[turn your speakers down, folks; it's a little loud and tinny this week for some reason]

Two weeks out

It’s a sunny and almost warm spring day in Central Vermont. I even had a robin on my porch this morning. It’s also two weeks since I lost the baby, and I haven’t managed to go a whole day without tears yet, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for me. Bit by bit.

The flood of support has been amazing. Cards, emails, pictures, music, prayers, calls and hugs have come from every direction. I’ve heard from an older woman who never had the opportunity to grieve, several colleagues who have been in the same place, and even from a couple I’ve never met and have no idea how they knew what happened, but they sent us a sympathy card and the simple note: “we too have experienced this.”

On this two week anniversary, I offer this, not because I’m ready to say it and be done, but because it’s a beginning. A way of further breaking the silence. A prayer of commendation. Those who have attended many funerals will recognize hints of the standard prayer, “…when all else fails, you are still God…  …Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your son/daughter…  …ashes to ashes, dust to dust…” May this prayer be a gift not only to me, but to others who seek to mourn and heal. I know I change voice a lot, back and forth between ‘I’ and ‘we.’ A prayer of commendation is usually said by the pastor on behalf of the grieving family. In this instance, I found it impossible to separate the two.

Commendation
Love and Life, my body has failed, my heart is broken, but I know that you are still God. Teach me the peace and the healing of letting go, of saying goodbye before I got to say hello. In the face of life and death, knit together in the womb of all creation, grant me and those who surround me hope to keep us going, and courage to hold up one another.
Thank you for this blessing, however brief, this anticipation and this joy, this reminder that each of us is fragile, rare, and miraculous. Each of us is cradled in the arms of your womb, whether or not we ever venture out into the world. In death as in life, we all are yours.
And so, into your gentle, mothering hands, O Love, O Life, I offer my child and yours. Receive back this precious and unopened gift, joy to Joy, hope to Hope. In your love and your light, nurture this life that was and would have been and isn’t. In this tender promise of love unborn, may we still know Love and Life eternal.

On Equal Marriage

Today, one week after the press conference for clergy in support of equal marriage, the Vermont Senate will conclude its hearings on full marriage rights for gay and lesbian persons in Vermont.

As many of you may know or have seen, I have made myself a pretty vocal and visible supporter of equal marriage. I will attempt to reconstruct some of what I said at the press conference last week (remembering that quite a lot has happened in my life since then), but first I want to say why I said it.

It needs to be said that many clergy, whether they have the support of their congregations, denominations, or overall religious movements or not, support this. I have heard from a few people who are upset about what I said, mostly because they think I misspoke, exaggerated, or lied (see below), but I’ve also heard from some who are glad I said it.

But not all.

I have to imagine, in some ways, the people I know who are out there. A character in a novel I read recently had the mystical experience being confronted by the knowledge of all the people she had injured or wronged, all the people who had died for her or because of her actions or at her command. Later in the same novel, however, she begins to understand that, while she can count the people she has wronged, she will never know how many she has saved, how many she has uplifted, how many live lives a little better and brighter because of her. She has to take that on faith, and trust her god to measure the balance, if that is indeed what matters at all. So with us. We know who we upset, but we have to trust that we have uplifted more.

Imagine a teenage man, struggling with how to be honest about his sexuality, who has just been told by his pastor, perhaps his United Methodist pastor, that, while he is a person beloved by God and he is welcome to be part of the church, he can never be married and should never be married, and that his ‘lifestyle’ is incompatible with the teachings of Christ (I didn’t make that up; it’s my denomination’s current, and in my mind misguided, stance). This young man represents one of the highest demographics for suicide, we should also note. Would he be at all comforted, would he be given any hope at all, to see another clergy person voice a different truth? Or the woman grown tired and hard from fighting, who left a church I know after years of devotion, because she couldn’t  be the token anymore, couldn’t be the face of the fight. She wants a place to belong spiritually, but the UMC and in many ways the Christian Church as a whole is too painful a place right now. Does she draw any strength from a new generation coming from a spiritual perspective and seeking to bring a new religious voice to the table? I have to believe so.

Those who are upset when churches take a stance in favor of same-sex marriage, those who threaten to walk away from the church if the UMC changes its policy, how are their voices any more important, their pain and anger and sorrow at their church’s brokenness any more real or significant than the countless women and men who have been hurt, pushed aside, and driven out already by our current policy? No one’s experience trumps the other here. We need to learn to live in that difference (which is not mutaully exclusive from trying to correct the error we see). It’s a tough balance, and I get that.

Now, some are upset that I said the majority of United Methodists in Vermont support same-sex marriage in our own [internal to UMC] legislation. I don’t think I misspoke.

I believe that’s true. In fact, I think some of the anger around what I said might come from the fact that I am right, and many folks don’t like that their denomination, in this time and place, has voted in favor of same-sex marriage (and ordination of GLBT clergy as well). That’s the way our voting in our local annual conference goes, consistently and overwhelmingly. If people in pews felt differently, they would send different delegates to Conference, just as Americans send different representatives to Congress when we disagree with policy decisions. Could I have said that the majority of voting delegates to the Troy Annual Conference support equal marriage? Yes. I should also have said that the majority of voting delegates to General Conference oppose same-sex marriage. In both cases, I simplified the language because I thought more detail would be confusing.

My biggest regret is that I think my words, which the reporter says she picked because it was interesting to her to hear someone from a mainline denomination talk about the tension between local politics and denominational policy, helped distract from a show of unity and support from members of the faith community to the GLBT community. That’s a shame.

Below is my reconstruction of what I think I said. You can see the press conference at Vermont Freedom To Marry‘s website (where my statements are not included, because I was literally a footnote!), and read the news report as it aired on the news from WCAX TV.

Continue reading

Pamper me

I’m not a stuff person, and I don’t go asking for gifts a lot. But I feel like this might be a good occasion.

I’d like you to give me something. Nothing huge, and preferably something that can be sent by email or explained via phone call. A poem. A picture. A prayer (I’m specifically looking at you, E.D., because you know how I love your prayers).

Some of you have honored me with a gift already. C.Z., your concert dedicated to me counts. T.V., your quote counts. G.D., your email, which you thought communicated nothing except that you didn’t know what to say, that counts. I’m collecting these little treasures, and they help honor, grieve, and celebrate the little treasure I lost.

Consider it a shower, a non-baby shower, a showering of love. Consider it me doing a rare thing– asking for help.

here’s my gift to myself, an unfinished poem:

rose, unopened

pinched and folded,
brightness swallowed
inside  cramped,
clenched, contracted,
folding back
on itself
closed before it opened,
brittle before it bloomed
showered in dew
drops like tear drops
like blood
red petals fallen

Sermon- Standing on the Promise: Vision

“Standing on the Promise: Vision”

(March 15, 2009) Like a flower beside a fence, we can view scripture as something to hold us back, something that divides us from ‘outsiders,’ or something that supports us and gives us direction as we grow. (Exodus 20:1-17)

Mourning Miscarriage, or not

“Me too.”

After I’m sorry, those are the two most prevalent words I’ve heard the past few days. The number of women and their partners who have experienced miscarriage is staggering, although it shouldn’t be surprising from the statistics. An estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage (although many are within the first month, so often the woman may not even know– or may not be able to verify even if she suspects– that she was pregnant). So if so many couples have experienced it, why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we know what to say? What to feel? How to mourn?

I’m collecting thoughts on that (and a great many other things about what I’m experiencing).

1. Historically speaking, infertility and miscarriage carried a stigma for the woman particularly and for her husband potentially. Whether seen as a divine punishment or something weak in the person’s virility or a genetic aberration, it’s not cool to talk about that. How do I combat that? I talk about it. A lot. I wouldn’t hesitate if my friend died, so I don’t hesitate now. I hurt; listen, or get out of my space.

2. We don’t know when life begins, and so we don’t know what we’re grieving. Is it a person (yes!)? A baby (yes!)? A hope and a dream (yes and yes!)? A child, a legacy, a sibling, a promise, a little one. Doctors will use language like conceptus or tissue or only possibly fetus to describe, you know, what was lost, anything that doesn’t sound baby-ish. But that’s not what the expectant parents are experiencing. I wasn’t terribly attached to my tissue. My baby, on the other hand…

This brings me to an important tangent and lesson in what not to say. I don’t care what your thoughts are on when life begins for the purposes of debates on abortion. You’re not being judged on that right now. If you are speaking with a woman who has lost an unborn child, call it whatever she calls it. Baby. Child. Person. Sweetheart. Now is not the time to say “It wasn’t really a living person yet.” Maybe not to you, but frankly, you don’t matter here. “It didn’t feel any pain.” Great. Thanks. That bloody well makes one of us. Also, for the record, don’t say “you might be able to conceive another one right away.” While this is true and may be what some women need to hear, it should be offered in response to a question along those lines, not as an expression of condolence. When someone’s dog dies, we know enough not to say that they can get a new puppy right away, like that somehow replaces old Spot. Why would someone possibly think it would be comforting to say that about my kid?

3. It feels like an over-reaction. Because of some of the responses I just listed, I kind of feel like I might be over-reacting. Oh, it wasn’t a real baby. Or I didn’t know the gender yet, or the hair color yet, or we hadn’t picked a name or felt the baby kick, so we hadn’t really bonded. There aren’t polite words for this line of thinking, or for people whose insensitivity makes you feel this way. My advice to a sister going through this: if anyone suggests you are over-reacting or it wasn’t a real baby or that their pain was so much worse because they miscarried two months further along than you did, punch them in the nose. I normally (never) advocate violence, but this is an extreme case.

4. There’s no body. Except in cases where the fetus baby had to be removed medically or miscarriages in the later stages of pregnancy, most women miscarry stuff that mercifully is not recognizable or formed. Nothing to bury (which is a very different thing than nothing to grieve, as anyone whose loved one is missing and presumed dead or died in some sort of  tragedy where the remains were not recovered can tell you). Nothing to kiss goodbye, for those who need that closure.

5. On a related note, there’s nothing missing that we can see. Again, late in pregnancy there would be a visible difference in the shape of the grieving mama’s body, but mine looks the same as it did before. Yes, I lost eight pounds overnight, and I can feel the difference quite keenly in fact, but there’s no empty chair, no person that was walking around here yesterday who suddenly isn’t, no pictures to remind me (except the ultrasound photo, which my husband took off the fridge), no physical representation of a person’s life. So you can forget. Kind of like we do when another person dies and we think later oh, Martha would love this; I can’t wait to tell her! and then the wave of grief hits us (different from shock, where we don’t really forget so much as need some time for our brains to actually catch up with what’s happened). Except you can do it a lot in this case, the day after it happens, even. Which then makes you feel really really bad. What kind of parent forgets that their child died? The kind who lost that child to miscarriage.

6. At the same time, pregnancy reorients your life in a way that nothing else really does. You put doctor’s visits, trimester milestones and due dates on your calendar. You change your wardrobe. You get in the habit of refusing alcohol and tuna fish and unpasteurized cheese and non-tylenol pain killers. You skip the grocery store aisle with the maxi pads (which all of a sudden, painfully, brutally, every freaking time you go to the bathroom, you need again). And so reminders are everywhere. And because you just forgot for a second that you can in fact take aspirin, when you remember it hurts like hell.

7. There are no memories. When we celebrate a person’s life at a memorial service, one of the best parts is telling stories. Happy stories, sad stories, funny stories, bittersweet stories. We celebrate the person’s humor or tenderness or brilliant smile. I don’t have any stories about my baby that I lost. So far, talking about the hopes and excitement we felt at the idea of that child hasn’t helped, although it might in the future. I’ll keep on that, mostly because I think I need to keep talking about it.

8. Without memories, stories, a physical representation, and so on, there’s very little community around this loss. Most grief, as my friend Amber pointed out, is communal. Others who knew the person can share their feelings too, and can even conceptualize the loss. With this loss, I understand and feel it the most, where even my spouse has a harder time really grabbing on to it. The circle widens through the immediate and extended family and friends network, but most folks outside our siblings and parents are sad for us, but don’t have grief of their own about this little one who wasn’t able to be in the world. That’s okay, but grief is so much easier a burden when it’s shared.

If you have other ideas about this, whether intellectual thoughts or from your own experience or that of someone close to you, please feel free to add them. Maybe we’ll even create a little resource of some kind that helps someone. Ideas, like grieving, are better and more helpful when shared.

[So this might be where I get feedback that I detach from my emotions or I live in my head, because I'm able to wax all intellectual here. Hey, it helps me, and it may one day help another woman, so that's not a bad thing. I didn't cry while I wrote this, which is a milestone, or a sign of detachment. I did, however, shake. Like, a lot. So maybe not so much with the detachment thing, see?]

The Ups and Downs

Heck of a week, folks. Last Friday, I was unanimously approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry for ordination this year. They had some great feedback, and some constructive feedback (which is also great, just in a different way), about which I had planned to reflect and stuff.

Then I did manage to get myself into a controversial position by being quoted in part and largely out of context on the evening news. I do plan to post about that specifically a little later, including my best reconstruction of all of my statements, and open it up to comments. Please do not comment on this post about that newscast. Later, okay?

Literally as the broadcast was airing Wednesday night, my body began to go from mild discomfort and symptoms about which I was concerned to unmistakable and painful–physically and emotionally–signs of full miscarriage. By midnight, the worst was over, but that doesn’t make it any easier. A trip to the doctor on Thursday confirmed that I am no longer pregnant. I had been eleven weeks and five days.

People have been incredibly gracious and supportive with prayers, notes, calls, hugs, and even a bouquet of flowers. It’s amazing how many couples come out of the woodwork to tell their similar stories, and makes you wonder about why we don’t talk about this pain very openly. Do we still attach a stigma or blame to the family? Are we confused about what exactly it is we are mourning? Partners of those who have miscarried particularly, help me out here– what’s a spouse to do? Mine seems to not know which end is up, which is fine, but I wish I could make it easier for him.

For me, it’s moment by moment. Sometimes I’m fine. Sometimes a contraction-like pain reminds me, oh yeah, I’ve lost my baby, and then I lose my um, stuff. Yesterday there were big reminders that made me cry: the ultrasound photo on the fridge (now safely hidden away for when I want it sometime later–much later), the pregnancy test that I still had on my dresser, which I never want to see again. Big pain.

Today, it was the little things: talking about the diversity of people being certified, commissioned, and ordained in our conference– a vast array of ages, ethnicities, vocational callings, and even a young woman who will be visibly preg– I thought before I stopped myself. A leftover bottle of gingerale which I almost offered to take home because I drink a lot of it to get through the nausea… oh, right. Asking for Tylenol and being given a generic brand, so I checked to see if it was safe to take… I can take anything I want and it doesn’t matter.

So we plug on. Day by day, moment by moment. One hug, one prayer, one phone call at a time. And try not to think too much about what happens tomorrow and next month and six months from now when we get to the day that was already circled on the calendar and ingrained in my mind. And we give thanks for what we have– an amazing, healthy, beautiful, loving four year old, a strong marriage, a community of support, a faith to sustain. The rest I can weather, as long as I have those things.

My husband

Because he sometimes thinks that I don’t say it enough, and really, can you ever? couplekiss

My husband overheard me tonight, describing him to a friend on the phone as my pillar of strength.

When I hung up, he looked at me a bit incredulously.

“Really? You think I’m a pillar of strength?” he asked, tears pricking at his eyes. “I don’t feel so much like a pillar right now.”

“Honey,” I said, “the brave ones are not the ones who never feel fear– those are reckless dumb—es.  Brave ones are those who stand up despite their fear. Pillars of strength are not the ones who never grieve, and never hurt. Those would be heartless, insensitive jerks. Pillars of strength are the ones who hold you up even though they feel weak.”

And he is. Sweet Jesus, every time I need him, he is.

Sermon- Standing on the Promise: Legacy

“Standing on the Promise: Legacy”

(March 8, 2009) God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is that their faith and family will continue, that they will have a legacy. We too are promised that our faith bears fruit in legacy. (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16)

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