Friday, January 4, 2008

my scenic route to God ~ PART THREE

It's weird to me that I have all these really vivid memories from first grade and almost no memories after that until about fifth grade. Maybe that was because everyone in school called me "Theresa". I hated that name. It was my Catholic school name and it proved that no one knew me or cared about me. We moved all the time so I was constantly changing schools, a world where I was always the new kid named Theresa. I'm pretty sure there are really good reasons I don't remember those days. I think maybe God drugged me. He's merciful that way.

Then one day I woke up. On the first day of fifth grade sitting in another new school, the teacher was calling out everyone's name for attendance. She spoke out my name (the one that proved that I was an alien) but then she did something that no one had ever done before: she asked me what I wanted to be called. I was so used to being called Theresa that I honestly almost just went with it but then it occurred to me that no one was around to correct me. I actually had a choice. The thrill of power jolted me awake as I spoke another name that held the possibility of something new. I noticed the urge to say something that clearly was not my name at all like "Maria" or "Sophie" but I thought that might cause some problems when parent-teacher conferences rolled around. So I squeaked out "Terri" and that has been my name ever since.

My teacher's name was Miss Clements but she wasn't fooling me. She was obviously God. She saw right through me and I saw right through her. She was just as warm as ever, except apparently during the time I had been dozing God had developed a sense of humor. She was always coming to class really excited to tell us the latest joke she had heard. They were the kinds of jokes that were really terrible and that's what made them funny. She was this huge energetic cartoon telling us jokes like, "How do you know policemen are strong?...Because they can hold up traffic!" and then she would bust out this hilarious laughter and pretty soon the whole class was on the floor laughing and we didn't even really get the joke. She was God for sure.

Laughter and joy and playfulness and creativity were like a virus that spread through the classroom and most of us came down with it. We were just sick with it. Even the kids who seemed immune would sniffle a smile now and then. Miss Clements noticed that I was smart (the nuns had told my parents that I was "slow" so I always deeply believed this was true) and she noticed that I could draw. She would turn me upsidedown and pound my back until all my gifts came out of my mouth in messy coughing spasms along with the laughter. She forced me to write and draw until my fingers were stiff and my heart was clearly visible. God is pretty strict about these kinds of things. Really sort of demanding.

Sometimes I wonder who I would be if God had not helped me find my name. Theresa would not be writing this blog, that's for sure.


  1. so glad that God tapped that "vein of gold" that was buried inside. As some one who has NO artistic abilities I'm amazed at all of you who write and paint so beautifully.
    I'm really glad that I married one.

  2. Yeah honey...theresa probably wouldn't have married you. she would have ended up with some half-crazed lunatic. i like you better.

  3. You have brought to me all those in my life who have been god in such a powerful and life altering way.
    It's amazing the power of a name.
    And I'm just feeling really grateful right now for having found you, that you started this blog, for the words you are sharing here.
    They are important to me and valuable and I feel when i come here like I'm stepping into something comfortable and sacred and human and where I belong.
    love to you.

  4. I am so thankful for Miss Clements, and I’m so glad you claimed your name! Your story is wonderful and tender. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. "I'm pretty sure there are really good reasons I don't remember those days. I think maybe God drugged me. He's merciful that way."

    How cool that you don't blame God for this time but you see his mercy. are about my only friend that is able to articulate that "maybe God drugged me." and allow me to see how God loves us in such radical ways.

    Even though I know you...I'm knowing you more now.

    love you!

  6. I love the photographs you've been pairing with these entries. Did you take them? Find them on the internet? Gather them from your gifted photographer friend? In any case, they are fitting and gorgeous.

    No surprise that I loved this entry. I feel like I'm settling into some crazy-wonderful new book that I just happened upon at the bookstore and will forever more be loyal to the author. So, yeah. I'm loyal to you, girl.

    I wonder if another reason you can't remember first grade through the first day of fifth is because you died. Your heart, I mean. In first grade.

    The slow-motion recognition that you had a choice about your name in Miss Clements class was so poignant. I could inhabit that moment in the story, feel it happening, the quickening heart but the slow-moving seconds. Even the considerations of other beautiful names you may have always wanted. But then the naming of yourself. So powerful and filled with meaning there, I think.

    Love to you.

  7. bella: thanks for the kind words. i actually started crying when i read your comment. your words encouraged me more than you can imagine.

    chloe: i'm grateful for her too. what's weird is that i don't really have any idea what i'm going to write about with this story of mine until i sit down to write. i kind of ask myself the question, "ok, what comes next?" and then i listen for a while. so this time when i listened i suddenly had all these memories of miss clements. i knew she was a huge influence, but i had forgotten little bits of it (like the jokes) until i spent some time with those memories. teachers are so powerful, aren't they?

    marcia: i feel like i'm knowing me more too. you honestly can't imagine what it means to me when you read this and talk back. considering our history in haiti recently (I.V.s and all) you probably understand more than most what i mean my the mercy of drugging. thank you my friend.

    christianne: the photos are from They have photos that you can download for free.

    you know that whole loyalty thing is totally mutual. i just journaled about that the other day...the way all the blogs i follow are like living stories that i get to read as they are unfolding.

    and yes, i'm sure the state of suspended animation didn't allow for many memories to register. but the image of god drugging me feels somehow he was protecting me. (by the way, you've been on my mind a lot the last few days...i hope your time in the monastery has been exactly what you needed it to be.)

    mad love to all of you!!!

  8. This is like a WHOLE new person I'm getting to know Terri. I found your blog through Greg's the other day actually cause my mom told me about it. I had no idea you started it, which makes sense cause you were pretty quiet about it. You are really suprising me, opening up in whole new ways. I am very excited for you! Doesn't it feel amazing to just open the doors and stop hiding? Thank you for sharing your words with the world and thank you to those in Terri's life that have encouraged her to spread her wings and open up. I know its a little bit scarey but so worth it. I love you much my friend. I already feel like I've gotten to know you better and look forward to continuing that path. Thanks again for sharing...keep it coming :)

  9. How odd. you don't remember your early catholic school days and didn't have a "name," but in the process of sharing this, you "named" my early catholic school days and helped me more vividly remember them. It was dark -- but helpful to remember. Your blog tapped something visceral in me.

    I felt "alien" all the time.

    I really appreciate you sharing your story.

    And thank God for sister Clemens. What a difference one caring teacher can make.


  10. Oh Terri. What a beautiful story-teller you are. And I think it's what all the really good story-tellers do: they don't try to concoct something fantastic on their own ... they wait & listen. The story that comes is infinitely more honest & beautiful & moving than anything we'd come up with on our own.

    I am so thankful & amazing at these paths that intertwine here, at these journeys that are intersecting & blessing the socks off of me. You are definitely one of those people, & I've wondered over the past couple weeks how I blogged so long without you. Geez.

    I am so thankful for those teachers & those kind souls who see something in us that smack's of God's thumbprint, that something unique & special & totally & only you (that word spoken by God just once in all eternity) ... I'm so thankful God brings us those people, who point us toward knowing our own name. As someone who is learning her own name, who is tapping into that whole God's thumbprint thing, your story resonates with something inside me so deeply. I'll tuck it away & keep it there & remember.

    God is good. What unfolds here is blooming & colorful & beautiful.

    thanks for giving me a front-row seat.

  11. I left you something over at my blog : )

  12. Heather: Yeah, that whole linking from Greg's site is kind of freaking me out! But it does feel good and it's feeling like i'm home. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Greg: I was thinking a lot about you when I was writing that portion of my story. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if we would have been in the same classroom. I wouldn't have thumped you on the head with that big family Bible like those goodie-two-shoes, I'll tell you that much. I think we would have recognized each other and talked a little bit about life and death. Thanks my brother.

    Kirsten: Seriously girl, sometimes I feel like we're thinking the same thoughts or like God is sitting us down and teaching us the same things simultaneously. I feel known in ways that are good and healing. *big old hug*

    Chloe: I had a good long cry over this my friend. I don't even know how to thank you or to express what this means to me. But you know I'll try when I post about it. :)

  13. Thanks for the invitation to listen in, Terri. My eyes are stinging to catch up. Thank you for being the difference one caring teacher can make. You are. Tons of mad love. I echo the echos....keep writing!

    (meanwhile, the loving subplot that is yours and Dave's love story is all so touching)

  14. Hi Di...I'm glad to have you here. You're an exceptionally good listener with a really great heart. And thanks for noticing the love.

  15. terr you astound me! your words are so beautiful and descriptive. It is hitting the core of me! I look forward to reading more... love you!

  16. I echo Marcia: "Even though I know you...I'm knowing you more now."

    I love it...thanks.

  17. Shelley: thank you so much for your words. They mean a lot to me given what we talked about recently.

    Jen: it's kind of like being in haiti together isn't it? you find out some funky stuff. :)