Sunday, January 27, 2008

underwater psalm

coral lungs and salty breath~
my lips are forming your name here
in the quiet of this
underwater
grave.
resurrect me out of the
algae and tangled weeds.
leviathan fingers curled around my neck~
uncoil the pressing night
to see the beauty of your
deep blue love.

~terri '06

Thursday, January 24, 2008

ghosts of friendships past: my scenic route to God~part eight

So far I've been speaking primarily in the past tense, and that's a comfortable way to speak. It implies that these things are long ago and far away. It creates a big wide expanse between the events I'm telling you about and who I am today. Even as I passed over some terrible memories, the lullaby of the past tense language kept me snug and cozy at a safe distance. Even when sadness and anger passed through me like old ghosts, I was comforted by the "once upon a time" quality of my words. But my story has caught up to me now, and something very current has emerged. This makes it much more delicate to tell.

In the two year transition between my first question and my decision to leave that church, I lost most of my friends. I'm not talking about casual friends. I'm talking about the kinds of relationships that felt as stable and solid as the earth. One of the few benefits of those holiness standards is that they created a deep sense of belonging. But the moment I challenged them, I became a stranger. I stayed there a long time in this half-life of ghost friends because I could not really come to grips with the loss. It's something you just can't take in all at once.

I am speaking in past tense.

This happened twenty years ago.

It was long ago and far away.

So why are my hands shaking? Why am I holding my breath? Why are my thoughts racing around like they're trying to distract me from something terrible?

Why am I speaking in the present tense?

I am realizing that something happened to me back then that is still happening now. The ice-water shock of those losses changed me somehow. I am noticing how I hold myself at a distance from even my closest friends. I am noticing a cold chill of fear always hovering, like I am bracing myself for the moment when everything vanishes. I am noticing a space between me and the rest of the world that I wear like armour.

This is where my story folds over from past to present. These are the old wounds that never really healed. These are the ghosts still haunting me. I wasn't aware of this until the story found its way here into this light. I am aware now as I write these words that this will require something new of me. I am speaking in the present tense. There is solid earth holding me up and trustworthy friends surrounding me. I am reaching out now in spite of my fear. I'm looking to the God who led me here to this land of blessing and abundance for the courage to speak in the present tense.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Interlude

I am here. I am writing again.

Sometimes as I watch the words appear on the screen I feel as though the words are finding me, making me somehow. I feel as though God is writing me. This is something sacred. And I'm grateful to be here, writing for you and for me.

I want to thank all of you for the way you held me up when I was feeling the heaviness of the stories I was telling you. I am gathering all of your love and tenderness and tucking it away for those days ahead when I'll most surely need it. I'm embroidering your kindness into my memory with all of its fine detail and delicate beauty. I'm ready to begin again, and so I have.

I am here. I am writing again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

a wayside rest on my scenic route

I'm realizing that I don't know how to write the rest of my story. I'm not quite sure what's up, but I feel as though the story is telling itself in my body without the benefit of words. I'm back there somehow in those first days of leaving that church when I believed I would never be able to connect to another friend again. I'm even finding myself in first grade now and then. In the last few days I'm noticing that loneliness has settled into my chest like a virus squeezing out the space required to take a deep breath. I don't even have the energy to describe it well. I think I may have covered too much time and heartache in my story to really honor those places and I'm feeling exposed and disoriented. I'm sad in a deeply physical way, I'm sick.

So I'm reaching out for time and space from all of you. I know your generous hearts will give it gladly. Peace.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Giving of Gifts

I've been wondering lately what it is about blogging that is so nourishing and so deeply satisfying. I visit the pages of people I have come to love and admire through their stories and through their writing and I feel myself saying, "yes, I understand." But even more than understanding them, I somehow feel understood myself. I recognize something of myself in their lives. Reading what they have to say helps me to learn who I am and who I am not. Today, when I stopped by Bella's blog, I found that she had given me an award, a gift. She passed on the You Make My Day award, and that's a curious thing to me since receiving it made my day.

As I think about passing this on to others, I'm pausing to reflect on what exactly it is in the writing of these people that excites me. What is it that I'm looking for when I visit? It's not necessarily pleasant feelings although that's always nice. Sometimes when I knock on the door of these pages I am greeted with massive struggles. Sometimes in the process of looking in on the lives of others I bump up against some sadness or anger or even stretches of harsh desert. If they tell it well, in a voice that belongs uniquely to them, I will probably experience some of those same things. I will search my own story for the places that fit what they are describing. It might bring to the surface things that are buried. I might not appreciate this at first. I might not immediately recognize this gift they are giving me. But soon enough this gift will pour out its treasures and I will feel the gratitude.

I want to pass on this award to Christianne and Kirsten. Their stories have done what all good stories do. They have let me know that I am not alone. They have held up a mirror so that I can see myself more clearly. They have shared honestly in a way that gave me permission to speak even when it might cost me something. And by following their line of vision, they have pointed me to God. Thank you.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Breaking Open: my scenic route to God~PART SEVEN

It may seem as though that last chapter was a bit of a detour, but the holiness standards played a huge role in my decision to leave that church, only not in the way you might imagine. It started with a Bible study that I was teaching to a young girl who had just started coming to the church. We were moving along nicely, and then one day she asked me why women have to dress the way they do. By this time I had been attending the church for eleven years, and I thought I knew the answer to that question. I pulled out all of the verses in the Bible that we used to justify the standards, but she just looked at me blankly. In that moment I heard my own voice trying to convince myself. I split in half like a big ripe watermelon dropped on the sidewalk and there was a part of me that asked the questions with her. Wet black seeds of doubt spread out all over the place.

There are many obstacles to really encountering God. For instance, God is not easily figured out...you can't describe him in five sentences or less. He's filled with seeming contradictions. For most people this is something they will need to wrestle with. We like our god's to be predictable and comfortable. This is an obstacle that is built into the very fabric of what it means to actually enter into a relationship with God (or anyone else for that matter.) I can't do anything about that. I can't remove that for you so you'll have an easier go of it. But there are other obstacles to God that are synthetic in nature...we make them up. Mostly they're about giving us shortcuts to figure out who's in and who's out. We don't like the ambiguity and hard work of having to figure out what's under a person's skin, so we come up with all of these elaborate ways to signal membership and character. It's pretty slick too. We can size one another up very quickly without running the risk of getting to know one another and listening and possibly being affected by one another. These are the kinds of obstacles that we have some say-so over. We can spend our time constructing them or we can get busy tearing them down.

So I began to deconstruct this wall. After spending about a year and a half asking questions and praying like a madwoman, I went out and bought a pair of jeans. It was my declaration. It said, "I'm not playing anymore." It was a visible challenge. This is when the busted-up watermelon got really messy and sticky and impossible to clean up. One by one I violated every one of those standards. I began to wear the faintest little bit of makeup. I bought a simple silver bracelet. I cut my hair just a little bit. You might be thinking that the process of shedding some of this unnecessary weight would be freeing and fun. It wasn't. This was a grueling spiritual discipline that was made all the more miserable because of the deep misunderstandings it created. I was doing this out of integrity and obedience to the voice of God, but most of my friends and mentors believed exactly the opposite. They assumed I was just being selfish and immature. They were afraid of me. They stopped talking to me. I became a walking wound with pain and confusion seeping out of every pore. I seriously wished I was dead.

After about six months of this I noticed something that gave me the courage to leave. A pattern began to emerge that woke me up. I would go to church and suffer through a bunch of judgment and isolation and misery. I would leave almost every service with a migraine (it really hurts to have a watermelon split open inside you) and the feeling that I was most certainly going to have a heart attack. Then I would go home, lay down in my bed with the covers over my head, and I would pray. And every single time I did this, God would pick me up and rock me like a baby and say things like, "I'm really sorry, honey. I love you so much." It was that same warm, loving presence from when I was a little girl. He also came to me in the form of my husband, who listened to all my questions and walked with me through all of this sorrow and uncertainty and put himself at risk to defend me. He even came up with a few questions of his own. After a while the pattern spoke to me in no uncertain terms that the grief I was receiving over there did not originate from God, and I knew it was time to go.

When I let everyone know that I was leaving, the pastor of the church showed up at my door. My youngest son was struggling with asthma at the time and I was in the middle of preparing a nebulizer treatment for him. The medication for the nebulizer comes in these tiny glass vials that you have to snap in half so that you can pour the contents into the machine. My hands were shaking so badly that I couldn't break open the vial. I listened with one ear to all of this man's defenses and threats and with the other ear I listened to God. I finally snapped off the top of the vial and sat my little boy down and placed the mask over his face and started the treatment. I held him while the machine hissed out the cloud of medication that gradually calmed his rattled breathing. This man didn't seem to notice. Finally, I told him in a voice that was shaking almost as much as my hands that I wasn't judging him and I didn't want to fight. I just needed to leave. And that was that.

The next Sunday morning the pastor got up and told everyone that Dave and Terri and Bonnie and Jim (my mom and dad) were leaving and no one should talk to them. I was really the only one who said I was leaving, but apparently that made everyone related to me dangerous so they threw out the babies (my husband and parents) with the bathwater (me). I guess you just have to cut your losses sometimes. My husband's mother, who was the church secretary at the time and who had given her whole life to the church, was sitting in the congregation sobbing helplessly and uncontrollably. It was one of the most fear-driven things I have ever witnessed, but it ended up giving them permission to leave when they really might not have been able to do it on their own for a very long time. So I left, and Dave got kicked out. Now you know. Dog-gone.

As I look back on all those years I mostly feel really grateful. I plundered that place and walked away with loot you just can't even imagine. I found my dearest love there. I developed some of my most important friendships there and they are some of the closest people to me to this day. (Incidentally, that church has changed like crazy over the years and has become a much safer place.) I learned to really throw myself at God with abandon and listen with intensity and persistence. I thank God for all of that. It will always be a part of me. But this is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Lipstick and Questions: my scenic route to God~PART SIX

First of all, a few factual corrections to my last post:
  1. I actually spent thirteen years as a Pentecostal. (It only seemed like nine years because I was dissociating for about four years of it.)
  2. Dave's right: I decided to leave and then HE got kicked out, but I'll explain all that later.
You already know some of the distinctives of this particular Pentecostal church from my descriptions, but I have to give you just one more piece of the puzzle before I move on. This church had something they called "holiness standards", and for those of you who don't know what that is, it's just as repulsive as it sounds. Holiness standards were a strict set of rules that governed your appearance.

For women, it meant:

  1. you couldn't cut your hair
  2. no makeup
  3. no jewelry (except wedding rings and the occasional pin on your coat, although this was frowned on by some)
  4. no jeans or shorts (only dresses or skirts were allowed)
  5. no fun (OK, I made that up, but it's kind of implied)
For men, it meant:
  1. no shorts
  2. no facial hair
  3. no long hair
Of course when push came to shove no one really cared much about the men's rules. If a guy wanted to play tennis and wore a pair of shorts no one really paid that much attention. However, if a woman wanted to join him for a round or two and wore a pair of shorts it would result in a scandal that would follow the poor harlot around for the next ten years. She would practically have to wear a big "A" across her bosom and yell "unclean" so people would not mistake her for someone respectable. If you look really closely at these "standards" it will dawn on you that it was fairly easy to look like a normal human being if you were a guy, but if you were a woman you pretty much looked like a bag lady or Laura Ingalls Wilder no matter how hard you tried. Still, it was the price of admission and it seemed like a small hoop to jump through in order to be a saint and avoid Armageddon, so I took my medicine like a good girl. Mostly.

Anyway, these rules were not, in the long run, just a benign annoyance. They spoke to me. They whispered in my ear something about worth and dignity and control. They became a splinter in the center of my mind, gnawing at my heart almost continuously. I began to notice all the little ways they created a wall between me and the rest of the world. Even worse than this, they also separated me from God. When the honest questions about all of this started to surface in the back of my brain it was the beginning of the end of my Pentecostal days. As soon as these questions found their way from my mind to my mouth, I might as well have been screaming "unclean" at the top of my lungs. They had exactly the same kind of effect.

Questions are the most dangerous heresy of all. More dangerous than lipstick.

I promise I'll tell you all about the leaving and getting kicked out next time.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Captain Trips

Hey, did anybody ever read the Stephen King novel called The Stand? It's about this showdown between good and evil that develops after a biologically engineered virus is unleashed that wipes out most of the population of the world. They name the virus Captain Trips.

I'm pretty sure I have it.

I keep trying to write my next installment but my lungs are acting like a couple of wet sandbags and my head feels like I stuffed it full of old newspaper. I'll probably be dead by morning. Speak well of me.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

God's B-Movie Horror Flick: my scenic route to God ~ PART FIVE

You were probably afraid that we were going to be hanging around the fifth grade for the next year or so and my story was going to have seventy-three chapters. But I'll spare you the dull years and fast forward to when I was fourteen because this is when the really juicy chapters of my spiritual journey begins. My eighteen-year-old uncle started dating a sixteen-year-old girl who was a back-slider from a Pentecostal church. (Incidentally, I hate that word: back-slider. What does it even mean? Like you're hanging out with God and suddenly you fall backwards and slide down some hill, and you hit the bottom all dirty and disheveled with sticks in your hair and God doesn't like you anymore? I only use this word because it's how she described herself.) They ended up getting married a year after they met, and she and I got pretty tight.

One night I stayed over at her house and she started to tell me some really scary stories. It was exactly like when you have a slumber party with your friends and someone says, "Let's tell spooky stories!" except she was dead serious when she got to the end and said, "And it's really true!" She told me stories about the moon turning to blood and the stars falling out of sky like scud missiles. She told me that God was going to come back any day now and all of the "saints" (folks who spoke in tongues and were baptized a particular way and believed exactly what she believed) would suddenly disappear like smoke, and everyone who was left behind would be in serious shit.

Now, I had been a good little Catholic my whole life and I went to church every Sunday and went to confession and attended catechism and was even recently confirmed and no one had ever mentioned any of this to me. It seemed like a pretty important thing to skip over. At first I felt really sorry for her because she obviously was confused. I tried to correct her as gently as I could. But she pulled out her Bible and started giving me the low down on the book of Revelation. To be perfectly honest, I had never once read the Bible and I fully expected that the names of the books would be The Book of Jesus or Mary, The Really Good Mother. It gradually occurred to me that no one had actually taught me much about the Bible. This left me feeling pretty betrayed and it also left me completely vulnerable to her version of exegesis. I was MAD. But mostly I was terrified that someone was going to come and stamp 666 on my forehead before I had a chance to get myself "saved".

I made an appointment with my priest and asked him very nicely why he had not bothered to talk about this stuff. I don't remember much of the conversation, but I vividly remember that he had a huge commentary open in front of him and at one point he slammed it shut furiously and said, "You're putting the cart before the horse!" I don't have any idea what he meant by that, but I don't think it was a reference to the horses of the apocalypse (one of which is pale green and has a rider named DEATH, in case you didn't know.) When he slammed that book shut I knew that my Catholic days were over.

My first Pentecostal service was a youth revival. I didn't know what that was, but it was not at all like your average Catholic mass. People were clapping and dancing and running around and speaking in tongues. I'm tempted to make fun of it, but the truth is that it had a strange beauty. These people were utterly abandoned to God in ways that I had never seen before. The music was loud and pulsating and really kind of awful and cheesy, but it just dared you to open your mouth really wide and sing along. The preacher was also loud and pulsating, and just in case I was thinking that my new aunt had gotten it wrong, he confirmed the whole bloody moon story. My heart was thumping so loud in my ears that I only heard about every third word he said, but that was plenty.

So I became a Pentecostal, propelled along by sheer crazy paranoid fear. This church viewed Scripture sort of like it was a big legal document and they were the only ones with the secret decoder ring. No one was getting into heaven but them. Catholics taught this too, but at least they said it in a boring monotone voice so it wasn't quite as convincing. I shed one form of legalism for another, more virulent form. The really horrible side-effect of this view of the Bible is that it makes God look like a crabby shriveled-up prosecuting attorney hunched over his desk finding all the ways to send you to eternal bloody moon jail. Yuck.

Oddly enough, I honestly encountered God there. Despite all the propaganda, I was able to keep my vision of him intact. And the crazy environment actually gave me permission to go after God with passion. I was able to abandon myself in worship. I was able to explore regions of the Spirit that I never knew existed. When I look back on Catholicism or Pentecostalism these days, I have a much kinder view than I ever did before. But I wouldn't go back if you paid me a million bucks.

The truth is, even though I spent the next nine years there, I never was a very good Pentecostal. I was always asking annoying questions and getting myself in trouble with the rules police. I finally went and got myself kicked out. But that's the next chapter.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

waking up: my scenic route to God~PART FOUR

I'm a nurse (or at least I used to be) so if you've never had surgery you're going to have to believe me on this: coming out of anesthesia is hell and it happens in lurching stops and starts. I react especially badly to the stuff. Many years ago I had a minor surgical procedure that should have been a breeze (that was the evil propaganda they fed me), but it turns out that I don't transition well from "under" to "awake". First I heard far away voices trying to annoy me back to the world, and then I vomited and passed out. It was pretty much down hill from there. Imagine trying to swim with ankle weights in the middle of ten foot waves: lots of gulping and sputtering and sinking to the murky bottom. Eventually they gave me some kind of injection to force the issue and my heart beat a crazy jungle rhythm outside my body. I followed the sound back to the recovery room and they ushered me out the door.

This is what it was like for me to come out of my frozen soul-sleep. When I spoke my name in the fifth grade I really did wake up, but this consciousness came at a price. I started to notice the pain...really vivid, screaming pain. If you've ever been in this kind of pain, you can understand the urge to go back to sleep. Periodically, when the nausea and pain became overwhelming, I would kind of slip away from my life into the murky, dreamless depths. I would pop the lovely narcotics of avoidance and dissociation and drift far, far away. I would hear God's voice through thick velvet stage curtains trying to annoy me back to the classroom, telling those terrible jokes, "What do you say when a dog runs away?...Dog-gone!" But sometimes it just hurt too much to be present so I would decide to be absent even when I was sitting at my desk. Exit, stage left. Dog-gone.

So waking up wasn't quite as smooth as I was making it sound. I'm still a little bit of a dissociation junkie. And I'm still trying to follow my heart's crazy jungle rhythm back to the world and to my life. But that's OK. God's pretty dang patient and he's got a ton of jokes up his sleeve.

Aslan Appears

I'm going to interrupt my series documenting my spiritual journey to celebrate something amazing. Today, as I was performing my daily ritual blog-gobbling I discovered something so personal and unexpected that I nearly peed my pants. Chloe, over at Beauty in the Breakdown, has awarded me A Roar for Powerful Words. This is an award that is passed on from blogger to blogger that "aims to celebrate good and powerful writing in the blogosphere."


Chloe, I'm on my second box of kleenex. I think I may be having a heart attack, but if they find me dead you should know that I died deliriously happy. I feel really humbled and honored to be named this way by you. You've played a role in my life that I don't think you'll ever really fully appreciate. It's funny how people who have never met can do that. Thank you. Truly.

And now to pass it on. I think I'll start off by cheating. Most of the really good writers that I follow in blogland have already received this award. So I'm seconding their nominations. Bella, Chloe, Christianne and Kirsten all have been given this award and they all richly deserve it. (Is there an "I've been seconded" icon you can put in your sidebar?) I am hopelessly addicted to their writing and madly in love with each of them.

I feel a kind of giddy power now recognizing that I can pass on this sublime happiness. So without further diddling around, here are the folks I want to recognize for their blog stories:

1) Tom

Tom is ruthlessly transparent and funny as hell. I stumbled onto his blog when I was bored and did a search for people who also liked the movie Run Lola Run. (God is clearly a playful weirdo.) I loved him at once. You will too.

2) Jen

Jen will kill me that I did this (she's very shy), but sometimes you just have to tell the truth no matter how much trouble it brings you. She just finished her medical residency in pediatrics and with her newfound ability to make gobs of money she decided to head off to Haiti to make $100 a month working under the most unimaginably horrible conditions with the sickest kids in the world. The story she is telling with her life just destroys me with its beauty.

3) Greg

Greg has been my friend since I was fourteen and now he's also my pastor. Greg writes theology from his heart and it often earns him the title of "heretic". We always burn the ones we love. I'm so grateful that he is helping me tell my God-story.

4) Marcia

Marcia isn't a storyteller in the conventional sense of the word. She speaks through her photography and it gives her a kind of holy perspective. She blogs about Haiti and invites everyone to encounter that place through her lens in ways that my words cannot possibly capture.

There you have it. Now I'll leave you all so I can bask for a while in this yummy joy.

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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

my scenic route to God ~ PART TWO

My parents enrolled me in a parochial school when I entered the first grade, and this was the year that I began my long descent into hell. (Actually, I had been taking little steps downward for a long time, but this is the time frame when the ground opened up underneath me and the fall was dizzying.) There were many ingredients that got tossed into a pot and stirred together to create the witches brew of my misery. But the element of the potion that I'll talk about for the purposes of this story was the eye of newt of Catholic school. I only spent a half a year there before I was yanked out and placed in public school but the damage was already done.

I remember one particular day standing alone against a brick wall during recess. It was a bitterly cold and windy day and my family was fairly poor so my coat was old and ratty and not very warm. My whole body was shaking and my teeth were making a sound like Spanish maracas. From across the playground two very well-dressed girls marched over to where I was standing and one of them said very emphatically, "I hope you freeze to death." So I did. Something in me went very cold and still from that day forward.

There were a lot of little deaths like this during my time in Catholic school. The children were cruel and the nuns were either oblivious or indifferent. But the thing that made this really unbearable for me was that it was all juxtaposed against the religious paraphernalia of the convent. Along with learning math and spelling and all that, I was learning God-rules. Mixed in with all the humiliation and torture and isolation was a stream of God-talk. Not God-talk like, "Jesus loves you, honey." It was all the little rules and corresponding punishments if you broke those rules. (Catholics in those days had really lurid ways of describing hell and emphasizing how very easy it was to offend God.) Every day these things were stirred together into a big hateful poison that pulsed through my tiny freezing frame.

There was one notable exception. One day my teacher told me that someone wanted to see me out in the hall. I walked to the door in a terrified stupor and imagined that I must have done something really horrible to be singled out this way. On the other side of the door was this beautiful little old lady: the mother superior. She was holding something shiny in her hand. She told me that she used to be my dad's teacher when he was a little boy. Then she held out her hand and gave me a little rosary that she had made just for me. When she placed the rosary into my palm I suddenly understood that she was God coming to rescue me. She was that same warm and loving presence that was so familiar to me. I loved her instantly.

It was just enough.

I suspect she knew something about the other storms in my life outside of that place and possibly even noticed the way I was fading day by day. Her kindness is something I'll always remember and treasure. But overall I would have to say that the church represented by that school failed me. It did not point me to God. I'm not blaming anyone here and I'm not even confident enough in the mechanisms of memory to say anything much about this at all.

Years later, I wrote this poem:

Catholic School
Every day I had three choices~

all the same:

three white blouses

three pleated skirts~

a green and blue plaid
that pulled me into its threads, and tried to erase me.
It was easy to disappear into the fabric of the uniforms.
Even my rosary bead magic

which pressed against the skin of my chest

could not protect me.
My bare knees peeked out from under those pleats
in the middle of a February blizzard,
a
nd I waited for the numbness to rescue me~
welcomed it like a friend.

The snow became the green and blue of the uniforms,

and buried me in the avalanche
of its conformity~
the world all green and blue.
I was the mismatched color~

the sin beneath the tons of snow.

Something of me was buried by that place. There was an opportunity to save me and that opportunity was lost. In the weeks after I received that rosary everything familiar in my life went away. This is not the place where I'll talk about that, at least not today. But even in the buried parts of myself there was some form of frozen life. Cold preserves things and I had not really died. My heart was being stored away for a time when it would be safe to resuscitate it. God was still holding me. In fact, I know for sure that he was suffering his own form of hypothermia, his limbs blue with shared grief.