The Art of Being a Doula (Gallery 3 of 3)

When I was in eleventh grade, I learned the true risk of what it means to create. I had completed the first stage of a clay sculpture – a hand-formed depiction of my faith journey, as the art assignment instructed. I had molded a statue of a woman wearing a long flowing robe, holding a swaddled baby and positioned moving forward atop a cross. The symbolism was intended to be both obvious and layered with nuances literally and figuratively. This was not my first go at working with clay. Thus, I was careful to ensure appropriate thickness and avoid air bubbles, lest the whole effort crack or explode during the first firing in the kiln. Yet, this was my largest sculpture to date; it was about a foot tall. I was a little nervous but confident in the process. I was part of a tightknit art class. They had been affirming of me and my art piece as I worked on it. A couple of my classmates (Who were on kiln crew) even noted that they had taken special care to place it in the kiln. A day or so later, as I was hanging out in the art room, those same classmates came in visibly forlorn. They slowly approached me. They seemed hesitant to say anything; but with consoling tones, they told me that my clay piece did not make it. I vividly remember having the initial obvious feeling of disappointment, but also having a strange feeling of calm about the outcome. For starters, I felt so supported by my teacher and classmates. I should note, my teacher gave me an A for the assignment despite its unofficial completeness. Regardless of the outcome, I felt “seen” and supported during the creative process. I think my sense of calm, in the midst of disappointment, emerged from a keen awareness that not only had I already indeed created something but, more importantly, I had not created it alone. In such a lived experience, this was, in fact, the depiction of my faith journey.

Ever since I began to work with clay, I fell in love with every bit of the material and process. During grad school, I remember chatting with a professor about how working with clay, specifically the potter’s wheel, embodied all three phases of Freud’s theory of development – providing a truly psychodynamic art therapeutic experience. We had a good laugh about it, savoring how art is so sublimely conscious and unconscious in its healing power. After all, I was a committed art therapy student and he was a beloved art therapy pioneer who had helped charter the art therapy program I was attending. Little did I know then, as much as I wanted to be an art therapist, I was already a doula at heart. Working with a medium like clay has its own kind of tangible birth experience… stages of gestation, happenings inside and out, things emerging from the fire etc. I strongly believe artwork (made from clay) bears not just a physical gestational reality but begs a certain wonderment about spiritual existence.

The Bible has many references about the relational connection between Potter and Clay and the relevant relationship between God and humanity. When my hands are immersed in clay, I often think of God’s creative process – carefully and intentionally molding and fashioning earthen elements into something distinct – me/us. I love the ancient creation story in Genesis of how God did not just form humanity from earth but breathed living Spirit into such earthenware (Genesis 2:7). We were not simply made from dirt without purpose, but we have been strategically created with divine essence to perpetuate the best kind of creative genius – eternity. King Solomon reflected on it this way:

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9 – 11)

As a doula, I can never predict the outcome for my clients, nor can I ever make certain promises about end results. I’ve been asked all too often over the years, “how much longer, what if I need X, how will I know Y” etc. I can merely affirm the process and the relationships involved, provide relevant information to make intentional decisions along the way, and offer techniques of comfort and calm to endure the process and hopefully help make it efficient. Ha, using the word “merely” seems so pejorative – suggesting I wish there was more I can do to relieve the stress of uncertainty and discomfort. But why do I minimize the value of simply being available in the moment, ready to serve and participate, making sure not to force anything or anyone to do something unintentional. It’s such a delicate balance. It’s risky business. Yes, and I’m ever more convinced of how resistance to what is meant to unfold and what we mean to unfold Is the opposite of the creative process (and product) being valued as something beautiful.

When it comes to clay and the powerful metaphor it possesses relevant to my faith journey, I take great comfort in God’s persistence to not give up on forming and reforming us into something beautiful, something eternal; but this process can only happen when we offer ourselves as lumps of clay or cracked ceramic pieces for Him to handle with care.The process requires relationship, an intimate relationship, to truly render creative worth. The prophet Ezekiel said this on God’s behalf, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26) Eternity is still part of the story, the creative genius persists. We were and are not meant to be dust to dust but earthy divine creatures that have stories to tell and art to make forever.

 

Plaster & Clay

 

Casted human foot: plaster 1992

 

Tile #2 of triptych series; clay 1992

 

Terra-cotta mask: 1999

 

Yin-Yang carafe and goblets: clay 2002

Bowl: Part 1 of communion set (Bread & Wine); clay 2002

Pottery pieces in Bowl – collected during my trip to Israel 2019:

*Collection A from Meggido; 7th century BC (Israelite era)

*Collection B found during my archaeological dig experience from Bet Guvrin; 3rd century BC (Edemite era)

 

Hand-built vessel; clay 2002

 

Sing; casted plaster sculpture 2012

 

The Dressmaker’s Form: terra-cotta 2013

 

Labor of Love; terra-cotta 2013

Special thanks to an amazing art crew from Plumstead Christian School; photo of “voted most artistic”, senior year 1994

The Art of Being a Doula (Gallery 2 of 3)

My undergrad thesis was entitled “The Platonic Metaphysical Influences on Twentieth Century Painting”. Huh? What does that mean? I confess, I was heavily influenced by Plato’s writings and philosophy of making sense of making sense of things. I was a wid- eyed college student who wondered about everything, especially how to see beauty amid what seemed so ugly, unjust and distorted. Lacking the capabilities of all five senses, I succumbed to the notion of dismissing them altogether and solely seeking a mindset of capability. Here is a quote from my thesis that I clung to:

“In Plato’s dialogue with Phaedrus, he said, “Justice, or the Good, cannot be imitated through images of natural objects. The soul of the true artist (which is in uninhibited communion with the divine or universal) will direct his art…the art of the true artist becomes a transformation of the earthly experience. It does away with representing the physical object and how it appears to the senses and concentrates on how it appears as a metaphysical object. To the human eye, it is random chaos; but to the mind’s eye, it is ordered simplicity.”

Yet, even within my mind capabilities, something still seemed lacking to grasp fully. I became aware of how my truest reality is more than just in the mind – it is al of me because of all of who Jesus was/is. Here is an excerpt from the apostle Paul’s dialogue with the Philippians:

“Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1 – 11

This kind of theology seems to offer a “third way” of living that Plato’s philosophy cannot articulate. We are not made to be dichotomized; Jesus is the culmination of the truest essence of both physical and metaphysical reality that offers us an opportunity to holistically love and serve each other in a way that only promotes beauty, truth and justice. I, as a human in light of what I may lack have been made capable through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to embody, perceive and imitate such likeness. This is the inspiration behind my artwork as well as my doula work.

 

2D PAINTING & 3D MIXED MEDIA

 

Jewelry Box

Jewelry Box; acrylic painting 1993

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The Painter; performance art painting 3 x 5 fft. 1994

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The Word Became Flesh; acrylic painting 2005

Blossom 1

Blossom #1; fresco painting – acrylic mixed with plaster on wood panel 2012

Blossom2

Blossom #2; fresco painting – acrylic mixed with plaster on wood panel 2012

The m.o.d.e.l.; performance art extravaganza – process #3 textiles 1998

Body, Soul, Spirit; wood, paper-mâché, silk 2000

Paper Cast

Paper cast; paper-mache on clay mold 2013

Resurrection

Resurrection; wood, paper-mache and acrylic paint 2014

References:

  1. Dialogue with Phaedrus; Plato
  2. The Third Way; YouTube 
  3. The Weight of Glory; C.S. Lewis
  4. The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination; Daniel J. Boorstin

The Art of Being a Doula (Gallery 1 of 3)

Ink blots2

Angel Sketch #2; magic marker 2014

Here begins a series of gallery posts. The artwork displayed, created by moi, represents a kind of pictural documentation of my life evolving to become a ‘doula’. Each piece emerged  from an unconscious as much as a conscious place that I could have never predicted. The timeline starts in childhood and is ongoing to be sure. Each piece of art posted has a story to tell about who I am, how I see the world and interact/want to interact with it. A picture says a thousand words, right? These picture stories are non-linear – with layers we perceive all at once and then break a part in pieces, just the same, to try to make sense of all that we see. Most of life is non-verbal reality, even pre-verbal, and this is an important factor in living lives fully aware of what life is really worth. 

 

DRAWINGS & PASTELS

 

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The People I Love; pencil 1984

 

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it’s Not Fair;pen and ink 1990

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Lunch; charcoal 1992

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Unchain My Soul; pastels 1992

joy

Joy; pastel painting 2003

hope

Hope: pastel painting 2009

BTExhibit-23

Longing; pastel painting 2018

BTExhibit-24

Siloam; pastel painting 2018

tagd

Childlike; pastel painting 2018

Through A Glass Darkly

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It’s been almost a year since I posted words here. And with another year gone by, comes increasing clarity and maturity of who I am and what I am called to be/to do. I am taking this next year to articulate this identity – in both a broad sense of reality as well as in an intimate space. I plan to explore and define the ‘theology of being a doula’. But to understand any sophistication in such a concept, maybe even as a doctrine, there is a story to be told, to simply set the stage for how said theology has come to be known. And how it possibly applies to us all. Here’s a bit of how my story of becoming and being a doula begins:

I grew up in a small house with a big picture window. Our house was situated atop a high hill directly facing a T-intersection. The wide window was located in the living room and offered a panoramic view of the neighborhood valley. The landscape view seemed to stretch out from our front door. The scene included numerous rooftops, tree tops and other such suburban/urban features. As a wee lass, I spent countless hours loitering by and looking through this glass movie screen.

A baseboard heater ran along the wall beneath the big picture window. I often stood on it as a little girl to prop myself up and get a better look outside. On more than one occasion, the heating channel detached itself from the wall and my dad would have to reattach it, reminding me that, “It wasn’t installed to be a step stool”. Just the same, I continued to step up and look out with wide eyed wonderment. I loved to watch the everyday events of cars driving by, urban wildlife poking around and folks out and about like the mailman on his route or neighbors active in their yards. I never tired of my past time posts. My younger brother sometimes joined me and together we scouted out the scenery. You could say we were being nosey, but we had a bird’s eye view of the world; and I was fascinated by all I saw. Who knew staring out the window could be so entertaining? It was reality TV at its finest hour – live, unedited and in 3D. I was an active participant observer, poised to look, watch and wonder. This childhood habit has carried over into adulthood. I spend a lot of time riding trains and buses; and I still never tire of gazing out the window, watching and wondering…even while underground aboard the city subway, I stare out into the darkness. There is still something to be seen if one takes the time to look. There are doorways, vents, graffiti and adjacent tunnels lined with steel ribs that disappear into the void. Such things represent something shrouded as much as something to be known or at least the possibility.

During my childhood, in the late afternoon hours, I could frequently be found by the living room window craning my head to the right to peer down the street, anticipating my dad’s truck headed up the street on his way home from work. Once spotted, I would quickly announce, “Daddy’s home!”, and scramble out the front door and down the twenty-eight front steps to greet him curbside – I on the sidewalk and he still in his truck with keys not yet out of the ignition. There was something about my dad’s homecoming that was not just excitedly anticipated but reassuring. He always came home with a smile, no matter how bad his day had been.  I think his tireless optimism is a genetic gift. He says it’s a supernaturally inspired choice. It’s probably both. This aspect of his personality I did not inherit but I have tried to imitate it – easier said than done but I try.

As a youngster at home, only occasionally would someone outside my house spot me watching from the other side of the glass. They usually waved or smiled or said to the company with them, “Hey, look at that kid up there”. They’d chuckle to themselves and keep walking. This unexpected experience of being seen by someone else somehow made me feel ‘caught’ – as if my benign peak at the world wrongly interrupted the natural balance of things. My instinctive reaction was to hop down in a dash, duct beneath the window sill and then slowly pull myself back up to catch a glimpse once more. I would then try to be less conspicuous by only allowing my forehead and eyes to peer out above the window sill. Nighttime always proved my look out attempts to be a bit more difficult, due to the simple fact that it is much easier to see through a lit window when outside in the dark looking in then it is to see the other way around. My mom would catch me trying to look anyway and instructively say something like “keep those curtains closed, everyone can see in!” After all, we were the ones at the top of the hill with the big window. I don’t even want to think about the sights and scenes the neighbors or anyone outside looking in saw when our sense of awareness was turned off and all the lights turned on with curtains opened. Sometimes it feels like it’s less intimidating to see then to be seen. That is, unless a person wants to be seen. I guess it depends on one’s perspective and sense of control in the situation. Vulnerability isn’t always about being exposed against one’s will. Like when my mom would add, “Turn the lights off if you want to keep looking”.

By turning the lights off, the inside darkness seemed to mysteriously merge with the outside darkness. This made it easier to see things, though the night time sanctions muted the sights to be seen. The evening atmosphere offered a shadowed reality. All the vivid colors of objects made obvious to the viewer by day were transformed to darkened hues at night because of the lack of light. Only the dominant details and outlines of images could be identified. The quasi-clandescent experience of things not easily seen in the dark is proof to me that some things in life can only be known in part; but that doesn’t make them any less real in the existential sense.

As a kid, my bedroom window was located along the same wall as the big picture window; and coincidently, my bed was positioned against the window wall with my pillow centered and eye level to the window’s ledge. At night after lights out in any season, I’d lie on my bed with my head propped up by elbows and peer out into the evening darkness. I relished the silence, listening to the simple sound of nighttime nature; but I also loved being a proverbial fly on the wall to all the other happenings outside my window.  The neighborhood park entrance was half a block up the street. In the summertime with my window opened, I absorbed the seasonal sights and sounds of mostly teenagers walking up and down the street – guys dribbling basketballs or carrying boom boxes with music blaring and girls gossiping about whatever and whomever. I doubt they ever noticed me watching their adolescent antics from behind my darkened screen; if they did, I doubt they ever cared. But if I felt conspicuous, I lowered my head to my pillow and turned my attention to the sky. I can still vividly recall trying to find the red blinking light of the radio tower along the horizon. The tower was located at least two miles away across the valley on another hilltop. The flashing bulb was so tiny from that distance and I felt so proud of myself when I found it. I’d watch it blink on and off-on and off for who knows how long until sleep was inevitable and my eyes would close for the night. Finding the little red light became a bedtime routine throughout my childhood until that fateful season, the winter during fourth grade, when I would no longer be able to see it. I would try but my efforts would be in vain. My focus, at that point, shifted from lying on my bed and watching the world outside my window to staring aimlessly at anything while I lay preoccupied with thoughts about myself, trying to make sense of what was happening inside of me. I had enough awareness to know something had changed but not enough to know how to articulate it to anyone, especially my parents and ultimately myself.

In the middle of fourth grade, my eyes seemed to just suddenly stop functioning as they once ‘normally’ had. For the next five years, from age nine to fourteen, no one could really explain why this sensory dysfunction occurred. The doctors initially tried and offered my parents their best- educated-guess explanation. But their preliminary professional opinion would be wrong and the ramifications of their misdiagnoses would have a lasting and profoundly painful effect on me. The doctors noted they did not ‘see’ any problem with my eyes in a medical sense but rather prompted my parents to consider my psychological state as the cause for my sudden vision loss. Their inability to detect any plausible physical reason for my vision trouble seemed to leave them with the expert opinion that my sporadic eyesight was due to what they labeled a “psychological disturbance”. The fact that I could see some things but not other things was puzzling to all involved. The conclusion was that I was lying or being rude in my selective seeing, especially since I shifted my eyes a lot and seemingly was able to focus on one thing but then disregarded another focal point. I now know, as do the doctors, that it is extremely difficult to assess why sometimes the eyes work fine and other times they do not when it comes to visual impairments. The eyes are extraordinarily complicated. There are many factors that influence these effects – lighting, familiarity with settings and situations, not to mention how the visual field is affected by any particular visual disorder. Who knew the 1980s would prove so archaic for both doctors and little girls to articulate, what decades later, seems so simple to explain. As a teenager during  extensive testing at the national Institute of health in DC, I would come to understand how the loss of my central vision required my eyes to shift peripherally to compensate. Since then, these eye movements have become an intentional and trained effort to optimize the vision I do have. Though prior to my NIH diagnostic experience, it was suggested by the local doctors that my sight impairment was selective, implying an underlying psychotic (psycho-somatic) problem. An accurate diagnosis would not be achieved until the umpteenth consultation in the middle of ninth grade at NIH, which conclusively determined that my visual problem indeed possessed a physical and even genetic origin. A key factor in re-examining the cause of my vision loss was that my younger brother (wired so differently than me – he was an extraverted and athletic kid) developed the same symptomatic features when he turned nine. This was the same age I started to show the same kind of symptoms. I hadn’t been lying. It was official – I wasn’t crazy. And yet, the real psychological damage was made official. My sense of self had been undone by the doctors’ misdoings. In my retelling of all this, I do not intend to undermine medical attempts to do right. I’m just saying sometimes they are wrong. And when medicine fails, it requires deep soul healing to reinstate faith not just in science but more importantly in metaphysical resources. Psychology, as a practice, is all about providing soul healing. ‘Psych’ as a root word means ‘soul’. But in 1985, even the psychologist’s attempts proved misguided to help me heal. I was raised from birth in a Judea-Christian family and was guided to understand who I am according to who God says I am – Jesus loves me. This simple Sunday school song and sentiment formed my identity and context for how I am connected to something/someone eternal. This definitively divine identity would save my life more times than I can count. Ironically though, when I told the school psychologist that Jesus loved me, I loved Jesus and Jesus was my best friend, she decidedly told my parents that I had been brainwashed and I needed intensive psychological deprogramming. It is only in recent years, and even as I script these pages, that I can admit the pain as well as acknowledge and celebrate the healing that has occurred, is still occurring and will continue to occur in the midst of my loss – until Jesus comes to take me to an eternal home. Life and living is a process as much as it involves processing all that occurs. Regardless of what has been done or undone, grace is a required response. Who I’ve become as an adult is directly connected to these childhood experiences, best interpreted by grace. Redemption is a curious thing. My insatiable quest to not only figure out what is really Real and True but also find the beauty in all areas of life, yes even pain, has become my personal passion as well as my professional pursuit. Redemption looks life directly in the eye and declares that every beautiful and scandalous aspect is worth interpreting through eyes of love. I often remind myself and my clients that if Love was not stronger than pain, the human race would have died off long ago. Redemption reassures me that I can keep living and smile about it too.

However, I wasn’t an overtly smiley kid. I loved to laugh, still do, but not as the instigator. It wasn’t that I was born to be sad but I’ve been described as the serious type who is always scoping out and processing the scene.  In fourth grade, my class was seated alphabetically, which placed me in the last row at the back of the room since my last name began with ‘W’. I didn’t mind so much being back there. I often preferred this vantage point. I guess I felt safer along the rim of the circle and not all cloistered in the middle. It allowed me to quietly observe the scene while still feeling included in the situation. After all, I’m a bit introverted, though I do love being around people. Early on, I seemed to make a better spectator than center stager. I never liked being the center of attention or the main attraction, though this preference would shift some as I became an adult and became more confident in myself and skills. As a child, however, I was the shy one who was a-o-k lingering along the edges. I was fine with my classroom arrangement. So, I gladly took my seat like a good little girl and made good grades as every good girl should.  But that winter in fourth grade, something changed. All of a sudden, I couldn’t see what was written on the blackboard anymore when seated at my desk in the back of the room. I could barely decipher what was written on the paper right in front of me on my desk. I stopped responding to across-the-room social queues. My grades plummeted. I remember taking tests and ‘sort of’ seeing words and made my best-educated-guess as to what the question was asking based on what I could see and I answered accordingly. But my answers were usually wrong. I can recall just handing in blank tests and mumbling something about simply not knowing the answers. My teacher took the blank tests and then graded them accordingly. My nine-year-old brain was not computing the whole scenario at all. What was I thinking? Handing in blank tests? I was a smart kid, not to brag. I was an avid reader, a sponge of knowledge. This behavior was not like me. I was a compliant kid, shy but polite and attentive. Ignoring others and disregarding social prompts the majority of the time, especially when interacting with adults, was not my style. But again, my young mind was so confused, not able to make sense of what was happening inside and outside of me. So, I just shut down altogether. I relied on the adults and docs to figure it out for me. My compliance, once a virtue, became a vice that seemed to make me mis-step many times after that. Such vicious cycles began the long journey of distrusting everything and everyone. What could I really see? Who could I really trust?  The whole experience was over-stimulating as much as it was about not understanding what was happening.

Prior to a proper diagnosis, I became increasingly skittish at asserting myself in any way for fear that I would say or do the wrong thing or perceive something incorrectly. I felt paralyzed. Being embarrassed seemed inevitable on a daily basis. Being called on in class activated panic. I stared blankly at the teacher when prompted to read from the blackboard. I’d look aimlessly down at my desk when asked to read from a book or page right in front of me. I had no answer. My selective mutism only exasperated the situation. Near and far, all perspectives became a fuzzy blur of bewilderment. I had no vocabulary to describe it. I became the ‘weird girl’ who stared strangely and was socially awkward. My well-meaning parents scolded me for not looking at someone directly when talking or interacting. I would exclaim, “I am!”, but my response was reprimanded as sass and not acceptable. I would try in vain but that just invoked more scolding and evoked more anxiety that I was disappointing people I cared about. The ironic fact is that I was looking at them in my own way. Due to losing use of my central vision functioning, I unconsciously shifted my eyes to the side and even downward to see from my peripheral vision field. Despite the fact that one’s central vision capacity comprises only 10% of one’s total vision function, all the important mechanisms of seeing are located in the centralized area – i.e. focusing, depth perception, color recognition and lighting measures. I had no clue about any of this as a kid. So, I pressed my nose against the pages of books in desperate attempts to decipher something, anything that resembled the right answer. This behavior caught the attention of adults that I was simply in need of glasses. Yes! Such a simple solution! Unfortunately, as I sat in the optometrist’s office staring, the giant E was all I could see despite any lens he clicked into place to improve my focus. I remember how angry he became, firmly reminding me to tell the truth. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, how could a kid walk unassisted into his office, hop in his examining chair all by herself and that not be able to read the vision chart projected on the wall? Everyone was confused. My parents did not appreciate his hostile manner, so another doctor was consulted. This time, a gentler approach took place but simply confounded my parents more. My mom was asked to step into the hall and was told that I was faking. A psychiatric assessment was strongly advised. Though before leaving, a prescription for glasses was also recommended to aid in some kind of placebo attempt to correct the problem. This proved anything but helpful, except to help give my persona an even more awkward look. I wasn’t just the weird girl; I was now the weird girl with huge glasses that would have been equally as useful for a mannequin. Every developing adolescent fumbles to find their footing through puberty; it’s all par for the course, right? But I felt like I was being asked to walk on water and I was sinking like a rock, fast. As parents (of the few friends I had) became informed of my distressing diagnosis, they cautioned their youngins not to play with me anymore – lest my presumed psychosis was contagious? Ignorance is not bliss. It’s taken a long time to forgive such ignorance and segregation but I have no better option. Resentment is an imprisonment of one’s own construction. It is its own handicap that can be remedied through forgiveness, in order to find real freedom to keep living and loving oneself and others. I possessed my own ignorance at the time that needed to mature, as did the grown-ups around me. The developmental process spans a lifetime. Children become grown-ups but growing up never stops occurring. I reconcile these flash backs as growing pains. Sometimes it feels like I’ve awakened from a nightmare, whose noxious residue lingers in lucid life, but I’m no less inhibited to greet each new day and stretch my limbs to reach for hope and ground my feet on the one thing that continues to remain concrete and unconditional – Jesus loves me.

Though as a child and young teen, despite my inner increasing awareness to cope, outwardly I became more isolated and impaired to identify myself as anything but normal. I felt deformed and rejected; and there was nothing I could do to control it or rectify it. I tried, but kept failing. There was a critical juxtaposition of being aware but not aware enough, being able to see but not see enough. This theme of ‘not enough’ would embed itself in the bedrock of my psyche and has required nothing short of divine dynamite to unearth and remove it, to allow for a sufficient perception of myself to be reconstructed.

Since reading was so difficult (I would be a mid-teen before I discovered audio books…this was, after all, the 80s), I turned to music as a companion. I’d lay in bed for hours after school and over the weekend, listening to lyrics that swirled in my head and found their way to my heart. Poetry in all its forms as well as melodies have that way like water, finding the path of least resistance and seeping into the soul to solicit an honest response. The melodious words helped me feel human. By nature of music’s existence, it begs an audience to share dialogue or, at least, be heard. I could listen. I could do that well. I could even close my eyes to listen more attentively. With my eyes closed, I could focus more clearly, not just on the sounds and rhythms of the music playing but also pay closer attention to my own inner dialogue. Amid the darkness behind eyelids shut, competing images emerged. How did I want to see myself and the world around me when I opened my eyes? I refer to this internal conversation, contemplation and even competition as prayer. I never stopped believing Jesus loved me, though I doubted how and why. I had asked Jesus ‘into my heart’ at an early age; and so, I talked with Him there, in the deep caverns of my being. I asked all kinds of questions spoke frankly and yelled at times. I also allowed silence to linger, while not negating the sense of another’s presence. This experience has been my saving grace that, despite the darkness that shrouds clarity of seeing what is really true, I am not the only one in that darkness. Seeing is not the only sense needed to know that I am alive, I am loved and I am not alone. Sure, four out of five senses limits one from fully knowing; but there is the ability to know something nonetheless.

As an adult, I have blended my inside observations of myself with being an outside observer. I’m always looking at what’s inside me and around me. The narrow streets and sidewalks of Philadelphia, where I live, offer numerous opportunities to look up and in at each address as I pass by. Being a pedestrian slows down my pace of going to and fro. Being visually impaired demands an even slower pace, especially at night to avoid stumbles. Such a snail’s trail makes me more aware of each lit window. The light spills out to the darkened street to help me pinpoint my way and it also invites my gaze to scope the interior abodes of both neighbors and strangers. It’s like coming full circle to see someone who may not know they are being seen or want to be seen. I wonder what life is like for them. For a moment, I get a glimpse. There is always more to be known, so I keep wondering. Though I must turn my attention back to my path to keep an eye on where I go, to make it back to my own home safely. And when I crawl or fall into bed at night and close my eyes, I still pray. I still ask questions and let my feelings be known. I believe God is listening because I believe He is here, with me. Like the old song says ‘because the bible tells me so”. Such security is like a warm blanket that wraps around me in the dark and reminds me that I’m worth being known, being seen – even if I can only see through a glass darkly.

 

References:

  1. Artwork: pastel painting by Jamie Wasson, 2018
  2. The National Institute of Health
  3. The National Federation of the Blind
  4. Shout out to the Ronald McDonald House, who housed me, my younger brother and parents during our diagnostic time at NIH in DC
  5. Until We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

 

Waiting in the Dark

Xmas2017

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me – even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like full day, for darkness is as light to You.” Psalm 139:11 – 12

In my birth work as a doula, I spend a lot of time waiting in the dark. Often, as labor progresses and intensity ramps up, the lights are dimmed down to manage all the stimulation. And we journey on towards delivery. At times, if rest is achievable, the lights are turned off entirely and I prompt mama and partner to sleep as much as possible. I usually keep at least one eye open in the dark to maintain my role as support. As I sit in the dark with sleeping parents, I feel a sense of privilege to be present in that space, waiting and watching. I relish these moments. For one, in the midst of heightened emotions and physical strain, I am glad to see that expectant parents can rest. But in those moments when rest is not permitted and endurance beckons, I am sensitive to ensure that no un-necessary over-stimulation such as light, sound etc. interferes with the mama’s focus to press on. Darkness seems to reveal a “holding space”. Indeed, there seems to be something about darkness that warrants waiting –  that insists on it. There is a kind of perseverance that does not exist in the light.

I mean, didn’t we all start out this way? The origin of our lives was spent waiting in the womb, waiting in the dark, preparing to be born into light. First, babies, once convinced safety was only found in the darkened space of mother’s belly, seem to instinctually long to be scooped up into arms and be held after the umbilical chord is cut. Babies need to be held in a way that reinforces safety is reality. Infants become toddlers and this thing, the absence of light, that once felt so safe in the womb, can turn into the presence of something threatening. Children in their cribs and beds at night, wait in the dark and even cry out for a nigh light or any glimpse of reassurance that the darkness will not persist.

There is a meta-narrative in all of this, as I endure another winter. The winter solstice debuts a kind of darkness that is, at first glance a looming weight of waiting; but then, in a more revealing perspective, it possesses a radiance of hope.  Winter suggests the sun has disappeared, but then bit by bit light is increasing – bit by bit revealing a new world of spring and harvest. Waiting for the sun to rise despite cold temperatures will not be in vain. Each sunrise offers a promise of more and more hope until blossoms burst forth in the warmth of spring and summer.

The changing seasons reflected in the significant presence of sun and moon has long been meaningful to me. Nature has that way of saying things for me – turning my attention to something so much more vast than I can comprehend. As a Christian, I believe Jesus offers a very specific message in his birth, life, death and resurrection. The early Christians were meticulously intentional in their attempts to formally select a holy day to celebrate Jesus’ birth. They sought to allow nature and history to holistically emphasize the spiritual practice that we call Christmas. Anthropologist and theologian, Alexander Shaia summed it up so succinctly in a podcast discussion entitled “Radiance Within the Darkness, facilitated by The Deconstructionists Podcast. He shared:

“Christmas is an earthly feast acknowledging both god’s incarnation through nature and the incarnation of Jesus. At Christmas, those two incarnations are absolutely intertwined. The core experience of the two is during the darkness of winter. The outer moments of darkness during December (in the Northern Hemisphere) are teaching us the spiritual practices for our inner moments of darkness during April, July and so on…. These two incarnations must agree with each other – they amplify and magnify each other so that the birth of Jesus Christ is not just a theological concept but an embodied physical experience…. We know in our spiritual practice that the place of new radiance is found in the deepest dark. This is the great story that is proclaimed at the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the time that dark has reached its greatest depth and its right at that moment that the reversal happens, the new radiance begins. Its more than appropriate, its perfect that the Christmas story be celebrated at the winter solstice. It teaches us that it is only by our courage and grace to go into the deepest dark ness is where the fresh radiance is born.”

In my postpartum work as a doula, I provide overnight support for new parents. My job is to care for newborns throughout the night to allow parents much needed sleep and sanity refreshment. I sit in the dark, waiting and watching. I oversee that baby sleeps and is soothed when restless. I help feed the baby either by bringing to mama or feeding the baby via bottle and then managing all the follow up details – burping, diapering, swaddling and helping to settle baby back to sleep. My moments spent with these little ones in the wee hours of the morning are so precious to me. Indeed, there is something sacred about it. I have referred to witnessing a baby’s birth as a “thin place” but I also refer to these overnight times spent with babies in the dark as another thin place as well. I feel an intimate connection with God as I hold these itty-bitty bundles of humanness and as I peak at them while they wiggle in their sleep. Their vulnerability is palpable and I take my role very seriously to ensure both their safety and serenity. So often, with babies positioned in my arms as they feed or fall to sleep, I stare at them in wonderment – this was God incarnate once. God’s vulnerability to ensure our safety and serenity is not overlooked by me in these midnight moments. I shift my perspective to how God sees us in our humanity, holding us in a way that reassures hope during the darkest moments of our lives. I try to connect with babies via as many senses as possible. I hum a rhythmic tune to help them trust my presence and sleep efficiently. It is so hard not to kiss them, but I try to maintain my professional role as best I can! As I sing softly, rock or sway them and maintain calm for them, there is a sweetness I experience that I cannot really explain when I feel their tiny bodies relax and begin to deeply sleep.  I recall an Old Testament declaration from the prophet Zephaniah, “The Lord is with you…the Lord will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). I imagine God doing this for me, for all of us, as I hold every baby I work with; and I am comforted with a kind of peace that is deeper than words, bigger than any darkness that surrounds me.

Another Christmas has passed and the groundhog saw his shadow yesterday, which means six more weeks of winter. But the cold shadowy reality I or anyone feels these days isn’t without hope. Jesus’ birth bore both a cosmic relevance and historical significance over two thousand years ago. While on earth, Jesus declared, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12). After his ascension back to heaven, the reality of night still occurs literally and figuratively. Every day it comes and goes in various forms and functions. We continue to wait amid this ebb and flow of darkness until Jesus returns again and once and for all eliminates darkness. I long for this day and wish it would come soon – just as every birthing mother longs for her arduous labor to end and then strives to soothe her crying baby. Amid this longing, the fact remains, Jesus’ incarnation provided a Light that is in me now and can shine or simply smolder within me to prevent the darkness from consuming me. God is the best parent there is, Mother and Father, to hold me and reassure me that dawn is coming and each day following the winter solstice will shine a little bit brighter and a little bit brighter and a little bit brighter…. This ever-increasing brightness begs me to enjoy each day a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more. Every extra second of light each new day with Jesus decreases the need to simply persevere but rather increases the awareness that life is meant to be a delight found in the holding space of God.

 

References:

  1. Google image; illustrator unknown
  2. The Sweetness of Holding Space for Another; by Lynn Hauks
  3. Diary of A Baby: What Your Child Sees, Feels and Experiences; by Daniel Stern
  4. Radiance Within the Darkness; Dr. Alexander Shaia via The Deconstructionists Podcast

Joy Comes in the Mourning

joy in mourning

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

      – Psalm 30:5b

“The people must sing”.

      – Martin Luther; paraphrased by Eric Mataxas

The past three months, I feel like every time I turn on the news there is another story of sorrow. Devastation from multiple hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, shootings and bombs skyrocketing are the ongoing saga. I’ve had to limit my news consumption at times – not to ignore the pain of those affected but to protect myself from becoming enmeshed in the sadness. During this same season, I have had the immediate effect of a heavy heart from the situational distress of loved ones – job loss, health problems, relationship struggles etc. It all gets to be so overwhelming. I’m of the more melancholic kind, so I can easily lapse into despair if I let my focus be solely on the darkness of our days.

But during these past few months, I had an interesting experience that helped to turn my attention towards joy in the midst of mourning. While watching news coverage from hurricane ravaged Texas after Harvey swept through, I observed something notably wonderful. The news was highlighting interviews of people standing outside their once livable homes, now uninhabitable. The people choked back tears as they talked about their loss and hopelessness. I listened and wiped away a tear or two of my own. Then, during one interview while the heartbroken survivor spoke, I heard something in the background that I could not ignore. It was the sound of birds singing in the trees. Despite the state of even tree limbs missing or leaves blown to the next town, birds were singing – a chirpy joyous tune. It seemed ironic and even absurd to hear such sounds as the backdrop of such sad on -the-ground reporting. The people questioned how to find ways to move forward while the birds sang sweetly in the trees – a song of hope? I was listening to all of this via television over a thousand miles away from that scene and wondered if the people there could hear the song being sung feet away from them in real time. I was awestruck by the whole scene and then remembered a similar experience almost two decades ago.

I recalled living during the aftermath of 911. My housemate at the time and I turned to each other a day or so after the tragedy and noted to each other the silence outside. We huddled inside, glued to the TV, as most were those days; but we sensed the ubiquitous mourning by even nature. We commented to each other that the birds were noticeably silent and even the kids typically playing on our block were no where to be seen. Sadness definitely hung in the air, especially where I lived in the northeast, being so close to ground zero. Then another day or two later, my housemate and I turned to each other almost at the same time when we heard familiar sounds outside. We heard birds singing again. We both seemed to contagiously rejoice together with smiles and laughter.  Amid, the ongoing mourning that continued to trudge on during those days as recovery efforts and investigative pleas had not yet subsided and wounds of loss were still so raw, the birds had an instinctual need to sing. Likewise, we heard the joyous sounds of children instinctually playing outside again. My observation of such phenomenon then and now proves to me that in the midst of mourning, joy can exist, must exist.

By joy, I am not implying disregard for sadness or overlooking obvious loss. Indeed, I am referring to something deep in the DNA of nature that wants to sing, play and rejoice because of something more deeply rooted than sorrow. I suppose this may be referred to as resilience but I do not want to categorize this instinctual response in simple psychological terms. Joy, for me as I observe its reality among humanity and nature at large, stems from something divine. In the midst of brokenness, God is there revealing our truest nature, proven by the expression of joy. The first Christmas occurred in this way. Jesus was born (God with us) in the midst of horrific realities. The gospel of Luke details how an angel appeared to shepherds and announced Jesus’ birth saying, “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy…” (Luke 2:10 – 11). Oh, it is worth mentioning that the angel first said, “Fear not…” (Luke 2:10a). Such preface acknowledges that fear was present but so was joy. The shepherds could have easily responded with either “Yeah, right” or “So what” but they didn’t. they joined in the rejoicing by going to see Jesus and then going to tell others about the miracle they witnessed.

I feel like I saw a miracle in that news reel. In the midst of despair, a joyous song can be sung – if the birds can do it after their habitat has been destroyed, then can’t we as humans? Such rejoicing is not diminishing the value of what was lost; it is about declaring, first, that the story was never meant to be like this and that, indubitably, restoration is possible. The coming of Jesus to earth (God in flesh) is the very act of God mourning with us and, more significantly, inviting us to be part of a new story, a new song. As another Christmas nears, it will no doubt be a challenge for those who have experienced difficult seasons of life this year, I pray that they and I, in a new, way, can experience joy as it was meant to be – as we were created to experience and express it. Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus quotes a seven-hundred-year old prophecy and declares that such reality is found in Him. Jesus said:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1 – 3a)

There are plenty of reasons to mourn; but because of Jesus, there is a reason to rejoice in the midst of that mourning. Let the birds’ singing remind us every morning that there is still a song of joy in our hearts wanting, needing to be sung.

References:

  1. Photo of Steve Wasson by Joe Gough 2008
  2. Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World and Rediscovered God by Eric Mataxas
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey
  4. Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

 

I’m not Shakespeare

Not Shakespeare

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wand’ring bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.”

– Excerpt from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116

 

Literature has a variety of distinct categories to describe an epoch love story. I’ve experienced my own types of love stories: like saying goodbye at the airport, being held and spun around in the rain, oh and the unrequited kind, the modern love kind (like half a dozen different online sites over the years kind), the nice guy at church type and so on, but never did I think Greek tragedy would come to describe a chapter of my love life. Once upon a time, in my late thirties, it did indeed, in pretty much every facet – murder, exile, visions, omens, passion, betrayal, irony and finale. I wish I was exaggerating. I never thought I’d ever be tangled up in such a surreal story. I realized afterwards how desperation to be married made me overlook the obvious. But I can embrace the reality on this side of the tragic tale that it made me a better person to experience that chaos. It gave me more clarity about what true love really is.

As a little girl, I wore the curtains on my head in an attempt to look like a bride. As a teenager, I daydreamed ad nauseum what it would be like to be in-love, – to love someone (the one?) with all my heart. How would I know I met “the one”? Surely, I would “just know”. Dare I confess, I believed in soul mates back then…mine was out there somewhere. I’ve joked over the years, “my Wesley will come for me”, quoting a famed line from Princess Bride. Now a days, I feel special when a guy simply calls or texts me back. I never ever EVER thought I’d be in my forties, single and still looking for a life partner. Yep, life partner is my preferred term at this stage. The term ‘soul mate’ seems too reductive. As if my soul is only meant to be paired with one other soul of the opposite sex to bring my life fulfillment, meaning and purpose. C.S. Lewis (who was nearly sixty when he first married) wrote a succinct expose on defining Love, entitled The Four Loves. These were not his own categories but derivatives from the four different types of Greek words used in the Bible to describe love relationships: affection love, friendship love, romantic love and divine love. Back in college, I listened to Lewis’ book on tape, read by C. S. Lewis himself. It opened the door for me to enter into a vaster experience of what it means to love and be loved. Lewis notes how a relationship established first in erotic love can be doomed to remain limited in becoming a healthy and sustainable connection. However, friendship permits a more expansive potential to exist through thick and thin. Lewis wrote:

“Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important.

… In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets… Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love ‘to divide is not to take away.”

Sex, otherwise referred to as erotic love, has its place in allowing two people to ‘connect’ but then what? My tale of Greek tragedy had its moment of passionate enthusiasm but it fell short of any intimate connection that promised to weather the storm. A partnership that merges in marriage seems to beg for more than just orgasms and odes to this or that. At the beginning of this year, I emerged from the dust of that romantic rubble with a new resolve. I went back online to explore new opportunities for the next chapter of my love life. As I posted my profile and the hits started coming in, I was more than disappointed and discouraged at the result. I quickly could feel myself becoming defeated and cynical. I met seemingly good guys but that notion soon dissolved into the same bad themes. For starters, they insisted sex was required to figure out if they wanted to marry me or not. I’m so tired of sex needing to be the cause of a so-called good relationship rather than the effect. I told one guy that I’ll happily have lots of sex, but he better “put a ring on it” first. Next, more than one man bluntly said they did not want to date me because I have a vision impairment. Ouch. I heard lines like “no sex is easier to deal with than no driving” and “I’m not equipped to deal with disabled people”. I listened to men talk about how God’s grace saved them from themselves and they couldn’t live without it; but they, on the other hand, were not willing to extend any such grace to me. Oh well.

This past spring, a dear friend and I were reflecting on my ridiculous roller coaster history of love. I referred to my last relationship as a Greek tragedy and we laughed unabashedly. Then I paused and looked at her and said, “Is it too much to ask for a Jane Austen story?” I immediately envisioned a favorite scene from Sense and Sensibility. I wanted to pray for such a scene to happen to me, but it felt so silly. But as Lewis describe divine love, it is not silly to pray for such things. God is all about ridiculously loving us. That is how the Gospel of Jesus is best summed up, right?  So, I prayed. Months later, I found myself in an Austenian moment. This summer, I was on a date with a gentle spirited, attentive and, in fact, a good guy. We sat by a river enjoying good conversation and a beautiful day. My eye kept tearing up from allergies. I kept wiping away a lingering tear and felt self-conscious. I apologized for my repetitive gesture. He asked if I needed a tissue. I initially declined but he asked again. I then agreed and began to reach into my purse for a tissue. As I did so, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief. I hesitated but he kindly insisted I use it and keep it. I dabbed my eyes and then tucked the hanky in my purse. I wasn’t fully aware of what had just happened until a few days later. Sure, how often these days does a handsome fellow hand you a handkerchief without an ulterior motive, except to be kind– you know, someone who is not eighty years old? But more than that, how often does God take notice of details to prove that He loves us and cares for us in ways we could never imagine but can experience? That date was a true gift. And that is a good thing. I had my Jane Austen moment and it is something I will cherish and never forget. I have the hanky to prove it!

A phrase I’ve come to share with many who feel hopeless is “the story is not over”. Likewise, to those who are isolated in lovey dovey bliss, I feel like saying, “the story is not over”. I have no clue how my story will continue to be told, except to say that it is not over. My heart still hopes for a ‘life partner’; but I am not without true companions to live this life. I am surrounded by a great many kindred souls near and far that cheer me on to be steady in any circumstance I encounter while also being intentional to not settle for the status quo. This is true love. I am truly loved and I strive to truly love those who journey with me. Sometimes I lose sight of this fact; but divine love exists to keep bringing it back into focus. Amen.

 

References:

  1. Lady in Waiting; photo of Jamie Wasson by Kamyee Ladas 1998
  2. Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
  3. The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis
  4. Shadowlands by C. S. Lewis
  5. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  6. Single Ladies; Beyonce

Enjoy the ride.