I didn’t expect to feel it in my body, my heart. The SoulStream facilitator lead us to recall examples of feeling like a stranger. I casually offered up the time I was excommunicated from, “put out” of, the church of my formative years. I shared how my faith family unrelated by blood yet named aunties and uncles and almost cousins, formally rejected and turned their backs on me in a final “just” response to my engagement to a man who was not of their choosing.
And maybe because I knew what was coming all along, maybe because I had hardened my heart, maybe because my love for my fiance transcended this outcome, I have borne that experience as a natural and even deserved expression of my actions. I was put in the “outside place.” How unlike the Jesus I now know. But that was then.
I have always been an elder’s daughter; in later years it carries little weight for me. I love my father, his intellect and sensibilities. But back then, being my father’s daughter carried a mysterious resistance to inclusion in my peer group, most obvious in the way all the girls were asked out on dates, but never me nor the other elder’s daughter. Was it my hair colour, wardrobe, body shape, struggles with pubescent acne, or was it something deeper, I wondered?
Being an elder’s daughter meant not being in the church it crowd, not being in anywhere. It was difficult. Because what was a good Christian girl to do socially? To be of the world but not in the world meant I was not at liberty to choose outside friends. School day relationships remained that. Our lives revolved around the church. So, the other elder’s daughter (my dear friend to this day) and I tried to find a way to be. We knew some of what went on, some of what was meant to be kept secret from the powers that be. We somehow accepted that if our Dads were a problem, then so were we. But we were lonely at times. Misfits. Outsiders.
Fast forward to last week, and being on retreat with SoulStream for the first intensive of Living From The Heart, and me telling my story of what it was like to choose to marry a Catholic, to choose to proceed with what was considered being unequally yoked, to choose to choose him, rather than remain part of a community of believers to whom I once longed to belong.
I told my story as I have told the story for thirty years, dry eyed, matter of fact, the facts expressed and compassion within only for my husband who had been excluded along with me. Someone asked me why couldn’t I marry a Catholic? I tried to explain. Again I shared how hard it was for my husband. And then strong feelings of anxiety (common to me), began to traverse from my guts up to my chest and my breathing became laboured. I felt as though I was having a heart attack. It felt as though something was constricting my chest. I was afraid. My body began to quiver, and my eyes prickled with tears as I tried to hold myself together. But I could not. I felt myself letting go. Silence in the room and then…
a voice quietly offered “I think we need to take care of this right here” and then someone was on their knees in front of me, and then other voices in the room were speaking words of acceptance and love to me. My tears flowed and my body heaved with the realization of the depth of what was hidden inside me, a key to how I have navigated my life until now…
Belonging…always searching to belong, to be accepted, to be loved, to be liked. Thirty years that can be traced back (perhaps, in part) to a moment when I was made a stranger. Thirty years since a letter was read in front of my church that said Lesley-Anne Clements no longer belongs.
And so I cried out, thirty years later. And I received gentle touch to my body and prayerful words spoken over me, my heart opening to receive healing from this little group of people I had known for only 6 days. They lavished me with the love of the Father, and their love. The same people whom I secretly feared, and felt somewhat removed from, for most of our week together, held me with the genuine kindness of their presence and words.
And then, someone asked permission to pray. I nodded, unable to speak. His prayer was deeply repentant, asking my forgiveness, standing in to take full responsibility for what the Church had done to me. I was shaken. I did not know my heart needed reconciliation. But a generous knowledge of what was required and then given, met my unspoken need.
More tears and hugs and a holy kiss on my forehead. I felt emptied and filled in. I felt like blinders were removed. Now I sensed I could move forward into being more fully me. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you. Peace and reconciliation lavished on me. Mercy. Grace. Love. Thank you.
There is more to the story, at a heart level, but for now I will hold that as a gift for me alone. And I will continue to see what may be required from here, because it has been suggested there may be further trauma to deal with, there may be more for me around this notion of shame, how my hunger to belong haunts me. It amazes me that such deep hurt can be lived out without any true recognition…until….
Even this week I am beginning to see how the choices I make and the people I care for and the communities I lean into, reflect my hidden wound somehow being transformed into a gift to others. I’m reminded of a verse that says it was meant for evil but God meant it for good. And perhaps it wasn’t intended as evil at the time, but the result of my excommunication was pain, separation, and exclusion of my heart to an outside place, far removed from God’s heart incarnate in those who professed it most strongly back then. You can perhaps see how this could cause confusion in my relationship with God. Yes, there may be more to unpack here.
But thank God that His heart has never left mine. Thank God that He speaks in new and gentle ways to the broken and lost parts of my heart. And I have to believe that He has an holy intention in all of this…it all belongs.
Several years ago I wrote a poem that reflected part of the experience of my last meeting with the elders of the church, a meeting which set the wheels in motion for my excommunication. I remember it clearly. Only now I also feel it with more clarity. I feel anger in my poem. I didn’t know then that there were deeper layers to be coaxed out, loved on, and in God’s time, raised from the grave.
Finding the Outside Place
Two of their kind arrive
at my door, just like with Noah,
only no females. Two elders
in dark suits, carrying
The Book, King James, leather bound.
I invite them in, keep
my appointment with
their Kingdom kind. Hear
the blame and shame
coming. Same as grade
school quiet flush, my hand
goes up to take the fall for
someone’s spilled glue.
How I save the class from
time out. These two cut
me in ways I don’t expect.
And me polite and
would you prefer coffee or tea
with one or two lumps of sugary
excuses for my errant behaviour?
(it hasn’t gone unnoticed
over several years). They sit
like bookends in rose brocade.
I practice active listening,
open faced to inherent
rhetoric. They proclaim
errors of my ways, the dire
consequence of marrying
outside the faith. All this and
the truth shall set you free.
They want to pray. I say
no. Thanks. (Maybe I say
more?) They deliver
last rites. Exit, stage right.
Afterwards I gasp like one
fresh raised from the grave.
Nothing prepares you
in the beginning when he wails into night’s quiet hours
and maybe it’s not about him needing you that much
more about him being mad
to be pushed from warm nest into cold world.
Still you do what you can, breast to soft mouth, arms wrapped
tight against everything. You let go in small ways
like a bandage being torn slowly from scab over wound
you feel how he forgets to look back
that first time at the playground, how he smiles wider
with his friends. It’s what you do. Nobody tells you exactly how.
You order each memory in a scrapbook, smooth down his life captured
in a thousand framed stories
and wonder how seventeen years can lay out so well on the page
you are ragged edged, coming unglued.
Considering the upcoming High School Graduation of my son, Malcolm James Evans, whom I am especially fond of.
When boys carry bombs in backpacks
Lord, have mercy.
When cancer empties inside out
Lord, have mercy.
When mothers give in
Lord, have mercy.
When death drives by
Lord, have mercy.
When foundations fail and floods come and evil is on the move
Lord, have mercy.
When it’s not just on television
Lord, have mercy.
When we are burdened and sorrow filled
Lord, have mercy.
When darkness falls
Lord, have mercy upon us and
Lord, send light.
I am sorry
that your little girl won’t run into her father’s arms
that you won’t meet him at the door, feel his warmth
that he did not come back like he said he would
that it ends like this
the prayers unanswered
the everything before and after defining moment
that will carry you from now on
and the only hope that still remains
some day may it be enough.
…to all who mourn the loss of beautiful and innocent life, I weep with you…
In the face of the tragedy and evil of this past week, I’m choosing to shout out for HOPE, for LOVE. I’m shouting out to a GOD who deeply loves in spite of all the vile and devastating messes we, his creations, leave in our wake. In spite of who I am, imperfect one, least of all of these, one capable of horrible things, I am SHOUTING OUT to God for all my Buddy Breathing buddies ~ because I’m thinking you, like me, might be feeling a little jaded, burnt out, alone, overwhelmed, sad, helpless, angry, and may be in desperate need of a breath of life? And I know I am surrounded by millions of souls who ask the same questions with a profound sense of helplessness. Others, like my friend and fellow blogger Rob Rife are writing, asking, shouting, crying out…
God, please help us.
Who of us doesn’t feel the oxygen sucked deep from within as news reporters tell of another kindergartener placed to rest? When we hear details of unspeakable cruelty, when we put ourselves in their place, when we shake our heads in disbelief… who of us doesn’t clench our fists and scream inside… WHY!?!? WHY!?!? And what I can offer may not be enough for you, but it’s ALL I’ve got.
God, please rescue us.
You see, I don’t believe there is any hope, any gift, any point, outside of God and his love. After all the pain and suffering is over, after the devastation, after all of it, in the end GOD’S LOVE WINS. I cannot fully explain the why. I believe what we see is the result of a force of evil at work in our world, but even more than that I believe in a God who wins out in the end. GOD is STRONGER than any evil.
God, please overcome our pain, our questions, our loss.
The message of Christmas is that Christ came for us. Jesus became a vulnerable little baby, so that 33 years later he would choose to die a horrific death for us, to sacrifice himself and make a way for us to right ourselves with Father God. (the Easter Story is the rest of the Christmas Story).
Emmanuel ~ God with us now, in our time of deepest need.
We each get to choose God, or not. We each get to decide for ourselves if we want his gift of loving friendship. We each get to gather up our big doubts and our little faith and choose to believe that God does love us and he will always love us, no matter what happens in our lives here… no matter what. God offers us a healing HOPE, JOY, PEACE and LOVE, that starts now and goes forever.
God, please touch us and heal us and restore us.
That’s all I’ve got. That and all the questions that remain around the events of this week. That and all the unresolved emotions.
God, please show your goodness to us, we are desperate for HOPE.
As this youtube video suggests, may we see evidence that there are still good people in this world. May we know in a real way that GOD IS GOOD.
Hard pressed on every side, SDG.
That Certain Sound
There’s a musical chord called a ‘unresolved suspended chord’, a series of notes played simultaneously on the piano that hangs in the air, like you know there is something coming after, it sounds unfinished musically.
Last night, after I prepared dinner, I sat down at the piano in the peace of a dusk filled room, I sat and played something I’ve never heard before, it spilled out. The melody was filled with suspended chords, the room with music and sighs and a days worth of unresolved thoughts of you.
I dropped by to see you earlier in the day, and you were sleeping, somewhere between two worlds, perhaps already there and longing for your body to catch up to what your soul has been craving for the last few weeks. Someone told me you are ready now, tired of the fight. I have seen you hero against this damned thing, seen you fight with all you’ve got, alternative means as well as conventional. Through it all you’ve dispensed hope to everyone around you, offered us a God-perspective and God-love. You’ve turned it on it’s head, your love blessing us rather than the other way around.
Which brings me back to the suspended chord, the haunting sound of music that kept repeating though my hands on the satin keyboard of well worn keys and in my thoughts until now. I found in that chord an echo of Gods voice, as if God had placed all of earthly life into that one musical chord of waiting, leaning, hinting, suspended until the day when we lean into his final resolving chord and all shall be as he planned it, just as he saw in the beginning, his eyes wide as the horizon. Sometimes there’s a hint of it at sunset, a lingering sense of it in a certain fragrant bloom, a combination of words, the eyes into another human heart. We can’t help be drawn, our souls longing for that final transformation, for release from this suspended waiting. I sense that you feel it too, perhaps more strongly now.
And this thought, this small revelation of God’s way in the face of so many things I do not understand, and the great and heavy sadness that losing you is laying over my heart, suggests that you are indeed the lucky one. As we wait in this suspended place called earth and count the days of our existence here, Heaven is preparing for you, a celestial celebration is being laid out to welcome you home, dear and faithful one.
So I think of you, wrapped in a gossamer garment of light. I think of you, dancing in the most gorgeous designer shoes you’ve ever seen. I think of you, altogether lovely and perfect and laughing in the presence of the King of all Kings who delights over you with singing. While we continue to walk this dim lit pathway toward what you will soon know beyond doubt’s shadow.
You will be in that place of eternal music resolving absolutely everything, knowing and being known, face to face with your Jesus.
And I will miss you here. I love you, my friend.
Another year gone past, and suddenly the day is upon me. If it weren’t for Karen’s post on Facebook, I would have missed it. And that makes me feel sad and a little guilty. And then I think of how we miss you in thousands of little ways, the daily-ness of missing you, and how that missing is somehow just as heavy as landmark dates like today.
Two years ago we said goodbye. I hope you understand, Art, how we much we still feel the void.
The Oak Tree, by Claire Evans
The thick strong branches sway in the breeze,
as the roots bathe in the rich earth.
The leaves rustle and some drift to the ground.
Chocolate chipmunks scurrying to gather acorns in the long grass.
The bark rugged and brown. Birds singing on the branches,
as another day goes by.
It’s a year today my amazing dog Buddy lost his battle with cancer. I still think about him a lot, and miss him. When I look at Emmy, our new GSP, I can’t help making comparisons. My Buddy is a hard act to follow, and I really have to give Emmy a whole lot of grace to be who she is. I guess I’m not entirely over it yet? And maybe I’ll never be.
‘Buddy Memoirs’ is a series of poems that allowed me to work through the process of letting go of my great friend and companion. I’ve written other posts on the subject of losing pets, including here and here. I dedicate this post to those who have experienced similar loss.
God understands. And so do I.
I hold the yogurt container
while you lick it clean
and a slice of cheese destined for the lasagna
seems better served to you.
“He has ears like velvet” Malcolm remarks
as he lays with you on the floor
strokes your faithful head
How do I know when it’s time,
when pain is your constant companion
as you have been to me?
Dear creature without words
your chocolate eyes speak of long walks
and one way conversations on the back porch
you still like to ride in the car
ears pricked up
there are things I’m noting so I won’t forget
stubby tail with skunk stipe, wags your body
toes contort in pleasure as we run hands down your back
speak love words in baby talk
insatiable appetite for flushing birds in the yard
and cruising food on the counter
6 fresh baked banana muffins for a mid-day snack
belgian chocolates by the box
The early days, dog park days, weight loss days,
The first time I saw you point – vibrating hard-wired DNA miracle
and waiting for ducks to come back, sitting still,
looking at the sky – ears perked up
Ears absorbing tears and words no human has heard
Your eyes, knowing in their depths
the colour of butterscotch, like a werthers toffee
ecstasy at 7 and 3, spinning for your dinner dish
all those walks, all those walks
losing you on Knox mountain, the elephant stepping off my chest
when I found in the the pouring rain
sitting on the sunny porch early in the morning with you drowsy at my feet
protecting me from all things buzzing,
wasps met their demise in your clenched teeth
Like watching Art die, only here at home.
What kind of dog is that, strangers ask?
such a beautiful dog
such a gorgeous dog
so smart, sweet and gentle
What do they know.
This bloody hurts to let you go.
It was supposed to be so much longer, like it said in the book
your breed being long lived, up to 17 years. Bullshit!
You’ve only been with us 5 years… like a sunny day memory
and now it’s over
way too fast.
So I’m sad and mad and mixed up.
What will I do without you?
Who will I take care of?
Who will listen and follow and adore me
like you do?
I’m hanging on too tight today
tears and sniffles and words and wishes
I’m believing in here-afters with you
that God would never have gone to all that trouble
to make your kind
if this is it.
I’m hanging my hat on the verse where the
lion lays down with the lamb
and the Revelation horses bring me hope
that I will see you again.
Your name is ordained to follow me
in blogs and passwords and memories
I’m letting go in little ways
while you lay here on the couch beside me
Plans are gelling
and we will walk into this as best we can
under the circumstances.
But, Buddy, Oh Buddy.
In all this you are larger
Your circle of influence constricts with limitations,
distills to pure intimacy of you and I.
Do you remember long hikes, or birds in the yard?
As I contend with masking pills in cheese
and contemplate playing God,
do you have knowledge of what comes
I dream’t last night of substitutionary atonement
and woke to cold truth, pillow damp, heart racing
the last car ride, the last pills
masked in cheddar morsels.
The Spring morning expands in grace
allows us time enough
for our last walk, slowly now
between the budding lines of macintosh
wide branches witness to our passing.
I read you poetry on the porch steps
salt words linger on my lips
I absorb your smell, your feel, your sound,
write you into memory.
Then time, stretched to its extremity
returns us to this breath held static place
Your eyes say you understand
my ungodly secret.
You follow when I call your name.
Soli Deo Gloria
Did you have a choice —
Starbucks in one hand and
one hand on the wheel,
as he waddled over the centre line?
Did your foot hesitate, move
from gas to brake
or did you simply
oblivious to his
small iridescent head,
caught between the paradise of one ditch
and the other?
Ironically, after writing this emotional and judgmental response to a real life situation, I experienced how difficult it is to do the right, sensitive, caring thing when it happens right in front of me. It’s just not that simple.
This morning I was able to stop for a family of ducks crossing the road by our school. Cars on one side of the road had already stopped when I saw a mother duck and 8 little ones heading toward my side. I put on my hazard lights, and prayed for traffic beside me to stop too. Then, with only 4 ducklings safely off the road and 4 more trying to hop up the curb, the traffic began to flow around me and I had no choice but to drive on.
Believe it or not, I cried as I drove away, and whispered a prayer that they would all be safe. I thought of jumping out of the car and ushering them to safety. But, logic took over, plus I was wearing my pj’s, and I realized that it’s so easy to judge when we don’t know all the facts, so easy to make blanket statements (or write poems) when we don’t know the entire situation. I humbly stand corrected.