Poison Ivy and the Path of Grief

Though its fruit should’ve been in season, too many harsh Midwest winters left the leaves of the apple tree to wither. At the time of harvest, very little fruit hung from its branches.

But my daughter climbed anyway, her arms wrapped around the low-hanging branches, her feet bouncing against the trunk so she could swing herself up. She climbed all over it, picking the seconds, tossing them into the buckets circling the tree.

I was travelling to Texas while she climbed, so it was later that my friend told me that poison ivy crept along the trunk of the apple tree and into the branches.

All the while, I was at lunch in Texas with my ill father, laughing at the dark jokes of grief with my mother and sisters, and making lists of the things people should not say to someone with cancer, things like “my aunt had the same kind of cancer and it was awful. She died very painfully,” or “don’t you know how many poisonous chemicals they put in chemo?” [Read more…]

The Day My Daughter Found Herself

track-by-dean-hochman-on-flickrI want you to watch me run.

My daughter Becca sent me that text last Friday morning, just a couple hours into her first “24-Hour Challenge.” For weeks she’d been anticipating the annual event at her middle school, during which students run ten miles in half-mile installments around the track, breaking to sleep (or at least pretend to) in tents overnight before finishing in the morning. A major community event, the fields come alive with loud music, tents decked out with posters and lights, colorful signed shirts, and best friends walking arm in arm as they warm-up every forty minutes to run.

Mom. She texted me again. Are you coming soon?

I’d just come off of two sleepless nights, once again beset by conflict created by my own lack of interpersonal discernment. Questions wrestled in my gut: How do I help people mend their destructive lives without destroying my own? Is it possible to love wholly and purely without risking pain? I started to think I’m not cut out for fellowship. Maybe I need to stay away from everyone, I thought, except for my own family. [Read more…]

The Crazy Sex Lady at the Solitary Banquet

bacon by cookbookman17 on flickr“The crazy sex ladies are coming to school today,” said my oldest. “We’re missing it.”

“Good,” I said. I was driving the kids to the middle school an hour into their first period class. A glitch in the family routine over the past twenty-four hours prevented any of the three alarm clocks in the house from going off. We all overslept that morning, which must have been a mercy of God, because I’d been wondering what to do about the crazy sex ladies for a long time.

I went through training over the summer to become a crazy sex lady, to teach abstinence in public school.

It seemed, at first, like a good fit for me. But something became clear to me after going through the training (though I couldn’t quite pinpoint the problem at the time): attempting to instill an elevated concept of sexual purity without a corresponding concept of grace is just as dangerous as teaching that “anything goes.” [Read more…]

What My Kid Knew about Kubo

kubo[Spoiler alert: This post is about the end of the movie, Kubo and the Two Strings. However, since, I believe, the ending nearly spoils the film itself, you can read this and still enjoy the other, real pleasures of the movie.]

In the dramatic climax of Kubo and the Two Strings, our young hero defies the cold will of his grandfather, the Moon King, standing in a graveyard with nothing but his shamisen and delivering a (frankly) pretty forgettable speech about stories, memories, and identity.

His point, anyhow, is that our memories are our stories and our stories make us who we are. The ghosts of the dead rise up from the graves to reinforce this, and through some incomprehensible mechanism Kubo and the ancestors break the power of the Moon King.

In the wake of the battle, the Moon King has been transformed into an old man with no memory. “Who am I? What am I doing here?” he asks the gathered townspeople.

They quickly jump in with answers: “You’re one of the kindest, most generous citizens of our community,” they say (or something along these lines). “You’re loved by everyone.” A child adds, “And you always give children candy.” [Read more…]

I Have No Idea Where I’m Going

by Sarah Durham on flickrMy Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

—Thomas Merton

When I volunteered to teach religious education to sixth graders at our church, it was in a weak moment of senseless altruism, a desire to make some sort of lasting change in the world through the building up of young spirits. I regretted it immediately, especially once I realized I’d be subject to an actual textbook, with actual lesson plans, assignments, and tests.

I’d been operating under a delusion that I could just radiate so much joy and love for the Lord that actual teaching would be a non-issue. I was going to love the children into being—like God did—in that hungry eight o’clock hour before Mass, after raising Cain trying to get my own six children dressed and out the door. [Read more…]