Dancing with Scars

Dancing with Scars
Dancing with Scars
Photo taken by Tim Graves in Washington’s Columbia River Gorge near Mosier, Oregon. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Hiking between the Catherine Creek and Coyote Wall trailheads I discovered this scarred and mangled tree dancing in the late summer sunshine.

Pausing nearby, I sat to allow the joy of the weathered one to wash over me. A silly smile spanned my face as I looked at its unswerving pleasure in just being. Despite thinning branches and a disfigured trunk this durable spirit stood before the blue sky and mountains in the distance.

Without arborists to train it into a handsome front yard gem this tree thrived in the midst of its imperfections. Without naysayers along a city boulevard to express repulsion at its lifetime of struggles, the divinity within this tree danced joyfully.

Holy wind, help me appreciate scars, whether physical or emotional. May I learn from my own struggles. May I allow the pains of others to touch and transform me. On this mid-winter day, may I still dance in the certitude of the late summer that I am beloved by the divinity that binds creation together. Amen.

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The Contentment of an Urban Squirrel

The Contentment of an Urban Squirrel
Photo by Tim Graves
Urban Squirrel. Photo taken by Tim Graves in Portland, Oregon. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Gathering with family in Portland last week, I spotted this well-endowed squirrel. “Oh yeah, that’s the big one,” said my daughter. She and her partner have an ongoing conflict with the many squirrels who inhabit their urban yard.

“We got five whole cherries off our tree this year,” sighs my daughter’s beloved.

Most squirrels I encounter do not have a personal cherry tree, a spare cherry tree, and an apple tree to call their own. Most squirrels I encounter are deep in the woods. Most squirrels I encounter move quickly away chattering at me, scolding me for my presence when I hike through their domain.

This squirrel, however, sat contentedly munching with a hefty belly even in January. This squirrel was unbothered by my presence as I walked across the yard to my car.

Today, I pray for the contentment of this hefty squirrel. I pray that I quit worrying about what I don’t have, what I wish I had, and what I don’t need. I pray I learn to recognize my full belly and stop worrying about the future. Amen.

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Kindnesses

Kindnesses

I lost my iPad. I used the technology in the product to send my phone number to its screen. Within thirty seconds, I received a phone call from the gas station where I’d stopped. Someone had turned it in.

Kindness. Integrity.

At the end of a meeting at the church I serve, the chair turned to me and said, “Thank you for the things you do to help our committee.”

Kindness. Gratitude.

When I got home there was an unfamiliar trash can under the carport.  Later, I ran into someone from my church who asked, “Was that your trash that I put under your carport? It had blown almost to the highway.” I returned it to its rightful owner.

Kindness. In a world of globalized news that highlights the negative, it’s easy to perceive a world of evil but I think kindness is a lot more common than we admit. I am blessed by the kind actions of others everyday and, so, I have hope for humanity. In the words of an old Jewel song, “In the end, only kindness matters.”

Choice

Choice
Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

Standing at the junction,
I ponder.

No.

It’s worse than that,
I analyze and debate and agonize within myself.

Which path is the better path?
Which path is the right path?
Which way does the holy one desire me to go?

I analyze and debate and agonize within myself.
And sometimes I whine or scream at God.

“Tell me,” I plead.
“Which path is the better path?
Which path is the right path?”
Upon which path will I be successful or happy?

Standing at the junction,
I ponder.

In the agonized pondering,
I miss the truth.

God stands with me at the junction,
God walks with me if I turn left or turn right.

Which way should I go?

The breeze whispers in my ear,
the nearby squirrel chatters at me,
and the beauty of creation sparkles all around me.

Each path is my path.
Upon each trail, I will learn and grow.

Happiness and success are not inherent on any trail,
they are within me and the divine one with whom I travel.

Self-Care: I Am Important

Self-Care: I Am Important
One of the many remarkable views on the trail up to McCall Point near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
One of the many remarkable views on the trail up to McCall Point near Rowena, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

The statistics about the health of the clergy are staggering. (See for example, Clergy Members Suffer From Burnout, Poor Health). We tend to be heavier, less active, and prone to depression.  I knew the problem before my mid-life call to ministry.

As the “pastor’s wife” for a decade I saw the toll that parish ministry takes on clergy up close. My wife’s physical health and mental health suffered at the hands of the church. I was frightened at the impact that congregational ministry had on her.

And, so, when I discerned a call to ministry, I was bound and determined to avoid suffering the same fate as my wife had in parish ministry. With a personal routine of working out at the gym five days a week prior to seminary I naively committed to continuing to do so in seminary.

Alas, poor habits of self-care are taught alongside theology and the Bible at clergy training institutions. I left seminary flabbier, more stressed than necessary, with a caffeine addiction of epoch proportions, and with extremely poor sleep habits. Within a year of of leaving school I’d unlearned most of the poor self-care habits.

Once ensconced in parish ministry, however, my health began to slide again. I had two significant health events within as many years of beginning parish ministry. The second, in which my right colon was removed, was the quintessential wake up call.  That surgery earlier this year caused me to think about what I would regret not doing should I die.

Nearing the peak of McCall Point, Mt. Hood and I pose for a selfie. Photo by Tim Graves
Nearing the peak of McCall Point, Mt. Hood and I pose for a selfie. Photo by Tim Graves

I’ve re-ordered my priorities.  Since my surgery nearly four months ago, I have become diligent in taking care of myself. I hike and write — my preferred forms of physical and mental exercise —  at least three days a week. The mental shift I’ve had to make is this: instead of taking care of myself after X or Y is done, I do so on a, albeit flexible, schedule. Self-care is a priority.

I am as important as my parishioners. I am more important than administrative and other tasks. My self-care is non-negotiable.

And, so, today I prioritized myself. Though many things demand my attention in this extremely busy week (with another looming), I went hiking with God.

So you see that a sabbath rest is left open for God’s people. The one who entered God’s rest also rested from his works, just as God rested from his own.
Hebrews 4:9-10 CEB

Out of Chaos

Waking from a lucid dream, I lay in my hospital bed in those wee hours. I was convinced that they were out to get me. Even moving slightly in the bed caused excruciating pain. How would I protect myself from them?

Through the narcotic painkillers induced paranoia, I looked at my wife Maggie sleeping in the chair beside my bed. What about her? She might be a little naive and too-trusting of them but did I have a better option?

Our history and relationship of thirty-five years clawed its way to the surface: Maggie was my best hope. I’ve always been able to trust her. I remember that. I could not recall a time when she had ever – EVER – betrayed my trust.

I silently chanted to myself, “I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie. I can trust Maggie.”

***

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When I first got home from the hospital, Maggie slept on a small mattress on the floor to avoid disturb me and causing me pain. Photo by Maggie Sebastian

During the post-operative period following the removal of my right colon, the intensity of my dependency on my wife rivaled my need for water. In the hospital she served as interpreter, she served as personal chaplain, nurse, and guard dog. She did not leave my bedside for longer than twenty-minutes. Once home, she prepared the doctor-ordered “mush meals” and stood just outside the shower stall while I struggled to return to normal hygeine habits.

My vulnerability during my eight-week recovery period, especially early-on, was frightening and intimidating. The medical staff at the hospital were exemplary but they did not love me. The power of the trust and relationship I have with Maggie kept me emotionally stable during my time in hospital and recovery at home. When I would panic, she would bring me back. When I would sob, she would listen and hold me.

***

To be human is to be vulnerable and dependent upon others.  I am an emotionally healthy and independent individual but I still need others. It is how humanity is made.

Emerging from these challenging months, I am thankful to have had a beloved who interrupted her own normal routines to be ever-present with me. Love is like that, though. Love takes bad things — a health crisis in our case — and encourages and nudges us to create good out of it. The more than thirty-five year love and bond between my wife and I has grown in surprising ways using the raw material of weakness, fears, and vulnerability.

Love, that Divine glue that connects us with one another and with each rock, atom, and animal, uses chaos as the raw material for good. Created in the image of the Divine One, we too can create and expand love out of the chaos. All we have to do is claw our way out of our paranoia and suspicion of others and learn to trust one another.

When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters…God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. (Genesis 1: 1-2, 31 CEB)

___

This is the third of multiple posts about my experiences of surgery and recovery following a colonoscopy.

Related Posts

God Hides God’s Face From Me! May 20, 2014
Unnatural May 21, 2014
Out of Chaos May 27, 2014
No Big Deal May 29, 2014
Mortality June 3, 2014
Wiped Memories June 6, 2014
Perseverance June 10, 2014
Scars June 19, 2014

Why do I write about this topic?

Following my surgery I had a myriad of feelings. A myriad of web searches to find the stories of others, perhaps to validate my own emotions, left me empty handed. And, so, I write these posts to process my very real feelings and in the hopes that someone else finds them useful following their surgery and recovery.

 

 

Power Off

Power Off

Power out.
Dinner to prepare.
“Don’t open that fridge! You’ll let the cold out!”

The lawn chaise calls.
Afternoon breeze blows across my toes.
The leaves sing their praises to the summer wind moving in their midst.

Six foot high corn tassels wiggle in the sunshine.
Ten foot sunflowers dance and bend as if palms waving Hosannas to a king!
Birds sing. Arachnids weave their webs. Insects buzz from bloom to bloom.

The gentle breath of God tousles my hair, tickles my toes, and strokes my cheek.

Power out.
A moment of Sabbath within the breath of the One.

A spider spins its web along a trail in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
A spider spins its web along a trail in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
A bumblebee moves from sunflower to sunflower at Rasmussen Farm in Hood River County, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
A bumblebee moves from sunflower to sunflower at Rasmussen Farm in Hood River County, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
A sunflower field at Rasmussen Farm in Hood River county, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves
A sunflower field at Rasmussen Farm in Hood River County, Oregon. Photo by Tim Graves

Like Magic

Like Magic

Last evening as I prepared a meal of eggplant, yellow squash, green beans, and wax beans seasoned with dill, I remarked to myself “it’s like magic.” Every item in the meal, including the seasoning, was grown in our backyard. It was a veritable feast for a vegetarian like me.

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

As I rinsed the dirt off the squash, I smiled knowing that I did not need to worry about pesticides or non-organic substances creeping into my meal. The gardener in our family, never uses those things.

At dinner, I tasted each vegetable planted by my wife. The subtle taste of yellow squash, the stronger slightly sweeter taste of eggplant, the satisfying crunch of the green beans, and the slightly squishier less pronounced flavor of the wax beans satisfied my vegetarian soul.

I tasted the magic that is Creation. With a few seeds, water, with loving weeding and tilling, and a little luck multiple meals are growing under the eastern Oregon sun in my backyard.  They make their way into the house where I prepare most of our meals. (My freezer is also slowly filling up with food for those cold winter days.)

Photo by Tim Graves
Photo by Tim Graves

As the non-gardener, it is probably easier for the meal to seem magical. But of course it’s not really magic. The harvest is the divine dance between Creation and the human being who nurtured the earth and seeds to fruition. Perhaps that is why the gardener in my family talks about gardening as a spiritual practice. Each year gardeners co-create a harvest with God.

What else could we create if we listened to the spirit of love moving across the earth?