Archive for August, 2010

Thinking of my grok-master mentor has brought to mind other teachers in my life.

I wonder about teachers.  I expect just the word teacher downloads an instant file in your mind and you immediately think of one particular grade or course or school or season.  I would love to hear about some of the teachers you most admire.  How cool would it be during this Back to School season were we to call to mind the teachers that have blessed our lives and just send them some love?  We could send a prayer out over the wires, or write a letter or ship a card…

What joyful Hallelujah noise would that play in their inbox, mail box or heart?

Along those lines then, I share this letter I wrote to Alicia Britt Chole, author of Annonymous, and many other soulful titles.  And though I do not know Alicia personally as I do Mamma Grok, one of her books sang Hallelujah to me loudly enough to help me hear the Holy Dove’s sweet song.

Dear Alicia,

My name is Jael.

I’m certain that you don’t remember me,

but we briefly met briefly at the women’s conference in Williamsburg.

The reason I was there was you.
God through you-
and a promise I made to our whimsical Father

Who delights in refrigerator poetry more than my children
and pens super quirky haikus…

I thought that my attendance would be sufficient satisfaction of this vow-
I passed on the opportunity to really speak with you.
I looked moistly into your deep eyes
and you commented that you liked my necklace
and I thought a really big, “Thank you!”
…to you,
and more to the One who hears

all praise,
and need
and want
and hope
spoken and unspoken.
I was done.
<big sigh>
Check.

Apparently not.

As I prayerfully sit with the dimensional content of Anonymous
I am aware I disregarded the wise counsel of several of my mentor sisters
in my choice to not try to really speak to you.
At the time,
it felt unnecessary

<and even selfish>

to divert your attention and resources
to hear once again

from another stranger

the powerful impact of your teaching.
I was unwilling to risk that-
or diminish my own Godly experience
with my meager words.

And now,
stuck like a popcorn hull in my tooth,
I wonder if my withheld words were ever supposed to have been for me-
perhaps they were meant for you,
and what you do or do not do with them,
or if my story
has nothing to do with me.

I feel the call to Obedience
and I will simply trust that there is a reason I cannot put down
the idea I should share with you the backstory
of how improbable
and unlikely
and simply miraculous
it was I was there this weekend.
Praise God.

I so hear His chuckle,
delight
and even shear whimsy-
I confess I imagine this enough to make Him
and my beloved Beauty (grandmother)
snort milk over Oreos in heaven…
this daughter of His…
so NOT a joiner,
wounded , ex-Catholic,

excommunicated Mormon,
and former Evangelical atheist…
so unlikely a fan
to feel duty bound to write to you.

He’s interrupted my life too, you see.

And it’s all new enough that
I imagine He still thinks it’s

pretty sweet and funny-
I certainly do.
As I certainly should,
I dwell in possibilities now…

Pretty eternal and delicious really.
My awe snaps fresh like celery.

And so, I offer you this brief narrative:

Even before I realized, God had been busy with me.

However unlikely my hidden years made it seem to me; God chose for me a beautiful, sensitive, kind and Christ-like, best friend who became my husband.  One of the things that initially made us so well matched was our mutual church woundings and complete commitment to have nothing to do with God.  We respected the placebo effect others took from religion, but neither of us was going to do that again.

Time passed as we lived through a season where children were blessedly given to us as others were taken away.  The content was dense as were the daily chores incumbent upon us all and we were busy with our lives and jobs and home.  Like all families do, we enjoyed deep joys and situational challenges.

One particularly extended season of distress centered on the bright and beautiful life of our eldest daughter, [The Oldest Girl].  [The Oldest Girl] was born with a congenital heart defect that required surgery, and for the first 15 months of her little life, she was in and out of the hospital.  When she was three, her appendix burst and once again, we almost lost her.

Our Oldest Girl has always had a heart for God.  Her faith transcends words and translates worship.  When she was three, she told me one night as I tucked her in that she missed God and wanted to go Home to see Him.  She wasn’t kidding, she was making a decision.  As faithless as I was at the time, I have never been stupid.  I believed [The Oldest Girl's] will had saved her life more than once before and that she chose to stay with us. So, I told her no.

“No, [Oldest Girl], no.  Now is not the time for you to go back and see God.  You don’t need to go anywhere to see God.  God is right here.  God is everywhere.  You don’t need to miss God.  He sees you.  He loves you.  He knows you.  Your job is to stay here with Mama.  Your job is to grow up and get strong.  It is not time for you to go Home, [Oldest Girl].  This is your home now and God put you here for a reason.”

Not bad for a _________________ <whatever I was at the time> on the spot;  I wanted babygirl with me.

However, I was also aware that she had this God thing going on and that I needed to make space for it.  Don’t get me wrong… at the time I was in teacher mode… follow the child’s interests and all…  If she had expressed passion about dinosaurs, well, I would have gotten her books on T-Rexes and created a paleontology dig in the backyard.

As such, I began to talk to my sweet, kind, gentle, generous and atheist husband about shopping for a church.  Talking about it took time and space and created more conflict than hope.

Time passed.

Hearts began to heal,

And we began to shop churches.

<It wasn’t really pretty…>

By the time we stumbled into the church that is now our home, I was in complete porcupine- mode, “Don’t look at me, don’t talk to me, and don’t you dare pray for me.  I don’t want your coffee and I am not here looking for friends.”

You can imagine what a hit I made with the ladies of my church…

At the same time, they offered a Beth Moore bible study, Why Godly People Do Ungodly Things. I wanted to learn more about the bible and signed up.  To say that this was the wrong study for me at the wrong time is more of an understatement than ever published by Twain.  Quite simply, it brutalized me.  I had neither the heart nor experience for the message, and the only reason I did not quit was that I am an ardent student.  I don’t quit classes, I do my homework, and I complete my studies…

And I did, sans diploma or testimony and much like an elephant; I went away and waited for my Faith hopes to die.

However, [Oldest Girl] was who she is, thank God, and our duty as parents was not fulfilled by my wounded retreat, and so we returned to that same church that sponsored the study.

It had been months.  And the pastor’s wife, the very woman who had led that <for me> abysmal study, landed on me like a fly at a picnic the moment I entered the sanctuary.  She and I had had more than one tussle during the Moore study and I was altogether certain that I was every inch the one of “them” she talked about when she referred to non-believers.

She greeted me more warmly than was my comfort and with a hug I did not desire.  She told me that she had something for me in her purse and that had been there for months and that she had brought it every Sunday waiting to give it to me when I returned.  It was your Real Life, Real Pain, and a Real God CD.  As receptive as I was at the time, you can well deduce how long it was that tome gathered dust in my kitchen.  I faithfully shuffled it from pile to pile in our home with no intention to listen to it, unable to discard it; however unsolicited, it had been extended as a gift.

And so it sat for months, and I never looked at it without recalling that unexpected act of kindness.   After a particularly bleak day, when my family was kind enough to give me space to go for a run – and I still can’t recall the logic of why I thought to take it- I listened to your message.

The short run turned into a long run, and I didn’t return for hours until I had heard enough of your words to believe you were like me, and that you had something to say to me.  It was in that run and through your lessons that God interrupted my life.  You’re words delighted and surprised me…

…Who knew you bow-heads could be so smart, and funny and relevant?!?

God continues to transform me over time.  I am not an alter call girl and my passage from faithlessness to faith has been slow.  However, God gave me a voice I could finally hear through your words.  Wounded, fearful, and breathlessly grateful <literally, it was a 2-CD piece and you offer a lot of content>, I promised myself… and God… a short, anemic, I-did-not-know-how-to-do-it-or what-to-say-promise that if I ever, ever, ever, had the chance to see you in person I would.

Well… the conference invitation came up and I denied myself the possibility for weeks.  It was too expensive, I still didn’t volunteer for that kind of thing, etc.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Like telling you my story, however, I could not put down the promise I had made… and so… my husband and I found the money, we both took a day off of work, I campaigned a sister at church to be my roommate,  and I signed up.

I came and found you there-

your ever faithful voice still singing Praise;

your earnest, thoughtful words

still painting the Glorious face of our Savior…

As I knew He would if I went,

God had a Word for me there.

And my simple word to you, dear Alicia,

is that if you didn’t do what you do,

I wouldn’t have been there to hear it.

I value your voice,

I respect your Faithfulness,

I join your ardor and love of our Father.

Thank you for being a lighthouse

when my home and heart

needed a guide

to Light, and Home and Truth.

I Rejoice!

jael

And, yes, to you lovers of equity, I promise I did drop Mamma Grok a line today too.  Her reply bid me to remember what Peter said to the people after the Accession.  Talk about a tough teaching assignment; Peter had to take the class full of kids Jesus left behind!  Those were some rise-up-and-walk-big shoes!  Mamma Grok wrote to me, “Peter stood up, he had the initiative to step into leadership after Jesus ascended. Peter understood brokenness and he loved being healed!”

Peter took on that tough teaching assignment and grieving student body through Grace to declare, and I use Mamma Grok’s paraphrase here,  “I cannot give you what you want, but I can give you what I have in order for you to be what you desire.”

That’s our Hallelujahs’ song.  They offer up what we have to Him that makes us whole.

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song,
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

Yesterday launched another school year.

Pause for Miss School Year 2010-2011 to make her way down the runway, folks.  Isn’t she lovely in her crown and sash!  Look at those tears of joy.

Tears are plenty too.  It’s back to school time all over the land.  In some houses, teachers weep to have to return to lunch duty.  Who could blame them really?  In others, children sob because they don’t want to leave home or get up early.  And, I am certain there are homes in which mothers cry out with joy to have their kids return to school, because they love them, dammit, but can they just breathe for a minute or get a pedicure for glory’s sake?

My four headed out to storm academic halls with new kicks, shiny backpacks, unbattered Sigg bottles, and mixed emotional features.

The Baby was thrilled to start kindergarten, but not certain that she wanted to stay the whole day.  Her attitude was as eager as the pleats of her skirt were pressed.

The Boy begrudged every aspect expect lunch.  Even his friends weren’t much of a draw this year.  He saw his friends plenty over the summer actually,  and you don’t have to take a Geometry quiz at a sleep over.

The Oldest Girl felt socially networked and gorgeous in her sassy, pirate shorts.  She’s being groomed for a leadership role in her classroom, and was happy to have us get out of her way so that she could get to her ambassadorial role, thank-you very much.

The Middle Girl was excited about getting her own desk this year.  Previously, she’s worked at team tables.  She’s been all about the desk quest since she visited her Mamma Grandma this summer.  She has aspirations to be a journalist or book writer and illustrates grand, epic tales.

As for me, I’m a cross between an anxious dash and a calendar page.  I think I was the bed-headed grump this morning who grouched, “I will not be your clock the entire year!  I am not Big Ben!  7:30 means 7:30!”  (Yes, yes, very Pinochio, I know. I want to be a mamma, a real, live mamma!) I always forget how much chase, chase, chase comes with the school pace, soccer teams, music lessons and tournaments.  I’m sure I’ll find my voice about it later, but right now, my phone is beeping to remind me of another family calendar event.  Again!

Until then, in their own words, original snippets from our kids’ first back-to-school assignments:

The Boy, 12, who was not only assigned reading, but also a Herculean, summer project:

Would I Recommend This Book to Others?” :) :) :) :) :)

Absolutely. This book is a canon classic, and is on many schools’ reading lists. However, I always recommend reading a book before it’s required by a teacher as it is always more fun to choose your own book.  We all know students hate being assigned to read over the summer.  The only thing worse than that is to have a summer project on an assigned book.”

The Oldest Girl, 10:

“My hobby is writing songs, I really like to see what the combination of melodies and syllables can make. Also, whether I am singing high or low, l feel at peace when I am singing.”

The Middle Girl, 8:

“This season in my life is ornge enthuseasan and warmth and energe.”

The Baby, 5, assigned a gingerbread man to decorate.  She made him into a piñata and dictated this verse:

Gingerbread Piñata

Friends, teachers,
Lend me your ears!
A gingerbread
piñata is here

Run, run,
to the big room!
if you do,
you’ll get a lollipop soon

Mrs. [Teacher],
you’re a dear!
We’ll lift our hands,
and give you a cheer!

Jesus, Jesus,
We love you!
You do things
no one else can do

K, kids,
Of the [Name of my] School!
As a matter of fact,
I know you rule!

Now’s the time,
I have to flee!
You can’t catch me,
I’m the gingerbread man!

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

Hallelujah, Hallelujah,

Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

Through His recent, gentle command to rise, I am again reminded of one of the most insightful teachers I ever had the privilege with which to study.  She owns my respect as this woman excites in me an adrenaline pang of abject fear accompanied by the simultaneous desire to sit at her feet and bathe in her wisdom.   I never know for certain if she will smack me or hug me, and her lessons always stretched me to the tippy-toes of my fledgling understanding of content.  A most mighty and majestic oak, she evidences the conviction that a concept cannot be studied if one does not understand the terminology.  She is rattlesnake quick to distinguish between a scientist’s operational definition of terms (that tell the reader what a word or phrase means for the purpose of a study) and a word study.  She exalts that all connotations, denotations, derivations, and cultural contexts must be sifted before any idea can be fully understood.  Her insistence on this process often bring to mind Heinlein’s Valentine Michael Smith, the prophet who calls his brothers to wait in fullness in order to grok.  This woman teaches many;  she is one diva of groking in fullness, and I am also convinced she’s got a Batphone to the Throne.

By the way, I know she’d slap me if she knew I distilled her most empirical and rigorous Word Study process down to the science fiction term grok, but Baby, truth is what it is, and that teacher, water brother mine, groks, and bids me to do the same.

Recent process here prompts me again to apply her word study model to grok in fullness.

As such, one of my strategies when I attempt to get my head around a new pattern or idea is to study the antonyms of the concept.  I actually like to turn my journal upside down when I do this as a visual reminder to consider it from the opposite perspective.  I wish I could type upside down, but I don’t even have to ask The Husband to know that that would get the big technology veto.  He would also certainly argue that it would make it too hard for you to read, thus building a division between us when what I seek if communion.   If, however, you wanted to pretend I was typing upside down starting now, that would be great.

Term: broken

Definition: (abridged from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/broken)

1 shattered
2 damaged, altered, irregular, violated, disrupted
3 made weak, subdued, crushed, sorrowful, bankrupt, reduced
4 cut off, disconnected, imperfect
5 incomplete
6 disunited

Antonym: whole

1 intact
2 original, pristine, revered, continuous, regular
3 made strong, supported, lifted, joyful, rich, maximized
4 networked, connected, perfect
5 complete
6 united

These inversions pull the brakes on the runaway express of my busy brain.

Earth bound, I have one spiritual quest, to lift my voice in love to Him that made me.  With dirt on my feet and salt on my face, the best I can offer from here is a broken Hallelujah.

However, He meets me in my broken spaces right where I am, and stirs my soul with Victory.   He bathes my offering with Grace, and returns to me a

Holy Hallelujah

an intact song,
pristine love,
restored wholeness,
vintage freedom,
pristine mercy,
revered hope,
continuous strength,
unconditional support,
lifted confidence,
joyful healing,
rich communion,
maximized potential,
fellowship networked,
holy dove connection,
perfect peace,
complete unity

He offers my Hallelujah a new identity and restoration because He not only hears my imperfect Praise with delight, He celebrates me back with perfect Love.

And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

Job applications make my Top 10 List of Hallelujah Breakers today.

Get this; my sister emailed me today to share the heads-up that she had decided to put her name in the hat for some part-time work.

As part of the application process, she was asked to complete a “Predictive Index.”

On page one, she was instructed to check off the words from a supplied list that she feels describe the way others expect her to act.

On page two, she was asked to check off the words from a supplied list that identify her expectations of herself.

I’ve pasted the word list below:

So, clearly, I’m no therapist, but I assume there is a psychodynamic inventory embedded in this check list, and I am intrigued on many levels.

I confess the title of the task really bakes my cupcakes.  “Predictive Index?”  Just like Silence of the Lambs, baby, the gallant and elegant sociopath, Hannibal Lecter, said it best, “Oh, Agent Starling, do you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?”

Come on!  Clearly this Predictive Index is meant to measure personality indicators that some company paid a puffed-up consultant a ridiculous wad of cash to build.  “Yeah!  Build me a matrix!  Write me a tool so I can hire someone who lives the mission statement and honors the code.  Construct me a Skinner’s Box so that we can weed out the weary, helpless, broken-hearted, faithless, and confused.   Let those lost souls cry out to Jesus, ‘cause we only hire producers who promote value and honor the company name.”

Really now, has our social code degraded to the point that a potential job applicant would assert that others should expect him to act fearful, self-centered, selfish and dominant?  Can you imagine any non-dream state that would compel you to say, “Hi, my name is Jael, I am a passive, audacious, worrying, docile, obstinate, fussy escapist who promises to add value to your organization.”

Usually people smart enough to participate in 12 Step programs know the difference between a job application and a meeting.

Certainly, there must be words that flag potential psychopaths and narcissists for the employer.  I respect companies must roll the dice as they throw development capital into the recruitment and training of talent, but come on!  This kind of exercise could produce clinically measurable anxiety.

It’s like a Bounce House for the Id, Ego and Super Ego to collide!  Do I check what I think they want me to say, or check what I think is right, or check how my kids would describe me when I go postal over spilled chocolate milk on the couch?

What does this Predictive Index measure?  What the potential employer expects?  What one expects of potential colleagues?  What one expects of oneself?  And those are just the not crazy-kind of second-guessing questions.  What if it somehow measures if I am insecure or if English is my second language or if I have some kind of cheese fetish?  What in the hell does resolute really mean anyway, and is it exclusively a good or bad attribute?

I’d say more, but at this point, I am afraid someone is watching me.

The Holy Dove ain’t ever tried to dissect me with a blunt little tool.

In fact, my God promises to prosper and not to harm me.

I did my best, it wasn’t much (not passive)
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch (not audaciously)
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you (trusting)

And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my blessedly employed tongue but Hallelujah!

I recently had one of those spells that boiled me dryer than granny’s oatmeal.  On second thought, dry seems an unfair characterization as I was actually on my knees with my face in the carpet weeping.  I couldn’t stop crying.  OK, I couldn’t stop sobbing.  And I don’t mean that I’m-gonna-let-myself-cry-this-out-just-let-it-go-a-bit kind of crying, I mean keening.  I was wailing, and every time I tried to pull it back in, I capsized again into a ragged maw of tsunami emotion.

That mouth was hungry too, and dark.  I know it wanted to wolf me down like movie popcorn.  I could smell the carrion stuck in its teeth, very, “The better to eat you with, my dear,” and smug, gluttonous confidence.

It thought me easy prey, and that was fair, my posture was an alter call parody made for Saturday Night Live.  All I needed was a really big, bad blonde wig.  My mascara was already running Rorschach tracks down my face.  My nose gets really arrogant during a spell too, like it’s got some kind of unspoken competition going with my eyeballs.  Who knew they were hysteria rivals.  Like if my nose could talk, it would say to my eyes, “Sure, you get all the camera shots and that mirror-of-the-soul press, but I drip snog faster than you can rain tears.”  Even my poor nose knows we’ve been socialized to romanticize tears and abhor snots.

This spell, however, was a snotty, moist, noisy and ridiculously cathartic affair.  I had hit the wall of my limits again and paid the price with precious human saline.

Sniff.

I think a good spell clears out the psyche like a regular fiber regimen aids digestion.  I also believe there is an emotional equivalent to constipation.  The daily pace of family machines layers stress, frustration, conflict and anxiety like a crazy Salvador Dali canvas.  I can’t exactly tell you why my pocket watch or my heart melted over the ledge of hope that afternoon, but the baffled king composed Hallelujah!  The persistence of memory!  The mercy of Grace!

The Holy Dove was moving too!

Even on my face, amid process, as my Lord of Song so lovingly does, yesterday, today and tomorrow, I must accept myself as and where I am in order to keep moving.

Face in the carpet, I heard only one mild request, extended in a most gentle, but somewhat amused Spirit.

“Rise up.  I know where you are and I know that bugs you.  There’s a difference between being broken and having a broken Hallelujah.  You’re not broken.  You’re my Baby Girl.  I love you.  I hear you.  Rise up.”

In that moment, standing up was entirely actionable.

Standing up is movement.

Standing up for something… well, now, that’s Revolution.

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Since I began to consider, “Hallelujah,” as a monolith of Praise, I have thought a lot about what gives and takes away a Seeker’s sense of Hallelujah.  I ask the question, “What breaks Hallelujah?” like a chorus in my head.  In perfect harmony, another question sings, “Was my Hallelujah ever wild and free?”  Two other curious voices chime in, “Is anyone’s Hallelujah intact?” and “What does a perfect and whole Hallelujah sound like?” round out this metacognitive barber shop quartet.

The landscape of violence against women mutated these more general questions to a series of what-if questions.  What if domestic abuse broke a woman’s Hallelujah and what would happen to her if she tried to change her situation.

Those questions are the foundation of this piece.

another woman


The street lay open
before her battered body like a mouth.
The third nail of her left hand
hides within a plastic cocoon
as her engagement ring screams
its exclamation in the early morning sun.

Her stomach squeezed its fist again.  “Golamb guts,” she thought sardonically, “my family’s answer to an emotional barometer.”  She knew she had to do something, but her cramping stomach reminded her of the paradox that slowly suffocated her like carbon dioxide poisoning. Although she had distance from him, she was not free of him.  Although she no longer resided within the beast of her torrid marriage, neither did she dwell outside its hostile territory.  She couldn’t stay chained in this limbo forever.

“If I write him a letter and give him enough time to respond, maybe he won’t feel like I ambushed him,” she rationalized to herself for the hundredth time that day.  “If I am very careful and make it nice for him, if I don’t say anything mean or provocative then it should be okay,” she hoped while massaging her stomach and walking to the computer desk in her office upstairs.

As she turned on the Macbook, however, she remembered one of the many times that she hadn’t thought she’d done anything evocative and he exploded anyway.  During that particular “accident,” she had made the mistake of asking him if he would like anything besides the french fries he had made himself for dinner.  She recalled her shame as he screamed at her, “I can eat whatever I want to eat for dinner.  Unlike you, I’m not a fucking psycho about my weight, and don’t count every fat gram I consume.  I’m not the one obsessed with getting fat!  Worry about your own damn weight and let me eat what I want.  And no, I would not like a salad or soup to go with my dinner,’” menaced as he charged toward her with the hot baking pan of Ore-Ida Crispers.

“I don’t think you’re fat,” she remembered lying quickly.

“You’re such a fucking hypocrite,” he said punctuating his vengeance with the cookie sheet.  “Take ‘em,” he conceded hotly as he pushed the scalding pan into her hands, “Take ‘em and get the fuck out of my sight,” he ordered as he stormed from the kitchen.

He did not look back as he made his exit, nor would he have considered it at all ironic that his double-time march swished as he stormed out the door because his thighs rubbed together rudely enough to make him chafe.

The tears came again and she began to run cold water over her hands even before he cleared the doorway.  The blisters mushroomed almost immediately, another vivid visual metaphor for her woodshed of a marriage.

In mid composition of yet another catalogue of the reasons she ever had agreed to be his wife in the first place, she shook her head to break from the dysfunctional track of her memoirs with Simon.  She realized as she glanced back to her monitor that she had been bound by their grip for long enough for Word to have booted and the screen saver to have bled across the page.  She hit the space bar as she committed herself once again to her task. “You can do this,” she coached to herself, “You can find the right tone in this letter to help him change his mind.”

With that thought, she began to type without realizing that she was caught in spokes of the wheel once again.

772 Western Avenue
Millpoint, MA  01775

Simon Craig

PO  Box 39869
Fort Bragg, NC  28307

13 May 2007

Dear Simon,

Every letter I recall penning to you since you reenlisted begins similarly; I hope this finds you and finds you well.  This salutation signals my adjustment to the idea that I do not know exactly where you geographically reside when I write. The roads we travel have truly diverged.

“Okay,” she complimented herself, “right from go, you’ve made your position clear.  I’m not with you; I don’t want to be with you; I can’t live with you.”  “Now,” she encouraged herself, “Get to the point, ask for the divorce and be done with it,” she cautioned herself with her conditioned mantra, “just don’t piss him off.”

Her hands poised above home row.  She began to type deliberately again.

I have thought often about the conversation we shared on April 28.  I anticipate that you also have sifted through the issues about which we talked.  I regret not having heard from you in regard to that call before now, but I expect that as I was focused in the effort to meet my project deadline, and all its demands, you too were immersed in the challenges of your mission. However, I wanted to write and reiterate my request to finalize our divorce.

She paused to wonder if he had any idea how much she wanted to be free of him, how hard she had worked to heal from the brand he burned into her dignity.

What she did not fully recognize, in spite of all the therapy and prayer, was that her scars published the exact nature of his mission:  Recon, assess the enemy’s weakness, take control.

The dawn dew baptizes
her expressionless brow.
Ramps of her raven hair
build tunnels for the ants to investigate.
Mischievous breezes blow
cigarette road blocks in their path
to intersect with the pieces of grit
and gravel that already dust
her usually clean mane.

Once again she pulled herself away from her distracting thoughts.  “I hate him for making me ask again,” she dared as she scrutinized the screen before her, “I hate him for making me beg him to cooperate.”

Beginning to compose once more, she promised herself, “If I can get him to do this, I’ll never have to ask him for anything ever again.”

As I stated on the phone, I ask you to support this request, Simon.  I evince that enough time has transpired since our initial separation that we can choose this together in the most painless and cost effective way.  I suggest we proceed with a no-fault filing that was your initial approach when you first pursued legal aid.  I foresee no areas in which our interests contradict each other.  We divided the marital assets already, and I will be in the position by the end of August to economically manage without the support of your monthly check.  I think what we need to decide together is who will file, when the filing will occur, and how this expense will be shared.

I trust you will support this request.  If you can secure free or reduced legal services through the Army and want to file there, I am comfortable with that.  If you want to contact the lawyer and resubmit your initial petition and work through her Massachusetts office, I am comfortable with that too.  I am also willing to contact my attorney to make a similar request that she finalize the proceedings.  The only other option that I am familiar with centers around independent filing without the use of a lawyer, but I do not feel like I have the time nor expertise to pursue this option.

“That’s it,” she praised herself, “just the facts Ma’am.  Don’t get ensnared in the emotional knots that are strangling your guts, just put your needs out there and make him see that you intend to see them met.”  Her momentum stymied, however, when she recalled again with acrid distaste that his perspective was very different from her own.  “Okay,” she surrendered out loud, “I guess there’s no getting around acknowledging his emotional position.  Dr.  Parker told me it’s okay to accept responsibility for what I am responsible for and admit it to him and myself.  The trick demands that I don’t shoulder his responsibility too.”  She pulled her bottle of Avalon toward her and drank deeply as she gently stroked the gray tabby that curled in her lab.  “No delicate balance,” she explained to her only baby as she returned to her letter.

I understand from our anniversary conversation that you would prefer to attempt to reconcile in lieu of finalizing the divorce.  As I indicated, I can not endorse this idea.  I worry that because you do not want to make our separation final that you will not support my request nor answer this letter.  I respect I am in no position to compel you to do anything with which you feel uncomfortable.  I can only entreat you, Simon, to please subscribe to my request.  I do not want to become ensnared in another litigious battle of who can slander who better in cross bills.  I do not want to extend nor perpetuate pain for either of us.  I realize our wants vary on this issue, but implore you to recognize they diverge at such variance that we stand without common ground upon which to meet.

She blinked away the tears that threatened to block her vision.  She couldn’t help but quote lines of the cross bills that slandered back and forth between their lawyers’ offices.  Where as she strove to be fair, he twisted the truth, betrayed her secrets, and raped with the blunt objects of her own secrets and his blatant fabrications.

“That’s what he did,” she charged with clotted voice, “he violated the sanctity of everything I ever shared with him.  He shredded any trust or respect I had left for him in those documents.”

She shook her head to clear it as she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her T-shirt.  “No excuses, no time for crying jags,” she chided herself, “just get this infernal nightmare over with.  Be the man he can’t be and admit your responsibility.”

Resolute, she began to type in earnest.

Sorrow and guilt compete for my attention when I recall your appeal that we meet to discuss our situation or that we consider to try again to mediate our differences.  I thought time would mitigate your sense of loss, so that you would begin to build your life around goals and dreams that no longer include me.  I do not have language to address this disparity.  As much as I regret your reticence, I need to move on with these proceedings, Simon.  I need the legal closure of our marriage to be able to build my own life.  I ask you to give me leave so that I can do so with your support as I extend my own to you in the pursuit of your goals.  Please do not ask me again to reconsider.  Please do not place me in the position that I have to ask you to finalize our divorce again.  It’s too painful for both of us.

“No more,” she thought to herself as she wrote, “I can’t live like this anymore.”

“My wants weren’t ever what was important to him,” she self-edited as she posted her exit strategy.  “I need to make him see that I’m not out to emasculate him.”  She remembered too well that the consequences were dire indeed when he felt she was, “busting his balls.”.

“Enough with the melodramatic daydreaming, girl,” she scolded herself, “get this damn thing written.  Almost done…” she vowed.

I pray that you recognize that I have consistently tried to navigate our separation and end our marriage in the kindest, most amiable way that I know.  I do not want to usher in a new battle with this letter.  I hope instead to close this chapter in our lives as friends.  We walked into our life together as friends, Simon.  I want to exit  without damage to the only relationship possibility that could continue; friendship.

I also feel the need to apologize for how long this has taken to come to closure.  I fully participated in the delay of finalizing our divorce.  I appreciate your support during this period and thank you for the generous allotment checks.  I realize you chose to provide them independent of any written obligation and I want you to know that I am grateful.  As I mentioned before, I understand that these payments will discontinue at the time our divorce becomes final.

“Economic blackmail,” she almost shouted, disturbing the sleeping cat which nestled against her womb.  “That’s what those checks were.  He used money like a noose.  He stole my savings, he forged my checks, he ran up bills and hid the receipts, he destroyed my mail, he ruined my credit, he ran off leaving me stranded with piles of bills and no money.  He tried to pocket the allowance the Army paid him for marital support for himself.  I would have liked to have seen him explain that to his CO.  I even had to drag his lawyer into court to extract the promise he would stop using a credit card he illegally took out in my name.  He knows my social security number and my mother’s maiden name,” she spit interrupting herself, “so just don’t get too cocky, little girl,” she demeaned herself in with one of Simon’s catch phrases. “He can still hurt you plenty.”

I would hope that we could resolve this issue and that the divorce could be final by the end of June.  Please write or call me so that I know which way you would prefer to handle the legal proceedings.  I reiterate my desire to work together with you on this.  If, however, I do not hear from you by April 7, 2007, I will forward this letter to my attorney along with my request that she file for a no-fault divorce.  I anticipate the preceding sentence might anger you or feel like an ultimatum.  I do not intend either as goad or a mandate.  Instead, I attempt to keep the promise that I made to you during our last phone call.  I made the commitment to take no legal action without your knowledge.  I do not intend to pursue any course of action until we are able to discuss it.  However, if you do not choose to dialogue with me about it, I still want you to be informed of my intentions.  I can only promise you my intent is one of respect and hope that you will interpret this statement in the context and spirit I extend it.

One bare foot
pokes out beneath her drop cloth cape.
Both the calluses
and the half moon blood blister
beneath the nail of her big toe
confess her devotion.

Take care of yourself.  I hope you have returned to Fort Bragg by now and that your mission has stopped creeping.  “Mission creep,”  What an odd and funny expression.  Sounds like a bad case of jungle rot or foot fungus.  Either way, it would seem an antifungal cream should be prescribed.  I hope you continue to take satisfaction from your work and the knowledge that you do it well in service of your team and country.  I know it’s your watch.  I have every confidence you watch well so that others might sleep in safety.

She enchanted her mantra before she closed the letter, “I did my best, it wasn’t much. I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.  I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you.  And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

Namaste,

Michelle

She was a runner.

She did not, however, out run him.

In fact, she never had.

Requiem for Michelle

She stands inside faith as
tenacious tides
comb her feet.

She’s walked
this beach before.

She calls the sun as
it bakes her face
and the breeze seasons
her hair with salt.

She’s walked
this beach before.

She summons the undertow
and baits a hunger
that could swallow her whole.

She’s walked
this beach before.

She channels will
to captain herself as
she resets her course.

Without a cry,
without a prayer,
with no betrayal of despair,
with gusting sales of
courage personified,

She storms the beach
alone.

We began our trip home from the beach on the afternoon of our third day together.  The Boy and Oldest Girl had enjoyed a Renaissance in their affections toward each other that The Husband and I had not recalled being so spontaneously playful since they were in second grade and kindergarten respectively.

Something shifted back, however, in the truck on the highway home.  It seemed every mile we traveled closer to the house, the more irritated Oldest Girl became with The Boy.  In fact, it got to the point that his very respiration clearly inflamed her. She would have happily covered his mouth and nose with her bare hands just to quiet is breath.  His most genuine and dulcet tones were met with pickled rage or worse, complete indifference.  There’s something incendiary about being ignored, and my children are as combustible as the rest of Adam’s brood.  After several honest attempts at accord, The Boy got as pissed as The Oldest Girl, and it was a Cold War as brutal and familiar as bad hair in the 80s in the backseat.

The husband and I discussed this after we got home, unpacked and got the kids to bed.  We agreed I should approach the subject with The Oldest Girl to hear the soundtrack that played in her mind during these encounters with her brother.

I invited The Oldest Girl to help me sort beach laundry to busy our hands as I approached the topic with her the next morning.  Her gestalt admission that she resented her brother was so immediate that I felt like I had been given an unwelcome Heimlich.  Eventually, we sat upon the tiles of the laundry room floor and shared tales of our brothers together. We sniffed, lamented, and shook our fists at the reality that we would always be junior to our only brothers.  After a time, I asked her to press into the first thought or event that made her feel unequal in status or value to her big brother.  I asked her to write a song, prayer, poem, card, or draw a picture or create a piece that helped her to identify what it was that made her feel less than so we could look at it together later and talk again.

Below, verbatim, is her response:

Dear [The Boy],

I’m sorry I’ve been jelouse of you.  It kinda feels like when you got a cell phone a green monster was born inside of me, and its been growing ever since.  The truth is I admire you.  You have 10 fencing medals and everyone in the club knows and likes you, you’re the most popular guy in class and every body wants to be your friend.  Next to that I feel insignificant.  I look up to you and wish that I could be as popular and privileged as you.  I know I shouldn’t and I half-heartedly try not to, but I do.  It seems unfair that you can go on fencing tournaments and have hour long computer turns.  In truth, I keep a score card in my head of what you got first and what you have more of.  I’m sorry that I see it this way and will honestly try to stop. My words mean only so much so with my actions I will show you that I mean it.

Love,

[The Oldest Girl]

Under the category of, “and a little child shall lead them,” this innocent epistle croons to my soul too often clogged with envy like cheese-hardened arteries.  It indicts my every human limit and broken Hallelujah.

Envy’s scorecard is an Hallelujah breaker.

I am a daughter of Eve, as is my daughter.  We were born broken, or at the very least fallen.  I am ever grateful for Grace.  I see blessed Mercy in Oldest Girl’s face as she risks vulnerability with her brother more naked than Cane ever staked with Abel.

As quiet and brave as a recon grunt, she shared her letter with The Boy before dinner that night.  His moist eyes baptized her with new comprehension.

I know they will keep their score cards and fight again,  They did not, however, that day. Yesterday they took a Sabbath from their battles on the new common ground they had charted together.

I’ll stand next to my little children before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

The night we returned home from the beach our home felt like a palace.  As well as the six of us did in one double room for two nights and three days, we appreciated space to enjoy space.  I was interested to observe the children like lemmings migrate to their comfort zones.  The Boy checked his email, The Baby sprawled out onto the middle of the playroom floor and The Oldest and Middle Girl just wanted to shower.  Alone.

I expect it will take some time for me to shift through the family experience.  I remain amazed how quickly we morphed into a cohesive team that stormed the waves together.  I tear to remember how much The Boy, who usually has little to do with his sisters, played with the girls. Like a magical algebraic reduction, being away simplified who were his options, and that his sisters actually had game.

The Oldest Girl was so giddy and breathless the first time we hit the beach that I reached for a lunch sack and all but hyperventilated with her.  She experienced the encounter with a throttle so open you could hear her laughter roar like a plane as it takes off in flight.  Like a delighted porpoise, she rolled and frolicked in the waves, as enchanted to remain upright as she was to be thrown against the shore.  She laughed with such abandon we had to remind her to close her mouth as the waves crested because she gargled more sea water than adults use Listerine during flu season.

The Middle Girl and The Baby both journeyed to find their legs.  Initially timid, The Middle Girl spent the first twenty minutes in the water screaming, “Don’t let go!,” and the rest of the weekend testifying, “I got this!”  It took her less time to cycle from uncertain to confident than it takes our washing machine to shift from wash to rinse.  Really, I can’t add fabric softener that fast.

The Baby maintained a healthy respect for the ocean.  Mesmerized by its scope and the crash of the tide, she maintained touch contact with a parent at all times while in the water.  It was clear we were her lighthouses that guided her safely out through the waves and back home again.  I can only imagine how big it looked and what sense she made of its vastness.  I watched her face and tried to see the images as her eyes captured the moment, her sincere, “Wow!” a succinct prayer of wonder and wholly sufficient, thanksgiving Hallelujah.

The nautical blues of the choppy ocean provided a crows nest for The Husband and I to view our children.  So much of our usual rhythm directs the traffic of our schedules and obligations, that we can lose sight of our children amid their activities.  Too often the lens considers how they do something like the dishes, or homework, or a soccer game, that we lose focus on who they are.  These new and updated images of them, snapshots of adolescent postures, porpoise joy, confidence cycled, and touch contact clarified their sensibilities to us more than any family meeting or orchard hike.  We were Away together, and we came back Here more knitted in our family fabric.

All of that this, of course, records the esoteric hot fudge of decadent, relational sundaes, and not the nitty-gritty of funds or tips on how to make it feasible logistically.

We were crazy 11th hour in our adventure.  The most obvious thing we learned is to plan ahead.  For a “beach” of any mention, and if you want a house or a condo, that might actually mean to plan a year ahead.

There are innumerable tips on how to travel cheaply and practical tips about what to pack on the Web.  These are my novice contributions for a quick (even unexpected) trip to the beach:

Handy Packs

  • Pack a couple of rolls of paper towels.  Your family can’t live without them at home and they shouldn’t be expected to operate without them Away.  They will greatly aid the towel shortage in the hotel bathroom too.
  • Line trunk or storage space of vehicle with an old sheet to collect sand.  Sand invades more pervasively than fleas, and you don’t want to bring it into your home.
  • Cooler tip:  The cooler will fill up quickly no matter how big it is.  Pack extra beverages to be chilled as you use them during your stay, and give Igloo priority to food that must stay refrigerated.
  • Boiled eggs are a perfect food. They offer a ready breakfast, quick protein with yogurt for a filling lunch, or an easy snack that satisfies.  Peel before you leave home.  Pack 2-3 per day for each person who eats them.  Oh, sliced over cream cheese on a whole wheat bagel, they make a great and healthy sandwich for the kids too.
  • Pick a hotel that serves a free Continental breakfast. If they serve fruit (and many don’t to control costs), bring an extra piece back to the room to eat later with lunch or for a snack.
  • Make a family compact that one meal a day will be from the cooler. We agreed that all lunch, snacks and drinks would come from the cooler during the day.  We packed things easy to prepare and able to be eaten quickly without utensils like Gogurt, PB&Js, bagels with cream cheese, boiled eggs, nuts, fruit, cheese sticks and, I confess, cheeseballs.
  • Take the time to prepare sandwiches before you leave for the beach in the morning. There’s nothing more annoyingly magnetic than sand and the thing you least wish is to have it on your cheese stick or Oreo.
  • Pack bags with your bags. You will need them. Pack gallon size freezer bags to portion beach snacks like cheeseballs, kitchen garbage bags for dirty laundry and sandy towels, and beach bags to ferry your towels and sunscreen to the waterside.
  • Bring a good hair detangler. Salt water and sand do a number to the most manageable of tresses, and snarls make tired children as cranky as Medusa.
  • No screens!   The tide will eat your cell phone, iPad and laptop as hungrily as it gobbles sandcastles.  If you must check in with the world, make a pledge to only do so only once a day, AFTER the kids are in bed.

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

I can’t tell you what I most want to write about because it would invade someone else’s privacy, and that would be unfair and self-indulgent.  That the one robbed of secrets would be one of my children makes it even more taboo.  I imagine the children feel plenty plundered simply having me as their mamma, let alone were I to blab about their business in a blog.

So, I won’t break decorum and narc on my own, but I will tell you about where we stayed at the beach and how I got the skinny on the scoop in the first place.

Our beach trip was an ill conceived and ever dwindling effort.  Last August in the triage of back to school, we observed that once again we had not made the family vacation happen.  Swim team, camps, week at grandma’s, local venues, check, check, check and check.  Getting us all together Away was something we hadn’t managed.  Again.

The Husband and I promised each other and the kids that this would be the summer that we went somewhere together.  Just us.  Not us visiting someone, not us showing up to celebrate something, but just us as a family going somewhere together for no other purpose than to be Away together.

Fast-forward to this August as the school year looms more heavily than morning breath after tacos.  The Husband and I did a quick pull up to compare status reports and mission statements.  Once again, swim team, check.  Various and sundry camps for the kids, check.  A week at grandma’s, check.  Local venues, check.  The family vacation box remained as empty as a Halloween bag in June.  Getting us all together Away was as unlikely as ever before, and money as tight or tighter.

The Husband and I talked about it and decided we needed to follow through.  I admit that the girls taking to their room for a spontaneous time of Worship & Prayer when they learned that the beach was probably off did compel.

I’m not kidding.  That really happened.  Even more odd, is that it was done without manipulation or intent to sway.  The Oldest Girl simply said, “You know how you say you’re gonna pray about something, and then you don’t, but you should?  We wanted to make sure we prayed this time.”  It still gives me something of an icy headache to think about, such elegant innocence like binging on vanilla ice cream on a stormy day.

As the girls clutched together in all but Pentecostal revival, The Husband and I ran some numbers in the office.  We went for the cheapest ocean front room we could book for a night.  In peak season this ended up being a ground floor room at Econo Lounge with two double beds.

That Middle Girl gushed; “This is a really nice hotel!” offers all the testimony that will ever be needed to prove how little we have traveled as a family.

It’s a dive.  The bathroom door is peeling and splintered.  The worn carpet is sandy, but it doesn’t really matter, because two of the kids have to bunk on an air mattress on the floor, so it’s not like we can walk on it anyway.  Last night, someone stole our beach towels from the rail outside the sliding door.

None of that matters though.  Not to me, and certainly not to the children.  The ocean is 50 feet from the door, and last night we feel asleep listening to the waves crash as a resident cricket serenaded our happy, sunburned troupe.

It is also the place that I learned the secret.  All of us jammed into this experience-worm space sharing one bathroom have taught me a thing or two about the six of us.

The details of the discovery are less important than their impact.  I am so grateful we made the decision to come.  Our children are growing up and changing more quickly than the rolling tide.

Our ground floor dive of a room and eating out of the cooler feels like a 5 Star retreat to me.  There is something suspended about the bliss bubble of this modest room.  Its minimal niceties maximize our thirst to be here with each other.  The memories we archive mean more to me than soft down duvets or meals that require forks.

My children are growing up, and these days Away together at the beach have been priceless.

I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah!

As a virgin blogger, I know I don’t understand many blogging conventions.

As such, I expect to make many mistakes- in addition to those I have already made.

That said, I am confused about the idea of anonymity.

Take my “The Meanest Hog,” post, for example. The husband says that it is a worthy topic to blog about, but no one cares about the names of our kids.

(I’d tell you his name, but I can”t I imagine you’d find that anymore relevant.)

He says it’s about the characters. And the story,

He tells me that blog convention refers to the kids as The Boy or The Girl or The Baby. The husband is The Husband, and I expect the wife is The Wife.

I admit this seems like a black hole of a contradiction to me as I have already confessed to you that my Hallelujah is broke and I am a recovering anger junkie and pack rat. I post naked process, but shouldn’t I tell you the name of our cat is Toad? It seems rather like using a diaphragm after a positive pregnancy test to me.

I think my blog might need a TMI alert if I ever get any dear readers or comments.

Another irony is That The Husband and I have four kids. It’s more cumbersome to refer to them obliquely. However, as I can’t promise to put any more clothes on my prose, I will in the future refer to the four kids as follows:

The Boy
The Oldest Girl
The Middle Girl
The Baby

I’ll stand naked before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah, anonymously.