Silence

I have been trying to think what to write about my life right now to a five year old in Tanzania and a ten year old in Ecuador.  I have no good answers, and life lately has left me stunned and silent.  I am currently caught in the middle of a lawsuit involving a boat and a bathtub that will leave me having to move on again, slightly out-of-area, and cut off from my family for awhile.  Definitely cut off from Los Angeles.  There are advantages and disadvantages.  I have been thinking about many things.

I am on the bathtub end of the lawsuit, which will keep me driven from the house until it is fixed.  This morning I went to mass.  Fr. Arturo got an ‘A’ in homiletics in two languages (and surely an ‘A’ in choir as well).  This morning’s text was Luke 6:20-26 — the Beatitudes and their inverse.  I could not stop crying.

2013 isn’t working out, but God is on the throne and I am loved.  I’m not sure much more needs to or can be said.

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Wentworth Wigglewhiskers

I drew this for a dear friend — niece of another dear friend — a few years back.  The full picture was Eleanor and Wentworth with  a cupcake.  Wentworth is getting on, but he and his amazing family really light my life.  I am tired and wondering what is next.

Blessings — VKS

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Sorrow, dying, hope…and two butterflies

Sorrow, dying, hope…and two butterflies

For a lot of complicated reasons, my soul was in a darkly fragile place the last Friday in June, and throughout that weekend. I haven’t been able to write much, but have been working on this in quiet moments

There are some things for which Hallmark just doesn’t make a card.

There are some sorrows beyond words and beyond tears where — if there were tears — there could never be enough tissues.

There are sorrows, loves, longings, and prayers too profound to be articulated — profound on a level of a depth so deep only the Holy Spirit can work it out.

That Friday night, and throughout that weekend, I was there.

I still don’t have words, but I try to find words.

God takes the time to find me.

I’m still reading Hiking Through: One man’s journey to peace and freedom on the Appalachian Trail by Paul Stutzman.  Stutzman’s account is his journey along the Appalachian Trail under the trail name “Apostle” after the sudden death of his wife Mary from sudden and aggressive Stage-IV breast cancer. I really do love this book, it’s a pilgrim’s journey.  What will follow is an excerpt from Chapter 7 — “Butterflies” — which “found” that Friday night.  Unless otherwise credited, the butterfly photographs are of an actual Monarch butterfly I rescued from an orb weaver’s web back on 5 September 2010.  Many days lately I feel like the “before” picture of this rescued butterfly. — VKS

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Monarch caught in an orb weaver's web, 5 SEP 2010

The next morning, Friday, it turned cold and windy. Six miles brought us to a small clearing at Stecoah Gap, where several men had set up a grill and offered hikers hot dogs, candy bars, chips, and beverages. The Good Samaritan this time was a former thru-hiker. Those additional calories helped us knock off the next twelve miles quickly, and we knew we’d meet our deadline. We were less than five miles from the Fontana post office and the comforts of the Fontana Lodge when we stopped for the night just past Walker Gap.

I pitched Big Agnes in a clearing only three feet from a small stream. The little creek was so close I could almost filter water without leaving my tent. I settled in for the night, relaxing into the murmuring of the brook, the sound a balm for my tired body and spirit.

I thought I could hear the soft voice of God in the music of the brook. Apostle, did you see Me today?

“Yes, God, and thank You for springtime!” The valleys and mountains were bursting with new life. At higher elevations buds were starting to appear. In the gaps, flowers waved as I walked by. The earthy smell of spring was everywhere.

How about the butterfly? Did you see the butterfly?

“Dear God, that was awesome! It stopped me in my tracks.”

That morning, a beautiful butterfly had floated above my head, sailed ahead on the path, then circled back and fluttered around me. As I walked, it drifted along beside me for a while. I had watched it with amazement. “Yes, God, and today I remembered that other butterfly you sent my way.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Mary had loved butterflies, especially Monarchs. The Monarch is sometimes called the milkweed butterfly, because most of its life cycle takes place on milkweed plants. Every year, my wife drove out to the country, located a stand of milkweed, and searched for a caterpillar marked with bright yellow and black stripes. The chosen caterpillar would be housed in a mason jar topped with screen, and furnished with twigs and plenty of milkweed leaves. Then the waiting and watching began.

For about two weeks, the caterpillar did nothing but eat and eliminate. But then the excitement started. Mary never missed it, and she made certain we didn’t either. Her excited call would round up the family, and we’d watch that caterpillar start to spin. Hanging upside down from a twig or the bottom surface of the screen, the caterpillar spins until the exterior skeleton slips off and the chrysalis forms a jade green shell.

For the next several weeks, the chrysalis hung immobile. If we went on vacation during that time, the jar of hope traveled in the front seat with us. As the butterfly developed inside, the green sheath slowly changed color and became thin and almost transparent. When the chrysalis finally started to move gently, Mary again gathered our family to watch the drama unfold. Soon a wrinkled, deformed butterfly emerged. For several hours, this sad looking creature would hang on to its former home, slowly moving its wings up and down in an effort to dry and strengthen them.

Then came the ceremony of release. To the front porch we all went, and with Mary’s encouraging words, “Fly, little butterfly,” the now-beautiful creature was set free.

In the week before Mary left us, she spent both days and nights in her chair in the living room, enduring considerable pain, not wanting to move between the chair and bed. Finally, we convinced her to move to her bedroom. As I lifted her from the chair to a wheelchair, someone exclaimed, “Look out there!”

Outside our glass door, a tree branch curved over the balcony, and a caterpillar inched along that branch, ten feet from the ground. In seventeen years of living in that house, we had never seen a caterpillar on that tree. None have been there since that day. This little messenger crept along the branch, then onto a smaller twig, inching closer to the sliding door. I wheeled Mary over so she could get a better view.

I had no doubt God was showing us that Mary was going through her own metamorphosis. She would be set free to fly away, just like all the butterflies she had released into the sunshine.

I settled Mary in her bed, then went back to find the caterpillar. But it had disappeared. Later, I related this little story to our pastor. He did not seem surprised; he said he had often seen God reveal Himself, especially at difficult times.

* * * * * * * * * *

Following Mary’s funeral, I gave some of the flower arrangements to the local nursing home and several friends. I still had a living room full of flowers, so I decided those would go to my sisters and Mary’s friends who had been so helpful during her illness.

The day after the funeral, a friend of Mary’s brought me a twig with a chrysalis bound to it. I stuck the twig into a flower arrangement. One of my sisters had told me she had never seen a butterfly emerge, so I would give her this one to enjoy.

That evening, I fell asleep in my chair in the living room. At two in the morning, an unfamiliar sound woke me. A mysterious fluttering whisper was coming from the assortment of plants and collectibles on the shelf above the kitchen cabinets. I stood dumbfounded as a Monarch butterfly emerged from the plants and danced around me in the living room. It had abandoned its chrysalis before I could deliver it to my sister. I watched in wonderment, not quite believing what I was seeing.

Now it was my turn to grant freedom. The Monarch did not seem eager to leave, but was attracted to the light in the living room. i turned off that light, and turned on the kitchen light. Follow the light, little butterfly. It came to the kitchen. I shut off the kitchen light and flipped on the light in the foyer. The butterfly followed. I opened the front door and snapped off the foyer light while turning on the porch light. Go, little butterfly, fly away. You are free. The butterfly winged through the front door and disappeared.

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Monarch freed from the orb weaver's web, 5 SEP 2010

* * * * * * * * * *

In my tent beside the brook, I remembered the unexpected caterpillar and the night visit of the Monarch butterfly. And before I realized it, was talking aloud, talking with that voice of God in the brook. Correction, I was talking to the voice, because once I got started, I was on a roll and didn’t give much chance for reply.

“Yes, God, I understood the symbolism that night. You set Mary free. So You were there all along? I often questioned whether You cared about what was happening to us. If you care, why did she suffer, so and die?”

I didn’t want glib, churchy lines, I wanted answers.

“Is there a reason for all this sickness and death? If You are in control of everything, why is the world in such a mess?”

Was He listening? Was He there?

“I need to know if You are firmly in command. I could make a case that You do not control events and everything happens at random. But if I can convince myself that You do have a plan, then maybe I could believe Mary died for a good reason.”

If God cared but let us suffer anyway, then I was angry and would be a bit brash with Him.

“How can You know how much pain we went through? Do You know what it’s like to lose a wife or a mom? Oh yes, You lost a son once. But You were only apart for three days. Even I could bear just three days of separation.”

An answer came back, cutting through my pent-up questions and frustration.

You are missing the point, my dear Apostle.

A storm warned me of its rapid approach. Lightning crackled around the campsite and thunder rumbled and echoed through the mountains. The sound of raindrops drowned out my conversation with the brook. Another thunder clap seemed to shake the very ground under our campsite. God had apparently moved from the gentle brook to the powerful storm.

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Wildwood Park, Thousand Oaks, CA 12 SEP 2010

“Wow, God! You can talk loudly!” I said at last — when I could speak again.

You’re a funny one, aren’t you, Apostle?

“Created in Your own image, I believe. Perhaps I am missing the point, but that’s why I’m out here. Sure wish I’d always hear You this clearly. Oh, and thanks for the butterfly today. I’ll look for You tomorrow on the trail.”

* * * * * * * * * *
Right now, in this season of profound darkness, God is sometimes very hard to find or hear. And yet? A part of me still knows that God can be found in all things…somewhere.

God…I’ll look for you tomorrow on the trail. — VKS

Which way is “UP” again?

Which way is “UP” again?

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Photo source: Curly Girl Designs http://www.curlygirldesign.com

It’s been a crazy week, between:

– cleaning (when was the last time you stripped down, cleaned, and reassembled a vacuum cleaner?)

– racing back and forth between my house and my sister’s house to take care of the baby guineas

– my normal life

– running errands

– countless things I’m forgetting

(all of the above in summerish heat — it’s over 100°F here today!!!!)

(Ugh.)

The chemicals from last Saturday are peeling the skin off my feet, so I really do need to do all the cleaning I originally intended before I can bring those sweet guinea pigs home.

On a brighter note, I was discharged from physical therapy last Friday, so back to trying to find work again…on top of everything else (which will require side trips to the library on to of that…maybe).

(Double ugh.)

And I still need to think about moving.

(More “ughs” than I can count.)

But you know…the thing that is depressing the blank out if me is that I’m packing up the theology books.  Correction — I am meticulously cleaning them, individually bagging them in plastic bags, and packing up the theology books.

This was finals week at the university I was supposed to attend, and graduation was this afternoon.  This mess was not how this week was supposed to end…

…but here we are.

#sendicedtea(black,unsweet)

#sendhope

Pics and details on Annie’s sweet babies when I have time to edit together a post…blah…VKS

Life is hard, silence is hard, waiting is harder, God is still on the throne, and a word on friendship

Life is hard, silence is hard, waiting is harder, God is still on the throne, and a word on friendship

I tell myself I will have more time when __________.

Then I get sick again, and again, and again (mending, better, but not well).

Of course, if my laptop worked properly that would help.  Blogging from a fakey tablet keyboard is insanity as I can type about 60 WPM.

So much is swirling these days…

I got Annie’s due date wrong, clearly, so waiting for her pups.

Don’t even get me started on the roaches.

Up half the night every night from being sick.

Appointments…here, there, everywhere, but nowhere close.

Public transit here, there, everywhere else.

Kiddos…life with kiddos…staying out of the middle of little kid drama when someone is having a bad day.

Thinking…dreaming..writing…but not blogging.  There are some pieces of a person’s soul fit for the view of God and dearest friends only.  What comes down through the blog is the stuff distilled through God, friends, and prayer…nothing raw, nothing too personal.  I find it funny sometimes that people think I’m too free or too open.  I think those who have known me longest know I measure things out carefully, and rarely tell all.

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There have been some dark days lately, but there haven’t been a lot of conversations.  Conversations are what always make me think…and write.  Conversations, questions…maybe I’ll find something this week?  I’ve got a few things I poke at, half-written.  There aren’t enough people in my day-to-day life, few deep and meaningful conversations.  I wonder when the last time was that you — whoever you are — took very real time to take things beyond a mere “How are you?”/”Fine.” level.  A person can die of loneliness for being “How are you?”/”Fine.”  People won’t give you an answer they know you won’t take time to hear.

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Take the time to listen and to care.  Take the time to really be a friend — it really doesn’t take much.  Taking time to love is always time  worth taking.  I have a lot of friends who don’t have time to be my friends.  They love me, I love them…but even though I know it’s not the message they wish to send at all, the one that gets handed down by default in many cases is: “You are not worth my time.”  We are Americans, we keep ourselves irrationally and pointlessly busy.  I undertand this, I live here too, I see it all.  Still…I’ve worked with enough people at the end of their lives to know that no one regrets not being fully caught up on TV programs.  Life in this world is short, fleeting, precious, uncertain — life and time are a precious gift, don’t waste them.  Be intentional in your friendships.  Pick up the phone, send an e-mail, even just send a text.  If you’re thinking about someone pray for them and then send even a brief word.  If you’re “on my list” you know about this.  People notice when you truly care, and love and care are lethal to loneliness.

And yet probably no conversations today.  Today?  Taxes need to get finished.

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Hugs with the Skeffy Favorite 29 May 2011

But all in the back of my mind are thoughts of this little guy — Mr. Skeffington (“The Favorite”®) — quietly slipping from life, alone.  He’s about 6¼ years old, a real sweetheart, and a funny little guy.  He belongs to my sister, but lived with me for over a year.  I love him dearly, and yet soon he and his funny little voice and funny little face will be gone.

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Mr. Skeffington, July 4th weekend 2009

This is the sad part.

It is expected, but it doesn’t make it easier.  It does suck a lot of joy out of waiting for Annie’s pups though.

Sad day…hard week…but God is still on the throne.

Vanities

Vanities

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The artist’s caption on “Healing in New Light,” by Imaculate Heart High School student Katie Ganz, reads as follows: “We all bear scars, whether they are from childhood accidents, surgeries, or even from self-inflicted injuries.  From these scars, no matter what their source is, we learn.  Scars are a sign of healing: new skin covers the wound and protects it from future harm.  The scars in my piece are from self-harm.  They show suffering, while also symbolizing healing and new life.  The water, both in the hands and on the scars, represents healing and the washing away of pain.  My piece symbolizes new life, healing, and rising from pain and suffering, as Jesus did when he was resurrected.”

The image of the scars, the hands offering the rosary — which could represent prayer, but which also contains a crucifix — combined with the water stopped me in my tracks as I walked through the cathedral student art galleries; it’s a powerful symbol regardless of whether or not the viewer is Roman Catholic.  The power of this image haunts me on a level that only one who understands it intimately can be haunted. — VKS

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity…I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” — Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14

I’ve not stopped thinking, but my health still really isn’t quite what it ought to be this week, so it’s been a lot of “resting quietly” as my body has finally allowed me to sleep for more than an hour or so at a stretch (thus there were some days when I was too exhausted to do much else).  Sleep can be a grace, but only dreamless sleep, for sleep is the place my mind goes where all of the unspeakable evils it works so hard to block all day (to keep me sane and functional) no longer have a conscious “block” to keep them in-check.  It’s not always or every day, but nightmares can certainly play a bold part in making my attempts at sleep anything but restful.  It’s my body at war with itself and the devil; illness and roaches don’t help.

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There is living, there is thriving, there is merely existing. Life is a rich and beautiful thing, precious and not to be wasted. We are not called to muddle through, we are called to live.

I am not living, this is something else.

There may be a difference between “resting” and “losing days,” but in many ways they seem the same. I can’t get the days I’ve slept through back, and no one was blessed for them, not even me. I can’t answer for them, only that if we who are human are composed of both “soul” and “dust,” it was my “dust” that failed.

I’m Type-A. Type-As don’t take failure well…nor easily.

Things were in a lull for awhile, but the promise of aid has faded before my ability to work has been regained. Not that I was particularly desirable as an employee before the accident, but presenting a newly more broken version of myself as a candidate for employment is not a winning plan. There are thousands of applicants out there for the entry-level stuff I’m fully-qualified to apply for — no one in this job market needs to extend a single bit of grace to accomodate me, there are only to many behind me happy to fill the spot without exception. I am a number, not a name.

At least I’m not “just a number” to God.

I am fully-capable to do better things, but the requirement of a four-year degree keeps me barred from much. I am gifted, yes, but what in the world good to me are gifts I’m not allowed to use?

The neighborhood was on lockdown again the other night — three-and-a-half hours of helicopter patrol, cop cars galore. Not sure what happened or if they ever found who they were looking for. The key problem is again. I am very blessed to have a place to be, but when there seems to be no place safe in that place, it doesn’t always seem like a blessing. Roaches don’t help, they are the vilest sort of company. Guinea pigs do help, but it is dangerous to pin so much hope and love on such dear little fragile creatures.

Hard news seems — once again — to be coming from every quarter. I pray much for those I love, and God does hear my prayers, but my poor petitions seem so small compared to the very great and dire needs, the profound physical and spiritual brokenness, of those I so dearly love. My cranky Calvinist self holds no belief to the intercession of the saints (Christ alone is our intercessor), but that does not make me shy in the least to fall down and weep at the feet of St. Monica when I’m at the cathedral (as a bonus, she is standing next to Francis and Clare of Assisi). Monica in real life would understand the prayerful tears shed for those I love — tears for wandering souls, broken spirits, broken relationships, broken bodies. Francis would understand the kind of crazy love that can make loving others in the name of Christ seem like an insane proposition.

Friday afternoon I did, in-fact, retreat to that place in the Cathedral downtown, but I was so completely drained I couldn’t think, pray, or have an emotional response. I could just “be”…and no more.

Does the fact that I took the time to take myself out of my life — with the intent to go “be” quietly in a place where I went to seek God’s presence — “count,” even though I was too tired to function when I got there? Normally I would have found a quiet corner for a nap before prayer, but there isn’t one in a place like that.

In my day-to-day life, there isn’t a quiet, well-rested corner for God anywhere. In my day-to-day life, there isn’t a quiet, well-rested corner for me either. I love life, I just don’t happen to love my life.

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Broad Museum of Contemporary Art, LACMA. 21 May 2012

I feel like a horrible person to have argued against my friend about this, but I did…she commented on a dripping-with-discouragement social networking status the other night:

“Remember your gifts, Val. You have much to offer. Healing will come, then you’ll reach out again. Maybe God has granted you the gift of time to gather your thoughts and count your blessings. You are a bright, intelligent woman with insights many people twice your age don’t possess. People love and support you. Keeping you in my prayers every night my friend.”

And while she is right on many levels, I still feel like — on some level — it isn’t quite that simple. My reply to her was:

“You can’t eat time my friend, and as I have had many long years of forced solitude, “time” really wasn’t something I needed. I have spent most of the last seven years in solitary confinement. “Time to gather my thoughts” is kind of like telling someone in Seattle that they need more rain. All of this is also serving to cut me off from ministry, and that is certainly not from God. I understand your point, but those insights only serve to further alienate me from people. Every day I say the way I am I become more irredeemably odd and alienated from people. Bless you for your prayers my friend. If you have any prayer requests, send them in a private message or e-mail if you wish.”

I also added as a bit of post-script:

(And what good are gifts I’m cut off from using????)

I have yet to find a satisfactory answer to that one, because it’s been bugging me for a long time.

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St. Val the Eccentric with a very dead bear at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, MLK Jr. Day 2009

In-case you were wondering? In-case it was not already clear? This is the blog of “St. Val the ECCENTRIC,” not the blog of “St. Val the Socially-Acceptable.” Irredeemably odd, unfortunately intelligent on levels that make people back away slowly. I was recently accused of a tendency to “irritate people without realizing you’re irritating.” No, I was not brought up on a planet without social cues, I know, but my sanity and your civility very often depends on me pretending I don’t. If I didn’t know, I’d probably never shut up actually. My “silent mode” exists because I know.

But sitting home reading mystic theologians and learning yet more when I arguably already know too much for anyone’s good in the first place?

And gifts I can’t use really are no use.

I sometimes feel like the author of Ecclesiasties, that all is just…vanities.

It was a dark and frustrating week with little promise and less hope. I had a picture in my mind, that what this feels like is that day when a ride was supposed to pick me up and is really, really, really late…with no explanation.

Still here, God…scars, prayers, and all…still here, waiting…