Thinking…

Thinking…

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Studying, 5 FEB 2010

There is a lot swirling, waiting to settle down into writing…

The seventeen year anniversary of a major turning point in my life (yesterday, 4 June 2013)…

Watching baby pigs grow up…

My revelation to the answer to the unanswerable question (which came to me yesterday afternoon)…

What to do with myself, what is next…

All…swirling…

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The quiet mystery of elusive tiny paws

The quiet mystery of elusive tiny paws

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Gratuitous Wentworth cuteness, taken 11 JUN 2010

Barometric pressure changes always do a number on my head — migraine today, trying to keep quiet as I try to kick the headache.  In my own tiny 7′ × 9′ corner of the universe I  am trying to be quiet.

I can’t vouch for anything going on outside the confines of my 7′ × 9′ corner of the universe, but that’s another story.

I need to clean cages later, but I’m waiting until I feel a bit more human and a bit less woozy.

I spent a good bit of my morning cuddled with Annie and Wentworth in-turn.  Got baby-pig-kicked by one of the yet-to-be-born pups.  There was movement on both her flanks, but if there is more than one pup the other pup didn’t have his or her baby guinea feet facing outward.  It’s hard to keep my hands on Annie’s flanks without tickling her and ticking her off.  One thing I count precious, however, is that Annie still wants to be touched, held, and cuddled even this late in her pregnancy.  There is a quiet holiness in sharing that moment of the mystery of new life yet to be born.  She is assymetrical, not sure what that means.  Not sure how many pups there will be, but I love them all already.

Waiting is hard.  Finding “God in all things” in the quiet mystery of my Annie is not.  Blessings for your day. — VKS

(Note: Don’t have any recent photos of Annie, but there can never be too many pictures of sweet Wentworth’s cute smile to brighten the day.)

Perfect storm, stormy night

Perfect storm, stormy night

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So my touch of a stupid cold has turned into pharyngitis, which I’m praying won’t turn into bronchitis.  Coughing up chunks of *magically disgusting* is not my favorite way to pass the time.

Monday was fifteen hours there and back to Ventura, Tuesday was twelve hours there and back to university.  Yesterday I decided to stay local and work on the new-to-me bike I picked up last week that will eventually be my pretty sweet ride.  It is amazing how what looked like “really clean” after removing a thick layer of dust an hour before sunset now looks “really dirty” in direct sunlight.  I’m the kind of person who *does it right* — not merely a quick wash, but scouring with 00 steel wool to get off the rust (employing borax as needed), and then a good synthetic car polish clearcoat over it all.

Yesterday I got the handlebars done, installed the new (very lovely!) synthetic leather grips, and installed a larger saddle that almost matches perfectly; the cupholder gave me fits, but the two new replacement reflectors were easy (the original owner pulled the originals off to install lights).  Didn’t have time to do the bell (KA-CHING!), but since I’m not going anywhere until I fix the wobbly back wheel, that doesn’t matter much.

The fender struts are going to be a nighmare (there really is no way to “rush” scrubbing rust with steel wool), and those are the worst because of how much I have to take apart to do it right.

Eventually this will get done and it will be a beautiful thing, but for now the “what’s clean” just makes everything else look that much more dirty.

And even though I tried to work in the shade, the UV index was crazy high and I ended up with sunstroke and sunburned.

I also, for various reasons, ended up with a screaming migraine such that I wasn’t sure I could make it home.

I did, but I passed the night in screaming pain, blind in my right eye, running a low-grade fever plus a sunburn…unable to sleep, tormented by the nightly battle to keep the bugs away, basically just wishing death and unable to focus or hold a thought in my head.  Is that dramatic?  No…there are some places of pain and illness that can take you to a place where that pain or illness is the only thing that can be processed.  A broken shoulder is certainly one, and migraines can sometimes be severe enough to be another.

I was there last night.

Still found enough energy for a few short messages to a couple dear friends.

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The night was mostly sleepless, but eventually the meds kicked in and I was granted the mercy of a few hours of the sleep I so desperately begged for.

For in the case of pain and suffering, restful sleep is a great mercy.

To be fair, I still feel like I was hit by a truck (just no longer like I was also dragged by one). I had much to do today, and I am supposed to watch all three kids tomorrow (ages 5, 3½, and 2). I’ve canceled physical therapy to be quiet and rest (I’m not good at this).

I’ve been so constantly ill and recovering for so many months, I honestly thought I was “safe” and would stay well this time. It’s a hard thing to wonder when this season will pass, and how long it will take to truly fully recover enough to face the rigors of a life spent doing “normal” things — working, family, enjoying life…living. It’s hard to feel left behind. It was especially hard to trek out to university on Tuesday, to be in that place, to know I have every right to be there — and someday I will — but also know (and feel) how far this beautiful place was from my own present-tense reality.
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So much of my own journey always makes me think of Rudy: click here for the best link I could find for the conversation with Fr. Cavanaugh when Rudy first arrives in South Bend.

It’s hard to know that what you want is also where you are supposed to be, but that for some reason the timing is wrong. God? I’m still here, you’re still here…but where? I have no answers, though I remember all the weeping for joy…and then for sorrow. It’s a lot to deal with, especially with zero real prospects of what to do with myself until the timing is right.

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Double rainbow near Pine Mountain Club, Kern County, CA. Taken 30 September 2010.

Today I’m just too tired to care.

I’ve been reading a lot in recent months, and much on suffering. I think there really is something to the idea that chronic illness can bring a person closer to Christ. Now, certainly, there are sometimes some pretty wild explanations given for that, and the motives for that bring us to that place are sometimes selfish-from-desperation, but close is close. It’s easy to gloss over the “encounter” gospel accounts, but the longer I live, the more people I meet who have lives that perfectly square with some of the darkly broken lives in the gospel accounts (knowing the woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years — watching how that is destroying her life — is hardest).

My own life, spirit, and health are broken in many ways, but through that I can see (with a very different view) the deeper truth of the hope — a desperate hope — of all who sought this man, Jesus.

There is great humility required to ask for mercy.

There is great faith required to receive it.

Should I spill my secret that some of the best and most wise things I say or write in personal correspondence are not of myself but are inspired? It’s true, and I rarely remember any of it once I enter into a deeply prayerful place while writing. Often the words which touch others deeply were some small aside thing on the way to a greater point. Don’t think that God doesn’t hear our prayers, because he does. It is the absolute weirdest thing in the world to be used by God to answer someone else’s prayer, not know you’re doing it, and then be told later about some inspiring thing you never remember saying or writing. I have been keeping copies of my own correspondence for years, and to have a reference for so much I never remember writing is part of the reason why.
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One of these things came up on Monday, when I was visiting with a friend in my day’s travels. She said that words of mine — spoken or written to her in a time when she was in the midst of a very dark time and so was I — that really stuck with her were: “Life is beautiful.”

I never remember saying or writing this, but God-be-praised because it is the truth of his glory. Yes, we discussed it: that life is beautiful, life is always beautiful…but sometimes you have to look really, really, really hard to find that. I hold that life is only worth living if you can find God in all things. But I’ll also be the first to admit that there is a level of pain and suffering where I am so distracted and consumed by the pain that God is impossible to find.

That doesn’t mean he’s not there, it just means our focus is distracted in a way such that we cannot find him: that which obstructs our view to God by no means removes God from our reality, it merely removes God from our limited perception of apparent reality.

There is a difference, and the difference is a huge one.

There is the greatest hope that can be hoped in the promise of that difference.

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…

Trying to “be still”

Trying to “be still”

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One early memory verse in my Christian life was: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

I cannot underscore enough how much I am totally dismal at “be still.”  And yet?  I have been sick four times in the past three-and-a-half months, plus I was stuck in bed being very quiet for a full month with a broken shoulder that is still mending.  One dear friend once said something to the effect that I live life to the fullest better than anyone else she knows.  I love life, and I love life from having faced death so often for so long.  I love God, and I live to serve him with gratitude, love, compassion, creativity, imagination…and dynamic (fiercely dynamic) energy.  Soli Deo Gloria are great words to live by and to build life on.  Sometimes I serve quietly, but I’m nothing if not a force of nature (even if that force of nature manifests as a presence of peace).

All of which — for good or for ill (probably ill) — leads me to draw lines and equate my utility with my worth.  Thus, because I’ve spent better than two-thirds of 2013 stuck in bed?  I’m going nuts.

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, taken 12 MAR 2013, Los Angeles, California

I was actually supposed to begin my upper-division requirements for a degree in Theological Studies (to finish undergrad to prep for seminary) at an amazing (and prestigious) university in Los Angeles a couple of months ago — but, of course, the accident messed up everything, and unless I can find a cosigner for the private loans to cover living expenses (almost everything else is covered) I’ll be stuck out of school (but perpetually knocking on that door) for years until I can build enough credit to qualify for loans myself.  This is the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me, and feels like absolute failure given how many doors I watched God swing wide to bring me to that place.  I’m not giving up, but I can’t fix this.

I read, I write, I try to keep in-touch.  I pray, I encourage.  I do what I can from afar.  It is really hard to feel “useful” or “needed” with one arm, or when helping me requires so much from those I love.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

Cold weather, poor health, limited funds for “fun” transportation has kept me off the Metro and home more than out in the world, but I can’t help but think that every day I don’t get out of bed or don’t walk out my door is a day wasted for the Lord’s service, that somehow I am missing divine appointments by cutting myself off from humanity.  There is so much need and so many broken people in the city…surely  even the smallest kindness to acknowledge the forgotten and marginalized makes a difference in the balance of eternity for all involved — what can I say about the days I keep my bright smile indoors?

All I have is my words, are my words enough?

So this week it is the flu…and I’ve cleared my schedule and quarantined myself from friends, relatives, church family until at least next Wednesday.  My immunity at this point is shot to hell, and all I can do is “be”…and be quiet…and pray…and read.  In lucid moments I write.  I barely sleep.  I’ve been drowning myself in juice and Vitamin C in a desperate attempt to flush my ravaged system and clear my head.  I honestly don’t remember the last time an illness hit me so hard instantaneously.  I joke that when I am sick I’m a “germ factory,” but this is “germ factory” on the level of a germ warfare machine (impressive, but to no good end!).

Enough is enough.

I was blessed for a season to be called as a hospice volunteer to visit hospice patients (as I have faced death I do not fear it, so hospice is actually a very good fit for me in a lot of ways).  My longest-lived patient had severe dementia and congestive heart failure — he was dying by inches, and he was dying by inches nearly alone.  I remember one of his more lucid afternoons he commented how hard it was to be a blob.

I’m not a blob, but I definitely have days when I feel like one.

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I have a window, a window that overlooks an alley and the street.  There is an auto body shop across the street.  People pass, children pass, dogs pass, cars and trucks pass.  I’ve memorized the trees and rejoice when pigeons fly close.  I have the guinea pigs.  Most days this is my world, confined to a 7’×9′ store room with no TV, no radio, no movies…just books and the internet…and God…and my thoughts.

The husband of someone I know from church asked me last Sunday how in the world I know so much [about the Bible and theology], did I study it at university?  I blurted out what is — basically — the truth: that I’ve spent much of my life in solitary confinement reading and writing too much.

I’m there again.  If St. Val wasn’t eccentric enough to begin with, she’s certainly moreso now.

So much is swirling about what to do with myself, with my life, how to manage, how to get by, what’s next…

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

I only wish I knew…but for now the only thing in the world I can do?

Be…still…