Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Grateful place

So why, on this dreary, rainy, New England day am I all cheerful and happy? Why, after a terrible night sleep am I feeling so perky? Because I reread my journal last night and I can't help grinning from ear to ear when I go back and actually see in black and white just how cool God has been to me.

I started my journal the day I got baptised... although the early entries are on the computer. About 3 or 4 months later I got a leather bound notebook for Christmas and started writing in that instead.

It is a gas to go back and read it. Oddly, it feels like it all has happened so long ago. Amazing to think it is only a couple of years.

It strikes me that some of it is like poetry. Some of it is actually very beautiful. And lots of it is embarassingly schmaltzy and would mortify me if anyone ever read it. (I told my husband he can read it when I die, LOL!)

But oh, God's grace abounds. God's love is so apparent in retrospect. I love that I can begin to see patterns weaving in and out of my daily life. I love that I can observe God at his holy work. It makes me grateful.

I am the Lover
And You are the Beloved.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Prayed for....

I can feel it, you know. I really can. Even though there is still a lot of pain. Even though we still have no diagnosis. Even though nothing has actually changed, I still know that I am being prayed for and it is kind of an amazing experience.

This morning I woke up early and in a lot of pain. But as I was laying there, I felt such a sense of love and calm. I just knew that someone was praying for me at that moment. (I suspect it was my Director... who has been praying for me at his services over the last few days.) We have our regular monthly lunch date this week, only this time HE is bringing lunch. And the sacrament. When I asked him to bring communion, I cried. I am not sure why. I think it is because communion always feels like such a love-fest with God. The prospect of having it in my own home, after a couple of weeks without it, feels like and incredible gift. Bless you Fr. P.

This afternoon I went to my sister in law's house for the annual Nguyen Family Vietnamese New Year bacchanalia. I held court in a chair in the corner and was mildly bored having to talk about my health to 20-something relatives, but felt well cared for and loved, nonetheless. Tempura shrimp and Vietnamese New Year's bean cakes go a long way towards curing what ails you.

And tonight, I am turning in early to read more of Hebrew Scriptures, which continue to intrigue and confound me.

God is good. God is so very good.

Friday, January 27, 2006

God of Mercy?

Ok, I promise not to turn my blog into a boring health crisis diatribe. I have done three posts on my knee. There is nothing to report. Still in pain. Still not diagnosed.

Having said that... I do want to talk about the Bible in 90 Days.

I am blown away by it.

First, I am incredibly grateful that a friend suggested reading through the whole thing rather than piecemeal. It strikes me that for the part I have read, at least, continuity is critical. I can't imagine reading Judges without having first read the Torah, for example.

About a year ago, my former UU Minister lent me a book called God: a Biography. I never did get around to reading it (I am terrible that way!) but the basic premise is that you can see God as a character who develops over time. Now, I know that this is not going to sit well with some folks, and I am not going to apologize for the author, especially having never actually read the book. But I have to say, looking at God as a character, in the literary sense, is kind of intriguing. His character does seem to change. There are times when he is loving and merciful and other times when he comes across as a bloodthirsty brute. ("Kill every man, woman, child and infant in that pagan town. Leave nothing breathing....")

The big struggle in the years after the Exodus seems to be that the Israelites were originally pagans and now are trying to adapt to monotheism. And they keep backsliding. They do ok for 40 years, then the King takes on a pagan concubine who convinces him to slaughter a bull on the wrong day and put up a little alter in the living room and all hell breaks loose. Plagues, disasters. You name it.

So much of what I have read so far is this crazy back and forth wrangling between paganism and God. Man-made idols VS. the Big Guy. The Big Guy always seems to win.

The question I keep having is: When does mercy come in? Can a case be made that slaughtering the innocent is a kind of mercy? Is it better to be dead than worshipping some stone idol? I don't believe that literally. I might believe it metaphorically.

But these were literal deaths, weren't they?

Reading this stuff makes me want to sit down and talk to an Orthodox Jew. I want to understand how these stories fit into their spiritual landscape. What is gleaned from them?

For me, the only way I can really make any sense is to see it as a big metaphor for my own struggles. I come close to God, then pull back. I do something completely unChristian. I turn away and then come running back.

What is different is that I never get a sense of being punished. Even this health issue seems loving and benign. Hard, yes. Painful, yes. But I just have faith that somehow it is leading me to a place of Grace. In fact, it already has in a way. I have read the bible at a much faster rate this week because it was about the only thing I could do.


You seem like a stranger when I read about you in the Hebrew Scriptures. You seem so unlike the LOVE that I know you to be. Help me understand these scriptures, Lord. Help me find you in these stories.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

In a hole

I had to have an MRI this morning because me knee isn’t getting better on the anti-inflammatory.

I am hugely claustrophobic, so the person booking the appointment suggested I take a sedative. No, I said. I don’t do well with drugs. Besides, I meditate a lot. I’ll be ok.

I chose Hildegard Von Bingen for music. Nguyen and the kids dropped me off and then went for breakfast. I hobbled through the hospital until I found the imaging unit. They had 2 TVs blaring in the waiting area. What the fuck is up with that? Coffee shops are bad enough, but the bloody hospital? Yeesh. I asked if I could sit somewhere quieter and they said yes.

It was my turn.

I was led to an interior room with no windows. Told to remove my bra and shoes. Laid out on a slab and strapped down by my bad knee. The attendant, Anthony, handed me a pair of headphones, which already had Hildegard playing. I was going in feet first, thank God. Anthony placed my arms at my side and I was slid into the tube. I closed my eyes. The tube actually pressed against my arms. I felt totally disoriented. I felt my breath begin to get shallow. I had my eyes closed, so I didn’t know where in the tube I was. I couldn’t hear anything because of the music. I couldn’t move my arms because they were pinned to my body. Only my hand could move. I pressed the panic button that Anthony had given me.

He came in and pulled me out of the tube. I am not sure I can do this, I said. You can do it. Your head isn’t all the way in the tube. You can see out. Open your eyes.


He eased me back in and this time I kept my eyes open and realized that I could, in fact, see a little beyond the edge of the machine. And slowly my gaze focused on the actual edge of the machine, right in front of my face. And there, on the plastic, right in front of my nose, was a little cut out for a laser beam. And the cutout was in the shape of an inverted cross. A cross.

I actually giggled a little. Ok, God. You’re here. You’re here.

I thought of Peter, hung upside down for his crucifixion.

Then I remembered what my advisor, Peter, told me he does when he is doing something unpleasant like visiting, say, the oncologist. He prays the 5 Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary on his fingers. I decided to try it, since my fingers were about the only thing I could move. At first I prayed in silence, but soon decided to pray out loud. First the Gloria, then the Lord’s prayer, then 10 Hail Marys. I don’t actually know what the Sorrowful Mysteries ARE, so I asked God to show me things to meditate on. Jesus on the Cross. Jesus’ side pierced with a spear and bleeding blood and water. (Mem, again, for those of you following the conversation on Blogging the Bible in 90 days). Mary at the foot of the cross. Jesus being taken down from the cross. Jesus being placed in the tomb. (Something I could relate to, at that particular moment.)

I still had a little time left in the tube, so I started on the Glorious mysteries, again, asking God to show me which ones to meditate on… the encounter with Mary Magdalene, the walk on the road… and then it was over. 30 minutes in the tube.

Throughout, it was very painful. My leg ached to be stretched out. But I was not panicking any more. I felt comforted saying the Rosary. I knew God was with me.


My body is not my own.

My health is not my own.

I am yours.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Nguyen bought me a cane today. It isn't a cool one. It is a dorky adjustable model from the Walmart pharmacy. In hideous copper. With a padded handle.

My grandmother had a great cane. It was a branch from a red cedar tree from her place in Georgian Bay, Onterio. A huge wind storm tore down half the trees one year. In the midst of the grief over losing old friends, my dad salvaged at least a bit of a memory by fashioning a walking stick for her from one of the branches. He even fitted the tip with a little rubber stop so it wouldn't mar floors... or worse, slip. Her cane smelled of the island it came from- all cedary and woodsy. The bark began to peel immdediately, but there were little stubborn spots that stuck. She looked beautiful carrying that cane.

Mine is industrial. It works. I can now get up from chairs without too much effort. But it ain't nothin' like Granny's.

My kids want to put up a sign in the living room that shows a sillouette of a woman holding a cane that says:

Mommy Xing.

Monday, January 23, 2006

On bended knee... NOT!

Went to the Doctor today and discovered that I probably have bursitis, which is an inflamation of the lubrication sacks around my knee. We have no idea why it happened, but I am going to start on a perscription anti-inflammitory and see if it helps. I sure hope so. Last night I cried for much of the night. While I freely admit I am a wimp, I was surprised by the intensity of the pain.

I am greatly relieved that the Doc doesn't think I damaged anything. I was very concerned about having done some kind of structural damage. At this point, he doesn't think so.

I certainly appreciate your prayers. It is a very different world when you can't walk.


Sunday, January 22, 2006


On Friday, out of nowhere, my left knee gave out. It got more and more sore. Yesterday I woke up and it was swollen and so painful I couldn't walk on it. I started downing ibuprofen and elevating it and icing it. What is really weird is that I cannot think of why it did this. There was no incident. No telltale "pop". Nothing of note. Just a gradual, increasing pain.

Today, I am lame. I didn't go to church because I wouldn't have been able to walk to the pew, never mind kneeling at the rail. (I can't bend it...)

I am trying to be calm about this, promising myself that I'll call the doctor tomorrow if it's not better. Trying not to dwell on the cold little fear in my gut that maybe I did something really really bad. Trying to be grateful for the extra time this has opened up for me to read my bible. (I am participating in a 'Bible in 90 days' group on a blog of the same name. I started about a week behind, but am almost caught up at this point. I have read several days worth over the last couple of days.)


My body is not my own.

My health is not my own.

I am yours. I offer this pain to you. I offer my swollen knee. I ask only for the grace to accept whatever is happening. To be fearless in your love. To thank you for the opportunity to spend more time with you.

To be fearless.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

Pow, straight to the moon

I had a strange memory while meditating last night. When I was about 13, I went to a private school. Our school was so small we had to share a big bus staging area with a bunch of the Catholic parochial schools in the area. So those of us from the New School would stand under a big beech tree in the middle of a big parking lot and gawk at all the Catholic school kids in their uniforms. We never talked to them. Sometimes made fun of them, in a generally mild way. But for some reason we began to exchange unpleasantries with a girl who sat in the back of one of the waiting buses every day. She was in the back window, jeering and hassling us and we gave it right back to her. This went on for a couple of weeks. Nothing serious. And then, for some extraordinary reason that I still don't know, I called her a lesbian.

Now, I have to say, I had no ill will towards lesbians, then or now. I am from a very liberal family. My babysitter as a child was gay. I had many people in my life who were gay. So I don't know why I called her that.

But the next thing I knew, she had walked off the bus, walked straight up to me and punched me, closed fisted, in the face. She abruptly turned on her heal and walked right back onto the bus. I dropped like a rock. My friend Gerard pulled me back up and fussed over me a bit as I tried to figure out what had just happened.

I realized, even as a dopey 13 year old, that I had probably touched a nerve for this poor girl. And that yelling it out at her was the worst thing I could have done. I felt sorry that I had done it. But strangely, didn't see her again at the bus stop.

A couple of months later I was walking down the street and saw her coming from the opposite direction. I crossed the street. She called to me. She came running towards me. I prepared for another punch and was about to run when she asked me to wait.

"I just want to tell you", she said "I am really sorry I punched you. I shouldn't have done that."

I was stunned.

I mumbled some lame apology myself... saying I shouldn't have called her names.

We parted. I never saw her again.

Wherever she is, I wish I could tell her that I am truly sorry... and that her apology struck me, even at the time, as a deeply Christian act.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Birthday ramblings...

Yup, another Capricorn! I am 41 today. My husband joked that it might be time to trade me in for a new model. Maybe. But I am guessing that some nubile 20 year old won't be able to make a good spagetti sauce.

In the paper today, there was an article that said that a lot of breakups happen in January. They had some cockamamie explaination for it, but apparently celebrity matches are in particular jeopardy. It is true that I have noticed a lot of folks seem to break up during this time of year.

And I, myself, seem to be in 'clearing out' mode during this season. Last year I left a professional organization I had been a member of for 7 years. This year, I have decided to give up teaching childbirth classes. It seems that as the year winds down and a new one begins, we begin to unconciously sort through the elements of our lives and let go of the ones that are no longer of value. This could be an accident of the calendar, of course. The 'new year', as dopey a conception as it is, does seem to have some power over folks psyches.

But it is also Epiphany.

It is also a time, as my friend over at Monastic Mumblings says, is a time to bring Christ into the world.

So maybe all the jettisoning is really getting rid of that which inhibits us from being our true, authentic selves in Christ. Maybe that relationship was not a healthy one. Maybe that job wasn't allowing us to fully witness to the miracle of Christ's love. Maybe we need to clear the decks so God can refill us with his Grace... whatever that may mean for us.

During Epiphany, I sit with you, Beloved, in the newness of my life in Christ. I open my heart to you. I chip away at the walls that separate us. I step out in faith and trust that wherever the journey takes me, You are with me. I sink into the waters of your love and let them wash me clean.

I am born.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Sometimes things seem to happen in cycles. Which is why it doesn't surprise me that I burned myself rather badly and got burned on Ebay all in the same week.

First the physical burn. I was pouring boiling pasta into a colander and the water splashed up out of the sink and landed on my belly. Now, my stomach has a nasty red burn, complete with blisters and now... ick... scabs. It is charming. Not to mention uncomfortable.

Then, Ebay. I have been in the market for a vintage, Sunbeam Radiant Control Toaster. (Uh, yeah, I know... who can account for our varied and kookie interests!) They can be pretty pricey, so when I found one for $10 bucks plus $10 shipping, I was psyched. The photo showed a lot of dust and grime, but the description said it was in excellent condition and worked great.

It isn't and it doesn't. It was DOA on arrival and was mashed badly. The seller, of course, refuses to refund my money, or even reply to my emails at this point.

So, God, what is with the crazy symbolism of the burns?

I wear one on my body and am trying like heck to let go of the other one.

Toast anyone?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Happy Happy Baptism!

Today at Grace we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus.

Oh, how I love to imagine that scene. John, the crazy-in-love man in the desert, eating bugs and honey and wearing skins, too humble to even tie the shoe of Him whom he adores. The dove, falling from the sky. The voice of God booming. I have one beautiful icon that shows the angels standing on the edge of the river, talking amongst themselves. It is a moment that rocks heaven and earth.

The priest at Grace today reminded us that the booming voice of God is speaking to us all when he says

"This is my child (son). In him I am well pleased."

We are all God's children, to be sure. And he takes us just as we are. What a miracle. Thank you, Beloved.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Yesterday I met with Fr. P for our long overdue lunch. I can't believe we haven't shared a meal since before Thanksgiving. It felt like so much happened in the interim.

We discussed many things: The darkness of Advent. The dark night of soul as brought on by Centering prayer. Christmas. My children's baptisms. And my feelings about having joined Grace Church. In some way, I feel like my joining Grace is an act of obedience. It is probably not the place I would have chosen for myself, but I believe, as I have said before, that God is calling me to be there. The kids love it. Nguyen is still uncomfortable, but I feel it will be a welcoming place for him, too.

During lunch, Fr. P mostly sat quietly and listened. I had a big list and he wanted me to get to it all, so he kept his comments to a minimum. But as I was talking about Grace, he said,

"Rachel, your greatest ministry right now is to your children and your husband. Perhaps it is your ministry to them that calls you to Grace."

At which point I burst into tears. It was about as moving an affirmation as I have ever gotten. Fr. P immediately drew a handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to me. At that, I had to chuckle. I have NEVER been offered a hanky! (So 1940's movie-ish, isn't it!?)

Tonight, then, when I went to S. Stephens for the Solemn High Mass of the Epiphany, it didn't surprise me at all that Fr. A's sermon drove home the same theme. It was a beautiful homily on how the Magi have taught us to worship God. Be willing to go on a journey. Be willing to make sacrifices. Bring your best gifts. And most of all, fall down and worship God. He said that we must remember that the act of worship is not about what makes us feel good or spiritual or prayerful... it is what we offer to God because we love him and are grateful to him. It really hit home, especially after yesterday's lunch. At some points of the service tonight, I wished I had Fr. P's hanky.

All the way home I listened to the Messiah:

"I know my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth,
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.
For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first-fruits of them that sleep."


By coming into the world, you have made all that is in it Holy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


My oldest son turned 9 on January 1st. He is a New Year's baby.

9 years.

I realize now that this time with him is going to fly by. Their childhood seems so long, sometimes. The nursing, diapers, chasing them around in restaurants, lack of privacy, lack of space, exhaustion. It all seems so endless sometimes. And then it is gone and I am amazed and grateful for the experience of it and the beautiful new relationship that continues to blossom.

My children are gorgeous and funny and different. And I am so happy to know them. To be present to their journeys.

On New Year's Eve, 1996, Nguyen and I heard the fireworks in Providence as we lay in bed. An hour later, my water broke and my contractions began. Throughout the night, the contractions got stronger and more insistent. By 9 am, I was pretty sure I was in late first stage labor and it was time to head to the Birthing Center. There was snow on the ground. The sun was shining. It was bitterly cold. We climbed into our VW Vanagon and made our way to the hospital. My friend Michelle followed in a separate car.

At the hospital, labor intensified. It was the hardest thing I ever did. At one point, I began to panic... but was quietly reassured by the confidence of my husband, my friend and my midwife.

Noah was born at 1pm... exactly 12 hours after the first contraction. He came out in a single, huge, push. He was born into my waiting arms. A tiny little being that I knew, even then, was going to be a great teacher to me.


Thank you, Beloved, for the gift of my family.