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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Sixth Antiphon: Our imperfect lives


The Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA have a lovely chant for today's O Antiphon:
O Ruler of Nations, cornerstone of
the people, desire of all; from the
clay of the earth, by your own hand
you have formed us and fashioned
us. Come and open our hearts to one
another.
Sr. Joan's meditation for today is:
December 22
We are not the beginning and the
end of the universe. We are part
of a vision of humankind, seen in
Jesus, and yet to be achieved in
us, a vision of global sharing,
universal peace and individual
security.
— Joan D. Chittister, OS
Sometimes, our dreams give us a vision, calling us to remember to be our best selves.

Every now and again, I have a memory that comes to me as a dream. That's been happening to me this past week.

I have this very clear memory that is thirty-three years old. I'm sitting in my lawyer's office. The custody case is coming up in a week. He's going over my testimony with me.

At the end of our session, he looks up from his paper work and says, "Okay, here's the thing I really want you to remember." He pauses, weighing his words very carefully.

"Look," he says, "you'll do well. You'll do very well. And, we probably won't get everything we want. This time. You have to prepare yourself for the possibility of losing custody of your children, but I'm convinced we'll get very generous visitation rights."

I knew he was right but I didn't want to hear him. I could feel a tight squeeze of pain grip my heart as the truth of his words found their way to that place in me where truth lives.

I tried not to sob, but it hurt more to hold it back than to let it escape. He was a kind man, a compassionate and caring man. He let me cry. When I gained my composure, he continued.

"Just remember: this is the first time in Bristol County, Massachusetts that an open lesbian custody case will be heard in open court. We probably won't win custody this time, but you will get to see your kids. And, I believe the court will be very generous. And," he continued, "you will get them back. I'm sure of it. Just not the first time."

Turns out, he was right. It took almost five years, but at the time, it might as well have been 5,000 years.

"Losing the first time is not what's important," he said. "This is what's important. This is what I want you to consider: Twenty years from now, when your children are all grown up, and they look back on this time, what do you want them to remember about you?"

I was stunned by his question. I wanted to get through this moment. The next day. All the days of the coming week. Twenty years from now? What?

I stared back at him blankly.

"I think you want them to remember a mother who fought for what she believed to be right - the truth about her self and her life and her family - and tried her very best to protect her children from any more pain than was absolutely necessary."

"You will set the tone for them. You will be the model for them when they are adults in terms of how to handle disappointment and heart-break. You will be the model for them when they have to decide what cost they will pay for their integrity and their authenticity. You will be the model for them about how to act under enormous pressure - when you might have to sacrifice everything and everyone you love - and tell the truth when it would be easier to lie, to fit in, to play nice, to go along to get along."

"You decide," he said. "It's your choice. Just remember: Whether you win custody or not, you are - and will always be - their mother. You are - and will always be - one of the custodians of how they will understand themselves as adults in the world."

Twenty years later, our children said to us, "The divorce was really, really painful, and although we couldn't understand it at the time, we know you did the right thing and we know that you did your best to keep us from any more pain than was absolutely necessary."

Sr. Joan writes, "We are not the beginning and the end of the universe. We are part of a vision of humankind, seen in Jesus, and yet to be achieved in us . . ."

I think the vision of our best selves - the Christ child that lives in us - is called out in times of great weakness and vulnerability by the Christ child that lives in others.

The Infant Messiah calls out to us, even now, from a lowly stable in ancient Bethlehem to be the vision God had of us when we were called into being.

Life is not perfect. It is perfected in the faithful living out of our imperfect lives of faith in community.

My prayer today is one with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie: O Ruler of Nations, cornerstone of the people, desire of all; from the clay of the earth, by your own hand you have formed us and fashioned us. Come and open our hearts to one another.

And let the church say, 'Amen'

8 comments:

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Wow.

You have nailed something very important--the ability, in retrospect, to not just understand "loss" but over time, to celebrate the gifts that spring from it over time, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

I attended the Longest Night service that our priest associate presided over sponsored by the local Hospice (she's the Hospice chaplain.) I had this "Why am I going to this? I'm not particularly blue; in fact, so far, this is "best Advent ever" for me. Am I going to just be a warm supportive body in the pews? Why am I here?"

When I left, I knew why.

It was because I am starting to understand better how my habit of "ignoring loss and grief" has sort of caught up to me. For years, I sort of boxed things up that were not in the "major person in my life died" category but were still some form of "loss" or "grief" and just duct taped the box shut.

On my birthday this year, my 49th, starting the "Jubilee year" of my existence, I asked God to "free my slaves." In this weird, bouncy, turbulent year of my life, I have come to realize I had more slaves on the plantation than I had bargained for! One of them was to be more in touch with all these "losses" in my life, and I realized, "Uh, that's why I showed up."

It's only when we acknowledge loss that we can see the gifts that hide behind it.

Two Auntees said...

Thank you for letting me see my divorce and transition in a new light, it wasn't easy on my older sons or my daughter. She has accepted who I am and visits with me now; I can only believe that my sons will come to understand one day my need to live with Integrity and peace with myself. My life is better on the other side of divorce.
Sarah

klady said...

Elizabeth.... this is extraordinary. How often I think of you going through that terrible time and hoping I have done and will do as well. You put into words so much, so well, I can scarcely breathe. Thank you!

Kathy Jensen

suzanne said...

Amen! and Thank you.

eileen said...

((((Elizabeth)))))

Amen.

Karen H. said...

Ahhhh. I found that I could breath again once I finished reading this piece. Not while I read it mind you. Only when I got to the end. Ahhhh.

Bless you.

it's margaret said...

God bless you Elizabeth, for living with integrity. You good, sister.

And God bless that lawyer!

susankay said...

Elizabeth -- from time to time you post stories of this time in your past. And each time I hold my breath until the end even though I know how wonderfully the story turned out.

God is good -- of course.

And S/He and you give Hope to so many