One of my favorite images for God in the Bible is the hen sheltering her chicks under her wings.
Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!
Psalm 61:4 (NLT)
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him…. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:2,4 (NLT)
How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings.
Psalm 36:7 (NLT)
These are favorite verses of preachers and writers searching for more stereotypically feminine attributes of God, and one of the reasons I like them so much. They bring up images that are nurturing and cozy.
Sometimes we just need comfort and a little warmth, and those sheltering wings snuggling us close sounds just right. But life is not always cozy. Storms of all kinds descend on us (and sometimes we create them ourselves).
For those times, I like the image of God-as-hen from the video at the beginning. God is sheltering us under his wings, but we are wet and cold and suffering. It is far better to be with God than exposed to our storms on our own, but it isn’t necessarily going to be comfortable.
I am comforted by the assurance that my sadness or my misery in a stormy situation doesn’t mean that God isn’t with me, isn’t sheltering me: I am protected, but things are still kind of lousy.
Lord God, for everything good or bad, happy or sad, exciting or scary that happened for us, personally, the last few days, this is a hard weekend. This is a hard weekend because we saw a geyser of hate shoot high and proud in Charlottesville. We saw the result of the sin of racism, of white supremacy, being allowed to flourish.
Lord God, this is not the flourishing you call your children to.
We lament at the state of our country, where racists and white supremacists feel so empowered. We lament the state of the church, because it hasn’t done enough to call out racism as sin, and it has even provided support.
I pray, Lord, for you to plow up the hard ground of the hearts of those who espouse white supremacy–give them such a full and unmistakable experience of your love that it drives out fear. Drive out their fear.
Drive out the fear of speaking out, for those who want to root out this poison.
Raise up prophetic voices. May we live prophetic lives, Lord God, fueled by you and by your word. May this be a turning point in our country, in the church, and in our church, here at Grace–where there is racism, heal it, Lord. Root it out of our hearts, root it out of our ministries, root it out of our organization. May your love flourish here.
I pray for myself and for all who lead the children here. May we speak and may we live in such a way that every single child who comes through our doors leaves with a secure foundation in your love. May they be so filled with the knowledge that you love them, that no matter what the world says about them, they are your beloved children, that there is no ground for the seeds of fear and hatred and violence to find purchase in.
We pray for those who marched against the white supremacist rally. Bring your healing to those who were injured and your comfort to the loved ones of those who were killed. Be with all who march and attend vigils today, Lord, whether in Charlottesville or in cities across the country. Keep them safe, Lord. Give them courage.
We pray for those who feel terrorized by this resurgence of public racism. Be with them, Lord.
Lord God, we need you. We need you now more than ever, even as we say with the Psalmist: How long, oh Lord, how long?
We look forward to that time when nothing evil will be allowed to enter the city, when the nations will walk in the light of the glory of God. Bring the light of your glory right now to us in Charlottesville, to us in Grand Rapids. May we bring your light to our city, to our schools and workplaces and playgrounds and parks and homes and everywhere we go.
You have sent us out to live in the light of your glory right now–may we do it.
My Obamacare story starts with the end of my marriage. In August 2015, my 21-year marriage ended and my then-husband lost both his jobs and his health insurance, which meant that the kids and I lost our health insurance, as well. I was a stay-at-home mom who’d worked freelance jobs from home for most of my years as a parent, so I didn’t have a job outside the home at that time.
Without warning, we had nothing.
My ex’s company was generous with giving us a little time to work out our medical coverage situation, which was good, because it took a while to get the bureaucracy going. I applied for the Affordable Care Act immediately, but was rejected — because we qualified for the Medicaid expansion that Michigan made as part of the Obamacare deal.
So we went on Medicaid.
It was a godsend. To have everything ripped away and everything in my life upended, but to know that if something were to happen, the kids and I had medical coverage, was a bone-deep relief. This system that I’d paid into, that you’d paid into, was the lifeline we needed in our desperate moment.
The system worked.
Within a year, and the finding of three part-time jobs, I was earning (just barely) too much for me to qualify for Medicaid, so I went to the Marketplace. But the kids are still covered. It is still a relief. The coverage is pretty basic, but when our doctor told me to take my daughter to the E.R. for her third bout of vomiting and diarrhea in three weeks, I could go with only the worry of her condition, not how I was going to pay for it.
There are so many more dramatic Obamacare stories, and don’t get me started on the demonizing of the poor who use Medicaid (when our love of cheap goods requires that some people make barely any money and need government assistance to get basic services, which we should really call a corporate entitlement system, because they’re the ones who are feeling entitled to not pay a living wage or supply benefits, not to mention the economy’s switch away from full-time benefits-paying work to contract non-benefits-paying work). But this is my story of a government program that helped me when I’d suddenly lost everything.
And thanks, Governor Snyder, for making sure Michigan did the Medicaid expansion when many of your fellow Republicans were dead-set against it.
If the current administration’s changes to the health care law go through, I don’t know that someone in my situation would get help, that the system their taxes helped pay for would be there in their temporary hour of need. I don’t even want to imagine what the stress of that would have done to me and my kids.
[This is a story I wrote for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. I had to write 1,000 words of historical fiction that took place at a book signing and involved a pumpkin. I don’t think it’s a great story, but I learned some interesting stuff about American history that I didn’t know before, so I’m sharing it and the painting that inspired the story.]
“Oh, they call me Tomochichi Mico, or Chief, but like they are humoring a child who has declared himself to be a rabbit for the day. There is a different tone than when they say My Lord or Your Grace to each other.”
“But you are not theirs and they are not yours.” Scenawki smoothed the ends of the deerskin cord against my chest.
As usual, my wife was right.
Her eyes crinkled with affection. “Was it only a few moons ago that Toonahowi insisted on being called Sir Hare?”
I snorted. “And now look at him, in his white stockings and blue silk coat, prancing like an English horse.”
“It’s fun to put on another’s skin.” She swished her skirts so they sounded like dry leaves.
“What do they call that color?”
“It suits you. But I miss seeing your beautiful brown legs.”
She laughed. “Ever the diplomat, Tomo. Ever the diplomat.”
“Better than constant war.”
“With me or with the English?”
But I couldn’t answer her teasing, because it was time to pose for the painting. The men of the Georgia Trustees were in place, most of them on the stairs, higher than us by several heads. Oglethorpe was in the center, of course, holding my nephew’s hand, putting Toonahowi in a position of greater honor than his chief. They would never have treated their King George that way, and he would never have allowed it, but for the sake of my people, I bore it with dignity.
And a little one-upmanship.
I could see them cutting glances at our bare shoulders and legs. Jealous. Their bodies were like puffball mushrooms. It was laughable how they tried to show off their legs or square their padded coats at us. I had seen at least ninety summers, and I could’ve run them all into the ground.
Was it petty to make sure my right leg was visible up to the top of my thigh? To reach out my arm so the muscles were in relief? Yes. But I do not apologize for it. Neither do I apologize for Lamochattee, who turned his back to the painter and looked over his massive shoulder. Or Yaholo, who fanned out his eagle feather stick and turned his leg so his knee tassel showed.
None of that would derail my diplomacy. Still, Scenawki looked in the opposite direction. Whether she disapproved or was trying not to giggle, I don’t know.
I could wait in perfect stillness from sunup to sundown while hunting, but posing for the painting almost did me in. And after that, making my mark on all those books. But tonight’s event was why we came. I would suffer through anything to hold up the seedling of my dreams for my people and for theirs, and see whether it would get watered or get scorched.
My clothes were those the English would like: garments that covered my skin and were, themselves, covered in tassels, shell embroidery, and bone inlays. I wore sprays of feathers and quills in my hair. I was ready.
Oglethorpe brought me to the front of the room. “Esteemed Georgia Trustees, and friends of exploration and trade, thank you for coming to meet my friend, Tomochichi Mico. We have worked well together in the year since we settled southern Georgia in February of 1733, and unlike some other areas, we have peace. It is our hope that we always do. The Chief gave this speech in his language to our colleague Mary Musgrove, who translated it and taught it to him in English. I trust that you will find him as eloquent and as compelling as I do.”
“Friends of General Oglethorpe, and, I hope, friends of the Yamacraw, thank you. We are not so different, you and I.”
Oglethorpe looked back and forth between us, and the people laughed.
“I was born in the Isti nation, who you call the Creek, but I gathered together some Creek and some Yamasee and settled new land as a new people, the Yamacraw. So I understand the impulse of your people to settle new lands. We are pleased to share our mutual new home, but I do not want my people and your people to merely survive. I want us to grow in strength—together.
“We left to come here in the time you call June, and my people were planting a food that has gotten us through many a hard winter: the Pumpkin.”
My family moved through the crowd, offering them strips of roasted and dried pumpkin, and Toonahowi tossed me a whole, dried one—a deep clay colored beauty with dark green streaks. I rattled the seeds in a circle dance rhythm until I felt like myself again.
“After all your hospitality, please accept this gift. But it is more than a gift for now. I know that you have received reports of struggling crops from your settlers. Accept our offer to share the seeds and the knowledge of local growing conditions that have sustained my people for generations. In return, may I confess my deepest desire? It is for my people to learn your language and to learn to read. We can do so much more trade in goods, in knowledge, and in sustained peace when we know the same tongue. Will you help us, friends?”
Then it was Oglethorpe’s turn to convince the Trustees to buy a signed chapbook of the speech I just gave, to support what he called an Indian school.
So many wrong names they gave us, but to keep their favor I bit my tongue.
I lifted a book above my head. “It is too late for this old warrior to learn to read these chicken scratches you call words, but it is not too late for my nephew. You have grown to love him during these days. Please love his future, as well.”
Two summers later, we had our school. And the Yamacraw had a chance at fair trade.
The United States is my father’s fourth country. He was born in the Netherlands at the beginning of World War II. His first memory is of playing outside while an air ride siren blared and his terrified mother screamed at him from the house to come in; he was two, so he ignored her. They had to move in with two other families during the Hunger Winter. The relative who owned the house also owned a soup factory, so they had food stores, but the Nazis had commandeered all the good stuff that went into the soups. They were left with fish heads and skeletons, which they ground into a paste and mixed with whatever rotten vegetables they managed to hide. My dad ate it happily because he was so young, but the older kids and adults ate separately so the little ones wouldn’t see them gag. At least one Jewish person was hidden in plain sight in this household, and my father’s aunt would feed any itinerant person who knocked at the gate. His father was in the Resistance, so he was often gone, but if the Nazis got wind that he might be home, they’d come calling. One evening, he was there, but an aunt put him in a nightgown and a lace cap and plunked a baby in his arms. She then took the soldiers on a tour of the house: “Women and babies. Women and babies. That’s all who’s here.” They bought it (which may be as much a commentary on the hairiness of Dutch women, but I digress).
On October 23, 1953, when my dad was ten, they immigrated to Canada and he became a Canadian citizen. He came to the U.S. for college, married an American woman and brought her back to Toronto with him. We lived in Australia for three years in the mid-70s, and then in the early 90s, they moved to California, and have lived in the U.S. since then. Like all immigrants, he worked hard. Like many immigrants, he started his own companies and employed others, both in Canada and here in the States. Truly, he is one of the hardest working and most hopeful people I know. But he hasn’t become an American citizen. Even though he is oh so anti-Trump, he can’t vote.
So I dedicate my No-Trump vote to my dad, Peter Hart, who grew up in a time when a politician whipped up hatred and distrust against certain segments of society; and who knows how important it is to Resist those calls to hate, to fear, to blame people who others say are “not us.” It is a family legacy I fully embrace.
DedicateYourNoTrumpVote is a website started by author Julianna Baggott. You can submit your own dedication there or write your own and use the hashtag #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote. Many, many authors have dedications posted there; it’s a great read.
My mother is also totally awesome, but since she can cast her vote in this election, she misses out on the dedication 😉
At around 2:40, on August 26, 2015, your life will utterly and irrevocably change. It will be hideous and heart-rending and be both a total shock and not a surprise.
Likewise, nothing I can tell you now can prepare you for it, yet you’ve been preparing for it for many years. I say that not only because you’ve always known something was hollow and hurtful in your marriage, but also because many things you’ve done and the ways you’ve grown have laid the groundwork for how you will get through the next year:
* your years of prayer and intimacy with God
* your years of (trying to) be there for others when they needed you
* your tendency to be open about your struggles
* your truthfulness with your kids
* your dealing with your depression and anxiety.
All these things will serve you well in the year to come. It will be worse than you have ever imagined, and that’s saying something. You will cry so hard and so much that you will not have to pee when you wake up in the morning. You will stop eating and drinking; I’d tell you to remember to drink water, but your anxiety over this upcoming one-year anniversary has gotten you not drinking enough again.
Here’s what I want to tell you, Natalie of one year ago: It will be horrible but you’ll get through it. People will help you, both practically and spiritually. You will get this message from many different directions: you are God’s beloved. Soak it up whenever you can. You will struggle to learn to rest in God’s presence, but it is a consistent refrain over the next year: trust it. Your friendships will deepen. Your relationship with your kids will get even closer. Work will find you, which is good, because your ability to get out and hustle will be impaired, but God and your friends will place work in front of you. It will be good work that uses your writing gifts. Your dream of being published will happen — As Real As It Gets, the project you officially announced with such hope just yesterday, will make its Kickstarter and the book will come out in the Spring and it will be beautiful. At the end of the year, you will even find a counselor who asks you questions you don’t have an immediate answer to, questions that really get you thinking.
It will be the worst year of your life. You will be called upon to make tough decisions, to say things to people you’d never imagined you’d have to say, to draw uncomfortable boundaries, to fill out so much paperwork, to ask for help. You will be so hurt and so angry. And also relieved. You will have compassion for your current self, but you’ll learn, right at the end of the year, that you don’t have compassion for the girl who tried so hard to make her marriage work. There is much work to do in the realm of forgiveness, both of yourself and of your ex, but don’t you dare think about that now, one-year-ago Natalie.
It will take all of the strength of your war- and poverty-surviving immigrant ancestors, all of the strength and vulnerability God will give you, to make it through the next year.
But you will make it.
love, Natalie of 8/26/16
[I’m taking a course called Making Blogging Fun Again, and “write a letter to yourself of a year ago” was one of the prompts.]
I’ve enjoyed my pretty-much-every-Tuesday posts, so I’m going to keep it going although this is mostly to say that I won’t have much of a post today: we’re painting my garage.
Yesterday was a fun work with, my mother, my kids and I all working together.
Today, it’ll be just my mother and I, and because my garage is tiny, we should finish today.
In the build-up for my mother coming and staying here two days, I cleaned the living daylights out of my house so she wouldn’t even have the impulse to take a break from painting the garage by mopping my floor. (It should be noted that she would do this with no sense of recrimination or guilt-inducing for me for having a floor that needed mopping [which she’d do on her hands and knees, of course], but just an, “Oh, I just did it quick a minute.” I hope I can be the same for my children.) But there are things one cannot control. When my daughter cleaned her room, she revealed a constellation of spots on her carpet that nobody had seen before, because of the three inches of clothes and detritus that had covered the floor for months. So my mother is upstairs right now, treating those spots with rubbing alcohol.
In the sweetest, most patient way possible, my mother will not be denied her opportunity to do a cleaning job, just quick a minute, for her children.
So here’s to summer work crews — I salute you!
May we all get done what we need to get done!!
What nagging jobs are you tackling this summer?
[This is a story I wrote for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition. I had to write a 1,000-word science fiction story that took place at a laundromat and involved a tongue ring. I had a lot of fun with it.]
Five days after a Yopra scuttled up to me on the street and whispered, “Go to Laundromat. They take care of hardware in you mouth,” I was walking out of my tenth Laundromat, drowning in desperation and confusion. I had no method other than going into every Laundromat and speaking, revealing the ring, and exposing myself for what I really was. So far, nobody had offered to do anything helpful.
A van drove by with huge letters L, A, U, N, D, but a truck blocked the rest of it. Before I’d registered the impulse, I chased it. In the perpetual rush hour of Deimos, I pulled even with it in a half a block: a blindingly clean white van declaring, LAUNDRY.
I zig-zagged across two lanes of traffic and banged on the passenger door. “Hep me!”
The driver rolled down the window.
“Cang you hep me?”
He must’ve understood, despite how the ring made me talk, because he jerked his head in the universal sign for get in. The road erupted in honks and yells, so I stepped up on the running board, hooked my left arm through the open window, and banged to let him know he could go. We drove like this for three blocks until there was a red light and I could hop in.
“What can I do for you?” His voice was so nice. Or, rather, he was being nice, so it sounded like a serenade.
“A Yopra say Aunroma hep.”
He laid on his horn before I was finished. “You’ll have to put these on.”
The sunglasses looked ordinary enough, but when I put them on, they blackened my entire range of vision, even the transmundane aspect. So I was blind as a Lucifungus, headed to an unknown location with an unknown Tut to see an unknown being for an unknown purpose on the advice of a strange Yopra. This was everything they’d warned us girls about back home, but it was my only hope.
We were silent while we drove, so I could hear water sloshing and a motor running in the back. Did they have working washers in the van? Finally we stopped and sliding doors scraped shut behind us. I went to take the sunglasses off, but was told to keep them on and stay here. One of my hearts sped up and the other slowed down: one preparing to fight, the other for flight.
Everyone had warned me not to move to Deimos, but I just couldn’t believe an entire society could hate me because of my tongue.
The door opened; somebeing took my elbow and guided me out of the van. It felt like we were indoors. After fifty-three steps, and three turns, I was maneuvered into a chair.
A door closed, and then opened and closed again. Something else was breathing in the room.
“Open your mouth for me, hon.”
I did, but I could only push my tongue level with my lower lip, and even that hurt like the Dybbuck.
“Ach.” The woman had the voice of someone who’d worked in a diner back when everyone could still smoke MeO in them. “The new bind ring. We’ve been hearing they were going to start using these. I’m going to have to call a few people in.” She opened the door and bellowed some stuff before sitting back down in front of me, our knees touching. “We’ll get you taken care of.”
“Who are you?”
“The Laundromat Battalion.”
That didn’t explain anything, but other beings came into the room and she made me open my mouth again.
“See this?” she said. “There are two piercings on either side of the central vein, and this figure-eight metal bar between them, going across the tip of her tongue twice. I’m just going to lift you up.”
That last bit was said to me before she revealed the underside of my tongue. Even though she was gentle, I whimpered.
“Sorry, hon. Almost done. The bastards clipped her webbing. How long ago did they do this?”
“Oo weeks.” I held up two fingers.
She patted my shoulder. “Close up.” She addressed the others. “Her muscular hydrostat is completely shackled.” There was a noise like metal instruments on a tray. “This’ll be my first time removing one of these, but the closure system looks the same as the previous tongue rings.”
I slapped my hands over my mouth. “Ay cash me.”
“They won’t catch you. Don’t you know what we do?”
“We’ve figured out how to trick the sensors so you can get this off and keep it off without ever alerting the tracking system. I surround your tongue with a warm, sopping wet towel—I hope you don’t gag easily. Then I clamp the tips with a torsion tool of my invention, shimmy you free, and immediately throw the whole thing in a perpetually running washing machine set at 97 Farenheit. Moisture, motion, and temperature sensors remain satisfied. We even drive the machines around the city so they’re not always in the same place.”
“Nope. We’re a real mobile laundry company. It’s the perfect front. You ready to get rid of this thing?”
I smiled for the first time in two weeks.
“When I’m done, stretch out once, and then not again until the swelling has gone down. The holes should be closed within two days.”
She used the same bracket to keep my mouth open that the police had; although she was helping me, it still made me tremble. Water from the towel dripped down the back of my throat, but that was nothing compared to the vibrations of her machine. I was howling and punching my leg and panting, then all of a sudden, I was free.
I unfurled my tongue to half its full length, down to my chest, and let each muscle untwist, until all eight were waving like seaweed.
I over-enunciated because I finally could: “Thank you.”
Although I decided to practice self-compassion when it came to my work on my David and Saul novels, and I have managed to make some progress, it’s time to get working a little more seriously again.
I considered this method.
But I’m not certain that tying the manuscript(s) to my head would do anything other than satisfy my latent need to punish myself for not working as much as I could have.
Perhaps merely being in the presence of those building blocks of language — words — would help.
No, it will require actual effort to get back into the stories, finding both their roots and tracing their repercussions.
So no more giving myself an irritated pouty face.
No more wallowing.
Time to reach towards the light, towards the life-giving water, hand upraised, ready to receive.
I love going somewhere and finding a story. This story courtesy of a recent trip to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Photos were all taken by me on a superhot sunny day, except #5, which was taken by Hannah Van Houten. Unfortunately, I didn’t do due diligence, and I don’t have the details of one of the works; I apologize.
Bill Woodrow, Listening to History (thank you, Ken Verhulst!)
Jaume Plensa. I, you, she or he…, 2006
Roxy Paine. Neuron, 2010
Tom Otterness. Mad Mom, 2001
Hanneke Beaumont. Number 26 and Number 25
Indoors in what we always called “The Jungle” when the kids were little.
Hello, friends. This is the first time I’m linking to something I wrote for one of my freelance jobs, partially because I’m proud of it — I think it manages to be truthful while maintaining a light but not overly jokey tone. My goal was to make it seem possible to do something about the grief, pain, and fear pastors (and the rest of us) are feeling these days.
But I’m also linking to it because I’ve been pressed down by grief, pain, and fear over what is happening in my adopted country. As a person who’s sought out diverse neighborhoods, churches, and schools, as a person who’s been pastored and taught and loved by African-American pastors and friends, as an immigrant and a daughter of an immigrant, as a person who writes about black and Hispanic churches in Grand Rapids and who sees the deeply good work they do, I am in despair about guns, about policing, about anti-immigrant rhetoric, about the love of power and strength without an accompanying love of wisdom.
So this article comes out of my own despair, as well as what I know about how many pastors in Grand Rapids are feeling. I need to take my own counsel.