Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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Dirt Therapy, the 3rd

 

Easter, this year, began for me at Christmas Tide.

Sunday evening, December 11th, my phone rang. It was my baby brother Joseph on the line. “Are you sitting down?” he asks me. “Joani, we have never talked about this. Do you remember in 1972 when you were pregnant and gave a child up for adoption?” Dumbfounded, I literally respond,  “Yes, Joseph, of course, I do.”Well, she found me,” he says. “Through a DNA test on Ancestry.com, she found me.

The birth of a child to a teenage mother is a familiar story at Christmas. But the family trauma that resulted from my personal story, I had long buried.  And these forty-five year old memories resurrected a trembling seventeen year old child.

The very next day, December 12th, scared to death, I called my newfound child.  It was the best Christmas present I have ever been given. Her name is Rebecca.

We have spent the past four months condensing more than four decades, and without going into the details, I am happy to declare that all is good, very good. And if you like, you can catch up here: Scarlet Letter, No MoreThe “Nua” Normal“Knock the Unicorn Off the Cloud”

And resurrection has brought reunion.

It is remarkable how deeply Rebecca and I resemble one another: our personalities, our intellectual curiosity, our spiritual bent, our sense of humor. Not only our way of speaking but what we say. People have confused my writing for hers and her writing for mine. It is uncanny. It is remarkable. Rebecca says that distance reinforced her DNA. It was a form of rebellion, she says.

I do like the sound of that, though I am not sure exactly what it means.

Needless to say, this has been an incredibly healing experience.

I tremble no more.

Sprouted from the same soil,  Rebecca and I, our selves, our souls, and our bodies are intertwined.

So this Easter is all the sweeter:

Now the green blade riseth!  indeed!

So it seems very apropos to post Dirt Therapy once again.

A post that includes an anecdote about Jacob, Rebecca’s newly discovered little brother and a snapshot of my mother, the grandmother Rebecca never knew.

So, here we go…

Once upon an Eastertide, a little boy came home singing the Pete Seeger song: “Inch by inch, row by row, Lord, please help my garden grow”. At school the little boy, along with his class, had planted bean seeds in jelly jars. Each day they tended their little glass gardens, checking the moist dark earth. Some of the children drowned their seeds with love. While others, their seeds withered from neglect. While others, theirs actually and miraculously sprouted and grew.

Tiny green shoots poked their heads into the fluorescent light. Slender green vines wound around the inside of the jars.

And then one day — the little boy proudly brought his home and set it down on the kitchen table. His mom asked, “Okay, my little sweet potato, what’s this?” And the little boy replied:

”That’s Jesus, mom. That’s Jesus in a jar.”

It wasn’t exactly “Now the green blade riseth” but it was sweet indeed. That sweet little boy was my son Jacob (now 29 years old!). Sadly the little Jesus vine did not survive very long — but don’t blame Jacob. Sadly, you see, plants often came home to my house to die.

Even though I quite ironically once worked at plant store called “Great Plants Alive” most of the plants that crossed my threshold sadly met an untimely death.

And back in the day when I still had a backyard, I was quite happy to just let Mother Earth be my gardener. So whatever grew — grew –and whatever withered – withered. My yard was a little city patch of green. And since I had no green thumb, this was my rule:

If it’s green let it grow.

My lawn was covered with crab grass, wild violets, clover, and dandelions. The fence was covered with tangled honeysuckle vines, ghetto pines, a struggling maple tree, and poison ivy. Plastic baseball bats and dead tennis balls dotted my lawn. A sad little wagon and outgrown bicycles littered the grass.

Occasionally I would attempt to tame this wilding place with my lawn mower and a weed whacker. But much more often, I would retreat and recline in a plastic chair on the patio to read a good book.

If it’s green let it grow.

My manic-depressive mom, Mary Lou was quite the gardener. While I have been blessed with her bipolar brain, God did not see to bestow upon me her green thumb. And hers was very green indeed.

When I was growing up, my mother could lash out like lightning just as easily as she could erupt in joy. Her highs and lows were beyond her control, tamed only by a regular shot of bourbon, a little lithium, and the occasional session with Dr. Freud. My beloved mom did the best she could.

And she did her very best in the garden.EA11B186-69B7-45E1-8E52-41A174207E9A

Mary Lou was totally at home in her rock garden. She relished her trips to the local greenhouses and she spared no expense at the nursery.

The back of the station wagon would be overloaded with peat moss and potting soil, flats of flowers, hydrangeas and azaleas, and a shrub or two — or three.

The lawn would be littered with empty plastic pots, as she dug down deep in the dirt planting geraniums, petunias, and marigolds. I have a snapshot of her doing just this. Her sun kissed skin is freckled and bronze; her auburn hair peaks out from her kerchief; and golden hoops dangle from her ears. Gorgeous.

Resplendent and radiant, digging in the dirt, all is right with her soul.

Digging in the dirt is therapy.

Sowing seeds is therapy.

Fertilizing the soil is therapy.

Watering the ground is therapy.

Gardening is therapy.

Dirt therapy.

Wordless, holistic, holy, hopeful, dirty therapy.

My mother’s daughter, namely me, no longer has a backyard. But I do have a little balcony. And each Eastertide I plant my little English garden in half a dozen clay pots. I am partial to bright colors: Shasta daises; hibiscus; and geraniums. I am partial to plants of the forgiving kind, the kind that forgive me if I don’t water them as often as I should.

A little Miracle Grow, a little sunshine, a little dirt, and all is right with my soul. At least for a little while.

In the beginning, the Creator walked in the cool of the wet garden at the time of the evening breeze. God made us out of the dirt of the garden. God made us out of the dirt of paradise.

And so in all the deaths we die — both large and small — we return to the Garden. We go down into the dirt like seeds forgotten and buried in the dark earth.

So as we are in the beginning, we are in the end. The Alpha is also the Omega.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala, came to the garden and she saw that the stone was rolled away. And there stood the Gardener, the same Gardener who had walked at the time of the evening breeze. Mary did not know him until he called her by name. And then she knew. Here stands the very tiller, the very tender, the very lover of my soul.

Now the green blade riseth.

Dirt therapy.

JoaniSign


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Reindeer, Rainy Days & Mondays

White Reindeer, Zach Clark Films, 2013.

Bipolar, I am very rarely down.
I live my life gloriously balanced in hypomanic and holy space.

This space is the woof and warp of my loony loom. Daily decisions, large and small, weave together the texture and color of my daily walk.

Yes.

Walking, talking, balking;

Reading, working, sleeping;

Lurking, leaping, housekeeping;

Netflixing, Hulu hopping, blogging;

Sermonizing, staff meet-ing, colleague conferencing;

Teaching, preaching, pastoring;

Cafe haunting, eatery slinking, coffee drinking;

Advocating, electioneering, volunteering;

FaceBooking, photo shopping, grocery shopping;

Floor mopping, dish washing, laundry folding;

Clothes modeling, junk recycling, riverfront hiking;

Story Districting, LIbrary (of Congress) docenting;

Eucharist celebrating, neighborhood organizing;

Writing, reflecting, philosophizing;

Socialzing, parenting, befriending;

Showering, singing, flinging.

Laughing.

Living.

Loving.

Entertaining angels unaware. 
Rainy days and Mondays rarely get me down.

Yet —

whirling and spinning, even I have to begrudgingly admit, that my psyche so wound up, eventually has to wind itself down.

Darker, wetter December days enter.

I feel a tug that pulls me downward

and closer to the earth.

An undercurrent of small sorrows,

lingingering losses,

little ripples of sadness,

lonely and alone.

Bittersweet, emotionally delicious,

I taste and touch the deeper parts

of my happy, happy manic soul.

Like the little blue girl in Inside Out,

“Sadness”  is a place we should not fear to go.

Sadness, sometimes, is exactly the place we need to be.

Tearing up in the shower is okay.

Soul searching on the subway. Also okay.

Channel surfing in your pajamas. Okay too.

Just let it be, 

at least for a little while,

but not too long.

Darker, wetter December days are holy days,

these holidays,

like rainy days and Mondays,

yes,

they sometimes weigh us down, 

but the darkness will be overwhelmed by the light,

by light,

most luminous,

Light Divne.

So from U&U:

A very, very,

merry, merry,

 happy, happy, 

manic-depressive Christmas to you!


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The Waiting Game

santalineatelevators

Impatience, thy name was Dr. Peacock.

When I was growing up, my father, a busy and successful surgeon, did not like to wait. He would not take us anywhere he anticipated crowds or lines. He would never go to a restaurant without a reservation. When we went to the movies, we went at odd times, arriving late, sitting in the back and leaving early. Native Washingtonians, we never visited the White House or the Washington Monument. We never went to the Cherry Blossom Festival or the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

.“Too many tourists,” my dad would say. “Too much God damned trouble to wait in those god forsaken lines.”

 No time to be patient, beloved, no time to be patient..

Now most us, including myself, much like my dad, count waiting as a colossal waste of time. And via the bazillion apps on our iPhones, iPads, and MACs, we need only navigate the net to have an instant Christmas.

Point, click and shop till you drop.

UPS and Federal Express or a guy on a Segue from Amazon Prime will deliver to your doorstop a complete Christmas, from soup to nuts: the tree, the trimmings, the trappings, the presents and all the wrappings. Cyber-Monday, Cyber-Everyday eliminates the wait and takes us far from the maddening crowds.

Awesome Sauce! Right? Convenient for lives and calendars crammed with business appointments, committee meetings, carpools, school concerts errands and chores. This is something close to a f*ing miracle! Successful people know that time is money — more precious than money.

Waiting is for chumps, for the clueless, for losers.

Waiting is for crazy people, waiting on the end of the world – with a specific date and time in mind for Jesus to return: survivalists stockpiling food, water, and toilet paper. Only wacky Millennialists wait on the impossible. Only wacky people wait on the mountain top for the space ship to come pick them up, beam them aboard, and fly them off to who knows where. Waiting on doomsday. Waiting for the end to come.

Two thousand years ago, the people of the church of St. Paul’s in Rome were busy waiting. They were keeping Advent, getting ready for something like a Christmas. Waiting, not for Santa, but for the Son of Man to return. He would come in glory and majesty, riding on the clouds in the company of angels. (Eat your heart out, Rudolph!)

Jesus promised he would be back. He said he would be back. So they kept vigil and they waited and they watched the skies and they yearned and they longed and they pined.

But no one came.

Be patient, beloved, be patient.

Now, patience is a virtue and sometimes the wait is worthwhile. Sometimes hanging in there is indeed worth it.  After all, what is grape juice compared to a fine wine? What are Cliff Notes compared to the plot twists of your favorite book? What is a cheap and tawdry affair compared to a life long love?

Waiting cultivates desire, illuminates our need and heightens our expectations. And in the end, waiting sharpens our pain, as well as, our joy.

The people of Saint Paul’s in Rome were not just idly waiting. They weren’t just biding their time for something better to come along. They were waiting for a taste of heaven. They were waiting on eternity.

Something like a Christmas came and something like a Christmas went, year after year, generation after generation. And the folks at Saint Paul’s began to feel a little silly, a little self-conscious. And these folks, they grew plain sick and tired of waiting. And Christians everywhere, it seemed, lost the will to wait.

When Jesus did not come riding in on the clouds, like a shining knight on a white horse, as he was long expected to, we just gave up on waiting.

It’s naïve, a childish thing, beyond belief.

So instead, we now wait just four weeks for the baby in the manger.

We wait just four weeks for the Jesus who has already come.

And yet, anyone who has been through the nine months of pregnancy, or lived with someone who has, knows that birthing a baby is much more than a waiting game.

Now many a woman has wished for an Instagram/Polaroid pregnancy but it just doesn’t work that way. At first, there is the anxiety. Is the stick pink or blue? Is that a plus or minus sign? Once you know for sure, the room begins to spin and you regularly lose your lunch. And while you struggle to keep down saltines, this new little life feeds on you body and soul. You grow large and full of life, as does your heart grow and groan with love and angst. And by nine months’ end you feel a little bit like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

No part of you, no crevice of your womb is left unfilled. Over a trinity of trimesters, expectation heightens. And all those who keep watch and wait hover around you. “When is it coming? When are you due?” Some even touch and grab onto your belly as if it were their very own. (Please, always ask first!)

Who is this little one coming, who has turned you inside out?

Who is this little one coming, who will turn the world upside down?

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

 “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…”

 “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion, and the fatling together,

 and a little child shall lead them.”   — Isaiah 11:1-10

 Just like the people, two millennia ago, we are waiting on this little scrap of eternity, a little taste of heaven.

In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that the Spirit’s seed be planted in our souls.

In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that in the darkness of our hearts, this love take root.

And let us pray, beloved, that with patience, once again,

Christ be born — flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone into this broken, beat up, and battered world that cries out for the love  of God so loudly.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

JoaniSign


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Frantic Friday, Manic Monday & The Season of Generosity

Woodies at Christmas downtown

We got all dressed up to go Woodies.

At Christmas, my mom would get us all dressed up to go shopping downtown in D.C. As a kid, this little corner of Washington was a wonderland to me. I remember pressing my nose up against the department store windows – bedazzled by animatronic snowflakes, snowmen, and Nativity scenes.

We’d go to lunch in the tearoom where we got to sit on Santa’s lap. We’d ride the elevator to every floor and at every stop — notions or housewares or lingerie — all of the clerks greeted my mother by name.

“Mrs. Peacock, how good to see you. How may I help you?”

At Garfinkels, Woodies, and Hechts she would charge up her Washington Shopping Plate. It was Christmas after all – time to load up on socks, mittens, and gloves. Time to splurge on fancy talcum powder and Christmas cologne, pierced earrings and cultured pearls, Instamatic cameras and baseball bats.

“Put it on my account,” she would say.

In my teenage years, my mom converted to catalogs. Long before online shopping or the Home Shopping Network, Christmas catalogs clogged our mailbox. I remember them being piled high in a basket in the family room by the couch. And I can see my mom sitting there — clear as day – leafing through them: LL Bean, Orvis, Land’s End, Sharper Image, Harry & David’s Fruit of the Month Club.

Armed with just a telephone and a credit card, my mom would shop until she dropped. Sometimes she would buy so much stuff, she would forget that she had bought it and buy it again. Sometimes she bought so much stuff, she would hide it in the attic or the trunk of her car. She would bring it in little by little – hoping that my father would not see.

Until the bills came, of course, and the sh*t hit the fan and my father hit the roof.

We always got tangerines and toothbrushes in our stockings – but it was the stuff under the tree that was the measure of my mom’s moods.

Unwrap a box and you would peek into her soul: bright on the outside, dark and disorganized on the inside.

One year she did all of her shopping at the drug store. She gave me a man’s thermal undershirt, a meat thermometer, and hot pads. Another year she did all of her shopping at the country club pro shop. I got golf balls, a golf glove, and a yellow sweater embroidered with golf clubs and putting greens.

I do not play golf. I have never played golf. It did not compute.

And that’s the point. A manic-depressive mind has no use for math. Bipolar brains are no good at budgets. That would require calculated decisions, measured judgment, and impulse control. Such minds have no concept of living within one’s means.

My bipolar brain included.

In my married years, I abdicated all my financial responsibilities to my skinflint ex-husband. I was the breadwinner and he was the stay-at-home dad. I made the lion’s share of the money but he managed it. He did all of the grocery shopping which was a blessing. He bought everything on sale including cornflakes and he would not buy a new box until the very last flake was eaten.

It wasn’t’ until I was on sabbatical in 1999 that I had my very own checkbook — for the very first time. I was 45 years old.

Now my money was mine to manage. A middle child, I sought to drive a middle course. But I am not a very good driver; I am my mother’s child. My finances too can be tracked by my moods – or is it the other way around?

In my dazzling days, I have charged up my credit cards.

In my dark days, I have neglected to pay my taxes.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.

I am embarrassed to bear this broken part of my bipolar soul. And I have worked very hard — for years — to balance this part of my brain.

My car is paid for.

My mortgage is small.

I am on an all cash diet.

I use a debit card whenever I can.

I pull out my credit card only in emergencies.

At least, I try.

Honestly, I still struggle daily to live within my means – especially at Christmas – so many shiny things to stuff into stockings and pile high beneath the tree.

So today as I write – on Black Friday — I am doing my best to sit on my wallet. On Cyber Monday, I will try to stay off of my Mac. And on Giving Tuesday, I will try to be as generous as I can without going into debt.

After all – generosity — is the reason for the season, right? At Christmas we celebrate the Holy One, born poor in a stable; the Holy One, homeless with no place to lay his head; the Holy One who preached good news to the poor; good news for those dirty shepherds who worked the late shift and watched their flocks by night.

He scatters the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He puts the mighty down from their thrones and

He exalts the lowly.

The hungry he fills with good things and

the rich be sends empty away.

And so I pray this Christmas,

That where my heart lies, so my treasure will be,

not just in the stockings and under the tree,

but spent for those in need,

for those in want and poverty,

spent in generosity.

JoaniSign