Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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If It’s Green, Let It Grow

Back in the day in Del Ray, when I still had a yard, this was my gardening mantra:

If it’s green, leave it alone.

I should have had better garden sense, having once upon a time worked at a plant store called “Great Plants Alive”. But truth be told, my house was kind of like a hospice – where plants came home to die.

I depended on Mother Earth to till my soil.  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 golden 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.

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

But I did learn one thing of worth at “Great Plants Alive” from a South African gentleman who came into the shop. I noticed him admiring the orange calla lilies just outside the front door.

“Can I help you. Sir? Those lilies are beautiful, aren’t they? Just three dollars a pot.”

“Back home these are WEEDS. Why are you selling weeds? We tear them up and throw them away,” he said.

One person’s weed is another person’s flower, you see.

Good seeds. Bad seeds. Whose to know the difference?

Consider your life a garden, crumbly creative dirt.  Watered by  grace, seeds sprout, reach for light, struggle to grow:

Seeds planted by parents who raised us.

Seeds planted by all the beloved, bewildering people in our lives.

Seeds planted by all of the puzzles we solve and by problems we invent.

Seeds planted by poets who inspire and by writers we have read.

Seeds planted in all of the ages and stages of our growing up.

Seeds planted by the predicaments and the challenges of our times.

Good seeds. Bad Seeds. Flowers. Weeds.

Whose to know the difference?

Over the course of our lifetimes, whose to know the difference?

Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned but gather the wheat into my barn. Matthew 13:30

 This burning thing makes me very uncomfortable. My personal and favorite heresy is the denial of Hell – at least the three-tiered universe kind of Hell, with Heaven above and Earth below. The flames that burn for all time, fire and brimstone, that eternal damnation kind of Hell.

No, I do not believe in it at all because, if you excuse the expression:

What in Hell kind of God is that?

have weeds taken over your garden picture

But I do believe in a more personal hell, more of a purgatory really, where we burn through, burn off, burn up the weeds that have choked out the wheat.

This refining fire is something we all walk through. Like the winnowing of wheat, all of that crappy chaff flies away, and we are left with just a handful of kernels, a few kernels of wisdom.  (Maybe.)

Anne Lamott did a Ted Talk a few years back. One of my favorite authors, she is funny, earthy, poignant, and profound – in the most ordinary of ways. Her Ted Talk is called: Twelve Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.”

On the eve of her 61st birthday, she decided to write down everything she knew to be true. Twelve things but by my count sixteen. Let  me briefly paraphrase them for you.

Lamott shares:

  1. ;I am every age I have ever been, though my paperwork says I was born in 1954, I feel 47.  My true self is outside myself. A friend in his seventies says, “I feel like a young person just with something really wrong with me.”
  2.  All truth is a paradox. Life is at one time a precious, unfathomable, beautiful gift. It is also hard and weird. Filled both with heartbreaking sweetness and heartbreaking poverty.  I don’t think it’s an ideal system.
  3.  Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes and then plug it back in. Including you.
  4.  Help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everyone.
  5.  You can’t buy or steal or make anyone else’s happiness. You can’t run alongside of your grown children with sunscreen and Chap-stick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s the respectful thing to do.
  1. Don’t compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Everyone is broken, insecure and scared. They are more like you than you can imagine.
  2.  You also can’t fix or save or rescue anyone else or get anyone else sober. One acronym for God is the “Gift of Desperation.”
  1.  Be full of yourself. Being at home in your own cranky self allows others to be at home in themselves.  Being full of affection for one’s self is where world peace begins.
  2. Chocolate with 78% Cacao is not actually a food. It was never supposed to considered edible. It is best used to balance the legs of wobbly chairs.
  3.  Writers all write terrible first drafts. But they keep their butt in their chairs. Their truth comes through little by little.  Just take it bird by bird, her dad told her brother when writing a report for school. Tell them about each bird in your own voice. Bird by bird, God awful first drafts — really good advice for all of life.
  1. Success will not heal you. It will feel good for a while but it will not fill the “Swiss-Cheesy holes” in your soul.  But fostering old dogs or painting murals might
  2.  Families are hard, hard, hard — no matter how cherished or astonishing they might be. Remember that it is a miracle that any one of us was conceived and born. And Earth is forgiveness school. So, we might as well start at the dinner table. This way we can do this work in comfortable pants.
  1. And food. Try to do a little better. I think you know what I mean.
  2. Grace. Spiritual WD40 or water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Vladmir Putin and me and you exactly as much your new grandchild.

 Laughter is bubbling grace. It is really “carbonated holiness.” It allows us to breathe again and again and to renew our faith in ourselves and in one another.

 And Grace always bats last.

  1. A good name for God is “not me”.  The happiest person on earth, Emerson says, is one who learns from nature the lesson of worship. Go outside. Look up!
  2. And finally, death. Wow. Yikes.

 We never get over these losses and against what our culture says, we are not supposed to. Tears of grief bathe and baptize and hydrate and moisturize us on the ground on which we walk. Take off your shoes, God says, this garden is holy ground. All evidence to the contrary, this is the truest thing of all.

 Death is as sacred as birth.

 When all is said and done, we’re all just walking each other home.

Lamott says she will get back to us, if she thinks of any more.

So, winnow through your own wheat and toss out the weeds.  What kernels do you come up with?

I came up with three on my way home from Montana. A frequent flier, I am not, and turbulence is not my friend. I tightened my seat belt and rattled my rosary on a very bumpy ride out of Missoula. Usually it is terror that I taste coming up in my throat, but on this occasion, tears smearing my mascara streamed down my face. Three little words popped into my head.

Love. (OMG! I love you God.)

Thanks. (Thanks for EVERYTHING.  Thanks for EVERYONE.  I can’t say THANKS enough.)

Hope. (I hope I made a difference. At least a little.)

And then we were safely on the ground. Thank God.

I hope to hold onto these kernels, these little scraps of God given grace – from United Flight 3054.

Love. Thanks. Hope.

And with my feet firmly on the ground, I pray, that they take root, sprout up, and grow all over the place: my place, your place, everyone’s place.

Let the weeds grow up with the wheat, let them grow together until the harvest.

If it’s green, let it grow.

 

JoaniSign


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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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Dirt Therapy Redux

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Resurrection stories. U&U is an ongoing collection of resurrection stories — that before too long I would like to turn into an actual book. It seems that now I may just have carved out some time to actually do it.

Last week I chose to leave a job that I loved. You see the garden in which I so lovingly toiled had become a bit too overgrown with weeds. Weeds suck up all the water and crowd out the sun. Its hard to stay healthy and whole in a garden choked by weeds. Its nearly impossible to grow.

So I decided to uproot myself and with God’s help, to plant myself anew in life giving soil.

“Now the green blade riseth” is my favorite Easter hymn.

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

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 28 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.

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


4 Comments

Dirt Therapy

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener

Mary Magdalene and the Gardener.

 

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’d 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 27 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, reading my mom was like reading a weather report. Is today’s forecast dark and stormy? Bright and sunny? Clear and calm? 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.

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