Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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 Who Am I Really? A “Rebecca on Reunion” Podcast

Here, in my firstborn daughter’s own voice,  is Rebecca telling the story of our reunion.   Who Am I Really? is a project of Damon Davis: a series of very personal podcasts about the life journey of an adoptee and their search for reunion. Rebecca’s is Episode 18:What I Gained Through Reunion Is Context.

Listening to Rebecca’s voice, I definitely hear Joani. And I hear my daughter Colleen’s voice, too. Maybe even my niece, Lauren’s, as well. Not just the timbre of our voices resonates but how we all string words together. We use the same verbal punctuation. It is uncanny.

And Rebecca’s description of reunion dovetails incredibly with biomom’s. No coordination involved. Just DNA. Incredibly delightful.

So take a listen to Rebecca and let her fill you in on Who She Really Is!


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A Room Full of Mothers

How many children do you have?

Not a trick question, right? But it is a tricky one for me.

Publicly the answer has been an easy “three”  for twenty-nine years since I bore Jacob, my third following  Zach and Colleen back in 1987.

But behind closed doors, when asked, I would falter. The gynecologist would look at my chart and say: “How many pregnancies? Number of successful deliveries?”

Do I lie and say “three”? Does it really matter for my medical history?

Or do I tell the truth and say “four”. Then hold my breath and hope I won’t have to explain why I gave the first one away.

Every doctor’s appointment was a little flashback to my 17th year. The year the rabbit died. The year of seasick mornings and solitary trips to the Medicaid clinic. The year of the swelling belly and iron capsules to choke a horse. Remembering being ostracized by my family and terrified by the little life inside me.

Sitting on the examining table in a hospital gown, I would recall the mysterious being who kicked and elbowed and crammed their little self  into every little square inch of me.

And every year, September 28th, on her birthday, I would think of her and wonder where she was. I would beam powerful positive thoughts in her direction — to her unknown location.  And I would permit myself a melancholy moment or two, stuff it down, and then move on.

Stretched, so stretched beyond my teenage capacity.

She gave me my very first stretch marks. A badge of honor.

And just prior to Christmas past, she found me. Rebecca found me. I have told this story on U&U. And I have blogged about our Saint Patrick’s Day weekend reunion.

So serendipitous that we reunited on this Celtic feast. As an adoptee, in a sealed adoption, Rebecca’s “non-identifying information” identified her biological maternal family as Jewish.

Uh, no. Def got that wrong.

DNA and Ancestry.com identified a healthy dose of green blood. Irish. Definitely Irish.

Somehow deep down in her bones, Rebecca intuited this all along. All three of her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir are all steeped in Irish step dancing.

On my visit in March, I tagged along to their class at a dance studio in a nearby town. Kids of all ages in comfortable clothes and special shoes shuffled and kicked to Celtic tunes.

A Room Full of Mothers Jackie Wade mother an daughter

Parents, meanwhile, and by “parents”, I mean mostly moms crowded into the windowed little waiting room. Kindly one mom gave up her seat so that I could sit up front and see.

As other moms came and went, Rebecca introduced my unfamiliar face. Some already knew our story and some did not. Those who knew smiled and nodded. One very sweet mom even made us a celebratory strawberry tart.

But for those not in the know, Rebecca would quickly try to catch them up, starting with,

“This is my mother.”

Startled by her words, instinctively I looked over my shoulder and thought:

“Where, where is your mother? OMG, she means me!”

A singular mom sitting by the door had a quizzical look on her face — which compelled me to explain myself. I spew forth my teenage tale, circa 1972.

I didn’t need to do that. Or did I?

And I wonder about all of the moms in the room and what their stories might be. I wonder about the maternal ghosts and mothers in abstentia – who haunt this waiting room. Rebecca’s mother. My mother. Adoptive mothers. Birth mothers. Grandmothers. Stepmothers – both evil and good.

I wonder about all of the overlay and layers of expectations that our culture slathers onto maternity.

From our very first December conversation, I wanted to be especially respectful of Rebecca’s mom — the one who parented her so wonderfully. And I wanted  – and still want – to be especially careful not to offend her in any way.

Rebecca, 44 years old, reminded me that she is a fully functional grownup. Ha! And that it is hers alone to manage these relationships separately. I need be responsible only for my own.

And Rebecca has taught me that it is okay to say that I am her mother. That is biologically and verifably true. “Biomom” is what she most appropriately calls me.

Six months have now passed since Christmas. Rebecca and I talk, text, and email with some frequency. We have a loving relationship, a rippling relationship that now ripples throughout my family: with her siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and even cousins many times removed.

I now include Rebecca on all family emails, both the good news and the bad news. And when I send an email to “my kids”, I simply sign it “mom”. It was just too wonky and weird to qualify it as bio/mom or biomom/mom/Joani. And it seemed really silly to leave it blank. Its just an email for heavens’ sake, right?

It really is more though, isn’t it? Yes, I think it is.

And so back to the question:

How many children do you have?

No longer a tricky question,  I answer “four”.

One in VT. One in NYC. One in D.C. One in NC.

All rocking adults.

And I am happy to answer any questions, if you would like to know more.

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


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Make Sure to Tiptoe Around Mom

tiptoe around mom house of cards picture

Middle child of six, my childhood can be best described as muddled — or better yet, “fair to middling” as my father used to say.

But charmed and enchanted is what outsiders saw.

My dad was a successful surgeon and my manic mom, a stay-at-home mom. Our six bedroom suburban home was well appointed 1960’s style: wing back chairs, antique sofa, oriental rugs. I had French Provincial furniture in my bedroom and my brothers had Ranch Oak bunk beds in theirs. And four bathrooms, so there was little need to share.

And all was spit and polished just about all of the time. Most of the time.

With six children, three adults, and a dog, the upkeep of the castle was intense. So Downton Abbey style, we had household servants. All African American, I am more than a little ashamed to say. Two full time maids: Nan and her daughter, Cornelia. And a handyman, a grown man, we shamefully called Sonny (Joseph, being his given name.). All members of the Simpson family. And Cora, whose last name I do not recall. She came twice a week to do the ironing.

Thanks to them, we were always freshly pressed in our uniforms or nicely dressed in our department store clothes. Shoes from Hahn’s or Stride Rite. Only the best.

And oh my goodness, we ate well too. Very, very well. My mom had a wall of cookbooks  which she rarely consulted but seemed to inspire her nonetheless. While other kids had meatloaf for dinner, we dined on Beef Bourguignon. While other kids wolfed down fish sticks, we feasted on Filet of Sole Almondine.

And all six of us went to private schools: Holy Family, Gonzaga, La Reine, Immaculata — with all the standard extracurriculars: piano lessons, softball practice, swim teams.

We were privileged, well to do. And while we were not taught explicitly to look down on anyone else — it was made very clear that we were to be looked up to. Or least to act like we were. “Remember you’re a Peacock.” my dad would say every time we left the house. Like mini model citizens, our appearance was supposed to be polished, our behavior beyond reproach.

Materially we lacked for nothing – or so it seemed. While maternally and paternally, we were falling apart at the seams.

My dad the workaholic doctor was barely at home.

My manic-depressive mom retreated more and more behind her bedroom door — a door on which I was very nervous to knock.

Each morning, I would check out  my mom like a weather report: dark and stormy; bright and sunny; cloudy with rain. The forecast was often in doubt and subject to change. When bright and sunny, my mom was the life of the party! Fun loving, story telling, cooking up a storm and shopping ’til she dropped.

I loved this mom very much – but as I grew up I saw her less and less. More and more she was dark and moody, drugged with valium, and with a drink her hand. Medicating herself for this malady for which we had no name. (Which now I truly understand.)

And this middle child — who was just a child – thought it my job not to upset her. I thought it my job to keep the peace, to maintain the status quo, not rock the boat in any way, if I could help it. So straight A, goody-two-shoes Joani kept her head down.

And little old me believed, that if I could be a better little kid, a better little daughter, a better little student, a  better little Catholic — that I could keep my house from falling down on my head. I could keep my house from falling down and crushing us all.

Not my job, right?

Of course not.

My own healthy, bipolar, grownup self knows this now. Knows this to be true. I know that childhood chores involve making your bed, doing dishes, and picking up toys. No, childhood chores do not involve saving yourself and your siblings from your very troubled mom and your mostly absentee dad. Though I do believe they loved us as best they could.

But funny how history repeats itself.  And funny how whatever we learned at our parents’ knees will stay with us until the day we die.

And it bubbles up in our grownup lives. Sometimes imperceptibly. Sometimes overwhelmingly.

I am still a middle child, peacemaker, model citizen, goody-two-shoes, bleeding heart, employee of the month. Raining sunshine wherever I go — or at least so I think.

And what goes wrong in my world – whether it be my fault or not — whether it be at home, or at church, or at work — I have the uncontrollable urge to fix it. Where things get rough, let me make them smooth. When things are sad, let me cheer you up. When things get messy, I will tidy them up. When others fail, I will take their place. When things get crazy, I will make them sane.

And I will tiptoe, tiptoe around “mom” — hoping against hope — that this “house of cards” wherever it is — this “house of cards” will not come crashing down on those who live or work there. On my head, or the heads of those I care about, on the heads of those I love.

Not my job, right?

Damn right.

Not anymore.

JoaniSign

 

 


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Bipolar Boundaries: a Geography Lesson

USA Canada Puzzle Concept

A puzzling, cross-boundary bipolar diagnosis.

Will I be crazy in Canada?

I just got my passport and I am psyched! This November I am hightailing it to the Canadian, BC border. My sister Maureen, 1970’s style made a big political move north – and while she retains her American citizenship – she has never moved back.

She is as Canadian as maple syrup and Molson’s Ale, eh! Different and yet the same, geography has shaped who she is. Maureen’s longitude and latitude have shifted her worldview. Different and yet the same, geography has both shaped and redefined her.

So I ask again, will I still be crazy in Canada? Will I be just as unhinged north of the border as below?

Last week with “Inked!”, I posted my 60th post here on U&U. And it seemed as good a time as any to look back at a year’s worth of data – to see how U&U is doing. Who’s reading, who’s following, who’s commenting, who’s “liking”, who’s sharing.

I am obsessed with my WordPress app, compulsively checking stats on visitors and views after each week’s post. And daily I am amused to discover where my readership resides. Googling — folks from across the globe stumble upon U&U. And it makes me smile.

This little blog is a worldwide phenomenon (wink, wink, nod, nod!): 13,648 views, 8,233 visitors, and 300 followers. Read in over 80 countries, the lion’s share of my readers are, of course, in the U.S., followed by the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France.

My numbers are in the “tens” in Russia, Italy, the Philippines, Belgium, Poland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, and South Africa.

I have a couple of readers each from Finland, Thailand, Uraguay, Colombia, Nigeria, Slovakia, Vietnam, Greece, Egypt, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Argentina, Iraq, the DR, Costa Rica, and Kenya.

And I am a one hit wonder in Jersey, Cameroon, Portugal, Estonia, Algeria, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Croatia, Uganda, and Saudi Arabia!

(Are you smiling? Me too.)

A few years ago, I read a most provocative book, “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche” 2010, by Ethan Waters. In a diverse world, Waters writes, there is a diversity of ways of going mad. Likewise all across the map, there is a rich variety of ways, humanity maps the mind’s terrain.

Western hegemony, he says, has homogenized our understanding of mental health. Exportation of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual has obliterated cross -cultural expressions of mental illness. Powerful pharmaceutical companies profit not just from the drugs but from the diagnoses they advertise and promote.

“Crazy Like Us” tackles this global issue at the local level. Specifically Waters tells the story of people with four different diagnoses in four different countries: “The Rise of Anorexia in Hong Kong”; “The Wave That Brought PTSD to Sri Lanka”; “The Shifting Mask of Schizophrenia in Zanzibar”; “The Mega-Marketing of Depression in Japan”.

The data he shares is persuasive. The stories told are compelling. The questions he raises are profound. Waters’ investigation contextualizes the West’s experience of mental illness and calls into question our scientific theories and therapeutic practices.

So I ask the question again. Will I be just as crazy in Vancouver as I am in Virginia?

For me specifically the question is about bipolar disorder. Does it cross borders? Is it the same in any language?

My answer to this question is incarnational.

You see, deep down in my bones, I know that both my mania and my melancholia are both organic and spiritual, local as well as universal.

My answer is yes.

And oddly enough, after doing a little research, I find that my findings concur with a study done by the World Health Organization in 2011. The World Mental Health Survey (WMH), used consistent methods, (yes, the DSM-IV), and collected data in eleven countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and New Zealand.

Bipolar disorder indeed crosses borders — but not uniformly or without cultural variation. Bipolar spectrum also differs in degree from country to country. The United States has the highest lifetime rate of 4.4% and India the lowest, with 0.1%

Dr. Sarah Bodner, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami, attributes the differences to diverse factors.

It could be genetics; it could be environment. It could also be the way individuals in different cultures are willing to respond to this kind of inquiry. Cultural awareness plays a very big role in psychiatry. Some cultures have a huge reluctance to speak about such things.”

 Cultures with a higher rate of stigma had a lower rate of the disorder. But those very same cultures’ traditions may also help inoculate and protect that culture’s corporate psyche. America’s highly mobile lifestyle is counter to stability in family structures and community support, making bipolar disorder more of a first world problem.

Maybe.

But a Health.com article cites another quite unique theory behind what makes America the most manic country in the world: the melting pot. And it is the topic of at least one book:

“’The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and a (a Lot of) Success in America,’ by John D. Gartner, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, discusses the hypomanic qualities entrepreneurs and leaders who took risks to come to America.”

 Hypomania is that Bipolar sweet spot, in which a person experiences exuberance, creativity, and focus and gets a sh*tload of things done! (This is my favorite place to be!)

David Schlager, a psychiatrist with the Lone Star Circle of Care concurs:

The U.S. attracts people who believe they can achieve a better life. They come to believe they can pick up and start again. It’s a self-selected sample of people who are grandiose and impulsive. It takes a suspension of belief to actually believe you can come here and make it happen.”

Those are a significant percentage of people in the bipolar spectrum.”

Bipolar disorder is strongly heritable. Two thirds of bipolar folks have a close relative who is also manic-depressive. My Irish American ancestors bequeathed this brain to me. It’s the gift that keeps giving in my family: my grandmother, my mother, and me.

My brain is both blessing and curse, emphasis on the first. Hypomania is God’s gift to me – yes – God’s gift to me. Manically and daily, I pray that in this sweet, sweet, sweet spot – I can manage to stay.

Often I succeed, sometimes not. And that’s okay. I would not have it any other way.

So I am grateful to God for my genes; I am grateful to God for my DNA. I am grateful to the Great Creator who made me this way — created in the image of a crazy and wondrous God.

Crazy in Virginia. Crazy in Vancouver. Crazy all over the world.

Canada, here I come.

JoaniSign

 


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What’s in a Name?

baby-names1 - you named we what 2

My mother ran out of names.

Providence Hospital, DC, March 3, 1955: Three days old, I lay swaddled in the nursery nameless.

Preceded by a sister, Maureen Ann, and a brother, Timothy Francis, it seems my mom had already exhausted a very brief list of favorite names and could not come up with one for baby number three – me!

The discharge nurse told my mom I had to have a name to be discharged. “What shall I write  on the birth certificate? “ My mom responded with a question. “What’s your name? she asked the nurse. “Joan”, she said. “Then we’ll call her ‘Joan’,” my mom said, “and tack on ‘Louise’. That’s my middle name. That’ll work.”

So I went home as JoanJoan Louise.

Growing up I searched for a grander story – a better story to tell. A grandiose little Catholic soul, I believed I was named for Jean d’Arc. A lacquered portrait of Joan hung on my bedroom wall – a First Communion present from my second cousin, the priest – Father Buddy Litkey. Shining in her armor, mounted on a white horse, banner furled, and wielding her sword, I believed myself her heir apparent.

So I canonized myself – St. Joan.

Yet even sanctified, It did not take long to grow bored with my monosyllabic name. (Don’t you love it that “monosyllabic” has five syllables?:)) Such a plain Jane name is Joan. So at my confirmation – as little RC kids traditionally do – I chose a saint to be my patron.

I chose “Veronica”: the woman of legend who wipes the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. Her beautiful name literally means “true icon”. So beautiful. But for none of the above reasons did I choose it.

I chose it because it was the sexiest damn name this little 10 year old could come up with. Four syllables, exotic, and musical it rolled off the tongue –

Veronica!

But everyone still called me Joan. Well Joani actually (as I spell it now).

As a kid I tried to stretch my name on the page by adding letters: Joan, Joanie, Joannie. In my hippy dippy adolescence I chopped off a couple– an “n” and an “e” in homage to Joni Mitchell. I still have all of Joni’s music on my iPod, but I held on to the “a” for my own namesake:

Joani.

Two weeks ago at SpeakeasyDC’s “Unhinged”, Dara, one of the storytellers, introduced us to her husband’s alter egos. Struggling in their marriage, she met them all in therapy. Out came Michael, a shy and vulnerable boy. Out came drill sergeant, Charlie, his champion and protector.

Her husband, who suffers from DID, Dis-Associative Identity Disorder, by any other name is still her husband. All three gentlemen sitting on the couch were fragments of the man she loves. Shattered by trauma, to cope and survive, he gives them different names.

Each week in therapy they would pick up the pieces, befriending the fragments, collecting them together, both hoping to be be healed, both hoping to be made whole.

And I too go to therapy — twice monthly — to remember my name. I go to recall who I am, to recall just who my God calls me to be – in this time and in this place. And in ten years time, who I call myself has changed many times over.

Names change as lives change. Biblically speaking, on the way to the Promised Land, Sarai becomes SarahAbram becomes Abraham. Wrestling with angels, Jacob is renamed as Israel.

Even the Holy One, whose name was never to be spoken, has too many names to number: Elohim, el Shaddai, YWHW, I AM, Emmanuel – just to name a few.

So what’s in a name?

Well for each and everyone of us  – a whole, whole lot.

Name them and claim them.  Count them up and collect them. Try to understand them. Hold them close and cherish them. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Birth to death, each and every one is an integral and indispensable part of you.

Thanks be to the nameless God — who calls us all by name — whatever that might be.

JoaniSign


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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.

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