Holy Spirit Portality

How do you let God in?
I am 42, a mom, a minister. In March 2010 they found a tumor in my lung, cancer. They cut it out--and now that's the place where God gets in, my personal Holy Spirit Portal.

How do YOU let God in?

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  • January 30, 2014 10:03 am

    Clean Scan #11!

    This one goes to eleven! All clear and thumbs up from Dr. Butrynski yesterday. 

    The five-day wait in between was $%^&@! Even knowing the news was probably good. I am so lucky that I usually get to find out the same DAY. It was good exercise in remembering compassion for many people, who wait and watch and weep and pray, every day, for good news.

    Dr. Butrynski said, “How are you feeling?” 

    I said, “Good, except for, you know, the getting older stuff. Things hurting, things that should be loose getting tighter, things that should be tight getting looser.” 

    Dr. B. said, “Well, you ARE getting older.” 

    Me: “I have you to thank for that.” 

    Thanks for waiting, watching, praying with me peeps!

    xo

    Molly

  • January 22, 2014 11:09 am

    Anniversaries.

    image

    Living strong, 3 years later, at Armstrong Woods in Sonoma—and killing my new life goal to travel a LOT and have good relaxing fun with family.

    ~

    Today it is three years to the day since I walked out of Dana Farber a chemo patient, never to go back as one (one hopes).

    Anniversaries—of good things and hard things, exert so much influence over us, don’t they? Whether we remember them or not, THEY remember us. Our bodies remember them, and react in interesting ways.

    We just had a fantastic Christmas/New Year’s/family wedding trip to northern California, all cousins and bedhead and wine-tasting and late-night talks with people we love. One little smear on it, however, was when I woke up in the middle of the night on December 26 in Oakland, at my sister-in-law’s house.

    I just couldn’t sleep, and it wasn’t my usual sort of semi-relaxed thinking-time insomnia. I had a full-on panic attack in the middle of the night—racing thoughts, racing heart. I thought The Big One was going to hit, and California was just going to slide right into the ocean, or an offshore earthquake would send a tsunami flying right up into the Oakland hills…and then it hit me: it was the 2-year anniversary of the time, again at my sister-in-law’s house, when I in my chemo-fogged and jet-lagged brain poured cow milk into allergic Carmen’s cereal, and sent her to the ER at Oakland Children’s Hospital, which turned into her first (and hopefully last) hospitalization due to anaphylaxis.

    That was probably the worst night of my life, fear-wise (and I’ve had cancer!), listening to the hospital sounds, the nonstop crying of children with very serious conditions, measuring those patterns and songs against Carmen’s breathing, checking her oxygenation rates constantly. It’s one thing to face my own death. It’s an entirely different thing to face my child’s (and know that it was my mistake that brought her to the precipice). 

    When I figured this out, at 3am this past December 26, I tried to treat myself as a beloved parishioner. I did gentle self-talk, “Yes, that was a very scary time. AND this is an entirely different time. The chemo fog is largely gone. Carmen is older and you have new protocols in place to prevent mistakes like that from happening in the future. And if she were to go into anaphylactic shock again, you have all the help you need at the ready…Now take some 4-5-8 breaths.

    “And also Molly,” I added, “I urge you not to go on your phone and Google ‘deaths from anaphylaxis in 2013.’ Oh, it’s too late for that? Well, then I’m just going to remind you about probability overestimation:  it’s not that the same thing can’t happen to Carmen, but the odds are really against it, especially as vigilant as you and Peter are…”

    I got through the night (obviously). An important thing to remember in the middle of a panic attack: it will come to an end, sooner or later. The body guarantees it! And, when you come down from the ledge, you can do some rational thinking, and make any important changes that need to be made (like, I finally went to see Carmen’s school nurse to do an Individualized Health Plan).

    And there are, of course, anniversaries of good things. I’ve been low-level anxious and perhaps a bit crabby lately because of my upcoming (3-year!) CT scan this Friday. But today, I feel so relaxed, grateful and good, remembering clearly that last Saturday of infusion, and the muffled, sheltering spirit of the day, another snowy day just like today, and Peter’s arm around my old, old body as we shuffled to the elevator. I don’t expect the crabby-remission to last, any longer than a panic attack would, but I’ll take it. Just for today.

    Peeps, will you pray for Yes Another Clean CT Scan this Friday? I won’t get an answer right away—usually I get to see Dr. B’s happy face right afterward, but he can’t see me till next Wednesday to go over the results, so we’ll just have to be patient till then.

    And you, what anniversaries are hard for you? What anniversaries does your body remember, and how does it tell you? 

    ~

    A bonus: here’s what else 3 years brings, besides muscle-memory…tons of hair! I henna’ed this week, and look almost like I did before any of this happened. A little older, a little less naive, and more grateful and present, knowing what might have been. 

    May 2010: 

    image

    September 2010:

    image

    January 2014:

    image

  • December 23, 2013 7:21 am

    Mary’s Maybe to God.

    hi peeps!

    Christmas approaches, usually the WORST time of year for clergy who also parent younger kids. It’s just a total shitstorm of responsibilities and expectations and no way out but through.

    But somehow, this year, I managed to keep calm and carry on. Maybe I’m of an age where I know it’s all going to happen whether I put (organic, homemade, royal) icing on it or not? Anyhow, I’m grateful. I don’t think I’ve screamed at my kids once in the last few weeks. I have eaten a LOT of cheese, and chocolate. Maybe there’s a correlation there…

    Anyhow. The one thing that was stressing me out a little bit was that I thought I had lost my sermon mojo. My generation and older: remember Austin Powers? When Dr. Evil literally stole his mojo, sucked it out and took it away? That’s how I felt.

    At first I thought it was because I was dilly-dallying and not leaving enough time to work on the sermon because other things like cuddling and gymnastics lessons and wine parties were interfering. Some of my sermons were written at 4am on Sunday morning and were, if not terrible, not DONE. I’m euphemizing here.

    But then I tried working really hard on the sermon, starting early and really keeping my butt in the chair for hours, and that was almost worse. Those sermons were the most labored, tense things ever. Like chewing the toughest bread you ever ate, to preach it and maybe to hear it (though my people are kind and would never say so—my husband is a truth-teller and confirmed it). It brought me back to my early preaching days, when I was in seminary and had So Many things to say and really no idea how to say them so I would just keep talking.

    Then, in spiritual direction, talking things over with the awesome Ken Orth, it came to me that maybe the Holy Spirit had stolen my mojo—or at least shut it down for a while—for a reason. Who knows why. Maybe to muss up my ego a bit—“you’re not JUST a preacher, Molly, and church isn’t ALL about the sermon. In fact, very little of it SHOULD be about the sermon—and likewise, your life. The sermon is not your third child, though some weeks it gets the most mental and emotional attention.” 

    Whenever we lose our mojo for a while, it’s an opportunity to look at who we are without it—and to know ourselves loved and worthy not because of the thing we do that we think we’re pretty good at, but just because we exist. Love called us into being, and that’s enough. It’s a cliche, AND it’s true, AND I only remember how true when I have to live through it again.

    Anyhow, I felt my mojo come back this weekend. The sermon was easy to write, which means it didn’t come from me, but through me. Maybe it was just for this weekend, but it’s enough. Here’s what I preached yesterday, about Mary and Joseph and how God can really mess with our lives! A little Christmas present for you.

    And hey, those who pray/worry early and often: CT scan coming up in a few weeks. It will be 3 years since the end of treatment!!!!! Unbelievable!!!!

    ~

    There is a lot of ink spilled and breath spent this time of year in religious circles on Mary’s Yes to God.

    Supposedly it was easy for Mary—the angel showed up with his holy clipboard, said that God had found favor with her, and that she was going to become pregnant with the Holy Spirit, to which I say: aren’t we all, really? Big deal, Mary.

    But no, Mary was literally going to get pregnant with the Holy Spirit. She was about 15 years old, unmarried and now knocked up, a sin which by the way was punishable by stoning to death. And then, we are told by Christian bloggers, Mary said: YES! to God, with five exclamation points!!!!! And the points under the lines were hearts<3!!!!! And she put a smiley face afterward! In case you missed her mood!

    Of course, sometimes in communication we use those smiley faces to mask our anxiety. The more smiley faces, the more anxiety. I’m not one of those who happens to think that Mary said YES! to God with five sincere exclamation points. I imagine what she said was something more like: “yeee-e-e-e-e-e-s.” Or “Yeeeeeeeah, I’m gonna have to get back to you on that.”

    The clue here that maybe Mary’s yes wasn’t altogether unqualified is in two words here in today’s text: Mary was found to be with child. Passive voice. Which means, some time earlier, the child started to grow in her womb, but Mary hadn’t told a soul. In the Gospel of Luke, she sings her magnificent song, the Magnificat, “my soul doth magnify the Lord!” but she sings it in the shower, where nobody can hear. And in Matthew’s Gospel, not a word escapes her lips. Instead, she is found out.

    As for sweet Joseph, who was humiliated and, to his mind and the mind of everybody in their village, cuckolded, when the angel came to him in a dream, I imagine his yes was more like, “Hell, no!”

    When God decides to do something big in our lives, the result can be difficult, even disastrous. Even if things turn out all right, in the meantime, it completely ruins our plans, and sometimes our reputations. Some of you know what I’m talking about.

    Can you imagine that night that Joseph found out? Maybe he was walking Mary home—for they were engaged but not yet living together. She knew what was going on but had no idea how to tell him. The longer she waited, the worse it got.

    Now they’re holding hands, and the hormones have made her all randy, so that even to feel his thumb on the pad of flesh on her palm sends little shivers of joy up her spine. And Joseph, feeling the same way, impulsively says to himself, “everybody’s calling us husband and wife already,” and he pressed himself to her, and ran his hands along her shape—only he didn’t encounter the shape he was expecting, because she was expecting.

    Imagine Mary’s horror, the horror that had been accumulating for months, that she kept stuffing down, which only made her more mute, the horror rising up and spilling out through her tear ducts and mouth not yes but NONONO as he withdrew his hand, as he withdrew from her. Imagine the sorrow and rage flooding the back of Joseph’s brain and radiating down his body, a rage that spent itself almost immediately, because as hurt as he was, he was not vengeful, he knew how to contain himself. But for a minute, it was there—wouldn’t it be there?

    They parted. It was a sleepless night, for sure. Don’t forget that although we tend to think of ancients as all equally superstitious and/or believing, such a thing—a genuine miracle of God—hadn’t happened in centuries, maybe millennia, in Joseph’s time. Rome had brought the future to Israel, a new age, an age where the old Gods were dead, or at least distant, and the only God who could get anything done was Caesar Augustus, who had brought them roads and aqueducts and greater prosperity. 

    So the idea that God the Creator would send an angel to break the laws of nature and make Joseph’s girlfriend pregnant—well, it was just as unbelievable to him as it would be to you and me.

    Except for what happened next.

    Last week at our staff Christmas dinner our Sunday school teacher for the older kids, Chelsey, crowdsourced a question among us. She had invited all of the 8-12 year olds to ask her any questions they liked about the nativity. One very precocious and possibly hateful 12-year-old asked this question, How could this happen? How could Mary get pregnant with God’s baby? And all the 8-year-olds leaned in for the answer. Chelsey said: I’ll get back to you on that one.

    It was likely the same question that Joseph asked, lying on his bed awake that first night, asked over and over and over.

    How could this happen?

    How could this happen?

    How could this happen?

    Toward morning, Joseph fell into a deep sleep, the sleep of someone who has been up feeling all night long. The angel came to him in a dream. For some of us, this is the only way God can come—our defenses are too much up when we are awake. Which is not to say that every dream is a dream from God—like, I don’t think that dream you had last night involving pie and Angelina Jolie was from God…but some of our dreams are from God.

    The angel didn’t answer Joseph’s question. The Angel could have described the actual procedure by which the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, how there was a hiccup in laws of nature, or how Mary sat on the wrong public toilet seat in the wrong way at the wrong time, or how Mary actually had sex with Joseph’s best friend and really really really regretted it because that’s sometimes just what 15-year-olds do, but God can take our truly terrible lapses of judgment and make the most exquisite good come out of it; God does it all the time, as a matter of fact, look at you and me.

    But the angel didn’t answer the question, How Could This Happen? Because truly, no answer would have been satisfying. “It’s a mystery,” is not a satisfying answer. “She had sex with that other guy but she really loves YOU Joseph,” is not a satisfying answer. “It’s the will of God,” is definitely NOT a satisfying answer. You have had that answer before, and you know.

    Maybe that’s why the angel doesn’t bother answering HOW. The angel answers WHY. This is a long tradition of the Bible. People who get frustrated with the Bible for not having the answers to their questions usually want to know HOW. How can I forgive what they did to me? How will I ever love again? How was the world made in 6 days, exactly? How can God be up in heaven and lying in a manger? How can God be anywhere at all when we live in a world where 5-year-olds are disappeared and nobody even notices?  

    The How questions will never be answered, because there is not a satisfying answer. But Why, the Bible is all about the why questions.

    Why did you make Mary pregnant?

    Because, God says, I really really really wanted to be with you, I wanted to get as close to you as I possibly could, Joseph, to everybody and particularly to you and Mary. I am a jealous God and I was jealous of your human experiences; I wanted to have them too, it looks so wonderful, even the awful stuff to me looks wonderful, and so I decided to come and share in this awful, wonderful life.

    And I made her pregnant because I am Love, my name is Love, and Love wants to be with the one that it Loves—so I’m coming to get as close as I can, inside Mary right now, and soon to be held by you, and, a little while later, to hold others in their suffering, because you have no idea how hard it is to love you from a distance, to love you and see you suffering and not to be able to do anything but lure you to a better place. Having the power and position to lure you is important, but I also want to be there with you in your suffering—for your sake but also for my sake—I need to be with you.

    I am coming to save your people, Joseph. You know and I know that things have not been going so well. The people have been bedazzled by aqueducts and roads, by bread and circuses—and they have forgotten how to be fully human, and they have forgotten how to love a God who really is God. They are following the laws but they are breaking the spirit of them. You know this. You know that the second you touched Mary’s belly and discovered her secret, you could have taken her to the rabbi and exposed her, and they would have dragged her out into the square and stoned her, because everybody loves a stoning.

    But why Mary? And why pregnant? Why couldn’t you just, I don’t know, take over a fully adult human’s body?

    Joseph, I once came as a burning bush. Now I’m coming as a burning human. And I have to grow this way, from scratch. I promised forever ago not ever to overshadow my children without their permission, and however anxious she was when she said it, Joseph, Mary said yes. I chose her, because in some ways, she was the least likely choice—poor, powerless, young, single—and I want people to know from now on that I can choose anyone—anyone at all—and I will choose everyone, sooner or later.

    Joseph, the only real powers I have anymore are the power to lure and the power to love, and really, would you want it any other way? So here I come, in the tenderest possible form, so that I can Lure and I can Love, so that anyone who sees me immediately knows who I Am. 

    That’s why, Joseph. That’s why. Now sleep, and awake, and decide what you will say.

  • November 27, 2013 1:22 pm

    Advent Calendar 2013: Virtuous Cycle.

    Hi y’all! It’s that time of year. I emailed out the calendar just now, and am posting a pic of it and the accompanying letter right here. If you’d like me to email you the PDF, just holla in the comments section—feel free to share widely! It all belongs to the Holy Spirit. 

    blessed weekend,

    Molly

    ~

    Advent and Christmas 2013:  The Virtuous Cycle

    Skip to the end for the Twitter-length exposition on the theme!

    Last week, I bought Grape-Nuts. I didn’t notice that they were “new and improved” until I got home. “How could they improve on Grape Nuts?” I thought, incredulous (I am, in some ways, old before my time). Apparently, they improved on them by putting non-food ingredients into them. Now they are not safe for my allergic kid anymore, and growing dusty at the back of the pantry.

    There is something disturbing about living in a world where if in the last six months your favorite breakfast cereal hasn’t won a new package, recipe or marketing strategy, it is considered defunct. We live at the mercy of vicious cycles driven by the economic virtues of better, bigger, faster, more.

    There are benefits to the rapid cycles of growth and inventiveness: medical breakthroughs, greater efficiencies that can prosper poor as well as wealthy. But the vicious cycles also keep us indebted, and perpetually longing for the next new version. If the vicious cycle of our (fossil-fuel, defense-industry, things-and-stuff driven) economy is not infinitely expanding, we are threatened, humans will suffer. The vicious cycle doesn’t stop to ask if humans (not to mention our earth) aren’t suffering because of continual expansion. 

    Personally, you know that if you put this Christmas on a credit card, it will end up costing you so much more. The vicious cycles of comfort-eating, stress, debt and loneliness charge compound interest against our bodies and our bank accounts.  We say that stress and debt just happen to us, but we can happen to them instead: we can, with grace, begin to disrupt them.

    This year’s Advent Calendar is about the virtuous cycle. Advent is the beginning of the spirit’s year. As the year wears on, Jesus will minister, die, and come back alive again, but right now—right now—he is just getting born, and in this moment, it’s a invitation to see what else is getting born too.

    The virtuous cycle of Advent and Christmas whirls as a testimony against the vicious cycles which want to undo us, remake us, or bleed us dry. The virtuous cycle is deeply at play in the teachings of Jesus, who at every turn disrupts the vicious cycles of violence, vengefulness, indebtedness, loneliness.  And Jesus taught and showed us how to hop on the merry-go-round of other virtuous cycles:  how to escalate love, how to set generosity in motion.

    Here’s an assignment:  make a list of all your annual holiday traditions and expectations. Cross out the ones that make you frantic. Just cross them out (even if it is this Advent Calendar! ;). Star the activities that yield energy or joy. Practice heavy-duty (and lighthearted) discernment, as Jesus said, letting your yes be yes and no be no.

    Some things you may have to do out of professional obligation or to keep the family peace, but remember: when you change the rules of engagement, when you liberate yourself from stress and debt and expectation and violence against the spirit (or body), you show others how to do the same. You might be surprised how eager other people are to dial it down—they were just waiting for someone else to have the courage to take that first step.

    In this month’s virtuous cycle, pay close attention to natural rhythms. Attend to what your body—which is the mouthpiece for your spirit—needs daily, weekly, monthly. Listen to menstrual cycle, circadian rhythm, work and Sabbath cycles, eating and fasting cycles, sleep cycles (hint: there might be surprises! If your body wants to wake up and putter or think in the middle of the night, give in).

    Beware: cycle-breaking is hard to do at first. Think of what it is like to jump off a whirling ride, unprepared. It takes courage, and time and patience as your head stops spinning. You may disrupt more than one vicious cycle, but you won’t break them all. Remember, it takes 6 weeks to instill a new habit, and if you try to change everything at once, you will get frustrated with yourself and others. Think of this time not as a “self-improvement” time—one more example of upgrading to a new and better (yeah, right) operating system—but a time of surrender, to how body and spirit were really made to live.

    This weekend, I know I will get out the crèche, and that Rafe and Carmen and I will set it up together—wise ones still far away but firmly directed, Mary and Gabriel having their life-altering talk, Joseph off doing evening chores in the stable, about to have his mind blown. Carmen will take grave delight in hiding Jesus, God-with-us-but-not-yet.

    She never once says, “oh, this old story again? Can’t we have a NEW story this Advent?” Children remind us that familiarity often ignites the holy more than novelty. There is always more wisdom and light to be mined from old stories (whether the stories are our own biography or our sacred texts), because WE are different when they come around again.

    Even our problems, our hungers, our neuroses, when they reappear, might not be part of a vicious cycle as they appear at first glance—because God is inviting us to encounter them at a new level, with new skills and light to see by. The repetition is not vicious, but liturgical.

    The Shema in Deuteronomy counsels us to “recite (My words) to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.”  We repeat, and repeat, to ourselves and our children the same scriptures and stories and songs so that they will become the rhythm and rule of life that guides our days. This kind of remembering is not nostalgia, idealization of a fictional past—it is the virtuous cycle, putting our taproot down into the deep wisdom at the heart of God’s Creation, there since the beginning, and manifest in our songs and stories.

    Beloved, this Advent:  relive good traditions, be relieved of frantic activity, repeat the sounding joy.

    Bless you and yours!

    Molly

  • October 30, 2013 7:20 am

    An American in Paris II

    The view from our front door in Le Marais.

    ~

    It is really happening people! Peter and I are going to Paris. Without kids. On Monday. Doesn’t that just sound so cavalier? Lately I’ve been saying things like, “Oh, we’ll have to schedule our meeting for the week after. I’ll be in Paris.”

    Except that I keep typing “Parish” by mistake. My workaholic little fingers won’t let me leave.

    I’ve wanted to go to Paris since whenever. I started studying French in 4th grade and by sophomore year in high school was kind of fluent, and desperate to get away from my family and wear berets and sip cappuccino and imagine myself a wholly different person, unrelated to the rubes I lived with, so I signed up for an April vacation trip to Paris with the French Club, of which I was the vice-president.

    Then two department stores in Paris were bombed by terrorists, and it was deemed too dangerous for black-clad 15-year-olds, and the trip was cancelled. 

    I remember very clearly standing in front of the travel poster of Paris that hung over my bed to give me good dreams and leach savoir faire into me, and weeping as if someone I loved had died. In a way, she had.

    Fast-forward 24 years. I had made French my major in college, could at one time watch a whole French art house film and mostly understand it. I had been to/lived in Russia, the Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, the republic of Georgia, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland, Mexico, Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Hawaii. But somehow, not ever Paris.

    And on this day, Peter and I had just walked out of our new friend Dr. Butrynski’s office, and, shell-shocked, we dragged ourselves to the brew pub down the street, trying to absorb the words “cancer” and  “eight to ten months of chemotherapy, starting in two weeks.”

    I had the presence of mind to say, “if chemo is starting in two weeks, we are either going to Mexico or we’re going to Paris.” I’m no dummy.

    “Mexico now, Paris after,” he said. So we’re going to Paris.

    I love the reaction of people when I tell them—they are never like “who is this asshole, crowing about the fact that she finally gets to go to Paris? When there is real suffering in the world, and people who can’t afford a bus ride across town?”

    Nope. Whether they’ve been or not, they are SO excited for me. If they’ve been, they’re excited because they know how fat and jolly I am going to be there because of how fat and jolly they were when they went.

    If they haven’t been, they’re excited because it means SOMEONE gets to finally go to Paris at the age of 43, so maybe they will get to go too, someday.

    Our plan for Paris: eat something buttery, walk around, eat some steak, walk around, drink some wine, walk around, probably impulse-buy a pair of shoes because I’ve had a little too much wine. Ogle well-dressed extremely fashionable women in their mid-40s. Walk. Eat. Snog by le Seine. You get the idea.

    Only one serious problem has presented itself: we’re only there for about 17 meals. And there are at least 45 on my list. Advice?

    We’re staying in Peter’s London-living cousin’s half-Corsican husband’s family’s flat in Le Marais. Le Marais is, apparently, a medieval village in the heart of Paris that has been colonized by the gay and Hasidic Jewish communities, so it’s super-hip AND things are open on Sundays. Sweet!

    It’s so nice to have a half-Corsican aunt-in-law-in-law to provide for us in this amazing way. I wish everyone had one. Thank you Sarah and Christophe Narahara and your generous family!! Merci beaucoup!

    We are also blessed to have a lovely, helpful former parishioner who lives there to make us resto reservations and generally help us orient—since my French has atrophied terribly and what comes out of my mouth when I try to speak, after living in Mexico, is actually Sprench. Bless you Lauren!

    I will try to post pictures of food, wine and impulse buys so you can enjoy our lavish trip too. We’re leaving Monday. Please pray for this white-knuckled flyer! I know, I know:  courage is fear that has said its prayers. No need to throw my words back at me.