Tag Archives: theology

CalTrans Day 2: 24 Hours Remaining

I took the day off yesterday to visit with a fertility gynecologist. I have been struggling with premature ovarian failure since my arrest. I assumed it was just stress. I mean, being arrested is pretty stressful. Especially when you have NO CLUE they are coming for you.

The doc was very intelligent and mentioned, after unsympathetically mentioning that he sees no follicles anywhere, that only 1% of women with POF do not have premutated x chromosomes.

Say what???

He went on to explain that my daughter’s autism diagnosis is probably fragile x derived. For those, who, like me, are saying “fragile whaaa?”… It’s a chromosomal abnormality on the x chromosome. The good doctor also casually began to rattle off risk factors to me for having these premutated x chromosomes.

He concluded by saying he was 99% certain this was the case for me, but that I can have it confirmed with a blood test. Of course I ran over to my office to have someone draw the massive amount of blood this particular test requires.

Then I spun in circles about it and the fact that my daughter most likely has a 50/50 chance of birthing a child more severely effected than herself. Call me sentimental, but I was looking forward to grandbabies someday. The POF was hard enough to swallow… I mean, who wants to go through menopause and age like a 55 year old before you’re 40? It kinda sucks.

When I was a teenager, I used to say I wanted to be young and then old. I didn’t want to have those awful middle years of adulthood where you aren’t cool at all. Be careful what you ask for.

So, I normally don’t allow myself to wallow in self-pity. I find it to be a huge waste of time. But today I wallowed in self-pity on the side of the freeway.

For the record, CalTrans work ON the freeway is a WHOLE lot harder than CalTrans work off the freeway. I picked up trash. Big deal. But the repetitive motion of doing the same thing the entire day in the heat really messed with my neck, shoulders and right hand (those trash grabber things are tough to squeeze after the fourth hour of repeatedly squeezing it).

The entire of experience was a flashback to jail, only in the sunlight. Same etiquette and rules. Same mannerisms and speech.

Except the head boss guy was kinder to me than the others. He asked me what my crime was since I had not worked there before. I told him and his face softened.

“Midwifery is an honorable profession. I’m so sorry.”

He’s a black fellah in his mid 50s. His age puts him right at the time black babies were still being delivered into the hands of granny midwives. He went on to tell me that he was in the room with his wife when his son was born even though that wasn’t typical. “Jes me and my wife and the doctor. And he’s there tellin me everything he’s doin. I watched a miracle right there. Then two days later, my knees started knockin about how big a miracle that was.”

His words to me were kind after that.

The wind from the vehicles beside us blew clouds of dust into our faces. My eyes, ears, nostrils… black with dirt. My face was smeared with it and sweat from the heat of the sun. My lips were gritty. I don’t mind hard work. If I could have changed the motions of my body occasionally I woulda been alright. It was the repetition that killed me.

Here I am, going to die young of heart disease after aging prematurely and looking like a fat old lady when all my friends are young and fit. Or maybe I will survive the heart disease and live to be old enough to develop fragile x tremors and parkinson’s like symptoms from my mutated chromosomes. Why wouldn’t God have provided me with a partner if I was going to suffer so much? And who would want to marry this fat, saggy, infertile lady now? Why would my children have to go through so much stress now, only to prepare them to have to be left alone or have to take care of a mother who can no longer hold her hands still enough to paint and who yells expletives at them and forgets basic life skills?

As you can see, not a happy place to be there on the freeway. The freeway didn’t make it, my mind did. Sitting there in an emotional cage all my own.

In that moment, I noticed a little lizard in the dirt in front of me. Poor fellah was in shock. His entire home was being hoed and raked and dumped. All he was left with was dirt. He played dead, not knowing what else to do.

I picked him up in my dusty gloved hand. “Poor guy.” I said to him, feeling huge amounts of empathy for such a small little creature that nobody else noticed.

I placed him to the side of my by a tree for shelter.

And then it occurred to me. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” These words, attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the account of Matthew, rang in my ears.

God has infinitely more compassion on me than I have on others. I can trust and believe that. But even as I did, my heart cried out, “I don’t see it at all right now, God!”

I remembered how, on New Year’s Day, a guest speaker at our church spoke about “the God who gives and takes away” and that it is ok to ask Him why He does. And, I did. Finally after this whole crazy journey, I asked Him on New Year’s Day 2012… Why, God?

And I think I am going to start getting answers. At least, I see now why I went through the pain of losing my third pregnancy. And if I think back, that was the moment that everything began for me. The loss of my third pregnancy was the beginning of a long, seven year path through pain.

As I returned to picking up trash, the next item I grabbed was a photograph of a woman. I looked at it in the trash bag for a moment and wondered who she was and then moved on to pick up more trash to toss in over her.

A strange question entered my mind as I did so. “Why did you have compassion on the lizard and not the woman?”

My response was “The woman was only an image. The lizard was alive.”

The point became clear. This body I’m living in is simply an image of me here on earth. The soul is what is alive. God cares far more about my character and soul development than He does about my temporary comfort in a body that will perish with the using.

It’s a hard lesson. Learned in a very hard place. Somehow it’s easy to think I will live forever, stay young forever, wake up tomorrow… but the reality is so very different.

Day 30: 77.5 Hours Remaining

I had a staff member look me in the eye today and tell me, “You really are something special. You are a good woman.” This made me astoundingly uncomfortable.

I’ve come to believe that the “good-er” a person is, the more in touch with their fail-ability they are. The most pure and beautiful acts come from individuals who are wrung dry of their own ego, pride and sense of self-entitlement. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that people would see the evidence of God in me after this profoundly humbling and heartbreaking year. I could give you a laundry list of all of the evil, wicked, and downright animal things I’m capable of and have conspired to do on occassion. Spend five minutes with my ex-roommate and he will give you a speech about the unworthiness of me. But that isn’t the point of this blog, happily.

My point instead is to maybe eek out a bit of the astounding gratitude I feel for the capacity to love. It is exactly BECAUSE I’ve been so crushed that there is so much room for service. There was this capacity before trial, but I’m finding it expanding outward even more now that I’m a felon. And, yes, I use that word a lot. I’m wearing it like a badge of honor. Because I’ve come to see the humiliation of it as a catalyst to loving others.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and it terrifies me. I see no way out of the pain of this crushing time. If I linger in that view I run to old trappings that endeavor to shackle my feet.

But when I lift my gaze and see the eternal perspective that is ultimately molding me I am ok to sit in the fire some more. There is an old Indian saying that if I did not have tears, my soul would not give off rainbows.

I was interested to meditate on the story of the two apostles, Peter and John, who were arrested for healing a man. The judicial folks of their day brought them in to try them and the first thing they asked was, “by whose authority did you do this?” Which… I dunno… kinda sounds like, “Where’s your license?”

In the end they told them to cut it out and let them go.

What is most interesting to me is that they ran straight away to their buddies and they prayed together because they were preplexed, seeing as this was the first real issue this very first church really had. I was floored by their prayer. They prayed three things. First they acknowledged that God is sovereign and supreme, that He is able to do whatever He pleases and that THIS WAS HIS PLAN and not an accident. Second, they realized that they were followers of a Servant who suffered to love others and as such, they didn’t expect to go through anything less. And thirdly, they asked for MORE BOLDNESS to speak the truth.

So, yeah. They were crushed, emptied and scared. And this created a vacuum to continue to love and speak the truth from a place of boldness.

I’m cool if the goodness and love folks see in me is acknowledged as God inspired. I get profoundly uncomfortable when it’s not.

As we walked this morning in the pre-dawn hours, Wendy smiled and acknowledged every Skid Row tennant she knew.

“Hello! Good mornin!” And then under her breath to me, “Thas one of the most notorious dealers. But ain’t none o’ my bizness. Ain’t none o’ mine. She gots her life and I gots mine. But she can be saved same as me. She can. I know it cus I was saved and if I can be saved, anybody can.”

She beams with such light the street lights up when she walks in the dark. Everyone knows her and they seem stupified by her smile pressing up against such despair. But she lives for nothing but service and love. And that service and love comes from God filling up the vacuum created as she empties herself of her own ego.

Day 25: 105.5 Hours Remaining

I love the rain. But the rain means something totally different on Skid Row. The mad dash by street dwellers to our gate and the cries of “we’re full!” from the staff creates a mild pandemonium.

Carrying recently dried and folded laundry across the courtyard in the pouring rain proves to be semi unproductive.

Jeremy tells of how he got his degree in economics from Washington State on a basketball scholarship when I was two years old. He doesn’t look past 40. Paul talks about how he was moved around a lot as a kid which kept him away from gangs and drugs. Linda tells of how she got her Drug Counselor certification at one point but doesn’t work in that field now.

Everyone has a story about how they ended up working here. How few of us actually do what we were trained to do.

Even though I am a fellow felon, I still feel very different. If another client calls me Katy Perry or Lindsay Lohan or Snowball, I swear people will be grateful I can’t own a gun anymore. Today’s nickname, Lois Lane, gets a pass. I like Lois Lane.

It’s black culture. Try as I might, I feel like I’m experiencing life as a foreign exchange student. Here in my own city. There is a language, a manner and a comradare among them that I have never had with people who identify as “white” or “caucasian.” By the way, did you know the word “caucasian” refers to the Caucasus region of what is now Russia? I’m not Russian, my friend. Even if my name is spelled the Russian way.

I honestly need to say that I am jealous of this family attitude. But necessity breeds community and white folks typically don’t have any.

I’ve never been offered more couches and more food off of someone’s plate in my life. Today, Jim offered me half of his small lunch. He had nothing with which to buy his meal and I assume his cupboards are bare. Today was pay day so everyone looked hungry. Jim found two very old microwave burritos he had forgotten he had stored in the freezer. And as he sat down, planning to eat, he noticed I didn’t have any and he gave me one of them.

It was such a strange comparison to my deep struggle to find help and support in the suburbs where I have to pay people to spare some time for my children.

Jim is still preparing for his sermon in April, so he asks Greg if he knows of any good “preachin Bibles.” Greg pauses for a moment and then says “Scoffield Study Bibles are real good.” Jim pauses and then says, “Well, my pasto’ didn’t have nothin like that, but he gave me a real good preachin Bible. It’s called The Message. Have you heard of it? It’s real nice.”

Jim may not have the Scoffield, but he sure does have the teachings of Jesus sewn into his heart. You know, the ones about giving and sharing and loving with brothers and sisters who don’t have what you have. Sometimes where places are the darkest, light shines the brightest.

Day 18: 156.5 Hours Remaining

Today started off with a bang. I was offered a part in a movie, given another fellah’s phone number and serenaded by a third (“When I think of you… it makes me think of all the things I want to… doooo… toooo… you…”). All before lunchtime. And no. I was not wearing pigtails.

The movie director was later escorted out by Eric and his band of thugs-turned-holy men. The not yet discovered academy award winner was aparently attempting to cut someone with a fake knife. Or at least that’s the rumor I heard.

As I watched the four broad shouldered black men walk behind the dilusional filmmaker I somehow felt I was watching four angels in progress. All four of them–two in bomber jackets– walked with a street swagger. They followed up behind him slowly as they deepened their voices and told the man to “move on outta here.” They were like sheepdogs moving a lone sheep into the pen with expert skill.

Once he stepped outside the property, he continued to jeer at Eric from behind the gate. His demeanor begged a beating from a man of lesser self-control. But Eric simply deepened his voice even more and told him to “move on out” as he brushed him away. “I know where you’re at. You know where I been.”

I am genuinely in awe of the staff at the shelter. I feel like I am in the presence of the most wretched sinners turned saints I could ever know. The depths of hell they have survived to tell (or not tell) about makes me shudder. The light in their eyes and the shroud of wisdom mingled with meekness around their shoulders gives me a hope like no other. They have that spark of revolution that only freedom from bondage can give and a genuine brutal honesty that spits in the face of fear. They are set free to live for a purpose higher than themselves with no credit or recognition from anyone. There is One alone who acknowledges their one day at a time surrender.

“The pastor at church pulled me aside to tell me that he wants me ta preach my first sermon in April.” Jim announces to Wendy and I. “I has six months to prepare. I’m gonna give you twelve minutes, he tells me.”

Wendy and I listen with full attention as Jim excitedly tells us more. He begins to sing in the usual inner-city church style: “The same Jesus who was with Paul the apostle is the same Jesus who was with the three Hebrew brothahs, Shadrack, Mishack and A-Baaad-Negro.”

I promise to come hear him preach and bring my children with me. We are all family now, these folks and I.

Later, Paul joins in the conversation and I overhear the three of them talking more about preaching while I’m cleaning the men’s bathroom. I must admit, I’ve grown fond of cleaning the men’s bathroom because it means I get to listen in on some of the best conversations about theology I’ve ever been privy to. And my husband went to seminary. But the classrooms my husband visited were very different. This seminary of the streets has love, life and guts.

“You best repent or God will send yo ass to hell!” says Paul, illustrating how he heard a preacher cuss from the pulpit once.

They begin to discuss how preaching is a high calling that is worthy of a greater judgement. They talk about how easy it is for preachers to prey on the weak and rip off the church.

Jim shows great wisdom here and interjects, “Thas right, but that kinda preacher will be judged by the world if he’s found out and by God who sees everything when it is time that we be goin home ta heaven.”

“Unless he repent!” Interjects Wendy. Jim continues on.

“Ah, yes. But even if he repents, I’m sho for sho that God be takin a big ol rod to his backside when he arrives home. God’ll be like, ‘You, preacher there. C’mon ova here and bend ova!”

Most church goers I have been raised around would brand this kind of talk as “carnal.” But as I leave skid row and drive back to Orange County… as the cars grow bigger and the people grow fatter… as the roads widen and things become shinier. As the materialism begins to fill in around the edges everywhere… I begin to wonder. Perhaps the church untouched by the edges of hell is the one that is more carnal after all.

As Charles Studd once wrote, “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”

These unsuspecting heroes live out faith and courage with less than a yard to spare sometimes.