Carpooling Home: a Chaplain’s Commute

I leave the parking lot of jacaranda trees and signs for “heroes” with my badge still on, stomach growling for dinner and spirit aching from helplessness.  It’s the first day of the week. The purple blooms remind me of a … Continue reading

A Bedtime Story

This time it’s over a miniature stuffed zebra toy whose back lights up through a star-filled plastic plate, sending an array of changing-colored stars on nearby dark walls. It’s over a tiny thing that a minute ago was disregarded on the floor, but now, since it is in little brother’s hands, is The Most Treasured Toy of All Time.

The boys share a room because we want to force them to be friends and in each other’s space as much as possible. We figure at some point the ganging up on us for the delay of bedtime and the pre-sleep squabbles have to evolve to deep-rooted camaraderie and lifelong looking out for each other. (Please do not tell us if this did not turn out to be true for you, please and thank you.)

After 8pm, emotions are rampant here. (And let me tell you, they weren’t in short supply at sunrise.) We devolve throughout the day apparently; our meds have worn off. It ain’t pretty, folks. Tonight is no exception. Tears, so many tears, when I vetoed older brother’s demands for HIS toy to be returned to HIM because HE wants it and the enemy-he didn’t ask [for permission to pick up disregarded/treasured toy—a birthday gift from a friend—off of floor], hmph!

The 4-year-old is less calloused by life (I hate to brag…) and in his sincere yearning for older brother’s approval and eternal happiness, often appeases him. While Dante and I were in the throws of a heart to heart (read: low-toned battle), mini-zebra Hope Diamond appeared on his pillow. Asher was already back in his bed, covering his ears, for the tears from the next bed over are always accompanied with wailing, in good post-8pm fashion.

I’ll spare you the details but eventually, slowly, with many comments about being “the most grown up” and “making me sad” and “worst day ever,” we eventually talked about what the most brave and most loving thing to do could be. Dante’s tears and torment didn’t end with the return of the Crown Jewel. It stung that his brother was feeling bad, and that his brother was demonstrating one of our rules that hasn’t fully taken effect: People are more important than stuff. It made him cry more that Asher felt sad but that Asher was being praised, that now he had this mini-light-up-stuffed-animal-plastic-thing and he kind of did want it but now he kind of didn’t. He didn’t fully believe that Asher wasn’t somehow the enemy, and cried, “We never get along!”

Eventually, Dante wanted to give the treasure back to Asher. He wanted to give him permission to have it. But he didn’t want to talk to him. He wanted me to give Asher a message. I was alright with that. The titanic doesn’t turn quickly, and it was enough that he was whispering with me, to keep from disturbing Asher more from further emotional trauma, and that he wanted to do the most brave and most loving thing: hand over the toy willfully. I dutifully delivered the package and the message to a relieved little brother, and returned to Dante’s side.

“Mom,” he whispered, “Now I feel sad like Asher did. I still feel a little sad!”

It’s true. My heart beat hard. I know you do, Sweetie.

Doing the brave and loving thing can help us feel better, it can let us go to sleep, but it doesn’t leave us feeling void of sadness. It’s true, we can feel a little sad even after All the Things we could do, we’ve done. Because it is a good toy. Because we still feel shame about our part in the problem. We wanted something else, other than what happened. Because we can’t control the Other, and we can’t control the future. We can’t ensure that they’ll remember our goodness or even recognize it, that the next round will go our way, that God Himself will keep the tally according to our terms of justice, and we just feel a little sad. The emptiness of doing the right thing, or letting go when we should, or giving the benefit of the doubt when it isn’t merited. Yes, it’s all true.

It’s okay to still feel a little sad.

The journey to rest tonight was long and imperfect and messy. We achieved some semblance of peace… but it wasn’t complete. We found some way forward… but it wasn’t perfectly satisfying. And this is so grown up, little boy. This is the Already and the Not Yet, in our simple shared space, with our friend-emies, in our late night fragility. We hold on to the Not Yet part of the Story of Brave Love and do our best, with our sadness, with our brother… together.




I am learning depths of loss I have never understood before. I have only begun to experience the sorrow of losing two friends, and all that they entailed – living, breathing marriages, anchors of the community, a way of life I seek, a character I could calibrate my own by. I have been thrown into a whirlpool of grief as a mother and a person, in which people are set on misunderstanding my family and diminishing the past years of training, preparing, mothering and loving. In which eating a meal and having a conversation can suddenly seem too hard. In which we have to fight and stand for something even as we want to crumble and quit. The last year I have become a frequent visitor to an alter of dreams, where the longest, most set places and plans are thrown into question, sometimes because of a person with more power than I, sometimes because of self-reflection.

I have seen a lot of beauty in my life. I have had armfuls of blessing and good favor bestowed on my steps. Injustice though it presently has made life very painful, has at other times I’m sure made my life privileged and too good to be true. I am bulwarked by a quality company that even if they do not know what to say, reach out and give what they can and pray what they can, which is more than I. I have managed to not give up the battle, give up the search for truth and resurrection completely though I cannot always explain to myself, to you, why. Still, I have a newfound compassion for those who do give up. Who have not had the layers of fortune I have, who already have a history of addiction and a trail of broken relationships. I see them, and I know some of them, with a new respect. With a new tenderness.

There are some disorientations that only by a surplus of grace and support might one hold on until the next moment, then the next, and maybe one more. When people lose a child, a mother, a dream, a central construct, it seems to me that only by this surplus, this floating, this gifting, can one survive. Can one resist pain-numbing, substance-abusing, desperate dark and hiding and bitterness. Fraudulent versions of cure and resurrection and life but versions still.

From my limited and bruised place now, I can at least offer one and really only one constructive word: be gentle to the least of these. To the ones who are most entrenched and most alone and most repulsive. To the ones who are easy to assume one-dimensional stories of–the homeless, the addict, the bitter angry angriest. The mother going to the abortion clinic. The beggar who screams at the passing cars. Their hearts are broken and they lost their surplus or never had one. They are so sad and only human and before you. Be gentle. Be brave. Lessen their loss.