A Lost Bird and The Ghost Dance of Abortion

A Lost Bird and The Ghost Dance of Abortion

She was so covered with blood that those who found her thought at first that she must have been severely injured. It had been four days since her people had been slaughtered and lay dying on the cold ground near Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. The bodies around her were stiff and emptied of blood now frozen under the snow. In a last act, a mother had found what shelter she could on a creek bank, bundled her baby as much as she could against the cold, and covered her with her dying body. For four days this baby girl had lived in the shelter of her mother’s frozen body. And that is where they found her.

Her name was never known or spoken again. It left with the breath of her people. She came to be called Zintkala Nuni, or ‘the Lost Bird’.

Yesterday, while the trees in our New England woods burned red and orange in the gray of the rain outside our windows, I learned along with my children about westward expansion. We talked about the railroad and gold in the Black Hills. We heard about men in comfortable chairs with papers spread out in front of them. And after my children left the plains and returned to their playing, I kept reading. When I was a child in school I remember seeing dates and names on a chalk board. There were thick text books with pictures of generals in the military and maps of battlefields. I’m sure there must have been a chapter on the Sioux of South Dakota. There must have been dates and names of treaties and of bills passed in the halls of congress. But when I sat at a school desk trying to memorize dates, names and places, I never experienced the ache in my chest like I did yesterday.

Later in the day, with the image of Lost Bird under her mother’s frozen body still fresh in my mind, I read about hearings before our modern congress. Once again there were testimonies and evidence being presented to our elected leaders, and once again people with good intentions were trying to discern truth amid double talk and to further what they believe is best for our nation. My mind filled with images of blood spilling in snow and on white sheets and in petri dishes.

It is always the most vulnerable, those with voices we can’t hear and languages we don’t understand, whose blood stains show up darker than the scratches of pens on white paper.

Lost Bird likely slept to the sound of the ghost dance; a circle of men and women dancing and crying out for a messiah to come and bring with him the spirits of their dead and restore to them their land. There were feet pounding, hands raised, voices crying in grief and loss and hope and desperation. She heard her people’s cries; longings for peace, for grief removed by resurrection, and for a land of the truly free. It pounded like a heartbeat as she slept.

Others heard the beat as well; a sound of death and fear.

And men sat in the halls of congress and signed papers. They weighed arguments and discussed what amount of human suffering was worth it for the good of the masses. While in another world, the ghost dance pounded with hope like a heartbeat.

I read the testimony of babies and science and women’s rights and money and freedom. There were pictures of intelligent faces and washed and manicured hands but all around I could see the red blood staining babies under the wounded bodies of their mothers and the white blanket of deceit and frozen conscience.

We haven’t changed. Mothers and babies have not changed. Men have not changed. But when as a society we tote things like #shoutyourabortion, I believe there is something that has died in places deeper than our wombs. In this world there are stories that make nothing easy and simple. The waters we wade as a society are deep and filled with many stumbling stones of fear and safety-seeking power. It’s so easy to paint a Native American or a soldier or an abortionist or a prolife activist as a monster. We’re so good at wiping war paint on our enemies and not seeing the people underneath.

But I truly believe that there is something broken in all of this. We have fought for our rights as women, and in the process we have let something more essential become a casualty of that war. We’ve despised a tenderness that calls us to sacrifice. Being a mother calls us away from our right to our body, to our time, to our personal growth plans, to our schedule, to our autonomy, to how we look to others. It weakens us in those ways; it makes our decisions no longer based on our wants or appearance or comfort or even what seems best for us.

But as we’ve fought for our rights and despised the weakness of motherhood, we have lost the strength of it as well. When a woman can stand over a petri dish that holds a child strewn in pieces, and that woman can laugh and say, ‘it’s another boy’, something is deeply broken. That is a loss of something strong and beautiful.

Strength, in both women and men, is what rises when we see vulnerable life and we would give our own lives to protect it. Strength is the mother who places her body as a shield between her baby and flying musket balls. Strength is in the finger nails of a dying mother as she scrapes in dirt on the side of a hill to shelter a child as the blood spills from her body. Strength is in choosing life when it means our own life is changed forever.

There is a lie we’ve embraced as a country and told to our young women. Instead of a baby, we see something we don’t need to love or protect called fetal tissue. We’ve looked once again at a people, and said they are not a people. They are less than those of us who can talk together about their fate and sign papers making something tragic legal.

And in doing so, we’ve created and become so many Lost Birds. There are children whose faces we will not see, and whose names will never be spoken. There are men and women who have moved past the decisions they made, gone on to have good and happy lives, and yet never feel completely whole. The death of the life in them was its own ghost dance; the promise of hope and the erasing of past injustices or mistakes. But for many, the ghost dance hasn’t ended with an abortion. There’s a grief, and a steady background beat of loss, that continues.

Near Wounded Knee Creek, before the massacre, the ghost dance pounded out the hope of life resurrected. It promised that someday the world would be made new and that peace and safety would come to a people who had been broken and essentially enslaved. There would be a reunion with those their hearts were aching over in loss. The enemy would be destroyed.

I’m crying out with a similar song. My hope is in a Messiah who let Himself become weak to save us with sacrificial strength. Rather than clinging to the right of autonomy over His own body, He gave it to us as broken bread. He died so that we could live. He looked at a people who were not a people, and covered them with His blood to make them a people. He calls for us to come and to be forgiven; to be held by Him. As we draw close there is no pain, or sin, or brokenness that makes Him despise us. We live sheltered by the warmth of His crucified and risen body. My hope is in a resurrection that has already taken place that ensures resurrection to come.

And yet, this world still suffers. We’re still waiting and pounding out a song of grief and wailing as we witness the suffering of the weak and the death around us, whether from abortion or war or sickness or injustice. So, what do we do as we wait for the last enemy, death itself, to die? We speak for those who cannot speak, and cry with those who mourn. We hold out plainly the truth as we see it and love those with whom we disagree. We embrace weakness when it’s what is required to love strongly. And we pray. We let our hearts feel the tenderness that sin would try to harden, we let our eyes burn with empathy for those who suffer, and we lift our voices to the only One who can speak light into darkness. We ask Him to replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and to make them beat to the rhythm of His own; a steady pounding that resounds with the sure hope of a day when He brings all Lost Birds home.

What I Need to Say Before ‘Thank You’

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Thanksgiving. I know it’s really important. Not the turkey or cranberry sauce and eating pie all afternoon… not even the Pilgrims and Squanto.  It’s the act of remembering, appreciating and being grateful. Being grateful to Him. It matters; it’s important and it’s good.

But I can’t just turn on thankfulness like a faucet. That deep appreciation and thanks isn’t pouring out of me right now.  And, he’s not an account in the sky where we need to deposit our yearly dose of thanksgiving before we carve the turkey and pass the mashed potatoes. He’s not the universe or ‘The Unknown God’ of the Athenians in the book of Acts. He’s Someone. He says, ‘I Am.’ He tells us about himself because he wants to be known… and he already knows each of us intimately. So, before I give thanks, I need to give honesty. I need to come to him with the questions weighing on my heart and making the thanks feel inauthentic. He’s real and I need to be real as well.

So, God, before I come to you with my thanks, I’m going to be honest and come to you with my sorrow.

Pressing down on me as I roll out pie crust is a weight of sadness for a woman I don’t even know well; we only spoke a few times. But her loss is so significant that just hearing about it has crushed part of me. Less than a year ago, we sat together after Sunday school and talked about her oldest daughter, just nearing school age. She wasn’t sure what she should do this year. We talked about the pros and cons of home, public, or Christian schools. And God, the whole time we were talking, you knew. You knew that a couple of months into her kindergarten year, that sweet five and a half year old girl would come home with a sniffle and be gone a week later. And it doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to get a thank you past the big, heavy ‘why?’. This doesn’t feel right. I don’t understand you in this.

But I keep going today with preparations for Thanksgiving. As I peel apples and make rolls, I’m thinking of another friend. We have her big, goofy dog in the front yard as a reminder that she’s not in a position to take care of him and that the future is unknown. It weighs on me every day; this feeling that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. I bury my face in the thick fur of her sweet dog, with his tail that wags even when we’re pulling out porcupine quills, and I wish the world was just as sweet and gentle. And I need to tell you, Lord, that it just doesn’t feel right.

There are things that are so broken. I need to check in with my sister and find out if a little girl is at her house for Thanksgiving. This little two year old spent the first year of her life in my sister’s home and now comes back for visits. I am thankful that they have that time together, but, God, it still hurts. I know when my sister hugs that little one, they both remember their hearts have been broken a million times and will probably break a million more. The hardness of the foster care system and most of all the hardness of this world breaks people. It seems like you could do something. Like you should have done something already. It doesn’t make sense, Lord.

And God, I’m sorrowful because I’m so lonely this year. This is the first Thanksgiving I’ve experienced without a grandmother somewhere in this world. I want to hear Grammie B ask me what I’m thankful for and hear her say, like she always did, that she was thankful for her salvation and for all of us. I want to know Grammy J is in her kitchen today, sifting flour, baking up a storm of pies and mincemeat bars and getting Grampy to peel the apples. But they aren’t here. I know my grandfather’s heart is breaking today as well and I could just cry and cry. I know I need to thank you, but I want to tell you that I don’t like how this works. Death and leaving and being apart. It seems so wrong and I wish it wasn’t this way.

I also need to tell you about the guilt I feel when I even think of thanking you. I have a five and a half year old daughter as well. She’s so excited about learning how to make pumpkin pie this afternoon. She’s happy and chatty and she’s alive. I am so, so thankful… thankful it wasn’t my daughter you chose to take away. And, tomorrow, my family is going to be home together. Our own puppy will be looking for crumbs on our dining room floor and my husband, who makes me feel safe and understood, will be there with us. My baby will climb on my lap to put his fingers in the whipped cream on my pie and take it for granted that I’m his momma and I will never leave. I have so many reasons to be thankful. You have blessed me in every way. And the contrast between my thanks and others’ sorrows makes me feel those pangs of guilt. I know life isn’t ‘fair’. I don’t understand your ways, Lord.

And, God, I need to come to you with yet another emotion. It’s fear. As I think of all the good things you’ve blessed me with, like a home and family, bountiful food and healthy children, I’m reminded of how fragile these blessings are. They could be gone in a breath, a moment, with a missed stop sign or with a spark from the woodstove. Nothing here is secure. As soon as I start thanking you for these things I hold so carefully, I am reminded that you might take them away. I’m afraid because I love them so much. And, the reality is that when I look around at the hard things in life, I don’t completely trust you. Your ways just don’t make sense to me.

So that is the reality, Father. I have sorrow, guilt and fear. But you knew that. You are acquainted with all that’s inside and even before I say the words, you know them already. You know and you want me to come to you with them. Thank you for caring. Thank you for wanting to hear them just as much as you do my words of appreciation. Thank you for caring about me… right where I am. For real.

And this is when the real giving of thanks begins. We’re real together. Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God’. We know you because you revealed yourself and your character to us in a way we could understand… as a human. And you were fully human… You wept. You were tired. You asked to be spared suffering if at all possible. And, you trusted, somehow in the mystery of the Trinity, that the character you have shared for all eternity, the Father’s love and justice, was enough to make the suffering, the weariness, the tears all worth it in the end.

You tell me it will all be made right. It is going to be okay.

For now, you are weeping with those who weep.

The reality of that is big enough for my sorrow, my guilt and my fears.

Thank you, Lord.

Yesterday, my baby came up to me and lifted up his arms. I reached down and picked him up and held him close. He wrapped his pudgy little arms around my neck and we rested for a minute, heart to heart. I was filled to the brim with love for the little guy, and with sudden wonder, I realized that he was feeling the same thing. He was in my arms, snuggled in and feeling love for me, too. We just held on for a moment, and thanks filled every fiber of my being.

That’s how I want to be with God this Thanksgiving. It’s good to count our blessings. It’s good to remember we have been given so much.

But, ultimately, the Giver wants to give us Himself.

I am so thankful that God isn’t just a power, but that he’s real and responsive and feeling. It means that I can come to him, lift up the reality of my heart and let myself be held for a while. I can rest in his arms and be thankful. Thankful not just to him or for him… but I can be thankful with him.

For I am sure that neither death nor life,

nor angels nor rulers,

nor things present nor things to come,

nor powers, nor height nor depth,

nor anything else in all creation,

will be able to separate us

from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39

The Cow Lady’s Gift

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Yesterday I shelled our dry beans. I cracked the brown, crinkling pods and dropped the large, purple speckled dry beans into a basin. As I did one after another, my thoughts turned to the cow lady.

We told her we were in the process of moving but that she could keep her two Jersey calves in our barn temporarily. Only the black and white Belted Galloways were left in our pasture and they would be leaving soon. The sheep, and horse and our own little family of Jersey cows had all been sold. We’d already signed papers and knew we were leaving the farm ourselves. It was an aching time of packing and waiting and living in an ending.

Our own two Jersey cows were named Daisy and Buttercup. They were half sisters and the farmer was willing to give us a good deal if we took them both during a January cold spell. We brought them home and fussed and worried and I sewed them fleecy jackets. When that week the temperature hit nearly twenty below, my husband talked about sleeping in the barn with a space heater. Bottles three times a day had us out in the cold. We trudged out through the sharp dawn, later, the sun high and reflecting on crusty snow and still again in the evening to notice each gradual change in the moon’s shape. I remember cabin fever didn’t hit that year like it usually did in February.

Daisy was mine because she was sweet and Buttercup was my daughter’s because she was frisky. Spring brought halter training and romps through the pastures. It must have been the bottles of milk when they were young that helped, but while the beef cows were usually pretty content to keep to themselves, the Jerseys would follow in our tracks as we did chores. To my daughter, Buttercup was a confidant and playmate. For a few precious years the fawn colored girls were part of our family and our future plans.

This was a golden age of our brief stint as farmers and then things changed suddenly. A day came when someone drove in the barnyard and loaded Daisy, Buttercup and their calves onto a trailer. They looked through the bars and money exchanged hands and somehow they weren’t ours any longer. Even though a little girl cried herself to sleep night after night, they were gone.

It was a few months after that when a neighbor called saying that a friend was coming to town and needed a place to keep two Jersey calves. Two little heifers just under a year old. I wanted to say no, and yet, we didn’t have a good reason. It wouldn’t be easy to find a place to board them in our little town and we had the space. So, in a few days, two calves showed up in Daisy and Buttercup’s pole barn again.

I really don’t remember the lady’s name. The kids all called her the cow lady and that’s how I remember her. She’d come twice a day to do chores and sometimes my daughter would join her and walk the calves with her up and down the road. It was bittersweet to see a sight so familiar and yet know that this was a chapter of our lives that had ended. We were just experiencing a long, drawn out goodbye while we waited for everything to be settled and to leave the farm for good.

It was the cow lady that gave my daughter the bean seeds. In February, for her tenth birthday, the cow lady gave her a little box and inside were five large seeds and a note with planting instructions.

By Spring, the cow lady had moved on and so had we. We turned the soil in our little garden patch in the woods and my daughter found a stout pole and planted her seeds around it. Unfortunately, the chickens (who besides the dog were the only animals that made the move from the farm), managed to break into the garden and scratch in the soil until only two bean seeds remained. These two weren’t even left by the pole but managed to grow along the garden fence where they had been flung by the chickens.

By August, the vines had wrapped themselves high and the plants were in blossom. They were a deep orange-red against the green in the garden and bees and hummingbirds were drawn steadily to their blossoms. In the fall, the long pods had browned and dried and my daughter excitedly picked and shelled them and found that she had a jar full of beans identical to the ones she had planted in the spring. From those two, misplaced, dropped in the earth, purple seeds a bounty of a harvest had grown. Each new season, we find at harvest time that they have multiplied again and this year we had a row planted all along one side of the garden, growing tall and winding around the fence and sunflowers.

So, yesterday I stood shelling bean after bean.

We’ll use some for soup but I’ll be sure to set some aside for planting in the Spring. These beans, falling out of the dried and brown pods, are just resting. What seems dead and dry and lifeless, is holding all the potential for tall green vines and the brightest flowers in the garden.

While I stood shelling those beans, I had other thoughts. With my hands busy my mind could wander to situations that needed sorting and loved ones that needed prayer. I turned over the words of a friend dealing with heartbreak and brokenness.  I thought of so many who are dealing with painful, dark days. Days of prayers that don’t get answered in ways that make sense to our hearts and minds. Days when the first thoughts of the day are painful and it’s hard to get to sleep at night.

But as these thoughts and names passed through my mind, my hands held the cow lady’s gift; the gift of remembering grief and death and leaving and the gift of seeing hope and new life and revealed purpose. The gift of seeing with renewed thankfulness the joy of today and the blessing and goodness that came from hard changes. The gift of my daughter’s happiness. The gift of remembering seasons and that spring always follows winter and that what is sown in the ground doesn’t stay there.

After I cast the last of the brown pods into the compost, I took the basin of seeds in my arms and carried it into the house. Before I reached for a jar, I counted out five, large, purple speckled seeds. With a prayer, I placed them in an envelope for a friend.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Camp

I took the key down from the nail where it’s hung for decades and opened the door just as I’ve done a hundred other times.  As I took a step inside, my chest felt heavy and I fought back tears, not because it was different, but because it was so much the same. The yard sale finds on the shelf beside the novels, the rugs on the floor, the pillows on the couch, even the silly talking ant from ‘A Bug’s Life’ that the kids love; they were all there. It’s as if they didn’t know things had changed.

I used to find the ‘sameness’ of camp every year comforting. Even when I was a little girl I recognized it. When I was ten years old a dozen things changed in my life.  My two oldest sisters moved out, one to go to college and the other to get married. My mother also remarried and bought a house with my new stepfather meaning a change of neighbors and schools. Even my dog had to be put down. I felt like I had been shaken out of everything that had seemed steady. I remember walking through the same door to camp that long-ago summer, sitting down on the couch and noticing some plates hanging on the wall. They had pictures of a fish and a bear and a deer and I thought about how I had seen them my whole life and with a sigh of relief, I realized that camp doesn’t change.

Before we made the trip last week, one of my younger sisters cleaned and vacuumed. She filled the bowls on the counter with candy and treats so they were just the way they always had been. When I set the key down beside the bowl filled with ‘Devil Dogs’ and Hershey’s minis, the tears broke through.

It’s strange to me how food and grief go together.

The kids all came running in with their sleeping bags and backpacks and chattering voices and stopped short when they saw me. The three year old turned back and I heard her say to my husband, “Mommy’s sad! Mommy’s sad!”

So, I breathed deeply and dried my tears. I reminded them that this was the camp that belonged to my Grammy and they understood and the chattering started again and I got busy helping with all the negotiations of who sleeps where.

I’m thankful for how children and life go together.

The first night at camp was hard.  Jon slept in the middle of the sea of wiggly sleeping bags and told stories into the night so that the baby and I could sleep more peacefully in Grammy and Grampy’s room. I didn’t pull back the covers of the bed that Grammy might have been the last one to make, but slept on top with my head on one of her pillows. I saw some sheets and a decoration left on her bureau like she had been working on something and moved on before she finished.  Her camp shoes sat behind a chair next to the wall, the soles worn smooth. Her hairbrush sat in a basket.  I thought of Grampy, who says that nighttime is always the hardest, and heaviness pressed in around my heart as I closed my eyes and slept.

Many mornings I wake up with something like a theme song for the day in my head. Sometimes it feels like inspiration, sometimes it feels like a little joke from my subconscious. When the baby was teething a couple of months ago, and I hadn’t had adequate sleep for days, and the children had been bickering more than usual, I woke up with ‘a little ditty about Jack and Diane.’ My first conscious thought of the day was, “Oh yeah, you know life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone…” But, thankfully, that first morning at camp, I found myself singing the line of a different song as I woke.

Jesus has overcome

The grave has been overwhelmed

The victory is won…

 Until I got home tonight and searched for it online, I couldn’t remember the rest of the song. (It’s Chris Tomlin, ‘I Will Rise’.) But, those few lines were what I needed that moment. It was the reminder that death isn’t the end. I know there is something beyond the grave because I know Some One that has passed through it. The victory is won.

Last summer some work was done on the camp’s foundation. Grammy isn’t here to help with the landscaping but Grampy said he’s trying to do things the way she’d like them. He planted some perennials and showed me where he had started some flowers from seed. One of the neighbors at camp had included a package of forget-me-not seeds in a sympathy card and Grampy planted them this spring. They are starting to grow, just little seedlings when I saw them yesterday, but those forget-me-nots are making their way up from the soil next to the bleeding heart plants.

Flowers and grief and life seem to all go together.

I cut a little stem off of Grammy’s rose bush in front of camp before we left today. I’ve never tried growing a rose from a cutting but I’m going to attempt it. It sat sticking out of a water bottle in the console on the long drive home. Like a little birthday gift from Grammy.

When I was growing up, I was happy to have a summer birthday because it meant that I got to celebrate it at camp. When I was a little girl some relatives would gather and there would be presents and singing and Grammy’s marble cake. Even when I was a teenager I would invite friends to celebrate with me at camp and we’d play music and swim in the lake and still Grammy would send over a marble cake. This year, I woke up at camp on my birthday, and I knew that there would be no marble cake. This year, even if the camp is the same and sits steady on its new foundation, something has changed. Something has shaken.

But there are still unshakeables.

Jesus has overcome

The grave has been overwhelmed

The victory is won…

This morning the loons were calling as I woke up. I quietly put on a swim suit and tiptoed past the still sleeping bags and made my way out of camp and down to the shore. I love mornings at the lake. Everything is still. It feels sacred to be the first one to break through the glass-like water and send the first ripples of the day into the lake. This morning I waded in slowly, remembering past birthdays and wondering about the year ahead. I stopped when the water was up to my knees and I looked out over the blue to an island and then to some tall pines standing on a hill to the east. The sun hadn’t quite reached over their topmost branches.

I thought of all the people, here and gone and young and young once, that this place has meant something to. And I thought of the One who knows us all. I prayed. I prayed for them and for me and was thankful for Him. The quiet of the water became the quiet of my soul and I whispered the words, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit,” and I dove headlong into the water.  As my face met the surface once again, the sun was just rising over the tops of the pines.

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