She Who Heals

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Comanche tribe says that long ago there was a girl named She Who Was Alone. When her parents died she was left with only a doll to remember them by.

Naturally, she treasured this doll. It tied her to those who loved her most. She slept with this doll each night, stroking its hair as she drifted into dreams. In the daytime, her tribe continued to care for her, but still her name made her place in the world: Alone.

Many moons later, the rains stopped falling and the earth dried beneath the sun. No crops grew. Animals migrated to richer land. The people danced for rain and made the usual offerings, but still the skies were dry. When they asked the shaman for help, he consulted the spirits and built a fire.

"An offering of a treasured belonging will bring the rains." he explained to the people during their  meeting around the flames.

The people returned to their tents for the night.
The hunter put his well-loved bow away after another unsuccessful hunt.
The chief's daughter placed her jeweled bracelets in the basket woven by her grandmother.
She Who Was Alone listened to the crackle crackle of the fire.

She pulled the doll from her pocket and combed its hair with her fingers. Its familiar softness comforted the ache of loneliness in her heart. She remembered the earlier faces around the fire. The people were tired. The women with tired shoulders from carrying much needed water from the nearly-dry springs. The men were exhausted from hunting without yield. The children, thirsting for more than rations. The doll lay still in her lap as she listened to the flames again.

A treasure, any treasure it seemed to say, licking the logs and stones.

The more she listened and remembered her people, the more she knew what needed to be done.
In the way important things are always known, she knew.
She walked to the edge of the fire and hugged her doll, the last hope of She Who Was Alone.
Then she wept.

Wind dried each tear and gently smoothed her hair.
Night cooled the heat of mourning.
Coyote and Cottontail kept watch.

"It is time," the girl said as she placed the doll gently in the fire. She watched the flames take the offering. When only coals remained she lay her face to the earth and dreamed so deeply she would not remember their stories.

She was woken by the sound of rumbling skies. The first drops of water brought the people from their tents. As the sounds of celebrations began, She turned to the smoking coals of the fire. Nestled in the ashes was a small blue flower. Her gasp of surprise drew the attention of the people. Soon all had seen the miracle.

"It seems that She Who Loves Her People has given us a gift," the shaman said as he emerged from his tent.

The people looked among themselves, confused. They knew no one named She Who Loves Her People.

But She knew.
In the way important things are always known, She knew.

She Who Loves Her People rose to her feet and claimed her story.
When bluebonnets bloom, the people remember her still.

Adaptation of the Comanche (Plains) Tribe of North America story, the Legend of the Bluebonnets.

Sometimes I wonder why I share so many intimate details of my life.

This blog, my poetry, and basically all the vulnerable posts I've ever made on social media contain pieces of my story. "Why put your life out there so everyone can see it?", I was asked in an interview a few months ago. I wonder the same thing every time I hit 'post'.

It is admittedly uncommon to be so open with struggles. It would seem much easier to hold my heartache close, wouldn't it? I sometimes wonder, why can't I be content to stroke my small comforts and hopes to sooth away the jagged edges of my past, my illness, my pain?

Because I see the faces of the people around me,
their voices crying for water
that is not laced with tears.

If flames can transfigure
pain into rain,
I am willing to brave the night Alone.

for that is the calling
of She Who Loves Her People.

Friends, never forget:
when we give of the self,
we offer treasure
and the people remember
She Who Heals.

Celestial Beings

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Salt of Women's Stories

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

In Sunday School this week we talked about the bible story of Lot and his wife. The teacher kept the lesson on track and relevant to our time. They stuck true to the manual and taught with the focus that has always been kept - be in the world, but not of it.

The lesson ended when Lot's wife turned back, and was turned into a pillar of salt. I found myself thinking, "I hate this lesson."

"Lot was saved because God loved him." one class member said.

"But not his wife." I whispered.

There was no love, no saving for her. At least not this time. Not in that room. Not in that text. She stays etched as a nameless, faceless defector. "Don't look back" is her lesson and she is condemned for learning it.

Even as I felt the rise of anger in me, truth was kicked up from the dust of her story. There is something more here. Dig deeper, it said.

"Ye are the salt of the Earth, " I remembered Christ said to the righteous in Matthew 5. "Salt is good," he said again in Mark 9. If salt is good and righteous why was the sinful wife of Lot turned into an entire pillar of it? I held my tongue and my heartache until I got home.

I opened Walking with the Women of the Old Testament and found not only beautiful art depicting a previously obscured woman, but entire pages of information and insight into Lot's wife. Author Heather Farrell writes,

"Behind [Lot's wife], in Sodom, were her daughters, their husbands, and her grandchildren. How many of us, even running for our lives, would be able to forget that and not, even just in our hearts, look back?" 
"The Hebrew word for 'pillar' means... a statue... or someone positioned as a guard or sentinel... Salt is a symbolic substance in the scriptures and was often used in making covenants. If we think about Lot's wife becoming a "sentinel of salt," that changes our understanding of her story." 
"I don't know if any of us would have acted differently if we had been in the shoes of Lot's wife. I hope that as we think of her - not as a disobedient woman but as a loving mother - her story can rise in our estimation and that we will see her as a symbol of the type of love our Savior has for us."

She ends the chapter on Lot's wife with a quote from Michelle Stone,

"Lot's wife did not choose her children over Christ, she chose them over her own self-preservation. She did not follow them into sin - she reached out in an infinitely loving attempt to save them from the sin of their society. She is a type of Christ, and that is why he wants us to remember her. She does not judge and turn away, she loves and turns back, and by so doing gives us permission to do the same."

I was relieved reading those words. The face of a loving woman rose to meet the judgement of those who assume to know her whole story from a few short verses in the bible. It is important to me to point out that the teacher and class were not wrong to approach the story of Lot's wife they way they did. There are many lessons to be gleaned from a story, and that is the truth I am speaking to. When there is only one narrative for a two-part story, it is no longer balanced and whole. Its salt loses savor. Article of Faith number 8 states that "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly". I believe some of the plain and precious truths lost to centuries of patriarchy are the fullness of the stories of women.

There are those who say "Oppression? Not in my church. Not in my life," as if their experience discounts those like me who see the invisibility and silence of women in my church, in my scriptures, in my life. Certainly progress is being made, but when I sit through a lesson on Lot's wife I can't help but ask, "Why can't they see what I do?" When I see only male Sunday School teachers and wonder: if women are given permission to expound on scripture but not equal opportunity to share their findings, is that really equality? What is there to celebrate about that? When out of the 50 lessons in the Primary lessons about the Old Testament, only six mention women, how can the imbalance go unnoticed? How long can we pretend like those who voice their concerns about gender inequality in the church are crazy, misinformed, or lacking in faith?

The stories of women matter. It is important to tell them with truth. If they were bad, tell them in all their badness but remember their good, their motivations, their pains. Tell their whole story. If they were good, speak their goodness and share their failings, their doubts, their struggles. Tell their whole story. When their name is known, use it without qualifiers. They are more than Jacob's wives. They are more than Samuel's mother. They are more than sinners or saints. They are whole women. Though the pages of history have forgotten them, still they speak.

The voices of my mothers
sink deep into the earth.
they whisper to me in dreams,
their voices carried by the dry summer wind.

I come to the desert,
shovel in hand.
there are those who laugh behind their hands,
but my secret is my strength:
I am not digging for bones.

I am bringing up water.

Edouard Debat-Ponsan [1847-1913] Truth Escaping From the Well

Love Me

Monday, March 5, 2018

I walked into a dark ultrasound room and laid on the exam table, the familiar weight of pregnancy heavy on my back.

"Well, are you excited to find out what you're having today?" the technician asked in a chirpy voice as she squirted warm jelly on my growing stomach. 
I struggled for a truthful but acceptable answer. I finally settled on "My husband is very excited. We both are pretty sure we are having a boy."

That was true. The day I knew I was pregnant, my intuition told me I was going to have a son. It is strange to admit. I didn't know my daughter was a girl until her 20 week ultrasound, so to have such a sure, quiet knowing was foreign to me. 
The technician moved the ultrasound around a little more and asked, "Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?" 
I gave the only answer that I feel like moms can give. "I don't care either way."
It was a lie, but I was too ashamed to admit the truth to anyone but myself. I was hoping for a girl, but more than I wanted a girl, I did not want a boy. Who can I say that to? Certainly not this cheerful ultrasound lady.
Before I had too much time to myself and my thoughts, the tech said, "That's great because you are definitely having a boy!"
"My husband will be so happy." I managed to say as my chest tightened a little. 

 I spent the rest of the day deeply disturbed I had to buy a blue balloon to make the big announcement to family and friends. 

I crawled into bed that night and nested into to my giant pregnancy pillow. I thought back on my life. I remembered being hurt, unloved, and broken by the boys and men in my life. The shame and fear washed over me like a hot shower. I remembered dark rooms full of uncertainty. I remembered hands where they were not invited. I remembered unwanted-ness. How could I bring more of that into this world? Unfamiliar movement stirred below my ribs; my son's first kicks were stabs to my heart.
My proud husband hung the pictures from the ultrasound on the fridge. One image bothered me every time I walked by: a grainy picture of my baby staring straight at me from his safe little space inside my body. I saw no humanity in that face - just a skeletal frame with holes for eyes, a nose, and mouth. It creeped me out. 
"Love me", his skeletal eyes plead. I always looked away.


Months went by. My belly waxed into fullness. In the final weeks of pregnancy, I struggled with the weight of what was to come. I think my midwife could sense some resistance in me. "Are you ready?" she asked at one of my final appointments. My answer surprised me. It had taken 38 weeks for me to shape the word "yes" with my heart.

Every night for two weeks, my husband walked with me. He held my hand as we wandered the neighborhood and sat with me on the curb when I ran out of breath. Early one Monday night, he patiently guided me up the steps of the birth center with excitement in his eyes. He helped my midwife fill the birth tub with warm water, gently helped me into the water, and rubbed my back as my contractions became stronger.  I remember his rough, calloused hands softly smoothing my sweat-drenched hair as I began to push.

When I brought my son into the world, the sun was peeking over the east mountains and only the birds were awake. They announced his arrival with cheerful songs. Once he was swaddled and fed and we were comfortably snuggled together, everyone fell asleep. My baby and I were alone. I held him in my tired arms and looked at his face for the very first time.

"Love me", his blue eyes plead. "I am joy. I am your missing peace."
In my bravest moment, I held him close and whispered, 

"Even if you weren't, there is room for you here."


The joyful early years of my son's life have allowed me to see the innocence of men. I understand now in a way I could not before that boys do not come to this world unfeeling. 

I see it in the way my son relaxes into my body as we watch cartoons together every morning. I feel it in the way my husband lifts me in and out of bed when I am sore from childbirth. I hear it as my brother-in-laws speak gently to me. "I love you, Channing," they say as they leave for school and work and missions. Those boys and men - the same ages as those who hurt me so deeply - utter words that heal my fears and aches. 

I smell it in the oatmeal raisin cookies my father-in-law bakes just for me when I visit, even though almost no one else in the family likes them. I read it as male friends and leaders from high school and college reach out to me on social media to encourage me. I sense it in the quiet kindness of the men in my church.

Men are not my enemy. They are my friends, my brothers and lovers, my uncles and cousins and sons and fathers. We need each other.

"Love me," they say, softly softly.
I hear their voices now
like the deep hum of a men's choir
in the halls of a church full of the women and children they cherish.

Aloe Song

Friday, March 2, 2018

I need no water
"No water," I say.
I am a desert flower after all.
But this dry summer lasts too long.
I wilt and crumble to the touch.

A few years ago my friend put out a message to her friends that she was searching for planting pots for her new garden patio. I happened to have a beautiful teal blue ceramic pot that was begging for some love. Inside it was a bunch of dirt and a single dead aloe vera plant. I told her she could take it.

When she picked up the teal pot, I apologized profusely for not emptying it out beforehand. "Just throw it away, I'm pretty sure its dead!" I said. She thanked me and took the pot home.

A few months later, we were chatting casually while our kids played at the park. In a quiet moment, she spoke up.

"Oh, Channing! I just remembered something I wanted to tell you! Remember that pot with a dead plant you gave me a while back?"

"Yeah! Sorry about that. I completely forgot to empty it out." I said.

"I'm glad you didn't. On a whim I decided to water it instead of throw it away. I couldn't believe when it started growing again."

"What?" I said, astonished. "What do you mean 'it grew again'? It was dead. I didn't water it for nearly 6 months."

"The plant re-grew, Channing. It looks like a baby aloe vera plant."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

When I first planted this aloe months before, I began to suffer from a very deep depression. I had a hard time taking care of myself. Things like eating and making sure I showered regularly were incredibly difficult during that time. My plants withered along with me. When I recovered, I assessed the damage to my succulent garden. Some had weathered the drought well, but most looked like this aloe had - dry and crumbling at the touch of my fingers. "Trash, trash, trash." I said to myself, just like I did when I was in the throes of depression. I didn't hesitate to throw them away.

We walked back to her house and she showed me the miracle plant. Just as she had said, there were tiny green leaves poking through the soil. In the following months I watched in awe as it grew from three tender leaves to a strong, mature plant. Every time I saw it I was pricked with guilt. I had given up on this plant. My friend's continuing love and care for an aloe that was beyond hope was its redemption.

The time came when my family needed to move out of the state for a while. I asked my friend to care for my remaining succulents while I was gone. When I returned, I saw she had cared for them as faithfully as she had the aloe plant. As I was leaving with the succulents, she handed me the teal blue pot with a gorgeous, thriving aloe inside.

The lower leaves spilled over the pot to embrace the earth while the upper leaves reached to pull down sun. Every inch of the plant was succulent indeed - filled with the soft, healing juices that are the aloe's birthright. This was a plant who loved the sunshine and drank the rain. It breathed promises of joy. It was alive.

"Are you sure you want me to take this?" I asked.
"Yes, Channing. It's yours. Thank you for letting me take care of it for a while." she said with a smile.
My eyes filled with tears. I hugged her.

"Thank you." I said in a whisper.

That was two years ago. The gorgeous aloe plant now sits on my porch with its other cactus friends, perfectly placed so I can see it from every window in my home. During the winter, cacti and succulents need watering only once a month or so. Around Christmas, I remembered I hadn't watered in a while. I put it on my list of things to do but didn't get around to it for weeks.

One day early in the new year, a flash of yellow passed by my porch window as I was in bed reading. I got up to see my four-year-old daughter holding a watering can above the plants on my patio. She struggled with its weight but found if she hugged the watering can close to her little body she could maneuver it properly. I watched her carefully water each plant. When she finished, she set the watering can down and knelt by the aloe.

In that moment, I remembered the day I stood before this dried up succulent saying "trash, trash, trash." I remembered the many times when I had stared into my own eyes in the mirror, thinking "trash, trash, trash." I remembered standing in the shower, washing my body with soap and tears. "Trash, trash, trash." I said, and meant it.

The hem of my daughter's yellow dress skimmed the concrete as she tenderly stroked the leaves of the aloe, speaking soft words of encouragement and love to it as she had seen me do many times before. It was her favorite part of the watering routine. As her small fingers ran along the ridges of the plant, I could hear her soft voice singing.

"I like you, pokey plant-y.
I want to keep you.
We can be friends forever if you want to."

We can be friends if you want to
the sweet melody echoed in my mind
and I wondered briefly if aloe plants can sing.

I looked at the potted aloe. "But I gave up on you. How can you want me still? I am trash, trash, trash." I said.

if you like that song, keep singing.
the aloe seemed to say.

Later that week I stood before the mirror as I was dressing for the day. My long wavy hair fell down my back. Pieces curled around my arms, caressing the scars that had formed over the cuts I made into my left shoulder with a butter knife ten years ago. "Trash, trash, trash." they whispered in my ear.

we can be friends if you want to
I sang

then cried.
my tears, the rainwater
for a dried-up desert flower.

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.