Born again yogurt

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The new batch with fresh blueberries

It was the smell that did it – the rich, sour, nascent yogurt smell, rising up from the bowl where I stirred the mixture gently.  The scent was surprisingly familiar and held in it all the many times I’d made yogurt in my previous yellow kitchen as well as all the many months it had been since I’d attempted the task.  But it wasn’t a reproachful smell – it might have even been hopeful.

When I first got my yogurt maker, I’d been delighted by the weekly work of turning soy milk into soy yogurt.  It left me feeling very accomplished.  And at that time, I desperately needed something that made me feel accomplished, like I was capable of something productive.  I was deep in the obscuring grey of depression, consumed by both apathy and mind-numbing panic.  Getting out of bed was a daily battle with every protesting molecule in my body, and fearful tears threatened to overwhelm each minute of the day.  I functioned, but only on a minimal level.  Medication eased some of the pain, but I still felt like I was standing on the edge of some endless and terrifying sheer drop.  Making yogurt was grounding and normal and gave me something to eat when my energy was sapped and I couldn’t even contemplate turning on a burner.

Then school began again, with its endless parade of books and papers and projects and meetings, and eventually I gave up yogurt making – I barely had the time and energy to eat anything at all. Every once in a while I’d see my neglected yogurt maker in its kitchen drawer and envision some new, bright day when I would feel well enough to use it again.

In April, the date that marked a year since the recurrence of my depression came and went.  I was still slogging slowly through the disease.  I was still on a yogurt hiatus.

This summer, things began to shift.  The why and how of my recovery from depression, which is still ongoing, is fodder enough for its own slew of posts – a myriad of things worked together to clear the fog.  And every experience entered with interested and strength has been one more mark of returning wholeness.

So this week, knowing I had extra soy milk in the refrigerator, I pulled out my yogurt maker from its new location in my new kitchen.  I opened the box, enjoying the clink of the jars against one another.  I measured out the soy milk and located my kitchen thermometer.  When the milk just started to boil, I poured it in into my great grandmother’s mint green ceramic bowl, and I completed chores as I waited for it to cool down to the proper fermenting temperature.  Then, when it measured just under 110 degrees, I poured the cooled milk into the yogurt starter.  And that’s when the smell began. It pulled me briefly from the present moment and returned me to frightened but determined moments in my old yellow kitchen.  But the present was strong and real, and I sniffed and stirred the mixture with contentment.  The sense of accomplishment that rose up came not simply from a need to prove my worth or my health but mostly from the joy of engaging in small tasks.  Every whiff of the yogurt and ting of glass said to me you made it; you are here.  You came through a hellish year and made it to the other side, made it far enough that now you can make yogurt – because you want to, because you have the energy to, because you can enjoy the smell of fermentation and the experience of feeding yourself.  And you even have the wherewithal to write about it later.

My journey to healing is far from complete, but the simple ritual of yogurt making, at once so familiar and so new, felt like a small practice of resurrection.

 

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blessing for the bathroom

I wrote this for a little booklet I put together on the occasion of a friend’s first new house.  The prayer is specific to her own circumstances, but there is always some universality hidden in particularity. 

When you stand in the morning

toothbrush in one hand

mascara brush in the other

staring into the mirror

May you see the image of God staring back.

May you rest confidently

in God’s miraculous creation

of you.

May you fight the pull to be made over

into an incarnation of the world’s expectations.

Instead

May you recognize yourself as a holy incarnation

an embodiment

a gestation

of love.

May you reject narratives of barrenness

for the narrative of the empty and waiting tomb.

May the grief of an empty tomb

and the joy of a risen body

dance in you here

as you embrace the practice of being human.

Fall journal excerpts – Activity, passivity, and becoming dry bones

I’m always hesitant about writing these journal-entry-posts.  Since these words were scribbled quickly in a notebook with a pen (no eraser/backspace), it’s not my most polished writing.  But it is my most honest.  And if I want to show a movement into the home space, I have to start with where I was.

Different times in our lives require different speeds of movement, but I have noticed something about my own tendencies.  I have a lot of steps I need to move through.  It takes a while for me to adjust to a new routine or a new space.  How I get there varies, but in the end I always have to come to this conclusion before I start moving upward again: I will never get where I want to go until I let myself go where I need to go.  Sometimes I need grieve and mourn.  Sometimes I need to rest and slow down.  Sometimes I need to find myself stripped of my own strength so that I stop relying on it.  

Ezekiel 37:1-14

The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

 I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!  This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.  I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’  Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.  Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them.  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”

 September 4 

It was easier to fight back melancholy and malaise in Ukraine.  I had a purpose and a goal.  Teach English.  Get through the year.  Here, back home, whatever that means, everything is much more nebulous and slippery.  I haven’t arrived here with a missionary mentality, I have no sense of what will be short term and what long term, the well of strength I pulled from has been all used up.

I start my new job in two days, and I am excited to have a regular schedule again.  I’ve felt I should take advantage of all this free time I’ve had, but I’ve not been very good at it.  All the things I’ve had down on my running “possibility list” would perhaps tempt me under different circumstances – crocheting a rug, making a collage booklet, reading, working on the dollhouse, writing letters.  The problem is that after spending most of the day alone, it’s hard to look at that list and get excited about doing one more thing alone.  This was an issue in Ukraine but expected there.  I’m supposed to be home now.  And I think I might have, by the end, had more friends in Transcarpathia than I do in Bloomington.

I don’t know why, but going to bed here always seems so terribly anti-climactic.

September 19

In Péterfalva, I had an evening snack of bread as often as I could, plucked from the bread-scrap bag left out by the cooks after dinner.  Sometimes the students had picked over and hoarded everything (I often saw them the with foot-tall piles of bread as they walked toward the dormitory), and I was lucky to get a few heels. But, oh! the bliss of a few chewy slices of bread as I sat down to watch my latest BBC infatuation.

Tonight we actually had good bread in the house – Mama purchased it especially for me – and I ate two small slices with banana in between.  That was a combination I ate in Péterfalva a few times, usually as part of a on-my-own meal, bread being the cheapest available food and bananas, surprisingly enough, being the most readily available fruit.  I remember how lonely and, yes, bored, I was sometimes in Ukraine.  But I can’t help feeling homesick for the simple, pleasurable routines I created there.  For how small and big I felt all at once.  I really wish I could have one big debriefing session so that the whole thing would stop feeling like a dream.

September 27

I still can’t get used to strangers talking to me.  The woman tonight at the roller rink – in the U.S., being in the same place as another person creates a bond.  People who smile at me in the street – I can’t react fast enough.

October 24

[In reading my diaries from 10 years ago that I found in the basement, I’ve found another thing] I need to be careful about: over-committing myself.  My 14-year-old self was spread too thin. Soccer and violin and youth group and Conference Board of Youth Ministries, and ballet and musical theatre, and playing music with Dad, and sign language, and writing, and leading worship.  Oh, yeah, and I was a freshman high school student.  And a daughter and a sister and a friend.  No wonder I was feeling overwhelmed.  In the pages of my diary, I constantly bemoaned why.  I think I believed that I couldn’t be over-committed if I liked everything I was doing.  I put all the blame on loathsome math, convinced that this one thing I didn’t like to do was causing most or all of my stress.  Hogswhallop.

So much of my mental energy, too, was poured out in other ways: feeling out of place, the tension of being at an in between age, loneliness, heartbreak at my new discovery of how senselessly evil our world could be, questions of identity.  How could I expect myself to move gracefully through those growing pains if my schedule was jam-packed?

I have a lot of growing to do right now, too, and at 24 I think I’m more resistant to growth than I was at 14.  I’ll need more energy to do it.  So in my clamor to find meaning and purpose and a life outside this house, I need to be mindful and respectful of my limits.

November 1

As I neared the end of the final Emily of New Moon book, I felt all my internal organs tying themselves up.  I knew I would cry if she did not marry Teddy … and that I would cry if she did.

It had a happy ending.  Teddy and Emily came together in the end.  It was all very rushed, as if L. M. Montgomery didn’t know how else to fulfill the dream than with something dream-like itself.

I read my life and passion on Emily’s pages – until the end.  The end that I so ached for but also ached over.  Because my story doesn’t hold that ending (not yet), and I was left trying to convince myself of what should be a self-evident truth: I don’t need a romantic attachment to make me feel fulfilled, I won’t dissolve into the same loneliness Emily had without Teddy.

When I got up to clean the bathroom, I felt myself itching all over.  I wanted to tear at my skin, itch every cell away until that large, fleshy organ was gone and I was left only with bones and muscle.  Not raw.  But de-layered.

Life Cereal is giving out a few $50,000 prizes.  I thought about what I would do if I won.  Pay off my loans.  Donate to the family shelter in town.  Pay taxes.  Buy a ticket to Ukraine in time for graduation.  Work with the Roma preschool until November.  Go to Taizé.  Stay for 9 months.  Then?

I like that plan.

I told [the Bird] today, as she was looking at me in the rear-view mirror with exhausted eyes, that since our bodies get tired when we are having a physical growth spurt, maybe we also get tired when we are growing mentally and spiritually.

But what about when you itch?  Not growing pains, but an unbearable itch?  Is that when your body wants to shed some growth?

What if I became dry bones?

A poem I wrote at various times and places

Sojourn

Movement 1

I stand
barefoot
in the center of the church
sandstone slab worn smooth
all the cold of winter
(and death)
stored up
comes up from the stones that mark the final resting place of who’s and that’s
I state my case clearly:
God, I am homeless.
And God laughs.
Because He thinks I’m lying.

Movement 3

Eating bread and chocolate
If only what we ate took us back to where we last ate it.

I am the kind of person who is never happy to be somewhere until it’s time to leave.
But what I like most
is coming back
A reunion needs a leave taking.
I’ve taken leave of
everything
but my senses
which persist in lying to me
In telling me
when I taste
the bread
and chocolate
that I am home.
What is the lie?
That I am home?
Or that I have one?
But I think the real falsehood is that the place of bread and chocolate is home.
I didn’t feel at home until the day I left.

Movement 2

I’ve always associated snow with the cosmos.
Maybe it’s the snowflake’s unmistakable star shape
Though
admittedly
I’ve only seen that shape once
In a cluster on my lilac scarf
daring me
in the face of such extravagant detail
to curse the cold wetness they were causing my feet.

At this moment
by the light of a streetlamp
I’m watching an ever-expanding universe of violent action
move in fast-
then slow-motion
as the foreign sky pours a blizzard
on our corrugated tin roofs
and heads.

Or

I can imagine that I am spinning around with the distant stars blurring and whirling

to look like snow fall.

When I was 17
and dark as only 17 can be
I stood under a confetti fall
of snowflakes bigger than a penny.
The snow held its breath
and floated too slowly to be real
But of course it was real
and of course the snowfall was the cosmos
and each snowflake a star
a nebula
a galaxy
I had been called into the universe
Into the hugeness of God
(which is sometimes a snowflake)
And now that I knew it
there was no going back.

And to find myself here
flung out to the other side of the snowfall
I am ready for the snow to just be
weather
And for the universe to shrink back to size
To fit in a cluster on my lilac scarf
And made no grand claims
about where I am going

Movement 4

The best thing
about the golden hour
is that it never lasts for exactly an hour.
In May
It reaches out on both ends
Until there is enough time to bike to the island
and stretch to the length
of the golden hour itself.
Nettle burrs and dandelion ballerinas:
Plants are in-credible
Because their only purpose is to try for immortality
Maybe
That seed will take
And then everything will have been worth it.
The dandelions are fallen moon and stars
But the buttercups
It gets to where
I cannot tell the difference between buttercups
and sunshine.

The nearness of the cowbell
rings the hour.
And I am hidden under a white tree with clapping leaves and dancing bark
A tree with no other desire
than to be immortal.
If that were my only desire
the cool slab of headstone
would not turn my feet homeward
the bread and the chocolate
no sacrament of memory
the universe written
in a snowflake
would be a call only
no fear
of infinity
And when I blew off every seed of a dandelion flower
I would not wish
for anything.

Prelude

Simplified itinerary,
from the homeland outwards:
Taizé, France
middle of nowhere, Ukraine
Abiding time:
As long as it takes.
And if when the time is up
I run away east
of nowhere
(To Kazakhstan, maybe)
It is not because I don’t want to go home
It’s because home became plural
(or more?)
and I wanted to
simplify.