Monday, May 15, 2017

Let no good deed go deflated

For about two years I’ve been driving around with a movie ticket stub on my car console. It was the stub for a movie that I had to see at the time, but now I can’t even remember the title. It was about the Beach Boys. The acting was good, but I can’t remember the name of the actor who played the lead and I can’t remember which Beach Boy he was playing. That’s all I can recall. It was a good idea at the time.

In order to see this film that I can’t recall, I had to go to a small independent theater out of my usual travel-safe zone. I rather like this theater because it’s not part of one of those big chains and it shows films that aren’t showing in the big-box theaters. I was feeling slightly feisty just to be going there alone, in rush-hour traffic no less. Feisty until I got to the ticket window and found that I had left my wallet at home. I dumped the contents of my over-size purse on the dirty floor, thinking somehow my wallet had become lodged behind a crumpled Kleenex. There was no one else in line, so my crazy old lady-ness wasn’t an issue. No wallet. I looked at the ticket clerk in dismay, said “I’ve driven here on the beltway from McLean. I can’t go back and get my wallet in time. How can I be such a fool?”
The clerk took pity on me, said, “It’s okay, ma’am. Here’s a ticket. Just come back and pay for it when you get a chance.”
“I will! I promise I will come back and pay you. Thank you so much for your kindness.” I didn’t have the nerve to ask him if I could have popcorn too.
The promise to come back and pay for the ticket burned my conscience every time I saw the stub on the dashboard. It burned for months, into years. The ticket stub just sat in my car turning yellow from time and sun exposure.
Recently, I veered off my beaten path to drive to the theater to purge the guilt of not repaying the theater. I walked up to the ticket window where a bored teenage girl sat, staring vacantly. With the jauntiness of someone feeling slightly smug about her good deed, I handed the clerk the ticket stub, told her a brief version of my story, and gave her a ten-dollar bill.
She looked at the stub and said, “The stub says six dollars.”
My Polly Sunshine self said, “Oh, it’s okay. Just keep the ten dollars. Consider it interest paid on my debt.”
She took the ten and continued to stare vacantly.

Saturday, April 15, 2017


The past few weeks have been one of those barren times when I can’t seem to connect with the Lord. I light my little candle, sit in my usual spot for prayer, then sputter and squirm. Usually I’ll say, “Lord, help me find you. I know you’re right where you’ve always been and I’m the one creating the distance. Lord, please help me. I need you.”

I wait to hear something from Him because I have no prayer to offer Him that He hasn’t heard a thousand times. Then I rearrange my legs, look out the window, try to ignore the dryer buzzer, and soon give up. I blow out the candle, saying, “Lord, please show up today. I feel useless, like a huge failure.” That’s it and that has pretty much been the routine in the past few weeks.
It has been a trying time. I worked on making arrangements for my mother to move into assisted living—an assessment of her condition, meetings with medical people and social workers, financial affairs, and a tour of the facility. In the end, mama said she wouldn’t/couldn’t go, that she didn’t want to leave her home. It costs an additional $14,000 a month to hire round-the-clock aides to care for her. My mother is not a wealthy woman; we can’t afford this arrangement for long.
And in the past couple of months—since she broke her femur, had surgery, and spent weeks in rehab—her general condition has declined. She is 91 years old, on oxygen 100% of the time, her heart is weak, and she can’t walk without help. She says she doesn’t want to live like this. I have discussed hospice care with her, she thinks it sounds right, and now I’m working on choosing a hospice service and getting it into place.
This focus on—literally—life and death and feeling responsible for the decisions about her care are heavy. I’m nearly 70 and I fear what will unfold for me as I age. Feeling isolated, depressed, with heavy responsibility and little support is taking a toll on me. I don’t eat right, I drink too much, I don’t exercise, and I don’t have the energy to change anything. I can’t see anything in my future that is going to make it different.
And even my attempts to pray seem hopeless. “Lord, show me a way. Please!”
On this beautiful spring day, the day before Easter, I was driving home from Trader Joe’s. The radio wasn’t on and I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular other than what would be the least congested route home. And out the blue I heard, “I came so that you may have life and have it abundantly.”
Of course, I cried. It was exactly what I needed to hear from Him. Tomorrow is the most holy day in Christianity—the day that celebrates Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. He came to earth, taught us how to live, died hanging on a cross, then rose. And yes, the words that I heard today were a paraphrase of what He said while He was on earth. He came for me, not that I should live on the edge, not really living, not mired in sorrow, not abusing or wasting the life He gave me. He came so I could live abundantly.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Over yonder

Eleanor was a mere wisp of a woman, tiny in height, like a little bird. Like a little brown sparrow with a soft southern accent. Her hair, a yellowy shade of white, was cut in a short bob with uneven bangs. Every day she wore a flowery gathered skirt, a white blouse, and a cardigan sweater. She looked like an aged street urchin who belonged on the streets of Paris, not in a dingy dementia unit in Maryland.

I vaguely remember discussions with a family member, or perhaps two of her family members, that resulted in her being moved from independent living into the locked unit, the dreaded 6th floor where no one wanted to go. Once there, no one moved back. The unspoken reality was that it was a death sentence with no deadlines. Everyone knew that.

I was a graduate intern and it was my job to monitor Eleanor during the transition. Not long after her move, I went to the 6th floor and found Eleanor at the end of the hall, looking out the window.

“Good morning, Eleanor, it’s good to see you,” I tried to turn on my calm but cheery voice.

She didn't look at me, but continued to look out the window and said, “This is not my home.”

“Eleanor, you’re in the same building. You just moved to another floor,” I said.

“No, I live over yonder,” she said, pointing to the office building down the block.

I knew it was useless to try and I couldn’t lie to her.

“No, this is not my home. I live over yonder.” Again she pointed down the street and turned to me with desperation in her eyes. How could I have been part of the plot to move her from her home?

And now, years later, my own mother is ailing and we know she can no longer live independently. I’ve tried to break the news to her with as much compassion as I can. I’ve seen that look before.

“Mom,” I said, “we’re probably going to have to look into assisted living for you. And soon.”

“No,” she said, “I can’t leave here. It’s my home.”

Sometimes I wish I lived “over yonder” and I didn’t have to deal with these sad realities of life. This isn’t my home either.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Everyday Chocolate Cake

Okay, I'll share the recipe, just because you asked and because good things should be shared.

Everyday Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen at who got it from Magnolia Bakery At Home.

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa powder (I used Scharffen-Berger)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and lightly flour a 9×5x3-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a butter-flour spray. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat well, then the buttermilk and vanilla. Don’t worry if the batter looks a little uneven. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together right into your wet ingredients. Stir together with a spoon until well-blended but do not overmix. Scrape down the batter in the bowl, making sure the ingredients are well blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in pan on a rack for about 10 to 15 minutes, at which point you can cool it the rest of the way out of the pan. When cool, dust with confectioner’s sugar.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Silent prayer

This is such a useful way to think about prayer in the times I can't seem to connect with God, can't feel His presence. I love what Richard Rohr wrote in a recent meditation under the subtitle Practice: Faith as Unknowing

"In silent prayer, let go of the need to use words to approach God. Let go of all ideas about God, self, and reality. Even if you don’t sense God’s presence, trust that you are fully seen and known by the One who is merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, and steadfast in love."
-- Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation, January 28, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

The man I loved

For over twenty years, on many nights, I have struggled with this man. He regularly intrudes my dreams, leaving me shaken or tearful. But after all this time, all these many nights, I have come to a peaceful solution.

My marriage to John ended 20 years ago, when he had yet another affair and left me, just after our 30th wedding anniversary. After our marriage ended he died of brain cancer, so he is not only out of our marriage, but really gone. In the early years, he was frequently in my dreams, mocking me, pushing me away, or threatening me. Often I awoke crying, my heart pounding. In one particular dream that I remember vividly, I was naked, wet, and cold, hiding in a bathtub, while he was in another part of the house with the other woman. He found me in the bathtub, tenderly wrapped me in a blanket and helped me get away. That was almost harder to handle than when he was being mean.

In more recent years he was in the background in my nighttime ramblings. No matter what I was doing, it was implied that he was there, his presence always felt. That awareness, that he was so firmly entrenched in my subconscious often made me sad or angry. I cried that I simply couldn’t get him out of my brain, or got angry, pleading for him just to go away. John, always John—so much a part of me.

Yes, I have had a huge struggle finding forgiveness. I have prayed and prayed, read every book I could find on the topic. Still, he was there, always there.

Recently I really accepted the reality that this forgiveness was beyond me, not something I could do on my own. Sitting on the sofa in my living room, I prayed and asked Jesus to sit beside me. Jesus, who forgave those who murdered him, even when he was dying on the cross. He knows about forgiveness. With Jesus beside me, I asked to be able to address John directly. With my eyes closed and Jesus beside me, I could see John as a young man, sitting across from me. He said not a word. I remembered everything about the 21-year-old man I married—his hair, his hands, the way he made me laugh, how protective he was of me. Most of all, I remembered what it felt like to love him so deeply. I saw that young man and thought about the things that happened to him in the years after he was 21. I acknowledged the betrayal and the harsh treatment. But I still loved the young man I married, and that was the person I forgave. I forgave him, the love of my life, not the harsh, troubled man he became.

Last week I dreamed about him again. All I can recall is a glimpse of the dream. John and I were together, talking about one thing or another, and I felt a deep love for him. No angst, no anger, no bitterness, just love.

God's mercy at work. Thank you, Lord! Thank you.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Madman at the helm

The Mango Man has been president for less than one full week. (I mean no disrespect—lie— calling him “Mango Man” but I’m not in a mood to type his given name.) I still feel nauseous and cannot accept that he is the leader of the free world. Lord, have mercy on us all.

His supporters calling us non-supporters “sore losers” is juvenile. I am beyond being a sore loser and have moved into the territory of being terrified for the future of our country. His supporters voted for him because they thought he was different, that he would bring change to government. They liked him because he is brash and outspoken, that he says things they think but are afraid to say. Political correctness is not in his repertoire.

Once he was elected, people said, “Be fair. Give him a chance. He’ll rise to the office and will act presidential. Don’t be so harsh on him.” I tried. I waited for about 24 hours, hoping they were right. I would have been pleased to swallow my pride when I saw what a good job he was doing for the country. I was hoping to be surprised. Not. Gonna. Happen.

He has surrounded himself with minions who do his bidding. He continually lies and they cover his lies, call them “alternative facts.” You’re playing word games, folks. “Alternative facts” are lies.

He is building a wall to keep out those Mexicans and other immigrants he calls criminals. He is putting into place a ban on accepting refugees from any Muslim country. That’s xenophobia, another form of hate.

All week I’ve been shaking my head, saying, “Oh, no. How could it be worse than I imagined?” He wants to appoint the equivalent of an environmental nightmare to head the EPA. The woman he has proposed to head the Department of Education has been a big donor to Republican campaigns and is strongly opposed by educators. He has reversed President Obama’s action to stop the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the Dakotas. Just the beginning. One week is enough.

And today—as if I needed any more evidence—he has truly proven himself to be mentally unstable. Now he is calling for voter fraud investigation into the election HE WON. His thin-skinned, overblown ego is bruised because he didn't win the popular vote as well as the electoral vote. It's more than a waste of time and money. It's the action of a madman. And this madman is one rant away from pushing the red nuclear button.

I'm not being glib or overly dramatic. This is serious and extremely dangerous. Our Republican elected representatives must have the courage to take action. (I wanted to say they need to grow a set of balls, but that would be crude and, besides, some of them are women.) There is much too much at stake to hide behind political partisanship. Our elected representatives took an oath to protect and defend this country and they need to step up and do the right thing.

The image of Captain Ahab in Melville’s classic Moby Dick keeps floating through my mind. Our president is like the madman captain of the Pequod who, unless he is stopped, will take down himself and this country with his madness.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Thomas Merton again--Grateful

He reads my mind, always seems to know what I need to hear.

“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every. . . moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude

Monday, January 2, 2017


My daughter-in-law and my dear friend Claire are both Enneagram enthusiasts. I was skeptical, thought it too new agey, perhaps a little woo-woo. Then, at Claire's suggestion, I took an online test to determine my personality type and bought a book about Enneagrams. ("The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types" by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.) Actually, I have read only part of the book, especially the part that pertains to my type. If you understand Enneagrams, you'll say, "Of course, she did. I could have predicted that." No longer am I scoffing about the classification. It totally nailed me--I'm a type 4 with a 5 wing. (So is Thomas Merton, so I'm in good company.) It was so humbling to read my flaws laid out so clearly. Ouch!

And to add fuel to the fire, I took a Myers Briggs test and it says I am an INFP. I don't really understand that either, but apparently it is in agreement with the Enneagram test. I'm doomed. (You knew I would say that.)

I get an emailed Enneagram thought for the day. This is what is says today and I'm feeling a bit less doomed:

Type Four EnneaThought for January 2nd
Today accept your invitation to abundance: to let go of the past and be renewed by your experiences. It is your True Nature to be forgiving and to use everything in your life for your growth and renewal. (The Wisdom of the Enneagram, 48)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Hate, the bodyguard for grief

Found this intriguing observation in Richard Rohr's meditation for December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents:

Sarah Fields says that “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When people lose the hate, they are forced to deal with the pain beneath.”*

Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds. Love, I believe, is the only way to initially and safely open the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps the door open and available for ever greater growth. We dare not refuse love or suffering or we close the door to life itself. By honoring God’s image in our own deep capacity to love, and then extending it to both the innocent and the non-innocent, we achieve the triumph of love—for we also are wounded.

*Sarah Fields, as quoted by Charles Eisenstein, “The Election: Of Hate, Grief, and a New Story,” November 10, 2016,