Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fierce

Okay, this is just between the two of us. You have to promise not to let anyone else see this monstrosity. I'm letting you see the photo of me with a bald head.

There is a bit of a story behind this. If you've been reading this blog, you know that I have hair issues. I have alopecia, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss. It sucks. Through visits to multiple doctors I've had blood work and skin biopsies, only to find there is no cure. My hair has disappeared in ugly chunks. And just to make things a bit more lively, a recent skin biopsy on the top of my head showed that I have squamous cell cancer on my scalp that requires surgery. Because my hair was falling out, and because I need to have my scalp surgically messed up, I initiated a pre-emptive strike and got a buzz cut. Chris, a guy I'd marry if he wasn't already married, cut my hair (#2 clipper guard) and pronounced that I looked "fierce". Fierce is better than pitiful, better than helpless or sad or whiny. The photo is my attempt to put on a fierce face just after my head was shorn. To me it seems more the look of a woman who is leaning toward angry resignation when she would rather be fierce. What expression do you imagine Joan of Arc had as her captors lit the fire about to consume her?

The fierce phase has not been fiercely executed. I wander from fierceness to shame, days spent in hiding. For several weeks I have done what I call Mass for Shut-Ins--watching the Sunday church service on the Internet. But today I went to the morning service with a hat on. The hat got hot. I went to see my mother after church, refusing to remove the hat. I forewarned her, but she didn't really understand until she saw it. My mother saw my head a couple of weeks ago, screamed, and said, "I can't stand looking at you!" Nice. Now the hat stays on, no matter how much she begs me to see my head. This condition doesn't work well with my mother's obsession with appearance. Her obsession with hair is pathological. How ironic that she would get me as a daughter.

Tonight I went back to church for the 5 p.m. service. I took my hat off in the car because I was just too doggone hot. Still feeling the shame, I sat in a dark spot in the last pew in the church, rows away from anyone else. Alex, one of our pastors, came up to me in my hiding place in the back and asked me to do the wine at communion. I sucked air, said I was trying to hide my bald head in the back. He was going to let me off the hook. But, in an uncommon burst of courage, I said, "No! I'll do it. There's no better time or place to be bold."

Yes, I did it. I held my bald head high and walked to the front, under the bright lights for all the world to see. And I did feel emboldened, like God could see me and He still loves me. Giving up the deceit, the hiding, the fear and literally letting myself be seen with a flaw that humiliates me, has set me free. Only through the grace of God could this have happened, in His house, in His time. I may still lose confidence on occasion, I may waver between fierceness and shame, but fierce feels better.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Arms too short

24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

Genesis 32:24-26

Claire asked me if perhaps I was not able to communicate with the Lord because I was angry with Him.
“Good point,” I replied. “Sometimes I’m afraid to be angry with Him when I should have nothing but gratitude.” And I recall the line from Ted Loder’s prayer in Guerillas of Grace where he says, “I wander somewhere between gratitude and grievance.” Between gratitude and grievance—that space that feels so familiar to me. Always a little angry, a little guilty, a little frustrated, despite my desire to live in a never-ending glow of love and gratitude.
Claire reminded me of the passage in the Bible where Jacob wrestles all night with a man he first thought to be an angel. Later he realizes it was God himself wrestling with him. Jacob needed rest, but instead he spent the hours fighting with God, ultimately to find his faith strengthened. If Jacob could wrestle with God, then maybe it was something I should consider.
A few years back there was a musical on Broadway called, Your Arms Too Short to Box with God—unfortunately I never saw the show but the title was memorable enough and the image of a person trying to box with God, and failing because of short arms, obviously stuck with me. The phrase originated in a poem by African American poet James Weldon Johnson, who in a poem entitled The Prodigal Son wrote, “Young man—Young man—Your arm’s too short to box with God.”
So, with intention, in the privacy of my own home, I had it out with Himself. I sat on the sofa and spoke aloud, telling Him (as if He was hearing this for the first time—it is to laugh) everything that pissed me off in the history of my long life. I started with my grandmother dying, through the horrible dissolution of my marriage, to my present day bald head, and lots of other things among those highlights. He sat there and took it like a man. And I felt as empty as I felt after giving birth.
I wrestled with Him and He blessed me. The struggle left me feeling deep peace and a renewed faith. He didn’t care that I purged all that anger and shook my fist at Him. He just loved me, loved me in spite of my tangled human frailty. He loved me through my brokenness and ingratitude. He loved me despite my mistaken belief that I deserved something better than what He gave me.
His presence, His love, His never-ending patience was the only thing that was left. Gone the anger, the resentment, replaced by enormous love. And I realized that He is fighting with me, not to give me what I think I deserve, but to give me something much more than I deserve. He gives me a life better than anything I could imagine. His presence is so tangible sometimes, His love so real, that it takes my breath away.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

In the rubble

Mexico City, September 2017

Rubble, piles of rubble

Dust, silence, shouting, people rushing to save those who may be trapped

And this is how I see God

I am beneath the rubble

He is searching for me and I for Him

Sometimes I am in the rubble, crying out for Him

He hears me, yet I don’t know He is there

Sometimes I am in the rubble, silent

Not knowing I need Him, perhaps not caring if I die there

He never ceases His work to rescue me, even when rescue doesn’t seem possible

Yes, He allowed the circumstances that put me in this place, at this time

In the rubble

The rubble has something to teach me

Something unimaginably profound

Thank you, Lord

Thank you for loving me, for your unceasing efforts to bring me to you

Come find me

Please

This morning, reading about and seeing images of the earthquake in Mexico City, it reminded me of my evolving relationship with God. Then I read this prayer by Ted Loder from Guerillas of Grace and the picture became clearer:


 
 
O Eternal One,
It would be easier for me to pray
        if I were clear
                and of a single mind and a pure heart;
        if I could be done hiding from myself
     and from you, even in my prayers.
But, I am who I am,
        mixture of motives and excuses,
                blur of memories,
   quiver of hopes,
                knot of fear,
            tangle of confusion,
        and restless with love,
     for love.
I wander somewhere between
        gratitude and grievance,
                wonder and routine,
                       high resolve and undone dreams,
                               generous impulses and unpaid bills.
Come, find me, Lord.
Be with me exactly as I am.
Help me find me, Lord.
        Help me accept what I am,
                so I can begin to be yours.
Make of me something small enough to snuggle,
        young enough to question,
               simple enough to giggle,
                      old enough to forget,
                             foolish enough to act for peace;
         skeptical enough to doubt
                the sufficiency of anything but you,
         and attentive enough to listen
                as you call me out of the tomb of my timidity
                       into the chancy glory of my possibilities
                              and the power of your presence.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Water, water

Nearly every day lately, clouds darken, thunder growls, and torrents of summer rain gush from the sky. It’s too much for my downspouts. Water overflows the roof and soaks the back of my house. I called the gutter guy. Again. I have an ugly history with water so I take no chances.

I’m wondering if there are some minor water gods whom I have offended. I’m deep into a love/hate relationship with water and I fear they’ve got the upper hand.

In a nominal effort to appear to be an optimist, let me first discuss the love. The universe is divided into two camps—bath people and shower people. (There also may be a third outlier camp of people who don’t bathe at all, but I presume they live in hand-built cabins in Montana where they build bombs with paper clips and elk droppings and have not communicated with other living beings since the dawn of the millennium.) I am firmly in the bath camp. I can’t sleep if I don’t take a bath. I spend my entire day counting down the hours until I can take a bath. I sometimes take more than one bath in a day and it’s a sacred ritualistic thing for me, well beyond being clean. Candles, lavender bath oil, Spanish monks singing Gregorian chant, the whole works.

I love water. But my hate of water is also fierce and unrelenting. I hate the free-range water in my house.

The first serious incident happened about ten years ago. I noticed the carpet in the corner of my basement, at the foot of the stairs, was discolored. After pulling out large pieces of drywall on two floors, the plumber found that there was a leak in a waste water pipe. It was expensive and messy. I thought I had paid my dues to the water gods.

A few years later, I called the refrigerator repair person because my icemaker wasn’t working. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the refrigerator—it was the water line to the refrigerator. Next step—the plumber. Okay, fixed. Or so I thought. The water gods were snickering. Later that evening I went into the basement to get a light bulb. Water was running down the basement walls like a waterfall in a fancy hotel lobby. I had to turn off the water main to get it to stop. Something in the icemaker water line had failed. Plumbers, drywall repair, paint, carpets pulled up, more mess. The water gods were having a fiesta.

Next? A puddle of water under the kitchen sink. A friend fixed it for me. Didn’t work. I put a metal pan under the drip. I emptied it daily, offering my little daily homage to the water gods. They aren’t easily satisfied.

Spring came. It rained. I smelled something rank in the basement. My family room carpet was soaked and part of the drywall was discolored. My neighbor’s downspout was cracked, causing water to soak the foundation of my house. The man who repaired the carpet from the icemaker leak came back. He’s now on a first-name basis with me since I’m sending one of his kids to college. I paid to fix my neighbor’s drainage and reinforced my own drainage system for another layer of protection. Ha, it is to laugh, said the water gods mockingly, with a decidedly French accent.

Next—more rain, more water in the basement. Not as much water, but still leaking. It appeared that the crown of my chimney (three floors up from the basement) was cracked and water was seeping all the way into the basement fireplace. The carpet repair guy is on speed-dial. Two days of masonry work and a couple of thousand dollars and that leak went away. The water gods were doing high fives. 

Then the hurricane season came and brought a day of torrential rain. A stream of water was flowing out of an electrical outlet in my basement. There was a leak in the window well. I had the window well removed, the wall bricked up and sealed, and had all the drywall repaired. It cost me again. The carpet fixer guy? Not this time. I replaced the carpet with a floating wood-look floor that could be removed in case of flooding. It wasn't cheap. The gods were laughing so hard they had tears streaming down their crummy little faces.

The latest and most horrific episode involved freezing rain and a flat roof—you know what’s coming—it’s an ominous combination. Water was dripping out of one of the ceiling lights in my dining room. The usual first step, I called the plumber who tore big holes in the ceiling. Sorry, ma’am, it’s not the plumbing because there is no plumbing in this ceiling; it has to be coming from somewhere else. It escalated—water out of all the ceiling fixtures on the first floor, water running between the walls and seeping up out of the wood floors in the upper level. Water in the basement. I could hear it trickling inside the walls and it was seeping into the house much faster than I could remove it. Long sad story—the roof had cracked under the weight of freezing rain and the ice began to thaw. I screamed out for mercy. Tarp over the roof, clean-up crew, a new roof, removal of ceilings and walls, painting, insurance appraisals, repairs ad nauseum. I know it’s hot in the desert, but I’m willing to give it a try. The water gods wouldn't dare follow me to the desert. Would they?

I suppose I should look at this amount of water in perspective. My first bad water experience involved much, much more water—the Atlantic Ocean. It was the summer I turned 12. My family went to Bethany Beach on the Delaware shore for a day trip. It was hot and the beach was packed blanket-to-blanket with people searching for some respite from the heat. My father stayed on the shore, watching my younger brothers while my mother and I waded into the ocean. We floated in relatively placid surf on a rented rubber raft. There was a growing distance between me and my mother, who was alone on the raft. As I tried to swim back to her, I lost ground, swimming forward but moving backward into the ocean. My feet no longer touched the ocean floor. I was quickly becoming tired as I moved farther from my mother and she began to realize that I was in trouble. After the fact, I knew that she began screaming, but all I knew at the time was sheer terror. I had never heard of a riptide and had no strategy to save myself. A riptide is sort of passive-aggressive water, looks innocent enough but has a really nasty streak. I was gasping, swallowing the ocean, when two lifeguards reached me and put me on a raft. I don’t know how much time elapsed, but as we neared the shore, they asked me if I wanted to ride in on a wave. Bad idea, but I must have agreed. The wave threw me and I washed up on shore like a half-dead mackerel. Obviously much more water than I could handle.

Maybe these water gods who are out to get me have been trying for many years. The lifeguards who saved my life in 1960 thwarted the water gods’ plan to snuff me at an early age so now I’m paying the price one drop at a time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

For longing


blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.
may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.
may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
by John O'Donohue


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Down from the mountain

Photo of sunset, Telluride, Colorado, taken on my 70th birthday. God's gift to me.
The plan was to leave the old hag on the mountain, to let the old woman rot out there in the elements. But she got packed in my suitcase; she’s not leaving me.

Had I written this entry 10 days ago, it would have been different. Ten days ago, I would have said the trip to Colorado was a failure. I couldn’t breathe at the altitude, even though the altitude had not been a major problem in my previous trips to Telluride. In previous trips I was younger. I cut the trip short, lost 10 days at the condo that I had paid in advance, and flew home from 10,000 feet to an altitude of one foot above sea level. That’s a lot more oxygen and a relief to be able to breathe deeply.
The bold adventure in which I planned to spend a month alone, high in the Rocky Mountains, failed. My body bailed on me. My scheme was to spit in the face of my 70th birthday. People were telling me that I was brave, had such independence and spirit. And I gloated about how I was going to sit on the mountain with God, in the “thin space” between heaven and earth, where the voice of the Lord is deafeningly near. I wanted a mystical experience for my 70th birthday and I boldly was going to climb a mountain to get it. But like a scatterbug, I couldn't even focus on communicating with God in Telluride. I blamed Him for not showing up.
The old hag and I flew home to a giant pity party. Disappointment, shame, and embarrassment were at my doorstep. Poor me—I would have to report to all those who thought I was so brave that I failed in the great adventure. But after a few days at sea level the lights came on and I realized that the trip had been motivated, shaped by my desire to do something big, something remarkable. I wanted praise and adulation. My motivation was not so much to be at peace with God for a month but to show people that I could do it. I could see that my thinking was warped and then began to see that the trip wasn’t wasted, even though what it had to teach me was not what I expected. I realized that the entire plan to go to the mountains to scoff at my age and to get some great revelation from God was driven by ego, not by a desire for communion with God. It was totally about me, how I wanted to be seen as independent, adventurous, and deep.
The Lord wanted me to come down from the mountain, both literally and figuratively. He brought me down off my high horse. He didn’t cooperate with my silly ego exercise. He had other plans. He turned my mourning into dancing; He removed my clothes of sadness and clothed me in joy. (Paraphrase of Psalm 30:11.)
Honestly, it’s so good; not what I hoped for, but much, much better. It makes me smile to realize that I thought I had engineered the experience, but God stepped into my self-centered plan and made it infinitely better. It just looked like failure because it wasn’t what I wanted. He said, “Silly girl, why do you have to go high in the Rockies to be with me or to find meaning in your life? You can find those answers in the streets, in the shoe aisle of the thrift store, at the bedside of a dying friend, or in the quiet of your kitchen.”
It’s all good. I didn’t need to be on the mountain with my ego but to come down from the mountain to be with Him. What I thought was failure turned out to be a victory. I wanted to learn something and I did.
 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Failed minimalist

How long must I stand in the bright light of my closet before I purge the mess in there? How many times will I take out that olive green skirt that’s too tight, only to return it to the rack in case I lose weight? I liked that skirt and it still might work if I lose 10 20 30 pounds. Also, the skirt under discussion comes above my knees and I hate to show my knees. Otherwise, it’s perfect. Perfect for a younger, skinnier, much hipper version of myself.

Like a moth and a lightbulb, I’m drawn to those magazine articles that hype minimalist living. Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg has a collection of jeans and black t-shirts, not much else. He has been quite successful and no one criticizes his fashion sense. Image how easy it would be to grab the next clean black t-shirt and head out to make a million dollars for a day’s work.

More times than I can count, when it comes to purging one’s wardrobe, the expert minimalist du jour suggests that you ask yourself, “Would I buy this again?”

My usual answer is, “No! Of course not! I already have an olive green skirt—see it shoved in the back of my closet? Why would I buy another one exactly like it?”

Sometimes the minimalist suggests that the maximalist take everything out of the closet and create three piles: a KEEP pile of things in perfect condition that fit and work for one’s lifestyle, a MAYBE pile for the things that aren’t perfect but are hard to discard, and a DONATE pile of definite give-away items. For the weak, they might suggest putting the MAYBE things in a box to reconsider at a later date. I hate the idea of a MAYBE pile because it would be an indication that I might be indecisive. In theory, I deplore weakness in a closet purger, yet in the end I go through the closet and keep almost everything. What if I do lose a lot of weight and need a black lace mini dress? It’s already there—no need to go shopping.

Years ago my daughter made me discard my two pairs of “parachute pants”—navy and khaki. I loved those pants but she called them “MC Hammer pants” and I caved because she kept saying, “It’s Hammer time.” I miss the pants. They may even be back in style now. What if my granddaughter is going to a 60s party and needs a hippie outfit? Surely, somewhere in the back of the closet, there’s a leather fringe jacket and a long denim skirt that I lovingly sewed out of a pair of deconstructed jeans and a couple of old flannel shirts. Where is that skirt? I might want to wear it again.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Child grown old


Someone asks you, “How old do you really feel? In your heart, how old are you?” Most people my age say they feel like they are 21 or 35, maybe 40 years old—nowhere near the 60, 70, or more that their drivers’ licenses reveal. As for myself, I have no answer to this question, but my birth certificate tells me I’m turning 70 in a few days.
For years I’ve been threatening to run away, but never actually did it. This time my threat took wings and I have found myself high in the Rocky Mountains, in Telluride, Colorado. I have rented a small condo on the San Miguel River for a month. Here in the valley the elevation is over 9,000 feet, and I am at the base of a mountain where the elevation is over 10,500 feet, beyond are the 14,000 feet peaks of the San Juan range. My aging lungs haven’t quite caught up with the reduced oxygen up here.
So I came to the mountains looking for God, listening for Him to give me instructions, a blueprint for me at 70. I am facing this looming birthday with trepidation. I want to reboot, to leave behind the pains of the past, the destructive habits, the pity story that I have slogged through for so long. No more squandering the precious time I have, no more being mired in a past that will never change, no matter how long or how intensely I turn it over in my head.
What I haven’t yet embraced is that the past doesn’t have to form an unchangeable person. How many times have I do-si-do-ed around this? Even the mountains change. They change seasonally and have changed totally in the millennia since the formation of the Earth. Waterfalls and small streams continue to erode the rock, creating crevices and valleys. Just overnight there was a small landslide that brought red rocks tumbling down over a mountain trail. If the enormous mountain looming over me can change, then so can I. 
So I have come to this town in the Rocky Mountains seeking change, transformation. I read a Richard Rohr meditation this morning that said, referring to the Gospel of John (John 12:24-25), that part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger. Whoever loves his life loses it. I need to leave part of this old woman on the mountain. Leave the old hag who has let pains of the past hold her back from living fully in the present. But I’m afraid; I can’t take anymore loss. I want people I love to stay. I want my youth to stay, but it slips out of my fingers.
Out of nowhere, a couple of nights ago, I heard the words, “Just be. Just be happy.”
I was stunned—but no doubt where those words came from.
And I pray: Lord, show me how to love my life exactly as it is. Let me live simply in the sacrament of the present moment. Let me embrace the losses as part of the natural transitions of life. Let me look forward to the unexpected things that I can treasure in the next phase of life. Show me how, Lord, show me the way.

Monday, June 5, 2017

God, glory, and the baldheaded woman

“Shame. Embarrassment. Humiliation. Depression. All of these over a long period of time. My condition has gotten worse and I’m tired of trying to hide it, tired of all the time and energy wasted trying to hide my shame. So in an effort to declare myself free of this nuisance, I’m coming out.”

I wrote that on this blog on January 1, 2016, about my hair loss. At that time, I got my hair cut short, then went further into the Annie Lennox realm and had my hair bleached to within an inch of its life so the scarcity of hair wouldn’t be so obvious on my white scalp. It wasn’t enough. My hair continued to fall out and the shame continued.

I have alopecia, an auto-immune condition that has caused me to lose a lot of hair. The entire lower part of the back of my head is bald. That big bald patch is creeping up the back and sides and I have growing bald spots all over my head. After consultations with five different doctors over a period of time, I am faced with the fact that there is no cure for this and it is likely to continue.

A woman’s hair has been called her crowning glory. So much for that—no hair, no glory. But here’s the thing—it’s a real condition that I can’t pretend doesn’t exist, and somehow, I have to come to peace with it or live my life hiding in shame. It’s not just theoretical, not something I can ignore or wish away. This is my reality.

There’s a lump in my throat as I type these words. It sucks. But. The important stuff, the truth comes after the “but.” But somehow, I am going to find the strength, the confidence to face it full-on. The truth of this is that I can’t do anything meaningful without the strength of God so I’m leaning into Him, praying, putting my shame and heartache at His feet. I will walk proudly, my balding head shining in the sun. (Ugh!) My glory doesn’t come from my hair. I’m claiming His glory for my own, the reflection of His goodness inside of me.

Do I hide in shame or truly walk in freedom? I choose freedom. And I consider that the Lord doesn’t make mistakes. I have this and He will give me the strength and dignity to hold my head high. I expect that something meaningful will come out of it in time, something I can’t yet imagine. God can be found in all things, especially the painful things. His will is a gift that I can’t appreciate yet. So, I will wear this baldness with dignity, not shame.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an even shorter haircut, a buzzcut. I’m not even trying to hide the baldness any longer—it’s out there for anyone to see. I’ve been asked if I have cancer. Just yesterday a man at church asked me if I was getting “medical treatment.” Without being specific, friends ask how I have been with a telling urgency in their questions. It looks like the side effect of chemotherapy. I’m grateful that they are concerned about me but it’s obvious that I’m not hiding it well.

How do I feel about it? Sometimes weird, sometimes painfully ugly, yet sometimes bold and free of pretense. I want to see what the Lord is planning with this baldness in this life at this time. Forget the crowning glory. I just want it to be a reflection of His glory.

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

Abundance

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 http://smittenkitchen.com/2010/08/everyday-chocolate-cake/ 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

Enneagram

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, http://charleseisenstein.net/hategriefandanewstory/.