Life is hard, but it’s liberally sprinkled with times of joy, love, insight, courage, hope, faith, and a peace that really does totally pass understanding.
It’s kind of like a boot camp for living in heaven. The hard parts are tests, but not pass or fail or get a grade tests, but tests that stretch us, strengthen us, teach us, even giving us amazing “Ah Ha!” moments where we get a sneak peak at what comes later, what life is about.
Life is about becoming willing and able to love like Jesus did. And Jesus was God’s love for us fleshed out, expressed so we could know it first hand, up close and personal.
God’s love is a love with no illusions, but also no limits. It’s unconditional love, humbling in a way, because we don’t and can’t earn it. And it seems like God has terrible taste, because He loves everyone, even those tacky, awful people we can’t stand.
God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.
Sometimes God’s love fills our heart with joy until we feel like we may burst.
But, God’s love also opens our hearts to suffer with those we love until the stretching makes our hearts feels like they are literally going to tear in two.
The joy of love and the suffering of love are two sides of the same coin. You do not get one without the other.
“There are faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.
In fact, that’s the goal of the first two.
But it is hard in different ways for each of us, because we are different from one another. Ask any mother of more than
one child. They will tell you we are all born different. Some babies are quiet and placid, but solemn. Some are quiet
and calm, but smile and laugh easily. Some are hyper-active even as infants lying on their backs in a bassinet. Some
are hyper-sensitive to sounds, startle easily, and react to change. Some are tuned in to their inner world,
reacting very little to their environment. Some are quite independent, while others need more cuddling, attention
and support. Some are excitable, with an inborn tendency to over react to both positive and negative experiences.
Many children as early as two or three have vivid imaginations. Some both empathize and identify with story book
characters, often later believing themselves stalked by the story book monsters. Others are thrilled by the vicarious
terror, but don’t identify with it.
When my father read me stories about children being lost or animals being hurt, it would upset me so much that a
happy ending didn’t make it all right.
Watch how differently children and adults react to shows like America’s Funniest Videos. Some wince or even cry, as
if everything is happening to them; others are detached and amused, whether the event is real and painful for
someone else or not.
Each personality trait has an upside and a downside, each dominant trait we have gives us both
strengths and weaknesses. I’ve worked with tools for measuring and illustrating this, such as the Meyers-Briggs Type
Indicator and the Enneagram, but for this short article it is simpler to use more life experience descriptions.
A person who is very aware of and sensitive to their own feelings may empathize with others, championing the
underdog or the vulnerable, but will tend to over-react to slights or criticism, real or imagined.
As a child I was equally excitable and responsive to happy and sad things . When I
was three, I was so excited about Christmas that when I finally was taken in to see my toys under the
tree, I threw up on them before I could even play with them.
In my anxiety filled teen years, my stomach rebelled to even mild stress and I learned to not eat all day before just
going out on dates. Unfortunately for my dates, once I was out, I calmed down and got voraciously hungry. I was
not a cheap date.
As an adult I often experience sheer joy over even small things such as the beauty of nature, children’s laughter,
my grandchildren’s curiosity about the world, but I also experience extremely dark times over my own failures or
the people I love’s pain.
Even traits we consider wonderful have a down side. People with high IQ’s tend to assume they are right and often
are not open to other’s opinions, but the reality is that no one is right all the time.
Years ago, I attended a workshop where slogan and affirmations were posted on the walls. One that simply jumped
out at me was, “I am competent and loveable.”
My immediate reaction was, “No. You can’t be both.”
In my experience the really efficient people are task oriented. They are both competent and persevering. They
focus on the goal, prioritize the details, and plow ahead, often over people who unwittingly get in their way. Many
things would not get accomplished without this type of person, but they may alienate so many people along the way
that in the long run their effectiveness will be diminished.
Personally, my greatest value has been ideas that help people in general and my focus has been on relationships.
Physical details, particularly about machines, don’t show up on my radar most of the time.
I once had a secretarial job that involved a lot of detail and working with elaborate and expensive office machines.
I was a total disaster. Luckily, I realized this and left after three months. I am sure everyone there breathed a sigh of
But later I had a much higher paying job as a director that involved recruiting volunteers and bringing in training
programs for them, creating and organizing new programs, and doing publicity for these. I was successful at this in
spite of it involving a lot of detail, because I was good at recognizing, recruiting, and supporting people with the skills
that I don’t have.
I wasted a lot of angst in my early life expecting to be equally good at everything. I taught first grade and one sweet
little girl simply would not do her math homework. When I finally confronted her over this, she looked at me with her
big brown eyes and said sadly, “Oh Miz Norman, I’m good at reading. Do I have to be good at everything?” My gut
level response was, “Of course.” Luckily, I stopped and thought about it. Finally, I said, “No, you don’t have to be
equally good at everything. But you need to at least learn survival skills in math. If you don’t know basic math, how
will you be able to shop?” She thought about that for a minute and decided I was right.
I’m pretty sure she didn’t go on to become a mathematician, but hopefully she is out there somewhere shopping and
keeping her checkbook balanced.
She actually freed me of the belief that I was stupid, if I couldn’t easily excel in everything, and to accept that I had to
work harder at some things just to survive. I now try to do the things I want to avoid first, but in spurts, followed by
shorter breaks doing things I enjoy or find easy. This is a method of motivating myself with a reward and
encouraging myself by doing something I can do easily.
I tend to envy people who live in the present moment. They seem so carefree, since they are not over-burdened by
past mistakes or wounds and don’t worry much about the future. In fact they hardly think about the future at all.
They are happy, optimistic and fun, but the downside is that they are often oblivious to possible consequences of
their choices in the moment.
I have always tended to focus on the future, imagining its wonderful possibilities. Sometimes this has helped me be an
agent for change and to plan ahead for a lot of eventualities. But I also end up living in a picture perfect world in my
head. Then when reality doesn’t measure up, I don’t persevere if I see that I can’t achieve the ideal I have
pictured. I think that a lot of my life has been lived by the motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t make a
fool of yourself, try something else.” Now in my later years my life challenge is to learn to persevere even through
failures and to accept that nothing is perfect. At seventy-six I still haven’t quite gotten there , but I have made a lot
I am emotionally volatile. In the early years of our fifty-six years of marriage, my husband said I could go from
bubbling with joy to total despondency faster than a speeding bullet. And sometimes when I fell into one of my
feeling pits that make doing anything seem like struggling through quicksand, I would become almost paralyzed. But
along the way I discovered that I can continue to function even when depressed, if I cut myself some slack by
prioritizing and only doing what is completely necessary. And, if I don’t waste time and energy by beating myself up
over this trait, I pull our fairly quickly and can go longer periods without becoming a bottomless pit of wants and
People like me should be assigned a counselor at birth. At several crisis points in my life I have gotten counseling,
some good, some not so much. But good or not, because I’m all about evolution, on the grand scale and the
personal, once I recognize that I’ve bogged down, I persevere at finding what I need to work through it.
And I’ve come to see that we all evolve in different patterns of stages and in a circle. For instance at a different
time in life, I and others like me, begin to focus temporarily on being more task oriented people. And the task
oriented people will at some point do just the opposite, thus developing skills in our weaker traits.
The good news is that in our later years we find it easier to become reasonably competent in our weakest
areas. (Easi er, not easy, because in order to do this we must let go of our strength, a kind of dying to self.)
And for me that means being able to accept imperfect reality and to be willing to persevere in inching toward
becoming the unique, but imperfect, person I was created to be.
Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my seventy-six years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.
Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.
And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.
One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.
As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)
And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.
When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.
For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”
It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.
And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, Jordan sang out with conviction,
“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”
On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.
And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.
As a post script I’d like to share what David, when he was a college junior, told us on our Face Book page. He and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer.
Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”
reposted for the Christmas season 2013
I just discovered a blogger who says what I feel better than I even knew it. Here are a couple of quotes that resonate with me.
“Coming from a full heart prayer is a place of union, rather than one of needing and taking; separateness. There is a connection that’s comfortable, familiar…real. In this flow, what used to be designated time for prayer/contemplation, becomes a never ending conversation. The word faith loses its usefulness, for it’s been replaced by trust. Unable to feel alone anymore, you’ve been embraced…with a love like no other.”
“From a heart that deeply cares, life is deeply experienced. Taken root is an understanding, that what looks like many is actually one. A silent acknowledgement of the connectedness existing within, without, above and below erases the illusion we are separate from anything. And it is from this …that what you give changes.”
These are from Sharon Brooks at http://www.arevivaloftheheart.com
Do not let your reason limit your faith, but also do not let your faith limit your reason. God gave us both to use in an ongoing, open-ended dialogue. It is hubris to think we know enough to limit any possibilities. But it is total rejection of the gift God gave us, as those made in His image and likeness, to not use our intellect to explore His creation and to grow in our understanding and appreciation of it and Him.
Life is a school where tests are not about passing or failing, but are a learning tool instead. Loneliness is a universal experience meant to fuel a lifelong quest for God. And the vulnerabilities of those we love open us to prayer. Then the joy of loving leads us from just crying “Help!” to celebrations of “Thanks” and “Praise.” Lack of money challenges us to learn to live by God’s priorities. Loss of health brings us to depend on Him. The old are freed from caring what others think; they see that only God’s opinion matters. And recess comes when once we admit we’ve passed our peak, we’re free to just be comic relief.
God made us precisely to be imperfect, incomplete and insufficient human beings. It is our neediness and feelings of helplessness that keep us depending on God’s grace and mercy….To be a saint means to be myself…..the problem of sanctity is in fact the problem of finding out who I am…my true self….God leaves us free to be real or unreal.” Thomas Merton in New Seeds of Contemplation.
“In no way does God expect us to act perfectly. We are challenged instead to accept ourselves with all our assets and liabilities; to be perfectly the imperfect people we are. God never seemed to want another perfect being. Prayer gives us the courage to confront our illusions……to embrace our weaknesses as well as our strengths. Without condoning our destructive behaviors, we can recognize them as opportunities for humility, forgiveness, and mercy…..To be who we are, the persons God loved into existence, implies the acceptance of grace, self-honesty, healthy self love, and a keen sense of humor.” Sister Maria Edwards, Spiritual Director and Author
1 Corinthians 1:18 —“The message of the Cross is foolishness to the world, but to those being saved, it is the power of God. God chose what is weak and rejected, so no one might boast. Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord”.
Romans 5:3-5 “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our heart through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
“Hope is a series of small actions that transform the darkness into light…..Despair is an affliction of the memory. Hope depends on remembering what we have survived. Hope is the gift that rises from the grave of despair…..We can choose to persevere in hope through darkness.” Sister Joan Chisttister in Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope.
“Faith is: a conviction that God can and hope that He will.” From Thomas(?) Greene in Bread for the Journey.
“But trusting and listening for what He is teaching, when he doesn’t.” Eileen Norman
The thing about miracles is that they happen so that when you are called to tough it out, you know that there’s a reason, even if you don’t get to see what it is in this life. I’ve experienced miracles, so you’d think I’d be cool when I’m facing a challenge. NOT! A spiritual counselor once told me that I have spiritual Alzheimer’s. I was very distressed over that at the time, but I have to admit, it’s true.
Life is hard. PERIOD! And different kinds of hard defeat different types of people. Most of the time, when I’m faced with a serious life crisis, I pray, gather others’ prayers, then focus, rally my inner resources, and stay functional at least until it’s over.
But when faced with a string of challenges, particularly ones requiring the handling of a lot of details, I get scattered, constantly distracted, and overwhelmed. I forget all the miracles, even God’s obvious interventions in similar circumstances in the past. I end up a basket case.
Now once again, I have let my present challenges stress me out, forgetting God’s miracles in the past, doubting His grace, and allowing myself to become paralyzed by imagining worst case scenarios.
So, I’m writing my memories of similar past challenges and God’s visible hand in them to nurture my mustard seed of faith, praying it will free me to trust God even if He doesn’t rescue me from my circumstances this time. So hopefully, I will be able to be open to what God is teaching me or calling me to through these particular challenges.
I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years old until I was thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a house in the country. As our own family grew, we spent many weekends at Birdsong, their lovely hundred year old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and beauty of a bygone era. It also had a two hundred acre rural setting of forests with a river like creek, a water fall and swimming hole, fields of peonies, horses and barn, a pond, and a historic ruin of a civil war powder mill. At first I had followed my mother-in-law on explorations to look for Jack-in-the-Pulpit and tiny wild Iris with a city dweller’s trepidations, “snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But eventually I fell in love with nature, from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section which would include a planned hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, tenant house, and thirty-five acres for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, this was an incredible financial offer. Our home was a pleasant four bedroom two-story house in an area of wonderful public schools, but Birdsong was twice its size, beautiful, historic, and unique with a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. After prayerful discussion, we decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due. While in the hospital recuperating from my surgeries, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could take possession in a month, which was the week after Christmas. To say the least, it was a somewhat daunting prospect in my post operative condition, with a new baby, and four other children under ten. But again, it seemed a miracle to sell so quickly and I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted any thing. To top it off, one of my husband’s brothers hired a baby nurse to help me for the first two weeks, so it seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately my new son needed a hernia repair shortly after we had come home from the hospital. The night before his surgery, the doctor discovered that he also had a heart valve defect. The defect didn’t appear life threatening and it was one that sometimes is outgrown, so they only did his hernia surgery. The day we brought him home, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted another offer for the whole two hundred acres and Birdsong. So, we ended up two weeks before Christmas having to be out of our house in three weeks with nowhere to go. I was pretty much in shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling realtors turned up nothing to rent until we could figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools unnecessarily, but there simply wasn’t anything available. At that time the house market in our area was no better. I sat on the couch after I had called the last realtor with tears running down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, a middle-aged black woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around me.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive or climb stairs for another month and answered, “A five bedroom, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That would give us time to decide where to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A c c c can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes, we have to take the baby back to the doctor tomorrow and I’d rather drive my car, but it needs a can of oil.”
I tried to not look incredulous, as she began to pray specifically. When she finished and we said “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman I knew from our school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said. “I’m sorry to bother you, but my car has stopped running at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get the mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.”
After her phone call, she joined me for coffee as we waited for the mechanic and the oil.
“I hear you’ve sold this house,” she said. “And you’re moving to the country.”
“Well, not now. That fell through and though I don’t want to move the children from their school until we figure out what we are going to do, there’s nothing available to rent around here right now. I’m kind of in a panic.”
“Do you know about the Keck house?” she asked excitedly.
“No. Where is that?”
“It’s one street over and two houses down. You can see the back yard from here. They are going as missionaries to the Philippines for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first week in January if they can find a renter. They are trying to do that by word of mouth, because they don’t want just anyone to move in since they are leaving all their belongings.”
“What is the house like?” I asked, almost holding my breath.
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms , a study, and a nice den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.
I couldn’t believe my ears. “We have a large basement at our office where we could store their belongings, “ I said excitedly. “With our having five children, that would probably be safer for their furniture and happier for our kids.”
Three weeks later, we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own hundred acre wood, my husband designed a marvelous house for our family, and nine months later when school was starting, we moved to a county with a much better school district than the county where Birdsong was. We lived there for twenty-seven years.
Another challenging selling and moving story with surprising happy results will follow soon along with the parallel challenges we are currently facing.
I should believe! I do believe. Help Thou my human fears.