Couldn’t Resist This One

The Story of my Spiritual Life Illustrated

 

Living Only in the Present Moment: the Downside

A cautionary tale of our religious ancestors:
First we have Esau, an outdoors, physical kind of guy who lives in the present moment. And in this story he is so focused on his physical hunger in the moment that he’s oblivious to the long term consequences of his choice. Seriously, sell your whole future for the quick fix of a bowl of stew? (Jelly doughnuts maybe, but not stew.) Esau might have skipped lunch, but he isn’t starving. And then there is his twin brother, Jacob, a guy who not only thinks about the future, but wants the security of being number one so badly he robs the person closest to him of his birthright while he’s feeling weak. Obviously, there’s nothing new about dysfunctional families.
Like Esau and Jacob, we also have hungers that we justify as needs, because they dull the pain of being imperfect and vulnerable in a scary world.
I don’t know about you, but I’m often a bottomless pit of needs and wants.  Which makes me inclined to addictions, the need to control, and often being judgmental in my heart. And those are just the things I’m willing to tell you about.
But, thanks be, Jesus himself tells us that God’s love for all of us, not just for the goody two shoes, is like the tender love of a mother and father for their own tiny new baby. I’ve experienced that awesome unconditional love of God through Jesus. And though I believe the title ‘chosen’ leads to hubris and the word ‘saved’ can delude us that we are finished, I do know heart, mind, and soul without any doubt, that I (and all of you) are tenderly and totally loved by the God that created us.
Then why is life, even with its beauty, pleasures, love, and joy, so darn hard? Perhaps, the problem is that humanity is still childishly frozen in the terrible twos’ stage, where like Esau, we want what we want when we want it, no matter the consequences.
Whatever Jesus being one with God means, the human Jesus took on our frailty and struggled just as we do. Like us, he often learned the hard way by trial and error. Think of Mary and Joseph- frantic when their twelve year old stays behind in Jerusalem without telling them. Finally, only after his mom makes him realize how unkind that was, Jesus goes home and by obeying them, ‘grows in wisdom and goodness.’ He didn’t come into the world finished. At the wedding in Cana, we see the thirty year old Jesus reluctantly start his public ministry when he is again nagged by his mom to be kind. Later, the now amazing miracle working Jesus, not only gets totally exhausted, but sometimes is so overwhelmed by the huge crowds of needy people, that he tries to escape them. Then we hear him venting his frustration with his followers for always missing the point. And near the end, he gets so upset and angry that he calls his best friend Peter, ‘Satan,’ for tempting him to deny the suffering ahead. NOT kind! He even breaks down and weeps from the heartbreak of failing to reach his own people. This is a Jesus we can identify with. After first resisting what were then heretical challenges, he shocks everyone by allowing women, unbelievers, and even an enemy Roman to convince him to include everyone in his ministry to the ‘people of God’. That’s a BIGGIE.
But his most important example for us is that over and over, he needs one on one time with God. Because God is his number one source of wisdom, power, strength to persevere, and most of all – love. And he knows that the Spirit of God is within, so he goes to the mountain top to get away from the clamor of daily life so he can hear that quiet voice. If he needed that, how much more do we need to take that time to listen.
In the garden when he faces all that he must lose and suffer, in an absolute agony of fear, he sweats blood. He even begs God to spare him, but then his first-hand experience of God’s love frees him to trust God’s will. Still, at the very end, rejected and betrayed by his friends, he cries out in desperation when he feels like even God has abandoned him. But, even in the depths of that terrible loneliness, he chooses to commit his spirit to God.
Jesus living in the limits of humanity is able only because of His always deepening relationship with God to survive the failure of his best efforts, rejection by his own people, betrayal by those closest to him, and even death, all without becoming embittered or unforgiving. From the cross he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Ultimately he shows us, that from a close relationship with God, all loss, even death, can become a doorway, not an ending. To me, without the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, life obviously not only doesn’t have a happy ending, but wouldn’t seem to have any lasting purpose, never-the-less a reason to keep on struggling to learn how to forgive and love unconditionally.

Celebrating turning Eighty

My husband, Julian, our five children and spouses, eight of our nine grandchildren and three great-grand children gave me a marvelous birthday weekend. They rented a large suite at the beautiful Montgomery Bell State Park near us and decorated it with a New Orleans and Mardi Gras Theme complete with Dixie Land Music, Mardi Gras Masks, beads, balloons, flowers, and all kinds of tinsel spirals and confetti. There was an awesome feast of New Orleans foods. I was born in New Orleans, baptized in the St. Louis Cathedral and lived in the Pontalba Apartments on Jackson Square in the French quarter.  We moved when I was six,and I have lived since 1961 in Tennessee, but somehow New Orleans and the French Quarter are still my hearts home.  My grown children also put some poster size and other smaller collages of pictures of me from the various stages of my life all over the walls along with signs and pictures of New Orleans.  I thought that was cool, until they started snapping photos of eighty year old me next to twenty and thirty year old me.  No fair!

St. Louis Cathedral where I was baptized. Right across from Jackson Square and catty-corner to our apartments.  Mom told me we went to the French Market for coffee and pastries every morning.  

 

I’m not very good at posting photos.  I couldn’t get them to stay in a reasonable line.  They started stringing out.

Various ages…..none 80!!!

My only daughter Julie, and her husband Scot and son Jake came from Memphis. Julie found all the decorations for the New Orleans theme and they all spent a whole lot of time decorating.  The rooms  looked out over the lake and woods.   And my daughter-in-law, Molly fixed chicken and linguini and pineapple upside down cake and peach cobbler.  Julie baked both chocolate covered and coconut topped cupcakes…..and of course there was lots of ice cream. Yum!

 

Parasol Princess, great-granddaughter Eisley here from Seattle. Her dad, Josh, just back  to Seattle from Hawaii surprised me by coming also.

Parasol Queen Eileen from New Orleans.  With  twelve year old granddaughter Emma sitting next to me.   Julie gave me the spangled shawl and the wonderful parasol.                                                

Jambalaya, Shrimp and Grits, Red beans and Rice, Shrimp and pasta with garlic sauce. and more. Here our third son, Steve, from Atlanta is helping Julie. (Or getting himself some wine!)

Presents! Yay!  But the best presents were son Mike and son -in-law Patrick in for the first time in a year from Cambodia where they teach at an Orphanage for children.  And our Julie’s son Jordan who was in from Bolivia where he teaches fifth grade.

 

Here I’m with my mom in New Orleans. Of course I fell and skinned my nose and got my dress dirty right before the Newspaper photographer came. Klutz is my middle name.  I hadn’t looked at this photo or the one with my dad in a long time.  My husband found them and gave them to the kids to put up.  Very poignant for me to look at these at my age.  My parents have been gone a very long time.  

 

Here I’m a Senior in High School in Houston

Not quite 80 in this one. I confess it’s one of my better little old lady pictures.

Last year at my husband Julian’s eightieth birthday with our five children.

With my dad, then  a newspaper reporter in New Orleans,                                                                                                                   later City Editor of the Houston Post. He grew up in New Orleans.  Any way, having such a loving family, good memories,  and such a fun celebration came a long way toward making being eighty seem pretty good.

 

 

Total Humiliation as Grace: My One Stooge Act at the Altar

About forty years ago, our quite elderly parish priest had been a Scripture Scholar and a consultant for Vatican ll, so he was very up to date on the changes that were being made. I guess I was as close to being a feminist as anyone in our small rural church, so he asked me to carry the large Bible at the front of the procession into the church at the beginning of Mass. (A first for laity and a first for women in our parish) I was to carry it open, held out prominently, bow, go up the two stairs to the altar and then carry it over to the lectern on the left. I would then step down on that side to sit until time for the scriptures to be read. I would then be the first woman in our parish to read the Scripture aloud as part of the Mass. It was a great honor, but very scary, since I am a terribly clumsy person and the potential for disaster was mind boggling. I was terrified. I made it all the way down the aisle without dropping the rather heavy bible, but unknown to me, carpenters had raised each of the two steps up to the altar an inch or so that week. So, I tripped on the first step, staggered drunkenly up the second, and did a juggling act trying to keep the Bible from flying out of my hands. Some how I got it onto the lectern and started shakily down the two stairs to the pew on the side, looking down to make sure I didn’t trip again. I forgot there was a pillar there and ran head on into it, almost knocking myself out. I sort of fell into the pew and by the time my eyes could focus, it was time for me to do the first reading. It suddenly hit me as funny. It seemed like God’s somewhat warped humorous way to remind me to let go and let Him do it. And I was able with His grace to read the scripture with clarity and feeling and understanding. And ever since, when I get nervous about preaching, reading or leading prayer at worship, I remember that beginning and think……well, I’ve already done my total humiliation thing…and with grace survived it and learned from it. Then I am able to chuckle to myself as I visualize that first time and let go and let God do Her thing.

Be Humble or Be Humbled

Since my experience of the total love of God through Jesus when I was thirty after several years of rather hedonistic agnosticism and then several more years spent searching for spiritual meaning and purpose, my heart’s desire has been to somehow communicate that love to others.

God’s love didn’t make me perfect, but it brought meaning and purpose, an acceptance of the reality of my human weakness, and hope for growth and change through grace. Change for the better has been slow and spotty, but is still part of my journey at “almost’ eighty. ( I have a couple of hours left till the eighty.)

My most natural gift is speaking. And a Spiritual gift of seeing the connection between Scriptures and daily life came with my conversion. For a long time I just did whatever needed doing, like teaching, making soup for the sick and poor, smiling at people, organizing my husband and children into a work crew for church and school events, recruiting and getting training for religion teachers, and and at that time a new ministry for laity and particularly women, reading the Scriptures aloud for worship services.

Some of the more obvious experiences of God curtailing my tendency to hubris seem worth sharing, if only to give others a chuckle.

One came to mind this morning as I was checking my old lady chin for whiskers. Forty years ago when teaching a fifth and sixth grade confirmation preparation class in a Catholic School, I was (I thought) waxing eloquent on the opportunity at confirmation to make their own choice of Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord and how wonderful that is. At the end, I asked if anyone had a question. One rather quiet boy raised his hand. My heart filled with joyous expectation as I said, “Yes, Jesse?” To which he replied quite seriously, “Mrs. Norman, Do you have a mustache?”

Two Books with a Non-Political Approach to Saving our Failing American Healthcare

An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal At a moment of drastic political upheaval, An American Sickness is a shocking investigation into our dysfunctional healthcare system – and offers practical solutions to its myriad problems.
“Patients can save thousands of dollars by purchasing An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal.”— New York Journal of Books
In these troubled times, perhaps no institution has unraveled more quickly and more completely than American medicine. In only a few decades, the medical system has been overrun by organizations seeking to exploit for profit the trust that vulnerable and sick Americans place in their healthcare. Our politicians have proven themselves either unwilling or incapable of reining in the increasingly outrageous costs faced by patients, and market-based solutions only seem to funnel larger and larger sums of our money into the hands of corporations. Impossibly high insurance premiums and inexplicably large bills have become facts of life; fatalism has set in. Very quickly Americans have been made to accept paying more for less. How did things get so bad so fast?
Breaking down this monolithic business into the individual industries—the hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and drug manufacturers—that together constitute our healthcare system, Rosenthal exposes the recent evolution of American medicine as never before. How did healthcare, the caring endeavor, become healthcare, the highly profitable industry? Hospital systems, which are managed by business executives, behave like predatory lenders, hounding patients and seizing their homes. Research charities are in bed with big pharmaceutical companies, which surreptitiously profit from the donations made by working people. Patients receive bills in code, from entrepreneurial doctors they never even saw.
The system is in tatters, but we can fight back. Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal doesn’t just explain the symptoms, she diagnoses and treats the disease itself. In clear and practical terms, she spells out exactly how to decode medical doublespeak, avoid the pitfalls of the pharmaceuticals racket, and get the care you and your family deserve. She takes you inside the doctor-patient relationship and to hospital C-suites, explaining step-by-step the workings of a system badly lacking transparency. This is about what we can do, as individual patients, both to navigate the maze that is American healthcare and also to demand far-reaching reform. An American Sickness is the frontline defense against a health care system that no longer has our well-being at heart.

Catastrophic Care by David Goldhill
Catastrophic Care explodes the myth that Medicare and insurance coverage can make care cheaper and improve our health. It shows how efforts to reform the system, including the Affordable Care Act, will do nothing to address the waste of the health care industry, which currently costs the country nearly $2.7 trillion annually and in which as many as 200, 000 Americans die each year from preventable erros. Catastrophic Care proposes a completely new approach, one that will change the way you think about one of our most pressing national problems.
The London Guardian’s Michael Wolff says: Powerful—edge0of-the-seat riveting—because it is not, in any sense a policy book. Rather, this is a story about saving ourselves…It steps outside the established political debate and lexicon. It is one of the rare books addressing a major national policy issue that is able to do so in language not already debased by the problem itself. Alas, healthcare civilians can’t actually read most books about healthcare……But you can read this one.
Harvard Medical School Dean of Faculty, Jeffrey S. Flier says: For those who are troubled by both the failures of our health care system and the misdirected diagnosis and prescriptions offered by pundits, policy experts, and politicians from across the political spectrum, Goldhill offers a much needed antidote. By pointing out the almost invisible incentives and regulations that drive the dysfunction of our current system, he offers an illuminating framework for understanding the crisis, and then a path to the kind of reforms that will surely be necessary.

Empowerment

I do believe power corrupts. As far as I can see, Christianity died when Constantine made it the state religion. I’m getting to do my once a month sermon from the molehill tomorrow. I’m telling about trying to get my youngest son, at three years of age, to speak into a recorder to send a message to his Grandmother. He froze when faced with the microphone, so I encouraged him to start by saying who he was. He just looked more and more frustrated. Then he cried out, “I’m somebody! I’m somebody.” A universal cry of our hearts, I believe. Unfortunately it leads to all sorts of idols/addictions: The need to be right, righteous, rich, powerful,special, a winner, A moment that has stayed with me is when 4 first grade boys in a Special Olympics race were clustered together and almost to the finish line. Then, suddenly, one of them fell down. Simultaneously the other three all turned back to help him up. And they crossed the finish line together holding him up.
I’m 80 and I’m not there yet.

Dark Matter

I think now and then

that it would be best
if all of us could fall into
amnesia,

tumbling to the ground
without our past knowledge
of walking, talking, sleeping,
shouting, killing.

It would not be
glorious renewal —
I’m no Utopian.

Instead I see it as
a fitting end to things:

all of us helpless, seeing 
every other one of us
from ground level,
lying there uneasily
as if new born, waiting
in complete equality
for an explanation
that will never come.

We’ve lived
for generations
terrorized by
by dark claims of 
mastery from those
utterly in thrall
to a lie called history.

It would be fitting, 
even at such cost, if
they were freed long enough
from that spell
to know how it felt not to be
empowered.

To see the world as it is,
from the ground up.

To squirm.

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Some Blocks and Keys to Success

Finding what we love and have the talents for takes longer for some of us than others. We may have a lot of small talents and interests, so we tend to move from one project or job to another.
Often those who naturally have good study or work habits will out-perform those that appear to have more talent or higher IQ’s.
And lack of confidence can cause us to be over sensitive to suggestions for improvement, making us unteachable and leading to discouragement and giving up.
But, when we combine our natural abilities and focus those on what we value most, it makes a huge difference in how well we do.
Then motivation becomes the key to perseverance. And even those of us who hate detail and repetition can manage to do the necessary nitty-gritty to accomplish what we consider important.
PRIORITIZE: What interests and energizes you most that you are reasonably competent to do?
FOCUS: Identify resources of time, money, space, training, materials, and support people needed to accomplish this.
PERSEVERE: Don’t give up if you fail. Learn from your mistakes. Get help when you need it. Constructive criticism is instruction. Be realistic in your goal.

To my mother & daughters: “Sorry about…you know… the world.” #Mother’sDay Apology #SundayBlogShare #humor

Barb Taub

To my parents and my kids— “I’m SO sorry about the whole world. Except for chocolate. And coffee, of course. “

For the past year, I have done very little work on my current writing projects. We bought a house, and for the first time I felt like I understood my mother.

Mother had her first five children in six years. Someone asked her about that childless year in the middle. “That was the year,” explained Mother, “we bought the house.” The Year Of The House included but was not limited to:

  • My brother falling into the hole being dug for the new basement bathroom (one broken collarbone)
  • My attempt to slide down a bannister which stopped halfway down the stairs even though I didn’t (stitches in chin)
  • My brother running his arm through the wringer-washer (skin grafts)
  • My sister releasing the handbrake on their first new car (totalled—the car, not the…

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The Attack of the Centipede or I Am Never Going to Sleep Again

After falling and breaking my shoulder last year, I now sleep with a light on. Tonight about midnight, when I got back from my first trip to check out the plumbing, what to my horrified eyes did appear, but a sizable centipede crawling right over my head. Too short to reach it and too arthritic to climb, I was afraid to swat at it and have it fall possibly under, or even worse, into my bed.

Keeping one eye on it as it began to start down the wall, I grabbed a file folder to carry it out. Then cringing and gritting my teeth as it turned heading higher and more out of my reach, I woke up my husband for help. While he groggily tried to wake up, I turned back to do battle. As I pulled my bed with its nest of pillows and covers away from the wall, the centipede started back down. Holding my breath, I managed to lure it onto the folder. .
While considering my options, toilet or disposal, it raced on its hundred legs toward my hand. I screamed. Loudly! Then tried to think what I would tell the police if a neighbor called 911. “But officer, it was a centipede attack!”
But my hero arose and took the cardboard folder in time. I cheered quietly as he hurried with it toward the front door, then groaned as it took a dive to the floor.

A floor the same color as our centipede escapee.

Since neither of us had on our glasses or shoes, we tiptoed gingerly bending as low as we could. When wounded or killed, this kind of centipede gets its revenge. It stinks up the house. And if it’s just scared, it has tiny teeth that can bite. We would never have found it if it had stayed still. But as it raced to hide, it ran onto the folder. I grabbed the door and it was  thrown out of sight.

As I whispered “Hooray,” I thought my husband was taking a bow. But at our age, it’s easier to bend than get back upright. Once helped back to bed, he fell quickly to sleep.
But as I looked at my bed, I thought of its mate and that centipedes travel mostly at night.

Now as I type, I imagine things tickling my legs and my back.  And shudder as I imagine a hundred little feet and tiny teeth that can bite. So, my plan now is to stay up all night.