The Prayers of Our Lives

It is a prayer of faith when someone struggling with depression continues to face each painful day by clinging to God even in their desert night.
The act of hope of parents who lose children and risk loving again is prayer given flesh.
The breadwinner who quietly quits their job rather than go along with corruption is a light on the path to the Kingdom of God.
Couples that struggle to forgive and rebuild relationships that have crumbled under human failure are living prayers of love.
The many sitting vigils at the foot of a suffering loved one write bright prayers across a winter sky of faith that does not have to see.
And when a rough hewn, weary farmer speaks softly of a moment when twilight mists in freshly mown fields fill his heart with awe, I see that, for that moment, creation and creator have become as one.
Perhaps the purest prayer of all is when an autumn breeze swirls golden leaves like sudden showers and a tiny toddler spontaneously and joyfully applauds. Then the praise of angels has touched us here on earth.
Prayers have flesh and bone and walk among us every day. There are myriad ways to pray.

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The Variety of Grief

I once heard a very kind priest friend say of a well-known priest author, “That man has never had a thought he didn’t feel he had to express.” I was a momentarily taken aback, because my friend was a very kind man who never said anything negative about anyone. I realized then that he was expressing the same mystification most introverts must feel about extroverts. Of course, extroverts frequently misinterpret introverts’ silence and need for privacy as dislike or disinterest or even distrust.
After years of studying and working with the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, I have admitted that I don’t really know what I think about something until I manage to express it in words. And verbal dialogue is also intrinsic to my sense of relationship. I’ve learned that this is not only problematic for introverts that live or work with me, but often downright irritating.
Luckily, I have lived long enough to experience the wonderful outlet of the internet. I can express and hear myself in print at any hour of the day or night. And no one has to listen unless they want to and only when it’s convenient for them and only as long as they wish. And the introverts don ‘t have to say anything unless they feel like it and even then, all they have to do is hit one key to make a response.
Recently, I’ve been experiencing life changing challenges and I really do need to explore my feelings and insights by expressing them. Also, I think it’s possible that my describing what I’m feeling and learning may be some help to someone else out there. And happily, if not, they don’t need to waste their time reading what I write.
One of the challenges I am still facing is that we really do differ in our ways of dealing with grief. No matter how many stages are described as general, we don’t experience or work through them all the same. Partly because of differences in personality, but also because of many different factors about the way a loved one died, the timing for them and us, and past experiences with our own grief and others’ ways of grieving.
My husband was like a cat with nine lives. When I read back over his medical history, he came through so many close calls with death, I lose count. And in the last few years he fought valiantly with cardiac issues with stents and a pacemaker, AFIB, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, successful surgery for a malignant tumor in his lung, a return of lung cancer that was inoperable and that spread beyond the lungs as stage 4 cancer, stage 3 Kidney disease…..all of which weakened him too much to risk chemo therapy. He was in and out of ER’s, hospitalizations of various lengths up to two weeks several times, and finally five months in a nursing home, first attempting through therapy to get strong enough for chemo, then failing that, for nursing care and hospice.
We have five grown children who have been simply awesome in their active care giving and support through all of this. And each of them is grieving in their own way now. And I have realized that not all of them are finding my way easy to understand.
To begin with, I generally live in the future of possibilities, both negative and positive ones. In other words, I worry way ahead of things, but I also like to explore new ways of being happy or productive or creative or loving.
When my husband was diagnosed with IPF over two years ago and I learned it was incurable, fatal, and a horrible way to die, I began to worry and pray that he would be spared that death. Of course, heart failure seemed a much better way to die, but with a pacemaker, less likely. My husband’s strongest trait was perseverance. When he grew weaker and no longer able to work effectively at what he loved, he became stressed and began to have some memory issues.
Finally he had to admit that he could no longer continue working. Now he was suffering anxiety attacks, frequent pneumonia and bronchial infections, then surgery to remove a tumor in his right lung, and then cellulitis contracted during a hospitalization, and finally kidney issues and depression. The physical and emotional stress affected him in many ways and by the time he entered the nursing home with stage 4 cancer, he simply wasn’t the strong silent gentle man that I had lived with for almost sixty years.
I did not love him less. I loved him more. And I gladly learned how to take care of many of his medical needs. But long before he could accept that he was dying, I began to work through my fears, experience loneliness, take over unfamiliar tasks, and try in many ways to prepare for having to survive on my own.
The wonderful physical, financial, and emotional support our five children gave us helped me to do this. And my faith and the amazing love and faith of caregivers at the nursing home lifted me out of my darkest moments. And the nurses and support staff of Hospice were able to help me anticipate and understand the rapid changes that were happening toward the end. The dying need very different things than those who are able to try to get well.
Some of the influences on my way of dealing with the loss of my husband were my tendency to anticipate and plan ahead, my deepest fear of his having to suffer terribly fighting to breathe, my having seen my very strong mother simply close down when my father died totally unexpectedly at fifty-two, watching her die by inches with Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, but particularly my many experiences of grace and glimpses of meaning in my own and sometimes others’ suffering over my eighty-one years.
I have usually dealt with short crises fairly well. It’s been the long haul attrition kind of things that could defeat me. So, over the two and a half years of constant crises, I have learned to watch for beauty, kindness, love, tiny joys like sunshine and flowers and birds and small kindnesses and laughter. I see these as grace, as the gentle touches of God. They are all around us every day if we watch for them. They seem small in the face of death of one we love, but they are myriad.
I am a weak person, easily overwhelmed by too many practical details and emotionally vulnerable to the unexpected blow. Having a large caring family help me deal with details has been an incredible blessing. Having time and medical personnel who have been down this road before me to help me understand each phase softened each blow. The blessing of the final gentle pain free death from his heart stopping before his having to fight to breathe has kept me from despair.
At times the reality that he will never be with me again in this life feels heart breaking and overwhelms me. But so far, at least, it has not robbed me of gratitude for my caring family, of healing laughter, hope for creativity in my life, the energy to try to keep reasonably functional, or my many memories of the love and joy my husband gave me.

Jeremiah, an Eeyore With Faith

Had forgotten I wrote this. Appropriate for our political world today and my personal loss also. God is our bottom line.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

I used to avoid reading the prophet Jeremiah. He seemed so negative, a real downer. But I’ve come to realize that he would make a great character in a modern novel. He has such a complex and conflicted personality.
Babylon’s long siege has brought terrible suffering to Jerusalem and its army is now battering the gates. Good old Jeremiah is loudly proclaiming, “Babylon is gonna win! They are going to haul King Zedekiah off. You might as well all defect and get it over with, because you can’t win. This is God’s retribution. You brought it on yourselves.”

Jeremiah’s really great for morale in a war zone.

But at the same time the Lord also tells Jeremiah to buy his cousin’s land officially, in front of witnesses, for the time when God will return Israel to Jerusalem. That would be like buying an ocean front house in Florida in the…

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Zip Codes in Heaven?

I had a fun blessing this morning.

The other day when exhausted, I attempted to close my husband Julian’s RX account with the Medicare medicine insurance. I didn’t have the correct number in reach and the recorded voice kept saying “I can’t understand your answer and kept asking for the same thing over and over, even after I kept answering, “He died.” Finally, I shouted, “Go to hell!” and hung up. Needless to say, the recording was unimpressed. Today, I started over, with the attitude that I was too tired to do anything else, so sitting down arguing with recordings was as good a way as any to spend this day.  I at least had one of the magical thirteen digit numbers, so I finally got to speak to a person. After explaining that I wanted to close my husband’s account because he had died and thanking the woman for her condolences, she asked, “What is his zip code?” Of course, I couldn’t resist that. When I replied, “I don’t think they have zip codes in heaven,” there was a profound silence, followed by a smothered giggle.  I rescued her by apologizing and admitting that I just could not resist that.
After that we quickly developed a rapport, so she apologized profusely each of the six times she put me on hold and I cheerfully told her it was fine, their music was lovely and I didn’t want to do anything today anyway. \And actually the music was lovely and soothing and during one protracted wait, I found myself kind of floating around in my head thinking about the oneness of all things and that the Spirit is in each of us and we are all in the spirit, and everything is one whether in this life or elsewhere and I actually felt close to Julian and comforted. Who knew? Attitude is everything.
Anyway, when she came back to tell me she needed to transfer me to someone with Medicare, I was very mellow and thought that was great, because I needed to call them anyway.
The transfer presented challenges however and at one point she and I both thought we had been disconnected. But what once was lost, now was found and we parted friends forever and I got a new person and new music. We played the “on hold” game for a while and then she announced cheerfully that she was going to transfer me to a live person. That made me wonder about her for a moment, but in the spirit of cooperation, I assured her that I definitely had a preference for alive people.

Deaths and Resurrections

This from a favorite author resonates beautifully with my inner journey right now after the death of my husband of almost sixty years.

 

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation
From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Death and Resurrection
All Things New
Sunday, November 18, 2018

Behold, I make all things new. —Revelation 21:5
As I’ve recently faced my own mortality through cancer once again, I’ve been comforted by others who have experienced loss and aging with fearless grace. Over the next few days I’ll share some of their thoughts. Today, join me in reflecting on this passage from Quaker teacher and author Parker Palmer’s new book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old.
I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about the fall and its sensuous delights.
Then I began to understand a simple fact: all the “falling” that’s going on out there is full of promise. Seeds are being planted and leaves are being composted as earth prepares for yet another uprising of green.
Today, as I weather the late autumn of my own life, I find nature a trustworthy guide. It’s easy to fixate on everything that goes to the ground as time goes by: the disintegration of a relationship, the disappearance of good work well done, the diminishment of a sense of purpose and meaning. But as I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the hardest of times.
Looking back, I see how the job I lost pushed me to find work that was mine to do, how the “Road Closed” sign turned me toward terrain that I’m glad I traveled, how losses that felt irredeemable forced me to find new sources of meaning. In each of these experiences, it felt as though something was dying, and so it was. Yet deep down, amid all the falling, the seeds of new life were always being silently and lavishly sown. . . .
Perhaps death possesses a grace that we who fear dying, who find it ugly and even obscene, cannot see. How shall we understand nature’s testimony that dying itself—as devastating as we know it can be—contains the hope of a certain beauty?
The closest I’ve ever come to answering that question begins with these words from Thomas Merton, . . . “There is in all visible things . . . a hidden wholeness.” [1]
In the visible world of nature, a great truth is concealed in plain sight. Diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life are not opposites: they are held together in the paradox of the “hidden wholeness.” In a paradox, opposites do not negate each other—they cohabit and cocreate in mysterious unity at the heart of reality. Deeper still, they need each other for health, just as our well-being depends on breathing in and breathing out. . . .
When I give myself over to organic reality—to the endless interplay of darkness and light, falling and rising—the life I am given is as real and colorful, fruitful and whole as this graced and graceful world and the seasonal cycles that make it so. Though I still grieve as beauty goes to ground, autumn reminds me to celebrate the primal power that is forever making all things new in me, in us, and in the natural world.

Heartbreak with A Rainbow of Memories

November 6, 2018 A sad morning, but much gratitude that Julian, my husband of almost sixty years, did not have physical pain. I was able to hold his hand and tell him I love him as we listened to the lovely song he wrote at The Meadows. Then he quietly quit breathing as his heart stopped. Tonight children, grandchildren, and a great-grandson gathered to chose photos of joyful times with him to celebrate his life and love. There was much shared laughter at wonderful and funny memories punctuated by moments of tearful awareness of our loss. As hard as this year has been, my worst fears never happened and there were moments of beauty, joy, and love sprinkled generously through it all. I am very blessed.

Liberal I Am, Sam I Am, and Christian Too, Why Aren’t You?

I didn’t write this, but it says what I believe better than I can. We have labeled one another and simply quit listening to those with a different label. When that happens we all miss finding reality which is totally disguised by labels.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

Lori Gallagher Witt                                                                                  Lynn Coffinberry                                                                                                Eileen Norman

This was started by a woman named Lori Gallagher Witt, the brilliance is hers, the rest has been edited to best express similar, though not identical, opinions of those passing the main ideas on.

An open letter to friends and family who are shocked to discover I’m a liberal… I’ve always been a liberal, but that…

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A Jesus Kind of Love

The most incredibly kind and gentle people I have met are the personnel at nursing homes. They are often overworked, because this is a ministry, not a job. Unless someone feels called to this, they don’t last. And if the administration of a nursing home is only about profit, not their patients’ whole physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves, even the called may have to find another place to minister. Which means that nursing homes are often short staffed.  At the Meadows in Nashville, where I was for therapy after my shoulder was broken in three places and now my husband is in Hospice care for terminal cancer, we have encountered amazingly loving care and a shared sense of everyone’s call to be a channel of God’s love.From the administrative and nursing personnel to the techs and maintenance staff and all in between, we have been surrounded by tender concern and care.  Old age’s infirmities wipe out the masks of image and appearances that separate us from one another’s core human vulnerability. When someone can wipe our bottoms with the same tenderness and love we gave our newborns, we know we are loved. When they take time afterward to hug us with a smile, asking if there is anything else they can do, we feel blessed, not humiliated. I think in Jesus’ time and culture, a man washing others’ dirty feet was this kind of love.

Wrestling with Reality

It’s a monster size time of change and challenge with my husband Julian now in the nursing home on Hospice. Our almost sixty years together have been a normal human mix of happy and sad, easy and hard, comfortable and scary, tender and frustrating, but we have persevered and now it’s like we are both part of one imperfect, but whole person. He panics now, if I leave him alone. But bless our five children and grown granddaughter Carmen, who are so thoughtful and willing to give up their free time so I can have some down time. This weekend, I finally admitted that I need the down time, not just to go home to sort and clean there,. Writing and connecting with friends to sort out my feelings is much needed therapy. I think most extroverts need to express what is going on within to get in touch with it themselves.
Today, I realized that I am reacting emotionally to trying to make The Meadows a home and then coming back to our apartment where much of it is now in the unfinished process of drastic change. The garden outside the window at the Meadows is lovely and is kept up beautifully by a team of people. And yesterday, our family, with Julian making decisions, turned the room into a tiny apartment with everything but a stove. (I have my choice of three microwaves in all directions from our room anyway.) It has a wonderful homelike feeling.
Though it isn’t permanent and isn’t really ours, going there has been the right choice, because most days I am busy helping Julian and couldn’t manage to clean and cook like I would need to at home. Also, as he becomes weaker, I would not be able to take as good care of him alone. In an imperfect world, it is an amazing luxury, one that most people do not have. I am humbled by our good fortune and sad that all cannot share it. Though with our life in such a period of change, I do sometimes feel “homeless.” But at this moment, I am looking out at the pretty flagstones Steve put around our bird feeders, at the now healthy holly tree that I feared was dying, and a familiar bright cardinal in the lush greenery outside our windows. My small comfortable bedroom/office with walls covered with photos of all our family at different ages and stages feels so familiar, safe. and comforting. But even though family offered to take turns to let me stay home several days, after two days, I miss Julian so much, even in his grouchy or fearful moments, that I feel lost. And I realize that home is where he is.
Handling all the maddening business challenges of our situation sometimes gives me an almost overwhelming desire to curl up in a fetal position in my very own bed and suck my thumb and not answer the phone, the door, or open any mail ever again! But like now, a tiny wren sitting outside the window looking at me makes me smile and I rally.
The helpless feeling,when Julian wakes in the night and talks about how lost, confused and frightened he feels, leaves me speechless from feeling unable to console him. But sitting close and holding him until he calms some, I blow lightly in the wispy hair left on the top of his head. It’s something that makes him smile, bringing memories and a tiny moment of joy that heals us for a while.
And after a sleepless night alone in our apartment, when the first colors of the sunrise finally warm the world and my heart, I think of the words of the song, “And then comes the morning, yesterday’s sorrows behind.” And I remember that both the dark and the light come and go. And thanks to grace all around me, I can let go and start again.

Unfinished

I’ve never freely chosen to hang out with people who felt compelled to tell me unpleasant realities about myself. In the last twenty years or so I’ve finally come to grips with the fact (i.e. unpleasant reality) that it’s my problem. Reality just is. And my need to remain delusional is not other people’s problem.
I remember when taking a battery of psychological tests as preparation for ministry, they pointed out that one of my main traits that might limit my effectiveness was that I was over sensitive. My gut level, completely serious response was, “Well if you know I’m oversensitive, why would you hurt my feelings by telling me that?”
It’s like I expected the whole world to protect me from reality, even when facing it and changing might make me a much more effective person.
It has been a great relief to become able to accept that we all have flaws and even limits; physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. And when I recognize one of them in my self (on my own or with “help”), sometimes I decide that it’s something I can’t change right now and that I and the rest of world will just have to live with that for the time being, but other times I recognize that it’s something that I want to change and now can, because of where I am in my journey.
So, the next time you get your feelings hurt, it might be interesting and even life changing to take responsibility for them and explore your choices in responding to the challenge of a possible, though uncomfortable, reality.