Monthly Archives: December 2016
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.
Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise. Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you. Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet? Would he want to do the same for you? Would you protest because you feel unworthy? Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell over and over about giving birth in a dirty drafty barn and about the terror of fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set? Would he accept a glass of wine and grin and ask if you’d like an upgrade?
Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to the people living in those shabby back rooms at the Highland Motel?” Or even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check the bridges for homeless people who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees from the war in Syria.
Or perhaps he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You didn’t feel any condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because you know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but in order that we might be saved by him.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.
My husband blames Dr. Spock’s making children the center of attention and his focus on their feelings for everything wrong with our nation now. He has a point.
We began to stress being accepted for just being, instead of pointing out that though every person is of value, life requires work, and that while feelings are valid, they are not what we can safely base our actions on. When we recognized that some children turn off to subjects when criticized, we forgot that a lot of teaching is pointing out where and how something can be made better. Instead of working on ways to help children accept that everyone needs to learn from others to grow better at things, we told them everything they did was wonderful as it was. As a culture we became unteachable.
Values are different than feelings. In our rush to do away with condemnation of those making serious mistakes, we neglected to teach the difference between condemnation and consequences. We did not recognize the difference between guilt and a regret that leads to change. We broke free of legalism so much that we didn’t explain that stealing a hotel towel may seem unimportant, but when most people do it, ultimately everyone ends up paying for it with higher prices.
We became fixated on money as the bottom line, rather than quality, service, or long term dependability. Machines are no longer built to last as long as possible or even to be repaired. Appearances and advertising tricks, rather than quality of goods, became the means. And the end began to be accepted as justification for any means.
Our American society has settled for appearances over reality. Many, if not most, retail stores/chains raise prices before a sale and see this as smart business not deception, lies and actually stealing. When the internet made overseas factories and catalogs the easy way to shop, no one bothered with the fact that there were no longer consistent and reliable size numbers from clothes made in different countries. And now sending something back has ended up costing the consumer twice as much, even if they never actually get a product. The manufacturer and catalog company take no responsibility.
The focus on appearances and the new affluence that came with two bread winners in a family led to easy financing for extravagant life styles with no secure foundation. And we saw what came of that with those that knowingly facilitated this on a massive scale experiencing no comparable consequences.
Women took feminism to mean becoming like men, instead of taking traditional feminine values into the workplace, halls of power, and government. Freedom from being baby factories and maids has been taken as freedom to be as casual and shallow in sexual relationships as traditional male Don Juans. Freedom to feel comfortable in and ownership of our bodies has led to blossoming thirteen year old girls going around half naked and has made it almost impossible for anyone in their retirement years to buy a blouse or dress that doesn’t expose normal, though definitely not attractive, aging of our bodies. There’s a fine line between freedom and license. Now we are getting the back lash to the other extreme.
Theories are lovely, as long as they are balanced by common sense and some awareness of the realities of human nature.
Wake up, America. We created the society that not only gave birth to Donald Trump, but made him the most powerful person on earth.
Our human nature resists the whole concept of suffering. If there is a God worth calling God, why would the innocent and good have to suffer?
If this life is all there is, then there really doesn’t appear to be any reasonable answer to that.
And in my own experience, the more people I let myself care about, never-the-less love, the more I open myself to suffering. How much more would I suffer if I truly loved, or even just cared moderately about all humanity, all animals, perhaps even all creation?
Part of the mystery of suffering is that it seems to be part and parcel of loving. Loving involves being willing to suffer for another and others. Most of us have trouble loving even one person that we choose for a lifetime and sure don’t want to even consider loving people that look or think very differently than we do.
The Jews longed for a Messiah, a Savior, for literally thousands of years. Have you ever wondered why a close friend, a follower who witnessed the miracles, the power, and the kindness of Jesus would betray him to the point of giving him over to suffer and die. What brought Judas to that kind of hatred?
The shattered expectation that the Messiah would save the Jews, God’s chosen people, from suffering. Judas witnessed the reality of the power Jesus had, but more and more he saw Jesus using it to save the enemy. And unlike optimistic Peter, he heard what Jesus was beginning to say about his own coming suffering, even dying, instead of freeing them from the tyranny of Rome , the impoverishment of Roman taxes, the constant threat of their children becoming random victims of a ruler’s whim. Judas wanted a triumphant King, not a suffering servant. Disillusionment turned hope into bitterness and hate.
What kind of love was choosing to die rather than to save God’s chosen people?
We still struggle with that question.
Without the resurrection, surely we would all endorse the survival of the fittest at the expense of the vulnerable. If we believed this life is all there is, would we respond to the call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus? We saw where that led Jesus. It led him through the acceptance of the refining of suffering, the acceptance of humbling helplessness and the crushing feeling of abandonment, even finally through the gate of death itself and only then to resurrection.
The reality is that life is made up of cycles of struggling with suffering until we can accept the deaths of our idols and illusions, the things we cling to out of fear, and only then can we be reborn freer to love each time. Only then do we grow better at loving other imperfect people up close and personal and to care about even the lepers, the hostile, the foreign, the frightening, and the lost.
Life’s natural process includes loss, helplessness, letting go, experiencing the peace of acceptance, then the rebirth of gratitude and humility that leads to love, joy and fruitfulness.
Passion, death, and resurrection should be one process word.
The Transforming Joy of Christmas is the perfect Love for all of us, that came as a vulnerable human baby. A life that not only offers us the unconditional love that can set us free to grow from needing to loving, but also gives us illustrated instructions on how to do it.
Joy to the world for Love has come. Let us rejoice and open our hearts to receive it. Come, Lord Jesus, fill our hearts with your love so that we can pass it on.
My favorite Christmas Picture with permission of the artist, Morgan Weistling
Licensed by the Greenwich Workshop, Inc.
My mother came to live with us having what we now know as Alzheimer’s. At the time we thought she was just becoming a little crazier with age. Her twin sister’s children had always called her “Aunt Nutsy,” if that gives you a clue. About the third Christmas she was with us, I took her shopping at K Mart for presents for the grandchildren. She was becoming pretty confused by that time, so it turned into a major ordeal. She kept gathering things which were totally inappropriate for the children’s ages. Because my husband had recently started over in business during a recession, money was in short supply. I hated for her to waste money on things no one would want. After a half hour of increasingly less patient persuasion attempts, I was cross-eyed with a headache.
I was about to abandon the whole project and whisper “fire!” in her ear and hustle her out to the car, when what to my squinty eyes did appear, but a blue light special on flannel night gowns . Lack of money had forced us to depend on a wood burning stove for heat in a house totally unsuited for it. So sleeping bags, though cumbersome, had become quite appealing. For a mere three dollars, I might dare to sleep unencumbered enough to turn over. I left mother playing with a musical bear in my hurry to beat the crowd to the treasure. About fifteen women were digging furiously through the pile already. By the time I finally elbowed boobs and stomped toes enough to reach the blue light, I realized mom had disappeared. So I just grabbed something pink and soft. Then hunched over and clutching my prize to my breast, I burrowed my way back out. When I tracked Mom down, she had again swapped all my suggested purchases for toys for tots, not teenagers. I gave up and just propelled her and the basket to the checkout line. As I lifted the pink nightgown onto the counter, I realized it had a lace trimmed neckline that plunged to the waist. It was sort of like something sexy with feet. I laughed all the way home, tension and pain finally melting away. Then while agreeing cheerfully with mom as she admired her purchases, I had visions of cold nights, but hot times, in my sexy flannel nightgown. I call that Grace,
Differences in personality types can have a lot of effect on marriages. I respond to the outer world emotionally first. My husband responds with logic. I am an extrovert, so I tend to react openly immediately. My husband is an introvert and he only responds after much thought. When I would get either excited or upset about something and babble over about it, he would sit back, cross his arms and put on his “here come the judge” face. After several moments of waiting, I ‘d get frustrated, either disappointed that he didn’t share my enthusiasm or angry because he was looking judgmental. And unfortunately his first logical problem solving response is to focus on the practical problems or negative aspects. After some years of marriage, without realizing it, I began to try to push his buttons just to get him to express a feeling of any kind. The problem with this is the introverted thinker may go years without responding openly to provocation, only to one day reach overload and either explode violently or simply leave and not look back. Fortunately, since we had five young children, I recognized my pattern before my husband reached overload. I have since realized that when asking him for a yes or no decision, I need to give him plenty of unpressured time or he will play it safe and just say “No.” The same with arguments. I now state my case and go wash dishes or do something else while he works out his response, and then gets back to me. Unnatural as this is for me, doing this brings much better results and lessens conflict. I’m pretty sure that it is a total shock to one of the spouses, when marriages disintegrate from unrecognized inborn differences such as these.
When we cannot handle our suffering, we spew forth our frustration and pain on those around us. We are victims of our own suffering, but because we do not know how to handle it, we hurt others while we are in pain. ( quote from Thich Nhat Hanh)
Because of Jesus I know that God has forgiven me. Now, I am praying for wisdom to know how to heal the wounds I have caused and that those I have hurt will also be able to forgive me.