Author Archives: Eileen

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.

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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.

Authority without the Balance of Accountability Becomes Demonic

As an eighty-one year old who was an active Catholic involved in lay leadership roles for sixty years, I see the basis of the problem of abuse of authority as the irresponsibility of the people in the pews.  This is rampant in, but not  limited to, the very authoritarian Catholic Church. The same problems exist in all denominations and organizations where we idealize and thus idolize those in authority. Without accountability, those with all the power begin to value the structure more than the human beings it was created to serve.

The underlying dynamic in structures where authority is not balanced by responsibility and accountability is our human inclination to want father figures who will take on the work and discomfort of seeking truth and finding God for us. This is what creates the vacuum that allows these abuses to continue.

Blind faith is not faith, it is intellectual cowardice and spiritual irresponsibility. The spiritual writers of the Catholic tradition and the lives of persons considered saints, who have risked the insecurity of questioning and seeking and thus finding God, remain a rich spiritual resource for all of us. But blind faith in a structure such as the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which declared itself infallible and above human question, is demonic, We who seek such childish comfort and allow it to rule unchallenged are responsible for its abuses.

Jesus is Lord, not the church or it’s hierarchy.  The heart of Christianity is an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus Christ as not only our Savior, but as our Lord. The accepting Jesus as Savior is the easy part. That’s accepting the visible physical expression of the unconditional Love of God.  Learning how to let him be Lord is a life time challenge. It is a relationship that only grows by our constantly seeking grace.  It can be encouraged and helped, but it is not controlled or accomplished by anything or anyone outside of us.

The church and its hierarchy are a human institution and as such are vulnerable to human frailties.  The church can be cleansed and renewed, but not from the top.  It has to start with the people in the pews first taking responsibility for their own relationship with God and then with God’s grace taking responsibility for the church. And just as our own personal spirituality has to be renewed over and over, so does that of the church.

 

Dirty Little Old Ladies Should Get to Have Fun Too

I thought I’d give this another run for those who didn’t ever see it. I think it gives some balance to my mystical bent.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

Well, they’ve ruined my physical therapy now. All us old and lame had bonded and developed a sense of community as fellow sufferers who all now come in generous sizes and slightly lumpy shapes. Yesterday they started testing young male job applicants’ physical fitness for a local industry. So, here we old folks are gasping and sweating (and farting), while struggling to bend over two inches below waist level and these young hunks are flat handing the floor. I think I was two the last time I could flat hand the floor. If I was able to be invisible, I might actually enjoy watching them. (Dirty little old ladies should get to have fun too.) But realizing that I might be the cause of someone never marrying, because they were prematurely exposed to what a prospective wife might look and “sound” like at seventy-nine, is too much guilt to bear…

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The Love of God

This still says what I know in the deepest part of me and in the darkest times when I open my heart to Love.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

The Love of God is the only thing
of any importance at all.
The Love of God is so incredibly different
and beyond compare
that it boggles our minds to believe in it,
never-the-less accept it.
No matter how much we have been loved
by family and friends,
no matter how famous and wildly adored
by the multitudes,
nothing has ever been more than
a barely glimpsed shadow
of the Love of God.
The Love of God is all that is necessary.
We need nothing more
than to know the unconditional love of God
with our whole mind,
to experience it with an open heart
until our spirit is so filled
with it, that we simply pass it on
by letting it overflow.
We begin to sense this Love of God
when we consider
the possibility that the creator of the universe
chose to walk in our skin,
to experience…

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The Dark at the End of the Tunnel

Once upon a time  almost a half century ago,  my brother and I were driving back from a Charismatic  Spirituality Conference at Notre Dame University to my home in Tennessee. My wonderful loving husband was taking care of our five children and needed to catch a plane to an out of state job site that evening. Suddenly, we were totally blinded by a deluge like rain storm and had to pull over. As time raced by, I grew very worried about getting home on time, so we prayed for help with the problem. Almost immediately, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Thanking God, we continued on our way home. A little while later it clouded over and began to pour making it very difficult to see clearly enough to drive again. We began to pray once more and as we did, a pathway opened up in the clouds over us and in a strip down the highway ahead of us. Beginning to both laugh and sniffle a bit from amazement and joy, we continued on our way, now singing praise to God. After about fifteen minutes the torrential rains began again with the sky almost dark as night. We looked at the clock and then each other and began to pray for help again. This time the clouds did not go away, but a hole in them that let the sun shine through over our car and about one car length around our car. By this time we were laughing,crying, and praising and both of us literally experienced a vision of ourselves as part of a crowd of people standing around Jesus on a throne, all singing, “Holy, holy holy, is the lamb of God.”. Our joy was so great that both of us felt we might simply explode if we had any more joy. So we prayed for the Lord to not give us anymore joy. As the joy simply settled into peace, once again the rains came. We were on the outskirts of our home town in traffic, but we both felt we were now to trust that God would protect and guide us each small step of the way home even in the darkness. We also realized that we had no way of adequately measuring or comparing the joy each of us had experienced, but that it didn’t matter. If one of us had been stretched to the size of a thimble and the other to the size of a lake, we had both experienced being joy filled to our utmost capacity for joy.
I’m convinced this was a metaphor for the faith journey. And that the closer we get to “home,” the more we have to trust while gong forward in the darkness.
PS. We made it home in time for my husband to catch his plane.

Ann Lamott: I Am That Frog

June 24 at 11:04 AM •
The world can feel like an alcoholic father sitting in the living room in his vile underwear, tranced out or abusive; and the world can feel like your favorite auntie who thinks you are just great, still likes to hike, always brings trail mix, and knows her wildflowers.
These are excruciating times, and this is the kingdom. It’s two, two, two mints in one.
So yeah, some of us are a little tense.
But we are not flattened. Nor do we look away from the suffering of others. And no matter how bad things look and how long change is taking, we don’t give up on goodness. Here is proof: we still take care of each other in ways that are profound, loving and sacrificial, by the bedside of our most beloved, and in the streets. We show up: the secret of life.
We gather in cities to rise up, and at local parks for live music in the sun, where we and our cranky neighbor end up doing the old tribal hippie two-step in the same shaft of light.
We are still laughing—some of us perhaps a bit maniacally—and people are creating the greatest, most live-giving routines and cartoons and responses. This is what saved me during the Cheney years. It was chemo.
So, great laughter, community, joyous and/or sacrificial love. We can work with this!
It is more than enough.
Here’s the one fly in the ointment: we have to do this in dim lighting, what with a political fever dream, and our own failing memories and overwhelm. Life is always like E.L. Doctorow’s great line about writing, that it is like driving at night with the headlights on—you can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey that way.
You still have to buckle up, no matter how slowly the car is moving. Put on the radio and sing along, loudly and off key. You just have to trust that, as John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
I heard a story last week from a sober friend that almost completely captures my understand of goodness and life, a story that has been medicine for my worried, worried soul:
Caroline stopped drinking 30 years ago, at the age of 40, with zero interest or belief in any kind of higher power to whom she might be able to turn when cravings overcame her. But after a year of white-knuckle sobriety, contemptuous of a higher power, hanging on through will power, she one day heard and then found a frog in her shower.
She lifted it and gently carried it in her cupped hands through the house. She could feel and, of course, imagine its terror. She took it out to the garden, where there was a moist patch of earth over near the blackberries, and set it down. It sat stock still for a bit, and then hopped away into the bushes.
She said, “My name is Caroline. I’m that frog.”
I am, too, and I am also a big helper. When I have felt most isolated and lost, I have always ended up being carried back to the garden in people’s good hands, to where I need to be, afraid and not breathing. for much of the way. And I have helped carry scared people, the best I could. You have, too.
Isn’t that what grace is, when some force of kindness, against all odds, with unknown hands, brings us from fear and hard tiles to a moist patch earth, and sets us down?
If I were God’s west coast representative, I would speed up the process a bit, and hand out klieg lights but I can’t. All I can do is to try and help you get back to where there is moist soil and fresh air, and let you help me. And those happen to be the two things I most want in life.