Category Archives: Addictions

Sources of Grace for Scary Times

This is a break from my series, because so many of us are struggling right now with fear and depression:

So, I am being redundant – again. (That’s a lot of redundancy.)

My two hands-down favorite authors of a spirituality rooted in Jesus, but not religion, are Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott.

Henri Nouwen writes incredibly healing and understandable theology saturated with the love of God. He chose to spend the latter years of his life living in a community for the mentally handicapped. For an introduction and short overview of his writing, I recommend,” A Spirituality of Living.” Also another short book: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, which changed some of my deeply rooted prejudices.  He was a Catholic priest, but wasn’t limited by it. 🙂

For our nitty-gritty stuggle to live a grace filled life, I don’t think there’s a better author than Anne Lamott. Anne’s spiritual journey has been through alcoholism, abortion, single motherhood, great losses, and a terrible bitterness toward her mother on to the freedom of self- honesty, the grace of humor, and an always growing acceptance of others. She finds this amazing grace from a personal relationship with a risen Jesus, who is still calling us, healing us, walking with us, forgiving us, and suffering for and with us. I think she belongs to a small Presbyterian church with a woman minister. Or it might be non-denominational or both. She’s definitely eclectic in her spirituality. She has written novels, but I much prefer her autobiographical books. She is the most personally honest writer I’ve ever read. Here are several of her books: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually). She also has a marvelous face-book page that will share to your own page her day to day struggles with discouragement over our current political situation.

I realize that we are all very different and these authors might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am by personality focused on relationship, but not everyone is. These authors’ writings are what help sustain me in my journey by always reminding me of my greatest (though not, only) source of grace, the Love of God expressed in Jesus.

Hoge Poge and My Brother’s Birthday

I promise you I have been off any pain meds except Tylenol for over two weeks. Pain medicine makes my coffee taste terrible for a couple of months after I quit taking it and I am definitely addicted to my coffee.  But, as usual for someone who loves thinking about theories or possibilities instead of paying attention to the actual world around her, peculiarities still happen. I got to a doctors appointment recently and as they were taking my blood pressure, I realized I had my blouse on inside out. Of course, me being me, I didn’t keep quiet and just take the first chance alone to right it. The two nurses swore they hadn’t noticed. Which worried me a bit, because I like my medical people to stay aware of the real world in front of them, particularly when I am it.

Then a few nights ago when I was still wearing my back brace at night, I awoke to make one of my usual trips to check out the plumbing, but couldn’t get up because I was unable to move my arms. Luckily before I panicked, my attempts to free my arms made that noise peculiar to Velcro being tugged loose. It happens that the two wrist braces I wear at night for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have Velcro similar to that on the back brace. Somehow, I had Velcroed my arms to my body. I woke my husband up with my laughter, but managed to get loose without help.

Strange things also come to memory when I have way too much time on my hands while recuperating from back surgery.
Today is my brother’s birthday. He’s my only sibling and ten years younger than I am. I was trying to remember anything about the day he was born, but couldn’t. I don’t know if I just wasn’t sufficiently impressed with that event or perhaps I was significantly depressed and blotted it out. Because I do remember riding the train with my very pregnant mom back to St. Louis when my Dad got a job there after being in the army. She was very uncomfortable in the old Pullman berth and needed my pillow. I think that was my first clue that this wasn’t going to be like getting a kitten.
I remember living on the seventh floor without air conditioning and only having screens on the windows. And when my brother was about eighteen months old I found him sitting on the window sill in the bedroom with his face pressed against the flimsy screen. I didn’t scream or grab for him, but I did get mom.  Then we had to live with those child gates on all the windows. Kind of like a kiddie prison decor.

He had natural talent in art and music, but as the “late” child never got lessons. Where as, my nun piano teacher after three or four years suggested they try me on the drum instead. Life is not fair, is it? But when he was twelve and I had married and moved to Tennessee, I sent money for him to go to the Fine Arts Museum for Art Lessons. Unfortunately, I think my mother quit driving him to them, when she found out they were doing life painting of nudes. Oh, well, at least I tried.

I have wonderful memories of the many years he came to visit us in our hundred acre, Winnie the Pooh wood.  We two city kids, that had lived seven floors up, thought we’d died and gone to heaven. He enjoyed the country even more than I did, being willing one summer to haul water in buckets up to our garden during a drought. I would have just waved good bye to those tomatoes from the house.  I fell in  love with all the weeds and rocks and spent years making crafts with them. And he would bring an empty suitcase to take back full of rocks and fossils from our creek.  He taught a class in geology in Houston which only had sand and shells.

He and I would talk until sun-up about everything from politics and religion to physics and geology. He had so much passion about everything, I loved every moment. When he was teaching in a huge high school in a very impoverished neighborhood, he was constantly at war with the administration, who seemed only interested in their own survival, not the kids welfare. I know he was a good teacher, because when he retired, the adversarial principal told him grudgingly that no matter what they asked his students, (one of whom had held a knife to my brother’s throat once), they would never “rat” him out!

So, happy birthday to my “BRO” who all my friends think is much funnier than I am. He needs to be the writer in the family, but since retirement, he has opted to fight nature and turn a flood plain into a botanical garden.  Not too different from teaching .

Expensive Grace

Anything that annoys you is teaching you patience.                                                                             Anyone who abandons you is teaching you how to stand up on your own two feet.                   Anything that angers you is teaching you forgiveness and compassion.                                       Anything that has power over you is teaching you how to take your power back.                        Anything you hate is teaching you unconditional love.                                                                        Anything you fear is teaching you courage to overcome your fear.                                                  Anything you can’t control is teaching you how to let go.
Jackson Kiddard Quotebook.in

Spirituality fulfills the Law: The Beatitudes

Spirituality is foreign to us, because it is paradoxical and few of us have had training in grasping paradox. We’re faced with the challenge of choosing to lose so we can win and die so we can live. And that takes grace rather than logic, morals, or ethics.
Opening to grace requires admitting we need it. And that’s the leap of faith that jump starts our spiritual journey.
The following are my paraphrases of the Beatitudes. I have translated the word “blessed” as meaning “open to grace.”     The originals are in Matthew 5:3-11
The Beatitudes
Graced are the poor in spirit for they are not filled with self-righteousness, so they are able to be open to God.
Graced are those that accept the pain of loss for they will find the Comforter’s joy within instead of settling for  pleasure to escape pain.
Graced are those who do not need to own or control anything, for they are free to enjoy the beauty of everything.
Graced are those who know and regret that they are imperfect, for they are free to accept Jesus as their righteousness.
Graced are those who recognize the log in their own eye, for they can accept the unconditional love of God and grow more and more able to love imperfect humans, including themselves.
Graced are those who are focused on God, for they will see God everywhere.
Graced are the peacemakers, because no cause or group owns them; they belong only to God.
Graced are those persecuted for Jesus’ sake, for they know Jesus.
Graced are the falsely accused and rejected, for they learn to need only God.

These are the truths Jesus taught that fulfill the law.

Passiondeathresurrection: the Narrow Gate

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.

Annual Christmas Nervous Breakdown or Dirty Socks Under the Tree

Jesus loves you, but I’m His favorite. NOT!

I do have stories about making good choices. And I will tell some of them as I blog along. But, it seems more important to share about God staying involved in our lives when we are screwing up; to remind myself and others that God loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.
So, when she became a widow and passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes, decorating the social hall, and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I spent weeks making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.
Pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yell that I hated Christmas, and slam my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, remembering that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk to another denomination’s women’s group on The Spirit of Christmas.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but decided that might be asking for it literally.                                                                                                                                         As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it. Christmas was about the joy of needing and receiving a Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings. And sharing that joy with others. So, I ended up simply sharing the whole story, my pattern of Christmas breakdowns and my panic the night before. It seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”

Now, really! Dirty socks under the tree?

Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school, and Christmas Eve arrived with stress building and me once again rushing tensely around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to the great room, I heard my mother ask, “Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder. I dropped the laundry on the bed and stopped my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, let’s leave it there and stop right now to have a cup of coffee and read the Christmas scriptures, so we’ll remember what we’re celebrating.”
For several years afterwards, I would put a sock under the tree, whenever I began to forget the meaning of Christmas from the overload of my good intentions.

Hiding Places and Safe Places

Grown ups have hiding places,
ones where we hide
from ourselves.
The bottom of a bottle
is a traditional favorite.
Toxic relationships are another.
In those, we can just focus
on the “other.”
Conformity is a camouflage
of many different colors:
a club, a church, a cause.
But most popular are
roles or titles:
mother, teacher, CEO,
postman, criminal,
priest or “ho,”
even being gay.
You see, sometime long ago,
we hid our patchwork
selves away.
But a hiding place and a safe place
are not the same.
Safety only comes when we have
nothing left to lose,
are not clinging to any idols,
or hiding behind an image.
Only then, when all else fails,
do we finally explore
the darkness
within.
And coming face to face
with our real selves,
we find God
and peace.

You Are Loved, But You Can Bet Your Sweet Bippy, Bad Choices Still Have Bad Consequences

Just because God loves you, doesn’t mean that whatever God is won’t let you suffer the consequences of bad choices. And I would put money on the reality that God is not a Wizard of Oz with a carrot and a stick. Consequences to choices are simply built in. And, if you keep on ignoring consequences, you can bet your sweet bippy, they will become worse until you learn. Life is about learning to love. And love may not mean having to say you’re sorry, but it sure means you better be sorry enough to change, when your actions hurt others. And unfair as it may seem if you are now, were, or ever will be parents…..the way you treat other people will come back to bite you even through and on your children and your children’s children. I have seen this and suffered it.  It’s a law of nature. It’s built into the system. It’s Universal. Smart/Inspired Hebrews figured that out and tried to pass that information on down. Unfortunately, we are too soon old and too late smart.  Even though genes may in some way be related to patterns of behavior, that is not a “get out of consequences free” card. It simply means most of us have either inherited or chosen new ways to try to escape the normal pain of living, instead of going through it and learning from it. This is addiction! And it has to be overcome. The sooner the better, because addictions quickly acquire their own pain on top of what we used them to dull temporarily. This is the core course in the school of life. Learn it or weep, cause nobody’s sure there’s a do over.

Sex and Jelly Doughnuts or the Face and Voice of God? That is the Question.

It’s easy to lose sight of God in our lives and when we do, we become vulnerable to idols. These days an idol isn’t a golden calf, it’s anything we become dependent on, other than God. In the book of Jeremiah, God warns that not only will we suffer if we choose worldly idols, but so will our children and even our grandchildren. That part about grandchildren really gets me where I live. Though I don’t hear this as punishment, but rather as a natural consequence.  So, let’s consider some modern worldly idols.
A very popular idol is pleasure, which isn’t bad in itself, only when we turn to it instead of God. Pleasures we turn to when feeling insecure or unhappy can vary from sex to jelly doughnuts, but if they become a dependency they lead to adultery or diabetes or other equally bad consequences.
Another potential idol is financial affluence and while there’s nothing wrong with being successful, it can grow into a need that becomes the focus of our lives to the point of destroying our relationships.
An even sneakier idol is an attachment to social acceptance that leads us to surround ourselves only with people just like ourselves, which not only gives us a warped view of the world, but isolates us from those in greater need.
How can we protect ourselves from idols? It’s a discombobulating world and sometimes I feel like the child of Christian friends, who when told to wash his hands muttered: “Germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus! That’s all I hear about around here and I can’t see either one!”
One thing that helps me, I call putting on “God Glasses.” That means consciously working to see God in everything.                                                                                                                                                             Surprisingly, the beginning step can even come through finding God in the hard things.
When heart break or pain has kept me awake all night, the first glimpse of morning light coming through the window often brought relief. Recently, after finally getting over several weeks of insomnia from the pain of a broken shoulder, I would wake up momentarily at sunrise each morning remembering that feeling of relief and thanking God with quiet joy that morning had come again and yesterday’s sorrows were behind.
Ever since an ice storm left us without hot water for eighteen days some twenty years ago, whenever I feel that first marvelous spray of a hot shower, I treasure it for a few moments while thanking God profusely.
Some months ago, our hearts were heavy when a beloved grandchild stopped chatting and smiling because she sensed family conflict. Last weekend, she kept me awake once again cheerfully chatting about her favorite books and beamed with glee at trouncing Granddad at UNO. Now, as I go to sleep each night, I cup those memories in my heart with tears of joy and thank God.
Please, while you can still hear birdsong, stop and listen with your heart and thank God for it. Thank God not only for flowers, but the strength to water them and even to cut the grass. Thank God for the joy of that first taste of morning coffee or tea. Age can take all these away from you. Enjoy them now and let them bring you to God. Thank God for faith to pray. What a wondrous gift that is. And definitely thank God for laughter, which will be your saving grace in old age.
Watch, listen and thank.  All these small things are the face and voice of God. And more and more you will experience the deep joy of finding Him in each moment. Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. And joy trumps idols every time.

The day of my Spiritual Awakening was the day I saw, and I knew I saw, all things in God and God in all things.      A quote from an unknown Author:

The Wounded Prodigal Within Us

From Henri Nouwen’s  A Spirituality of Living

“We all have wounds…….It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise we receive…….that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a heavy burden.”

Nouwen goes on to say: “I love Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. The father holds his child, touches his child, and says, ‘You are my beloved. I’m not going to ask you any questions. Wherever you have gone, whatever you have done, and whatever people say about you, you’re my beloved. You can come home to me whose name is Compassion, whose name is Love.’

Nouwen says, “ If we keep that in mind, we can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as an enormous amount of failure without losing our identity, because our identity is that we are the beloved. Long before our father and mother, our brothers and sisters, our teachers, our church or anyone else touched us in a loving or wounding way —— long before we were rejected by some person or praised by someone else-that voice was there. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’

That love was there before we were born and will be there after we die. A life of fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred years is just a little moment in which we have been given time to say, ‘Yes, I love you too.’ ”

Henri Nouwen was a priest theologian/author who toward his later years went to live and minister in a settlement for the mentally challenged.
This quote is from a tiny gem of a book put together from insights from his other books, called A Spirituality of Living.