Category Archives: Answered Prayer

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 7

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Again, I want to stress that we are all different in many ways.  I am an extrovert who explores the outside world with an openness to people and possibilities.  I respond to the outside world from my feelings first. I am open ended in my perception, which keeps me always open to new ideas and solutions.  So, I do not necessarily move to closure on belief or unfortunately projects either.

Once more, my husband of sixty years was the exact opposite and we were both extremes in our approach to life.  He was an introvert who explored the world without need to share his views or feelings with others.  He was more comfortable with the concrete world than people.  His response to the world was logical.  And he tended to not only persevere in tasks, but move as fast as he could with no detours to closure in both thinking and doing. 

Each way of being in the world has strengths and weaknesses. Moving to closure is perseverance, but can result in opinions put in concrete early without all the facts, so prejudging or prejudice.  Not moving to closure can result in being open minded, but a jack of all trades, master of none. Each aspect of our personality has an upside and a downside. And there is a lot of variety in the combinations and strengths of traits from person to person.

I have found that as we age, we grow better at our opposites. It’s scary at first, because there’s a time (sometimes around mid-life) when we lose our ease in our strongest gift in order to develop our weakest (or shadow) side. I call it a dying to self.  And it’s not comfortable or easy.  And it can complicate our lives while in the process. Actually, at eighty-four I am beginning to become good at things I never could do before.  And I am seeing new aspects of faith.  I don’t think the developing stops until the moment we die (or who knows when?).

So, I am pointing this out again for those that didn’t read the early chapters first. No one knows the hand each of us is dealt, so we cannot safely judge each other or even ourselves without a lot of work on self-awareness.  Only the creator can judge.

As a person who values relationships, I tend to talk to and about God as a person.  But I do not limit the creator of an astonishing universe or universes to either a logical law imposing ruler or to an “Abba/Daddy” human like Santa Clause person. Anything worthy of being called God is far beyond my human understanding. Hence, my attraction to Jesus.  I can relate to him and learn.

I apologize for the repetition, but I need to stress that my way of experiencing the world, prayer, God, relationships, etc., may not relate to yours, at least at this time of life.  So, if you cannot connect with what I’m sharing, put it in a file labeled, Possibilities for Another Time in My Life, even if you find it very threatening.

Here are some of my early experiences with prayer and faith. Jesus challenged us to come as a little child. After not letting my children go to church, when I experienced the Love of God through Jesus, I came home and invited them to say the prayer accepting Jesus as their savior and lord.  The oldest, Chris, was 8, next was Mike, 6, then Julie, 5, and Steve 4. (The youngest wasn’t born yet.)  Their responses were all different.

Soon after saying that prayer, Chris, the oldest (and most logical) was praying the night before his Junior Pro Football playoff game.  He started praying for God to help his team win, but stopped and asked, “Mom, do you think the kids on the other team are praying for God to help them win?”  I answered that I thought some probably were.  So, he returned to praying with, “Never mind, God, we’ll do it ourselves.”  Interestingly they tied.

Our second son, Mike, immediately wanted to take a copy of the prayer to share with his class at Show and Tell time. Having once opposed prayer in the schools, I had to tell him sadly that it wasn’t allowed. Shortly after that he announced at dinner that he now wasn’t going to cheat at family games. None of us knew he cheated, but we praised his change of habit.

A few days later when the two oldest were playing a game, to my dismay the oldest called to me, “Mom, he’s cheating. He’s cheating!” But before I could express my disappointment, he continued, “He’s praying, Mom, isn’t that cheating?” As I considered this thinking of the Notre Dame/Army game that week, the younger son saved me by promising to stop praying to win.

My daughter, who was five, argued fiercely with me every morning over what to wear to kindergarten. She would find the loudest plaids and combine them with pastel polka dots. The morning after saying the prayer, she came to me and said, “Mom, I think Jesus would want me to wear what you want. What do you think goes with this top?”

At mid-year her teacher left and Julie cried every morning with the new teacher, so I finally let her drop out.  But, the next year in first grade she was the only one that didn’t know the alphabet.  The teacher called me for a conference at six weeks to say that she didn’t know how to help Julie. She said Julie seemed to have a mental block on the alphabet and now the rest of the class were reading and Julie couldn’t.  I panicked and began drilling Julie on the alphabet, but she was totally blocked and after I lost it and yelled at her, I told her we needed to pray.  So, we prayed together that God would help her learn the alphabet and to read.  The next day, she knew the first half, the day after that she knew the second, and after that she rapidly learned to read.  Her childlike faith got her over her mental block. 

The next Summer she developed warts all over her fingers and hands.  Other kids making fun of her sent her home in tears, so I took her to the pediatrician.  He said, “No problem, I have a quick cure.” And with that he waved his hand over her hands saying, “Abracadabra! Warts be gone be tomorrow.”  And said to me as we were leaving, “Don’t worry. It works with kids every time.”  And sure enough, all sixteen warts were gone the next morning.

The faith of a child.  A bit scary when used as magic, but a clue to what Jesus meant.

One Sunday morning when scheduled to teach Sunday School, I woke up feeling down on myself.  I don’t remember why, but it was a bleak feeling. So, I went straight to my prayer closet, my bath tub right off my bedroom.  As I soaked in the warm water, I prayed, “Lord, I know faith isn’t about feelings, but if I am going to teach about your love with conviction this morning, I need help.”  Just as I finished praying, my daughter came from all the way across the house into the bathroom.  This was a “no-no” and I opened my mouth to scold her for violating my privacy.  Before I could say anything, she wrote in the mirror mist, “God loves Mommy,” smiled, and left.

Our four-year old, Steve when asked if he wanted to say the prayer, replied that he wanted to think about it a while.  (A response that kind of blew my mind coming from a four-year old.)  So, he thought about it for a week and then came back and said that he wanted to pray the prayer and he did.  Steve is a very private thoughtful person.  His response was not as public as the others.  He is very loving and willing to make major sacrifices for people in need that he doesn’t even know. He has never married, but has many very close friends.  He doesn’t talk about religion, but he lives kindness.

I know from experience that whatever God is, faith can produce miracles.  But interestingly enough so can caring.  These three things are important, Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is love.

Caring is love.  My husband was a doubting Thomas.  He believed in what he could see and touch.  He was not into prayer and definitely not into healing.  But one cold winter night as we watched TV in bed, my knee was hurting badly. I hadn’t injured it and it was the first time it had ever hurt like that.  When I told my husband that I was in a lot of pain, he reached down and held my knee. He didn’t pray out loud, just said quietly, “There, it’s healed.”  And it was.  I know faith can be a gift, even a temporary one, but he’d never shown any faith before.  But he was a very loving man and he cared that I was hurting.  I think caring is love and love is even greater than faith. So, maybe when someone loves, it’s enough. Though I know from experience that neither faith nor love always heal, I’ve experienced both enough to experience hope.

Once I was distraught that one of my children might have wrecked his life.  I was sharing my heart break with a friend who doesn’t believe in what she can’t see.  But as I expressed my fears and pain, tears poured down her face. It was one of the most healing experiences I’ve ever had.  Sometimes when I’m asking my friends for prayers, she will respond that she will cross her fingers. She means she cares.  And that may be enough, because what faith in God is all about is finding the grace to care however much it hurts.

God is in the Timing.

That evening after the doctor’s appointment, Tommy’s fever broke. His eyes sparkled and he was his funny independent little self again.
“Everybody start looking for pots and vases,” I said cheerfully, as I organized the older children and my husband into a treasure hunt for containers for the daffodils. We found dozens in diverse sizes and appearance and brought all the beautiful golden blooms inside the house. Everywhere you looked, it was Easter. Everywhere you looked there was the love of God and hope for the future.
The year continued with Tommy still succumbing to frequent illnesses, but I clung to my sign of hope, believing that God would heal him without surgery. Tommy turned four in November and a week before Christmas I took him to the heart specialist for his yearly tests. I had been told in the beginning, that sometimes these heart valve defects closed on their own, but that it was almost always by the time they were two years old. Still, I fully expected to be told that his heart had improved.
After hours of going from labs to X-rays to offices all over Vanderbilt Hospital, Tommy and I waited wearily, but hopefully, to hear the results from the heart specialist. By the time our name was called, Tommy was asleep in my lap, his head on my shoulder. He didn’t even wake up when I carried him into the office.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Norman,” the doctor began. My heart broke at the words and I fought back tears. “The hole hasn’t gotten any smaller. We need to do a heart catheterization in preparation for surgery right away.” Looking at his calendar, he continued, “You have several other children, don’t you?”
“Yes, four.”
“Well, we’ll schedule it in the week after Christmas then. December 27th is clear for me. Does that work for you?”
Speechless, I nodded my head. I drove home too shocked to cry or even pray.
That night, when everyone else was settled down to sleep, I sat at the kitchen counter with my Bible and a cup of hot chocolate. Praying, “Lord, help me. I do believe; help my unbelief,”  I just opened the bible randomly and began to read.
My heart almost stopped, when I realized that I had opened to the story of Abraham taking Isaac up on the mountain to sacrifice him to God. I wept, thinking like Abraham, that God was asking me to let go of my child. Finally, I reached a point of deciding that God knew what Tommy’s future might be, and if He wanted to take Tommy now, He had His reasons.
I prayed and struggled until I could say, “Everything in me is screaming in protest, God. I can’t control my feelings, but with my will, I choose to trust you and to place my son and my heart in your hands. Your will, not mine.”
An amazing peace came over me and I recognized that letting go is part of everything in our journey. And that once Abraham had let go, God did not take Isaac. I knew that part of the story,  but remembered only the letting go part, until I had done that myself.
The next few days, I called every person of praying faith, that I knew of any denomination, and asked for prayers for Tommy.
Christmas came and went, and we prepared to take Tommy to the hospital. I clung to my faith that God was with Tommy. The morning he was scheduled, the doctor’s office called and postponed the procedure, because the doctor had an emergency surgery. She rescheduled him for the following week. Then the day before the appointment, Tommy began to run fever, so we asked to reschedule for two weeks later, hoping he would be well enough then. But the next week, they called to say that the doctor was going to be out of town, so we made it for two weeks later again. I called everyone on my prayer list each time we rescheduled. By the time we finally managed to get Tommy to the hospital, I was a basket case.
I was numb as they rolled him away, but a very kind young intern went with him, keeping him smiling by pretending Tommy’s sock monkey was saying funny things. A gift from God.
I don’t remember much of anything from the waiting.  But the bright smile on the Doctor’s face when he came out, was enough to make me begin thanking God right then.
The hole in Tommy’s heart had closed enough to be so tiny, that surgery was not necessary. The only difference it would make in his future life was, if he had any other surgeries, he would have to make sure he was put on antibiotics before them.
But even more amazing to me was that, literally overnight, he became a normal healthy child, no longer catching every germ that came by. In fact, he was often healthier than his siblings.
Easter can come in our lives at any time. This Easter is a good time to remember the hard times that stretched our faith and turned to rejoicing.

Suffering, the Door to Grace

The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus.                                                                                      Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering.  Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
Spring
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.

“Come, Lord Jesus, Come” : Our Advent Prayer

Many years ago, I began on the first of the four Advent Sundays to pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for Him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life. And most years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize His coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.

As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him (and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter here on the lake in town. When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve menu. As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.

For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked them what happened when Mary and Joseph knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out,  “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”

It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family. So, when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,   “Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”

On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others. And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more in the heart of a child.

As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior, he was active in the Baptist Student Organization at Memphis University.  He and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers downtown in the August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer.

After college David became a missionary teacher, first in Indonesia where he reached out to homeless teens by organizing soccer teams and coaching them.  Then, in Afghanistan he taught in a school with two hundred students.  It was in a compound, but three Afghan students who were siblings and one of their parents were killed by the Taliban for being Christians and the school was warned that there was a plan to bomb the school so it was closed immediately and the foreign teachers scrambled for flights home.  His last three years out of the U.S. were spent teaching in Bolivia.

Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

Does God Heal?

Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.

God’s Footprints in the Wine Press or ” And a Can of Oil.”

I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years of age until thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a large weekend country house in a neighboring rural county.
As our own family grew, we spent more and more weekends at Birdsong, their hundred year old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and charm of a by-gone era. It was on a two hundred acre rural setting of both woods and fields with a river sized creek complete with waterfall and swimming hole. It also had fields of peonies, horses and barns, a pond, a replica of Fort Nashborough built for the grandchildren to play in and a historic ruin of a real civil war powder mill.
At first I followed my mother-in-law on excursions into the woods to look for Jack-in-the Pulpit and tiny delicate wild Iris with a city dweller’s fear and trepidation. “Snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after a new and deeper awakening to the reality of God, I began to fall in love with His creation from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section along with a scheduled hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, the tenant house, pond and the thirty- five acres of creek front woods and fields in exchange for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, but this was an incredibly good financial trade for us. Our house was a pleasant traditional two story, four bedroom house in walking distance of an excellent public school, but Birdsong was twice its size, historic, beautiful and uniqueThere was even a tenant house that we had been remodeling. After prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due.
While I was in the hospital recuperating from my C-section and hysterectomy, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could have possession by January 1st. To say the least, the move was a daunting prospect at Christmas time in my post-operative condition with a new baby and four other children under ten. But, it seemed like a miracle to sell so quickly for the price we were asking. Besides, I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, my husband’s oldest brother had hired a baby nurse to stay with us for the first two weeks I was home. This was a perfect baby gift that would help us with the move considerably. The move just seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately, shortly after we got home from the hospital, we discovered that our baby, who was miserably unhappy both night and day, needed surgery for a painful strangulated hernia. Our wonderful baby nurse and I prayed together for healing for him. But instead, at the hospital the night before his surgery, an intern discovered that our baby also had a heart valve defect. It was obviously his first examination of a baby boy, since he didn’t think to protect his new Christmas tie from a tiny fountain of pee. Shaken by his discovery, but hoping his lack of experience had allowed him to be misled, I called my pediatrician, who managed to get there in fifteen minutes. After emergency tests, the surgeon and our pediatrician agreed that the heart defect didn’t appear life threatening and since it was the type that sometimes closed naturally, they went ahead with just the hernia surgery. It was a scary, stressful time of tears and exhaustion, but with many people joined in prayer for Tommy. After the unscheduled surgery there was only room for us in a four patient room. The spoiled princess part of me was distressed over having to be in a room with three other mothers and their crying babies, all of us sleeping on cots literally under our babies in their high metal cribs. But, I had hardly had any sleep since my surgeries, so when Tommy awoke hungry the first time in the wee hours after his surgery, I didn’t even wake up when he cried. The kindness of strangers touched me deeply, when I finally woke and discovered that the other mothers had fed him his bottle and rocked him tosleep, so I could sleep. It was a humbling glimpse of how false my priorities were.
The day we brought him home from his surgery, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted an offer for Birdsong, including the whole two hundred acres and all the smaller buildings . I was devastated. My heart felt literally broken and I recognized that coveting really is different from just wishing for something. Eventually, I accepted that God was trying to set me free.
But ending up two weeks before Christmas having no where to go after the following week was pretty much of a shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling local realtors turned up nothing to rent while we tried to figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools mid-year, in case we decided to make the change to living in the country somewhere else than Birdsong. Available houses were as scarce in our school zone as apartments. After I had called the last realtor, I sat on the couch with tears flowing down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, an older African American woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around my shoulders.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive or climb stairs for over four more weeks and answered, “A five bedroom, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That will give us time to decide where we want to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded immediately with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A c-c-can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes,” she said, “We have to take the baby back to the doctor’s tomorrow, and I’m not comfortable driving your car and mine needs a can of oil.”

I tried not to look incredulous, as she began to pray very specifically. When she finished and we said, “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman that I knew from the school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said,” I’m sorry to bother you. I hope I didn’t wake up the baby, but my car gets eccentric sometimes and it has stopped at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get my mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.” After making her phone call, she joined me for coffee while we waited for the mechanic and the can of oil.
“I hear you’ve sold your house and are moving to the country,” she said.
“Well, yes and no. The move to the country fell through and I’m in something of a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools until we figure out where we want to live. And right now there is nothing available to rent around here.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up as she asked, “Do you know about the Keck’s house?”
“No, where is that?” I responded.
“It’s one street over and two houses down from you. You can see the back yard from here. They are going to the Philippines as missionaries for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first of January, if they can find a renter. They aren’t advertising, because they will be leaving their furniture and possessions and don’t want to rent to complete strangers.”
Breathless with my heart racing, I asked, “What is the house like?”
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms and a study, and a large den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I actually gasped in disbelief. “That would work perfectly for us and we have a large basement storage area at our office where we could easily store their things. That would probably be safer for their belongings and happier for our kids.”
It turned out that we had many mutual friends with the Kecks, so they were happy to rent to us. Dr. Keck taught theology at Vanderbilt and had a library of books that I read hungrily in the months we lived there.
So, three weeks later we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own ‘hundred acre wood’ with a creek and hundreds of tiny wild Iris all along the banks. That fall, we moved into a marvelous house my husband had designed very specifically for us and in a county with a much better school system than where Birdsong was. Eventually, my husband moved his own business here to Dickson county
One of the best parts of this memory is the woman who prayed with me. She had raised seven children in serious poverty and mostly by herself, due to her husband’s dependence on alcohol. To her, I must have seemed like a spoiled affluent weakling, yet she cared about my problems and believed God would help me just as He had her when she needed it.
An important addendum to this story is about forgiving. I was grateful for my in laws’ original very generous offer, but they seemed oblivious to the challenges their change of plans presented for us and I was not feeling very kindly toward them. I still couldn’t drive, and our baby and I were both still recuperating. Christmas expenses and moving were draining our resources and as temperatures dropped along with my size, I needed a winter coat. As I was wondering how to solve this, my mother-in-law appeared at our door. She came in obviously in a hurry handing me a shopping bag, saying, “I was in Dillard’s buying underwear and saw this coat. You may not like it or need it, so you don’t have to keep it, but something just told me to buy this for you.” And there was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. It was a perfect fit. She brushed away my thanks and hurried on to an appointment.
As I prayed for grace to forgive, I thought, If she can hear God in this, maybe God has a reason for all of it. And I was able to shift perspective, let go of coveting and start looking forward again, seeking God’s will without assuming I knew what His plan for us was. Time has made it clear that we were meant to start a totally different life . A few years later, another crisis of circumstances led to starting an architecture firm in our new area which has been once again a challenging, but grace filled, serendipity.
Sometimes, it seems to me, there are values that we accept when we tell the creative force behind all things that we want to be aligned with its highest purpose, then we become part of the flow with complex circumstances uniting to accomplish this in our lives. And the pattern is like a tapestry that we are part of, seeing only the crisscrossing mish-mosh of threads from our perspective, while a glorious work of art is emerging from a universal, eternal perspective.
(I do admit however, on a feeling level, it often feels like being grapes in a wine press! And God has very large feet. )

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.

2017: Armageddon or There’s Got to be a Pony in it Somewhere?

One of my favorite stories is about psychologists doing a study of pessimists and optimists. They put a young pessimist in a room with every imaginable toy. At first he happily tried out each toy, but soon he sat down crying. When they asked him, didn’t he like the toys, he sniffled “Yes.” But when asked why he was crying, he said, “They are very nice, but I know they will break. Toys usually do. I don’t want to enjoy them and then lose them.”
In the meantime the young optimist was in a room with just horse manure. To their surprise he was happily digging through the pile of manure. When asked why he was so happy, he answered enthusiastically, “With this much manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

I started 2017 with Lumbar Fusion Surgery followed by months of physical therapy, but still ending up in pain when bending and getting in and out of bed. All the bottom cabinets in our apartment are now pretty much unreachable for me. Since I’m short, the upper cabinets have always been out of reach, but now anything unbreakable is accessible with my new reacher. Though I’ve gotten fairly good at tilting things out with the reacher and catching them with my left hand, sometimes I start a chain reaction and all sorts of containers rain down on my head, the counter and the floor. As long as none break open, I just laugh and start over. However, the grits opening mid-air, provoked a different reaction. I’ll just leave it at that.

Shortly after surgery I awoke in the night unable to move my arms. I panicked thinking my arms were paralyzed, until I realized that the Velcro on my wrist braces for my carpal tunnel problem had locked onto the Velcro on my back brace. For a few minutes I thought I was going to have to wake Julian to help me, but I finally managed to get free. I think I did wake him with my laughter. Major blessings in the first several weeks of limited mobility and pain were Julian’s and all our family’s support and help and friends also brightening those days with tasty gifts of food. I felt very loved. And gained five pounds.

Some good news in April was that our Pulmonologist announced that my husband Julian’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis had not progressed. But then, he informed us that the scans had shown a tumor in his right lung. The biopsy showed cancer cells, so surgery was scheduled. It was a very scary time. Thankfully, it only took minimally invasive surgery to get all the cancer. So far, in each three month checkup, he is still cancer free. Another blessing in this was his surgeon, who is one of the most intelligent, funny, honest, humble, caring people we have ever met. I told her once that we admired her greatly, particularly because she didn’t think she was God. She laughed and said that she had figured that out pretty early in her life.

However, at the age of eighty-one Julian was now terribly frustrated by how slow his recovery was. Just fourteen years ago he had bounced back pretty quickly from heart surgery. And just as he was finally getting back to work on several architectural jobs, his heart went out of rhythm. So, back to the hospital we went for a Cardiac Ablation. Unfortunately, though the ablation seemed successful, for unknown reasons he began to hemorrhage profusely. The two nurses with him began to take emergency measures to staunch the bleeding, but he was losing consciousness. So, while one lowered the head of the bed to get oxygen to his brain, the other nurse (a tall good looking blonde named Amy) climbed up on the bed to be able to put enough pressure on the incision in his groin to stop the bleeding until the emergency equipment got there. About that time Julian regained consciousness and asked in surprise, “Amy, are you getting in bed with me?” (Hope springs eternal…)

The pressure equipment slowed the bleeding, but a vascular surgeon was called in to do exploratory surgery to see if an artery had been perforated. None could be found even with extensive exploration. So, though the original ablation incision was small, the exploratory one was quite long. Julian now continued to bleed from both surgical sites in the groin area, with the bleeding only very slowly becoming less profuse. A one day stay in the hospital turned into eleven days and he was still leaking fluid with some blood from both sites when they sent us home. I, an eighty year old klutz, who had just had two cataract surgeries in the ten days before this, and had numb fingers and no grip because of carpal tunnel syndrome, would now be bandaging and cutting off bandages on the two adjoining surgical sites about three times a day. Purely through the grace of God, I managed not to do him any further damage and after about another ten days the two sites no longer needed bandages. Julian never admitted to trepidation, but his sigh of relief was quite audible when we finally got to stop playing doctor.

This was now late October. Once again age took its toll and recovery was even slower. Julian lost all appetite, began sleeping excessively, and being untypically sad and even somewhat surly. So, the doctor gave him “cheer up” meds. Lo and behold, he became amazingly energetic, funny and now smiling with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes. We were both delighted. (I considered asking for a prescription for myself.) Unfortunately, he then didn’t shut his eyes for five days and five nights, so the doctor had to switch the meds. With physical therapy he slowly regained some strength once more and began to work again on his much overdue architecture projects.

Suddenly, his legs and feet began to swell and turn bright red. The diagnosis was cellulitis, so now he was again on antibiotics, steroids and having to try to work on his computer with his feet propped up above his heart. I took a photo of this rather hazardous acrobatic endeavor, but wasn’t quite mean enough to post it on face book or my blog. Well….not yet.

The next day he had a meeting to attend on one of his projects. By now, he couldn’t even get his well worn moccasin house shoes on, so I drove him to Walmart to buy some larger backless black house shoes. Since it was raining, he wore socks with plastic grocery bags over them. He put the new shoes on at the checkout counter, but since one foot was swollen less than the other, to keep that shoe on when he walked, he had to sort of shuffle his way out to the car. Well, at least they matched the color of his suit.

Then just as he was beginning to get back to a somewhat diminished “normal,” he developed a horrendous cough and began to have to fight to breathe. We feared the fibrosis had flared up, but it appeared to be an inflammation, possibly because of drastic weather changes and a cold. Back on steroids and antibiotics again. Exhausted by fighting to breathe, he ended up bedridden for several weeks and once more with swollen feet. An unexpected blessing was a recently bought new sofa that was perfect for sleeping with elevated feet on wedges our Steve ordered. He slept there day and night with the remote to control the TV and a view of a flock of cardinals that hang out at the birdfeeders outside the French doors.

Slowly he began once more getting some strength back. But, suddenly while working quietly in his office in our apartment, he was almost paralyzed by extreme pain in his chest that radiated up into his jaw. I got him to the hospital in four minutes. It would have taken the ambulance that long to get to us. Eventually, as they were running tests, the pain subsided and the tests looked okay, but they kept him over night for an echo cardiogram. While waiting for a room, we did our usual survival by humor routine and one of the nurses asked, “You do realize this is an emergency?” We just laughed and said, “We’ve had so many medical emergencies in the last couple of years, we’ve decided that humor is the best survival medicine.”

His heart didn’t show any damage, so he got to go home the next day, but barely in time to change clothes to attend the Developmental Services Banquet. This is our community organization for those with mental handicaps. Julian designed several of their group homes and was a very active member on their board for seven years. For about twenty years he also gave them the monthly stipend he got for being on the City Zoning Appeals Board. Last year we were invited, but he ended up in the hospital so we didn’t make it. This year they gave me a heads up that he was supposed to be given the award he’d missed last year. I think we got there two minutes before it started. So in his suit and tie, wearing his very dilapidated, but fortuitously stretched from wear, moccasin house shoes, he received an award and a lot of affirmation. Many of the award winners were clients with disabilities who work as helpers in the group homes. I was touched by the wholehearted applause and cheering of the other clients. The award presentations were interspersed with Christmas music like, O Holy Night, and the elderly client sitting behind me knew the words to all of them perfectly, but not the tunes. But the sheer joy in her voice brought tears to my eyes as I realized that this too was an answer to my Advent Prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  I think Jesus is more visible in the handicapped than in the rest of us.

Our primary care doctor now scheduled Julian for an endoscopy to check for other possible causes for the pain that took us to the ER.

Meanwhile, our son Steve came from Atlanta to spend the weekend creating a wonderland with our collection of Dickens Village buildings, people in many different vignettes, animals, and trees and landmarks of London.

 

Julian directed this from the couch and it ended up with five levels of hills and valleys with bridges over chasms, a cave, and even a crime scene complete with crime scene tape that our son Tommy made and sneaked into the village a couple of years ago! Well after all, they had a lot of crime in Dickens day too. All the houses, churches, pubs and businesses have lights inside and the sheets of cotton snow cover the few empty patches outside. I think some zoning issues entered into the city planning also.
It really is both beautiful and interesting. And since it has grown to cover the whole end of the living room and now even continues around one corner, there’s no room inside for a Christmas tree. But outside one of the French doors, we have a small lighted one that looms large over the village. If you have to be sick, this is a lot better view than in the hospital. (Well, other than Amy the blonde nurse anyway.)

The next weekend our son Tommy and delightful Whitney with the awesomely beautiful voice brought our four granddaughters and they helped decorate the rest of the house. Then it was fun watching our talented artist granddaughters draw and getting to enjoy Whitney singing with Tommy accompanying her on the guitar. Another truly lovely Christmas experience.

Finally, Julian got to have his endoscopy which showed a pill had become lodged in his esophagus and caused an ulcer. A biopsy done to check for infection was negative. But now the challenge was to avoid the many delicious foods that irritate an ulcer.

A week before Christmas, nineteen of our family arrived for our annual Christmas gathering in a cabin at near-by Montgomery Bell State Park. Our grown children and grandchildren did most of the preparations and helped us organize and pack up our now downsized contributions. The cabin with its large stone fireplace and its wooded setting on a lake is a perfect place for a holiday gathering. The first day, Julian mostly rested, wrapped warmly in a comfortable recliner with everyone taking turns spending time with him and getting him things.

Granddaughter Sophie sharing her hopes and dreams with Julian

By the second day he felt well enough to be beaten at poker by both the grandchildren and great-grandchildren! It was a very happy day with even our grandson who teaches in Bolivia making it back in time. And we got to face-time our son Michael and his spouse Patrick in Cambodia, where they teach at an orphanage for children born HIV positive. I love that I have lived long enough to experience talking with and seeing our loved ones all the way across the world. In spite of all our challenges, it was a wonderful family Christmas celebration.

Christmas week, Julian’s blood pressure started vacillating wildly and he began to have severe chest pain from the ulcer in spite of taking nineteen different medicines each day! Unfortunately, all our doctors were out for a week of Christmas vacation. Adding to his misery, one of his new medicines made Julian very dizzy. He was walking to the bedroom and started to fall as he was almost to the king size bed. I was behind him and began to try to help him get to the bed. He started shouting, “Where’s the bed? Where’s the bed?” Because a week before he had had a sudden drastic loss of hearing, I thought he’d now gone blind! I managed to get him safely onto the bed and asked him if he could see it now and he snapped back, “Of course!” When I asked him why he couldn’t see it a moment before, he replied, “Because I had my eyes closed.” I had a sudden strong desire to strangle him, but fortunately my hands aren’t strong enough.

Now the sparkling lights of the village and the twinkling little tree outside and the bright red cardinals flaming around the feeders were still cheerfully visible over the rather large air purifier, the humidifier, and the walker. They could even be seen between the CPAP and Blood Pressure machine and various breathing aids on the rolling cart that we pulled next to the couch with its pyramid of wedges for elevating feet above the heart. The Christmas angels and burgundy candles around the tray with Julian’s nineteen medicines looked festive on the dining room table. I tried to convince Julian that a wreath of holly would keep his head warmer and add to the Christmassy atmosphere, but he wasn’t in the mood. I was tempted to dig out the left over “happy” pills and slip just a half of one in his milk, but it being the Holy Days, for once I resisted evil.

 

Village for a Hospital Room

Julian now needed to not lie flat because of the ulcer and he still needed to keep his feet above the level of his heart. I suggested getting a hammock since our middles are our heaviest body area, both head and feet would then be high. But it’s already getting difficult to walk around the apartment, so Julian solved the problem by varying which end he raises with the wedges over the day and night. The other challenge is a diet healthy for his heart, esophagus, and feet. Low salt, low fat, low fiber, no spices, no tomato products, no dairy for two hours before and after a pill he takes twice a day, no caffeine, carbonation, citrus or anything acidic or alcoholic. And the steroids are making his sugar count so high that the frequent tears in his very thin skin won’t heal. So, low sugar also. I spent about three hours grocery shopping during the busiest shopping season of the year reading the contents of everything. But it’s a saving grace to have our son Chris living nearby and willing to come stay while I have to be gone. He and Julian share many interests and it seems to not only be a bright spot in those days for Julian, but to be bringing them much closer to one another. And the many kindnesses of our family and friends have touched Julian’s heart, helping him see how loved he is.

Our newest great-grandson, Raphael, who had a difficult birth on November 15th, didn’t breathe until they resuscitated him. He stayed in the hospital for ten days on a ventilator and needing medicines for seizures. But the neurologist said he could not believe the second brain scans taken at five days old were of the same child as the ones they took the first day. The neurologist actually called it a miracle. Raphael is a beautiful baby and now at two months has a marvelous wide smile. Though we may not know the extent of possible damage for some time, he has many many people praying for him even on the other side of the world. And he is already tenderly loved by all of us. They live in North Carolina, but we get to see photos and videos of him almost daily on face book. And they drove from North Carolina to Tennessee just for four days so his grands and great- grands could get to meet him. So, as 2018 began, I got to hold him and kiss his tiny feet and see him smile and hear his laughter. What a wonderful beginning for a new year.

A beneficial side effect for me of helping Julian through all this has been my regaining stamina and managing a lot of physical activity with very little pain. And in spite of relieving some of the stress by standing at the kitchen counter in the middle of the night eating half a peach pie and another time six jelly doughnuts mysteriously disappearing in two days, I haven’t gained weight.

When someone is in pain, whether physical or emotional, they are focused on the pain, and the small things that keep relationships pleasant are no longer a priority. Through most of our marriage, I have been high maintenance and Julian has been very low maintenance. There have been rough moments for both of us in adjusting to such an extreme change in that now. He doesn’t like to need help and I have always wanted a lot of it. He’s never been comfortable expressing unpleasant feelings. And I don’t really know how to help him, because I worked hard over the years to learn how to deal with my emotions without garbage dumping them on him. So, in spite of being married over half a century, we are still awkward in areas of our relationship. Sometimes, I feel like at eighty years of age, I’m still an amateur person.

Humor has been our glue and in many ways it is still our saving grace. But in this stage of our life, the challenge is to learn how to love across our differences in ways that help us relate heart to heart.

Last week, the doctor explained that a lot of the ongoing illnesses are side effects of some of the medicines that so far are keeping him able to breathe. So Julian is beginning to deal with the reality that his life is not going to get better. In fact, it will be a constant challenge to keep it from getting worse.

It’s a scary and sad time for both of us. Sometimes when he is sleeping, I feel like my heart is breaking and when I let myself cry, I’m afraid I will never be able to stop. Our family and our friends at church have been incredibly loving and supportive. And I find grace by reliving joyful memories of our fifty-nine years together. Julian suddenly lost a lot more of his hearing around Christmas.  His expensive hearing aids made his ears itch so he never wore them.  But now communication is much more difficult. A friend with similar problems has found something that has helped him and he is bringing it for Julian to try, so I am hopeful that soon we will be able to enjoy reliving those memories together.

Some Memories

Mike Julian Eileen in Los Angeles

Eileen and Julian in the South West of France 2015

Julian at Tommy’s

Bella and Julian at Hospital

One of the blessings of old age is a treasury of wonderful memories.

A warped sense of humor is also a great help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raphael, Our Christmas Blessing!

Our Christmas blessing, Raphael now.

Bless all of you for praying for him.

Asking small and large blessings for all of you in these Holy Days.

Raphael Now

At two weeks Raphael is finally off all tubes. He’s breathing on his own and taking a bottle. His bodily functions are all working. He’s focusing his eyes.

Raphael on Monday, November 27th, 2017

He is still on medicine for seizures, but it is controlling them. His heart showed a flutter over the weekend, but I haven’t heard any more about that. But please keep the prayers going. About five days after he was born the neurologist called and told Raphael’s parents that he would not have known the second brain scan was of the same baby as the first, it was so much improved. When we care and pray for one another, miracles can happen. Thank you all for your caring prayers.
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