Category Archives: doubt

A Place of Peace Where God Abides

For many years I sought
a place of peace where God abides.
Once I found it on a hilltop
under silent star filled skies.
And another time
in earth’s breathless silence
just before the dawn.
I found it sharing bread
with Christian sisters
outside of any church.
I’ve often found it in
the laughter of a child.
But with great chagrin years later
when I finally looked inside
I found my Doubting Thomas Twin.
But then, when I could finally
claim him as truly part of me
he taught me perseverance,
the key to everything.
And though it’s paradoxical,
he freed me from my fears
and became a place within me
where I can go for grace.
A place of peace where God abides.

The Narrow Gate

My memories collide with one another,
congesting into
higgley-piggley log jams
in my mind.
Complexity clutters my understanding
and confusions of
cobwebs cling to my bold
broken dreams.
Creativity thickens and congeals,
dwindling into small,
fallow pools clotted with
frustration.
Idols of old truths and securities
crack from the weight of
my twin to Thomas doubt and
Judas fear.
Now, a voice within gently warns me,
“Narrow gate ahead!
You must not be afraid
to let go.”
So, in this present moment I must trust
my inner Spirit
to transform even this
suffering,
with her woman’s powerful compassion
that can turn empty deserts
into hearts fertile
from her tears.

EON 1991

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.

Not a One Piece Puzzle

Seems to me life is like a puzzle
where we each only get one piece.
But rather than put our pieces together,
particularly the ones we can’t see
how to fit together with our own,
we create an imaginary picture
that tidily fits with our one piece,
but totally distorts the whole
all our pieces could complete.
That’s why I keep odd shaped
puzzle pieces in an open file
for when their place shows up.

True Confessions of a LOL Kind

Don’t get hopeful. LOL here means “Little Old Lady.”
I belong to a LOL group in a small church. Last week at our meeting, several LOL’s expressed concerns for the welfare or a growing homeless population in our small rural town. Our church doesn’t have much money and the women who don’t work are mostly between seventy and ninety-three. So, I offered to research the problem to find out the main places the homeless were gathering and what groups were already helping them to see if there was a way for us to contribute to one of those in some small way. The next day I was preparing for my turn to lead part of Sunday’s service by reading the Lectionary Scriptures for that Sunday. All of them were focused on helping the poor, including the Gospel story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the beggar at his gate. This is a “Come to Jesus and Get with the Program” scripture, plain and simple. So, I gave one of my tiny sermonettes (I call them sermons from the molehill as opposed to on the mount or from the pulpit). And I ended it with,”The question Jesus is asking us today is, ‘Who is the beggar at YOUR gate?”
I had left my purse at the far end of the pew near the door, but when turning the pulpit over to our minister, I sat down at the other end of the pew. Usually my husband is with me, but he was out of town on a family emergency. A few minutes later, an elderly woman came in the door and sat down right behind my purse. She looked shabby enough to be homeless. I happened to have a rare hundred dollar bill that I had been saving for a couple of months in my purse. My first concern, I’m ashamed to confess, was that the woman would steal my hundred dollars. I didn’t want to be obvious about this by scooting across the empty pew and grabbing my purse. About then I noticed that she was crying. Instead of concern, I saw this as a chance to slide down and give her some kleenex out of my purse and then just sit there hanging on to my money. Another LOL saw her crying and came over to console her and find out what was wrong. It turned out she was being evicted from a room she rented, because she was behind in her rent. Well, I sat there thinking “beggar at my gate!” So, I finally got my hundred dollar bill out and handed it to her. Instead of being happy about doing that, I just consoled myself that she hadn’t gotten my credit card. Talk about your LOLC…(That’s Little Old Lady Curmudgeon.)
Any way, one of our Deacons went with her after church and paid her rent and a couple from the neighborhood took her to the grocery and bought her food. Well I’m sure she thought Christmas had come early, because she insisted that she wanted to keep coming to our church if someone would give her a ride on Sundays. I’ll be honest, we’re a liberal church and it’s much more natural for us to take care of people’s physical needs than spiritual. Though preferably at a moderate distance. And liberal though we are, she looked pretty flea bitten. So far nobody, including yours truly, has offered to pick her up. My first thought was we’d better find a bus, because when she went back with the “good news,” the rest of the almost homeless people living where she did were going to want to come too.
My friend, the LOL Deacon, has started planning on gathering help from some of our more prominent citizens to find a building to house the homeless, hire a director, and get grants to underwrite it’s upkeep. I confess that right now that sounds like a totally overwhelming project to me, but I am trying to be open to the grace to at least pick up our new friend, Wanda, and bring her to church on Sunday. Feel free to pray for all concerned. When I was a new Christian, I was so idealistic and impractical, I ended up getting literally robbed by people I helped and my children harmed even by people in Christian ministry that I took into my home. So, now I’m trying to “be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Mt.10:16 Funny thing, the name of our church’s women’s group is “The Doves.”

Eileen, the reluctant Christian

Grace Comes in our Helplessness and in the Present Moment

For me who naturally lives in the ideal land of possibilities, it takes both faith and perseverance to find grace when facing the harsh limits of human reality. I can only stand up to my inner Greek Chorus, that keeps me frighteningly aware of my frailties, by focusing on God who simply says over and over, “I love you.”

Some twenty-five years ago by the end of my mother’s fourteen years of dying by inches from Alzheimer’s, I really wasn’t strong enough to devote myself to holding her hand and sitting helplessly with her at the foot of her cross. It was partly because of my own emotional weakness, some because of selfishness, but ultimately because her suffering shook my faith in God.

Now, I’m being challenged once again to seek grace to live that out as my husband’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis progresses. Some personalities are naturally reasonably good at accepting reality, however harsh it may be. But I’ve always been a change agent, a problem solver,  a person that is good at finding alternative solutions.

Now, I know that there comes a time when that is not what we are able or even called to do, no matter how naturally good we are at it.
We are called to find grace in our weakness. But that is terrifying and only done by staying aware that though we are not good at this, God is and God is with us.

And grace comes only in the present moment.  That is where God meets us. And learning to live in the present moment is a whole new way of being in the world for many of us. Some of us live in the past, while others focus on the future.  I’ve always focused on the future with its infinite possibilities.  So my first challenge is to only ask where is God in this moment and reach for His hand. My second challenge is to accept that God isn’t asking me to solve anything, but to trust and stay with Him in the circumstances, like Mary at the foot of the cross of those we love most.

The Song in My Head

The song in my head won’t stop
no matter how I try to drown it out.
I have a Greek Chorus always
providing back ground music.
They sing Bass while I sing Treble,
overwhelming my feeble voice
defending my reason for being.
Over and over the chorus sings,
“You’re no good! You’re no good!”
I hear it echoed in small slights,
whether imaginary or real,
in jokes that sound like put downs,
in my endless longing for affirmation.
And my envy of my friends’ success
Just confirms that awful chorus,
“You’re no good.”

The Wisdom of Infants

Last Sunday, a visiting minister spoke to us about the great awakenings in Christianity through the ages. I’m pretty sure most Christians would agree that we need another one right now. But great awakenings don’t just happen on their own. They begin within each of us. They happen when we take God deadly serious, they happen when God’s people seek God, when we search the Scriptures for guidance, and believe the Scriptures even when they seem unbelievable, when we beat on the door of heaven, and cry like hungry infants to God, when we not only believe in the unbelievable, but do not settle for less.
According to the Lectionary Scriptures for May 22, 2016, the first thing God created was wisdom. I swear I never heard that before. It gets weirder. This wisdom, that as hard as it is to believe, takes delight in the human race. When I focus on humanity’s track record, I find that pretty much impossible to believe. Then we are told that wisdom comes from knowledge of God. And the scriptures go on to say that knowledge of God only comes from fear of God. Fear of God…..that’s not a popular belief these days. What does fear of God mean. It means we take God seriously, more seriously than our success, our health issues, our love life, our bank accounts, even our children’s and grandchildren’s soccer games. It means we live like we might die today and would have to look Jesus in the eyes and see his broken heart because we missed the point of both His life and our own.
The scriptures today call this wisdom, the wisdom of infants. What in the world is that? It’s a heart knowledge that everything comes through God, our creator; health, wealth, love, joy, sickness, lack of money, loneliness, even heartbreak. Unless we believe that, we will be blind to the meaning and purpose in the whole of life. It is a wisdom that knows to cry out to its creator when in need, a wisdom that cries until it knows it has been heard, a wisdom that knows when that cry is heard to cling like an infant to the finger of God.
How can we possibly believe that the creator of all the wonders and mysteries of our gigantic Universe would care about us. We may feel important in our small personal world, but we’re way smaller than ants in the size of things. Okay, here comes more unbelievable stuff: Paul tells us today that God not only cares about us, but because of Jesus we can boast in our hope of sharing in the glory of God. (Seriously?) Boast?! About sharing the glory of God?! How scary is that! In fact, Scripture tells us that God made us just a little lower than Himself. That God actually calls us to be co-creators with Him of our world. Think about that for a minute. We’re like Junior Partners with God. Because of the love of Jesus, who was willing to be the partner of God in both suffering and salvation, we can hope in sharing the glory of God. Do notice the small print about being a partner with God in both suffering and salvation.
Good old Paul goes further. He says that because of Jesus, we can trust and even boast in our suffering because suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. A hope that trusts in the love of God poured into each of our hearts by the Spirit of God within us. And through that same Spirit the wisdom and knowledge that Jesus had, that got Him through suffering and even through death can also become ours. With that grace we will make it through many practice deaths and resurrections in our lives.
Let’s face it, these things are impossible to believe until we experience some of them personally. How do we do that? Take God seriously. Be so afraid of missing God’s call that you daily seek, pray, beat on heaven’s door for the wisdom of infants, the wisdom that is awareness of God in everything in your daily life. Pray for the grace to be a partner with God in shaping your world. Pray for endurance in suffering, so that you will develop the character that sees hope in everything. Pray constantly for awareness of the Spirit within you so that you may be open to the very same wisdom and knowledge that got Jesus through suffering and even death to resurrection.

Prov. 8:1-4,22-31 Psalm 8 Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-15

Glimpses of God’s Footprints from the Wine Press :)

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 lovely 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 my 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 unique in a wonderful thirty-five acre setting on a creek. There 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 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, 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 gradually 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 black 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 started his own business here in this county where we still live and work forty-four years later.
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 involves forgiveness.  My in-laws had made an exceptionally generous offer, but were 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 worked on 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 Dillatd’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 in a house my architect husband designed specifically for us in a county with a better school situation.  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.

(However, on a feeling level, it often feels like being grapes in a wine press! 🙂  )

 

 

 

 

 

A Hunger for God

Pretty much all my life I have hungered for God except for a time when personal losses and the suffering in the world overwhelmed me and I sought escape in the diversions the world offers. But they did not satisfy that longing and I began to seek Him in most of the main religions, both Christian and others. But did not find Him. Finally He found me through friends who not only witnessed verbally to the love of God expressed in Jesus, but literally gave up all they had to follow him. I returned with great joy to a Christianity that included people from many denominations who had found a life changing relationship with God through Jesus. As I grew in my relationship with Him, it changed and I found Her in even more and sometimes unexpected places and people who were on the same journey, but a different path. God was bigger than any of our “breadboxes.” I struggled with the differences I found even within denominations between those who had a vibrant obviously growing personal relationship with God and those that seemed to just cling to a spiritual tradition, a spiritual club, a spiritual insurance policy, or a set of rules or formulas that made them feel spiritually superior. (To be continued in: Which of These Is Not Like the Others?  Which of These Doesn’t Belong? Child of God, Loved Unconditionally, Born again, Personal Relationship with God,  Personal Relationship with Jesus, On a Spiritual Journey, Spiritual Seeker, In a Dance of Grace and Response, Process of Sanctification, Saved, Law Abiding, Righteous, Finished?)