Category Archives: doubt
My husband’s surgery for lung cancer was scheduled for next Wednesday. His thoracic surgeon ran lots of tests and conferred with a team of heart and lung specialists to try to make sure the surgery would not make his Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis worse. They all agreed the tests showed that his heart is working well and his Fibrosis isn’t nearly as bad as they had feared. So the consensus was to do surgery since the cancer appears to not have spread. They can just remove one lobe of the three lobes of the right lung.. The surgery was scheduled for May 17th with him stopping his blood thinner today, the 11th. However, the Cardiologist that did his stents and the doctor that put in his pacemaker needed to sign off on this plan. They both feel they should see him and do a stress test also. This doesn’t happen until Monday and he can’t go off his blood thinners until they give the go ahead. It will likely be at least another week from then before they can do surgery. Every day has seemed like a month since his diagnosis. But this morning when seeking peace about the delays, I remembered when our youngest son went through a similar series of delays getting a cardiac catheterization at the age of four. Reflecting on two stories of memories about that experience has freed me to let go and trust God.
Daffodils, a Sign of Hope: An Easter Story
My heart sank and I felt a wave of nausea as I read the thermometer. One hundred and four degrees.
“Oh, God. Not again please,” I whispered, as I coaxed medicine into my feverish son. While I was fixing him juice, the telephone rang insistently until I finally answered it.
“Eileen,” a neighbor said, “you need to get over there to my granny’s old home place and get yourself some of those daffodils. They’re just coming up. If you plant them now, they might go on and bloom for you next month.”
“I can’t take Tommy out today, Mae. He’s running fever again. Besides are you sure it’s not stealing??
“Naw. There are thousands of them now, all from the ones my granny planted years ago. They need thinning out, so they’ll keep blooming. I’ll come over and watch Tommy for you.”
“Well……Okay,” I answered hesitantly. “I’m just putting him down for a nap. Come in about twenty minutes.”
I sighed as I hung up. I didn’t really feel like going out in the cold January weather, but I couldn’t think of any more excuses. I picked up my three year old son and began to rock him to sleep. His face was flushed and his thin little body felt hot against mine. Poor Tommy. I hope this isn’t going to be another long siege, I thought silently.
“I love you, little one,” I said softly.
“Love you,” he whispered hoarsely, patting my face gently as his eyes began to close.
As I carefully put Tommy in his bed, I heard my neighbor come quietly in the front door.
“Hi, Mae. Thanks for coming. He’s restless, but I think he’ll sleep,” I greeted her. “But I don’t have anything to put dirt in. How will I carry the daffodils?”
“They don’t need dirt. Just put some newspapers down in the back of your station wagon. Get yourself a lot. They’ll look great along your driveway and out front of the house.”
A few minutes later I gasped and shivered when the cold wind hit me, as I got out of the car. I wished fervently that I hadn’t agreed to do this. I started digging as quickly as I could, eyes tearing from the wind. I dug for several minutes, then thought about giving up and going home. Each time I’d begin to straighten up, I’d see another thick clump just barely pushing through the frozen ground, seeming to beckon to me. I kept going until I had almost filled the back of my stationwagon with hundreds of bare bulbs.
When I finally got back and sent my neighbor home with thanks, I went to check on Tommy. He tossed restlessly in his sleep and when I touched his forehead, it almost scalded my hand. Tommy had taken a turn for the worse, so I forgot all about the daffodil bulbs, as I spent the next two weeks caring for him and making trips to the specialist fifty miles away.
With trembling voice, I finally admitted to the doctor how frightened I was, when Tommy’s fever ran off the thermometer and there was no way to know how high it was.
“Don’t try to bring it down below 104 degrees,” he advised me. “If you do, it will shoot back up fast and that can cause a seizure. He catches everything because the hole in his heart valve lets blood circulate without being purified by the lungs. We’ll try another antibiotic. If he has a virus, it won’t help, but we can’t risk this going into pneumonia. We’ll consider surgery when he’s four, but we need to get him stronger first. Bring him back in two days, if he’s not better.”
I drove us home through a flood of tears. Tommy whimpered listlessly, his eyes too bright and his skin too pale under the flush of fever. My spirits matched the bleak January landscape.
I spent the next two days and nights struggling to keep his fever down. Sometimes he lay in my arms limply. Other times when the fever shot beyond the measure of the thermometer, he would chatter brightly, using words far more complex than his normal vocabulary, reminding me of the possibility of brain damage.
Two days passed and his fever was still shooting back up off the thermometer. Trying yet again to bring it down slowly, I put him in a tepid bath, that seemed to hurt his hot skin and make him shake with chills. He looked like pictures I had seen of war orphans with their ribs showing and their sunken eyes pleading. He looked at me like he was asking mutely, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting me? Don’t you love me?”
As I wrapped him in wet sheets and sat rocking him, both of us were sobbing. I even yelled out loud, “Where are you, God? I pray and pray and you do nothing. This is an innocent child. Why do you let him suffer? What kind of God are you? A cruel God? An impotent God? Where is the loving God of Jesus? Have you abandoned us?”
As, I exhausted my anger, memories of God’s many gifts of grace in my life flooded my mind and I began to pray again, “You are my God, the only God I have. I have seen Your awesome glory in the beauty of Your creation and I have felt the depth of Your love through Your son, Jesus. So, I, like Paul, will try to praise you at all times, in joy and in sorrow. Right now, I can’t feel it, but with my will I praise you. I thank you for the many times you have blessed me and for the grace you have poured into my heart even in my darkest moments. But, please God, help me know you are with us in this. I feel abandoned.”
Then I began to dress Tommy for another trip to Nashville. As I carried him to the car, I was stopped in my tracks by an incredible sight.
Hundreds of bright yellow daffodils in full bloom completely filled the back of my car. It looked like Easter morning! I felt like God had put His arms around us and whispered, “See, I am with you always. Don’t despair.”
I drove to the doctor’s singing hymns of praise.
The next post: God is in the Timing continues the story of the journey of Tommy’s heart defect.
This is a face book post by the author, Anne Lamott
We all secretly think we are defective–this is why our parents were unhappy, or unfaithful, or abusive, or whatever. Believing this gave us our only shot at control in households that were chaotic or cold: If we were the problem, then it meant our caregivers were good parents, capable of nurture and the healthy raising of children. And it meant we could correct our defects, and then our parents would be happy, finally, be nice to each other, and stop drinking.
I have spent 30 sober years healing from this survival tactic, of thinking I am annoying or a screw-up. I have just toured the country promoting a book on mercy, called HALLELUJAH ANYWAY, whose main premise is that if we practice radical self-care and forgiveness, this will heal us and radiate out to our families and communities, bringing peace.
However, I have done something so out there, so On Beyond Zebra, that it drew into question every aspect of that guiding principle (i.e., that I am NOT defective). I thought I was 80% over this. As a child, I agreed to believe it because it helped my family function and helped the other members feel better about themselves, because at least they weren’t screwed-up, annoying me.
But I have outdone myself. I have done something so amazingly incompetent and so profoundly inconvenient to so many people I love that it will allow you to forgive yourself for almost anything. I will be your new gold standard; you will no longer be secretly convinced that you have Alzheimer’s. You will think you are just fine and have been overreacting. You will understand why my son, Sam, so frequently mentions the website A Place for Mom to me.
So: six months ago, I was invited to give a talk at the 2017 TED conference in Vancouver. This was very heady stuff, as sometimes millions of people see these talks online and might want to buy your new book, saving you from financial ruin and having to go live at the Rescue Mission and live on government cheese, which is very binding.
So I wrote and sort of memorized my 15-minute talk, and my various caseworkers worked for months to get me to Vancouver this morning from Seattle, where I did a reading last night.
I got to the airport an hour ago, got out my passport, and tried to get a boarding pass for a flight I’ve been booked on and obsessing about for 3 months.
That’s when I’d realized I had grabbed the wrong passport at home. The expired one.
Therefore, I would not be able to catch a flight to our tense new enemy, Canada, to give the biggest and most important talk of my life.
It is hard to capture my feelings at that moment: terror, shame, self-loathing and catastrophic thoughts about my doomed future.
I texted my agent, ran to TSA, pleaded my case and how I must be HUGELY important (albeit brain damaged) to be giving a TED talk.
No go. And no way to get on board any flight to Canada. I was doomed.
But those 30 years had not been in vain. Because within a few minutes, I had remembered 3 things:
God always makes a way out of no way.
Radical self-care and forgiveness are always possible – always — and always the way home.
And HALLELUJAH ANYWAY is half about how there is nothing outside of yourself that can heal or fill you or make you whole unless you are waiting for an organ. A TED talk was never going to have been able to fill me with respect. That’s an inside job.
I hate and resent this, but it is the truest truth — union with God or Goodness, including our safest, most trusted friends, and deep friendliness and forgiveness to one’s sometimes very disappointing self.
So five minutes later, my agent and the TED people had worked out a plan whereby as I write this my son is flying to Seattle with my passport. He’ll be here in 5 hours. There’s a late flight to Vancouver, and the TED people have created a space for me tomorrow morning out of thin air. Talk about making a way out of no way.
Additionally, I charged $30 worth of medicine, magazines and a sack of peanut butter M&Ms.
I’m not sure what the message of this is. I quoted Samuel Goldwyn in Bird by Bird, who told screenwriters that if they had a message to send a telegram. All I have to offer is this story: that we get to make huge mistakes, and that the one I made this week is almost certainly bigger than any of yours. But neither of us is defective. We are perfect children of the universe, although maybe still a little funny around the edges, with tiny character issues and failing memories. We possess every day the capacity to extend gentleness and forgiveness to ourselves and those suffering nearby.
I am smiling gently at all the miserable frantic people at the airport and telling them I like their hats. I gave a sobbing child my IHOP crayons. (This is the path to world peace.) And I will never, ever hear the end of this from the people who love me. Ever. Believe me. Written by Anne Lamott on her face book page on 4/28/2017.
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.
My memories collide with one another,
higgley-piggley log jams
in my mind.
Complexity clutters my understanding
and confusions of
cobwebs cling to my bold
Creativity thickens and congeals,
dwindling into small,
fallow pools clotted with
Idols of old truths and securities
crack from the weight of
my twin to Thomas doubt and
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
with her woman’s powerful compassion
that can turn empty deserts
into hearts fertile
from her tears.
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.
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.
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
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 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.”
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