Category Archives: evolving
Yesterday, I realized that I don’t distinguish between God and Jesus except when I need to deal with the downside of my own or others’ humanity. Then I reflect on the Jesus of the Scriptures and see how open he was to growing in understanding and wholeness. When I see the overview of how drastically Jesus changed his ideas and choices through interaction with people different from him and then going apart to pray, reflect, and listen to what God was saying through those life challenges, it gives me hope for myself and humanity. And it motivates me to stop and listen to God through my everyday life experiences. If I struggle with the same thing over and over, obviously I am not paying attention. The rough spots, the challenges, unfamiliar ideas, the people that make me uncomfortable are God calling.
Sometimes, I just HATE knowing that!
And sometimes I even have to mentally put my fingers in my ears and sing to myself, “Jesus loves me…………..” until that assurance of love gives me the courage to recognize that when something about another person pushes my emotional buttons, it’s because of something related that I don’t want to know about myself.
On the positive side, I realize that I also have God eyes. I experience not only pleasure, but the sheer joy of seeing God in the beauty in nature, momentary kindness in people, laughter of children, and my own humor at my weirdness, silliness and even brokenness.
Wow! That has been such a life affirming and empowering gift.
I’m pretty sure those two different aspects of openness are wholeness.
And wholeness is the path of the journey to holiness.
Strangely, what triggered this awareness yesterday was a friend mentioning sadly that none of the Christmas cards she received had anything about Jesus on them. They had birds and animals and lovely landscapes, but no nativity scenes. I realized that I used to feel the same lack of spirituality when cards only had beautiful nature or just happy people on them, but now I feel God in all those things everyday, so I see God in pictures of them too.
And I am really beginning to see this as not only progress, but as what Jesus is all about. Jesus is our main clue to the immanence of God, not just God’s transcendence. Jesus gives us God eyes. God in the natural, God in the limited, God in human incompleteness. God in our funky little unfinished selves.
Rejoice and be glad in it! If God is in the beauty of the cardinal who pushes the little birds off the feeders, if God is in the beauty of the daffodil that goes through cycles of ugly withering and beautiful blooming, God is in us and our cycles of dying and becoming new.
Jesus loves us because he has God eyes too.
Anything that annoys you is teaching you patience. Anyone who abandons you is teaching you how to stand up on your own two feet. Anything that angers you is teaching you forgiveness and compassion. Anything that has power over you is teaching you how to take your power back. Anything you hate is teaching you unconditional love. Anything you fear is teaching you courage to overcome your fear. Anything you can’t control is teaching you how to let go.
Jackson Kiddard Quotebook.in
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.
When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’re a walking history book of sorts. I’ve known six generations of my own family, been through five wars involving America, personally experienced both affluent times and scary times of scarcity, lived in big cities and in back woods’ ‘hollers,’ and traveled to fifteen foreign countries, some of them several times. My father’s family were very wealthy until the depression. Then they lost everything. There were nine children. The older ones experienced all the trimmings of affluence, summer homes and homes abroad. The older boys became Vice Presidents of their father’s company and the girls were debutantes. But, the younger ones had to make it on their own. Though as one of the younger ones, my father didn’t get to finish college, he eventually became an editor of a big city newspaper. This didn’t make us rich. I grew up living in apartments. And in my younger years I was frighteningly aware at times that we lived close to the precipice of poverty. But a newspaper editor has a certain amount of status and connections. One senator, who eventually ended up President, in his early political years asked my father to be his press secretary. Speaking and writing English properly were important in my family. My husband’s father on the other hand grew up seriously poor in a large family. His English was not always perfect. He worked from a very young age, put himself through college, and became a very successful lawyer. He knew several American Presidents, even had Jack and Jackie Kennedy to brunch at his home. My husband, as the youngest of five, grew up affluent in a house with twelve fire places, that later became a private school. We ourselves have experienced being reasonably affluent. But through a combination of circumstances and timing, we went through some financially challenging times. Those included an unforgettable night with our whole family out in the snow. My husband was cutting down a tree, while the rest of us passed logs in an assembly line for the wood burning stove, both to keep us warm and keep the pipes from freezing.
There are some things I have learned from the rich variety of my life experiences.
Ancestors do not define us.
Money doesn’t make us virtuous, but poverty doesn’t either.
Neither does knowledge make us wise.
Adversity can, but does not necessarily, strengthen us.
What we mean is more important than how we say it.
Ultimately, what’s inside us will matter much more than our circumstances.
There’s a difference between smart people and intelligent ones, but I need to learn from both. I delight in talented people and am actually most comfortable around people who march to a different drummer than the majority. I have grown to particularly appreciate people who have persevered and become compassionate through seriously hard times.
I am enriched by any kind of beauty whether in nature, art, music, people, or things, but don’t need to own them to experience joy from them.
I have enjoyed having money for extras in life.
However, I am most grateful for the enlightenment that comes from experiencing a taste of the limits and fears that go with poverty, but also discovering the possibilities in the wider world that come with affluence.
And now at this age, there are two characteristics that I value more than anything else: simple kindness and the humility to laugh at ourselves.
When we get into our seventies and eighties we begin to get a different perspective on lots of things. Morality is one of those.
Girls dating in the 1950’s didn’t plan on having sex with boyfriends until married to them. Of course, there was some negotiating room on just how close we would come. And if we went to college, often we didn’t get to go to the same one as our high school boyfriend, so playing the field in college was fairly common. Being popular was considered a perfectly ethical goal in our lives. Unfortunately, a good looking girl with personality often stole and broke the hearts of quite a few boys, boys that were not necessarily high, or even on, the girl’s personal list of marriage possibilities. There was, in fact, a fine line between playing the field and collecting scalps. There comes a time when at least some of us little old ladies begin to question whether we can actually claim the moral high ground compared to girls and women of today.
Once married, our generation of women seldom initiated a divorce. Not only was divorce scandalous, it was seldom practical. Women couldn’t make enough money to support themselves above the poverty level, never-the-less raise children in a safe and healthy environment. Even if a husband was wealthy, the legal system was totally male. And most religions forbade remarriage, closing the door on making a better marriage. Children were trapped along with their mothers in horribly abusive situations. Having to stay in marriages that were destructive to all concerned now seems far more immoral than divorce.
So, wherefore art thou, morality?
We seem to be in an era where traditional (though often dubious) morality has been officially abandoned, but no one appears to have come up with a new way of preventing chaos, protecting children, and nurturing commitment relationships. The most obvious thing is that no size fits all.
Not everyone is cut out for marriage and many should definitely not be parents. But most people definitely seem to need sex. I think the basis of sex being wrong outside commitment relationships is that the reality is, One: It increases the incidence of unwanted children and disastrous marriages. Two: Using people simply for our own pleasure or out of loneliness is not only wrong, it can destroy other people emotionally. Three: The danger of sexually transmitted diseases that can damage people for life is very real. The rules for morality were created to protect us and to increase our chances of living in peace as societies. But my observation has been that the rich have always considered themselves above laws and the poor don’t have much in the way of pleasure except sex. So, I think even in the supposedly moral fifties, it was pretty much only the middle class trying to follow the rules. And I’m pretty sure even then, it was more the women than men. My thought used to be to teach our children, One: If you don’t want it on the front page of the local paper, don’t do it. Two: If you don’t want the same thing done to you or your children, don’t do it. And Three: If everyone doing it would make the world a worse place to live in, don’t do it. Sadly, I have come to realize, One: When hormones kick in consciousness of future consequences disappears. Two: Many people have no sense of responsibility for society. And Three: When people holding society’s most prestigious positions of public responsibility or having hero status through sports or entertainment are daily on the front pages for sexual irresponsibility, no one cares about that anymore either. I also see that we seem to have missed the fact that there is a morality for sex within marriage. I have become aware that along with the pleasure, men need sex to feel good about themselves, but women need to feel good about themselves to really enjoy sex. In fact, an important part of foreplay for women includes affirmation, tenderness, and other things that make us feel cherished as a whole person, not just a momentary pleasure or release from stress. But when the stresses of survival take their toll on men, they seek what is for them the ultimate in acceptance and affirmation, physical sex. You can see pretty obviously where problems begin in marriage. For millennia, religion, as the arbiter of morals has been run by men. The predominant attitude was that a wife must meet her husbands need for sex, in some religions, even if it meant losing her life through too many or dangerous pregnancies. Women were considered pretty much dispensable. And men were considered either unable to control their sexual urges or unable to put another person’s life before their desire. In present times women are beginning to be considered equally important in the scheme of things and the physical act of sex is being recognized as only one part of intimacy in relationship. In marriage a lot of things can handicap intimacy. Financial problems, pregnancy, children, career ambitions, exhaustion, health issues, and even unmet needs from our past all sap our physical and emotional energies. But perhaps the least recognized, but most serious challenge is disillusionment. Every relationship, but particularly marriage, will eventually bring disillusionment. Nobody is perfect. Nobody can meet all of another person’s needs. Nobody can keep up an image 24/7. Nobody is the total answer to anyone’s problems, wounds, desires, needs, dreams, and illusions about humanity and life. But often we come into marriage with that exact unconscious delusion. Add to that our lack of awareness about both our own imperfections and our own and our partner’s unrealistic expectations and it’s just a matter of time before disappointment rears its ugly head as resentment and criticism or a roving eye. I am not making excuses for infidelity or abuse. Those are killers of relationships and murderers of the other person’s sense of value. But so is constant criticism from the one person that knows you best. Watching men and women under the stress of a public spotlight and a nation’s expectations fall into those traps over and over with so much to lose, makes it obvious that both lack of self-awareness and no realistic understanding of the limits of any relationship to meet all our needs are a crucial part of the pattern of most marriage failures. Reading biographies of famous marriages such as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, raised my awareness of how difficult it is for an intelligent strong minded wife to be supportive without it being experienced as demoralizing criticism, particularly when a public figure is the target of constant criticism. And now we are possibly going to witness a woman president being second guessed by a husband who has been president already. The challenges to marriage relationships have increased exponentially in my lifetime. Though affected by childhood experiences, personality differences are inborn. These differences can literally make us deaf to each other’s language of love. We do unto others as we would like them to do unto us, because we assume that will please them as it does us. Unfortunately, that is frequently not true. Surprisingly, I’ve recognized that Jesus made that transition from “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to “love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a whole other ballgame. He gave his life for us. I think that for us it translates into becoming other focused, willing to make sacrifices rather than make demands. Both people in a relationship seeing this as the ground rules for love will create a lot of room for negotiation and will ensure that both partners experience being truly loved.
But as unaware as most of us are of the differences between our needs and our prospective partner’s guarantees trouble. A friend of mine, who divorced a former football star,told me that she just couldn’t measure up to those stands full of cheering crowds to meet her husband’s need for affirmation. Another friend, who was just naturally able to see and accept reality, including the reality of her own and even her spouse’s different way of being in the world, married an idealistic personality. Idealistic personalities see everything as improvable, so automatically attempt to improve both themselves and their spouse. Another tremendous challenge is the chasm of difference for those who respond to their world with logic and those who respond from their feeling values.As one husband pointed out to his wife, there is just no logical reason to get a kitten unless you have mice. Another wife confessed to going into shock when her flower sending, poetry writing, compliment giving fiancée never did any of the above from the moment the wedding ceremony was over. It seems her husband is a problem solver. A very good one obviously, since he figured out what he needed to do to win her. But once the problem was solved, he saw no need to continue the behaviors. Of course even couples with similar personalities have difficulties. Some are totally unaware that they are both so competitive that even the smallest thing becomes a debate they need to win. Writers and artists are often so sensitive that showing their work to a problem solver/critic spouse is like having surgery without an anesthetic. Often those of us that tend to live in the future, imagining even every negative possibility, may be attracted to personality types that live in the present moment. They can respond calmly to a crises without becoming overloaded by negative possibilities. But that same person will often make ‘in the moment’ choices without considering the possible consequences for the person they love or even for themselves. These are just a few examples of the challenges we face, when we seek relationships that will not only be stable and long lasting enough to provide what children need to become loving adults, but are secure and nurturing for the adult partners. Both self-awareness and the ability to understand people different from us are vital needs for good relationships. We educate for careers, but not for relationships. Yet relationships are the foundation stones of society. And sustaining society was actually the whole point of having guidelines for morality in relationships to begin with. With human progress and development comes the need not just for laws, but also for understanding. There is a difference in how you keep a one year old from sticking a fork in an electrical outlet and how you teach an adult to work with electrical tools. Humanity needs better understanding and not only acceptance of the diversity in our shared humanity, but appreciation for all the different gifts for the good of all of our relationships. Unless we, as both a society and as individuals, seek greater understanding to overcome the problems in creating and sustaining healthy relationships, society itself will continue to disintegrate. With understanding, we have a better chance of knowing when and why we may need to put the other person’s needs before our own. And that is the heart and core of loving. This, then, is both the new and old morality.
One of Louise Penny’s characters, Myrna, who is a psychologist in the book Still Life, discusses a quote, “Life is loss.”
Myrna goes on to say, “But out of that comes freedom. If we can accept that nothing is permanent, and that change is inevitable, if we can adapt, then we are going to be happier people.” (My note: Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament emphasizes the same idea.)
Myrna explains a turning point in her career and life, “I woke up one morning bent out of shape about this client who was forty-three but acting sixteen. For three years he had always had the same complaints, ‘Someone hurt me. Life is unfair. It’s not my fault.’
For three years I’d been making suggestions and for three years he’d done nothing. I suddenly understood. He had no intention of changing…
Many people love their problems. They give them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life…… They spend their whole life waiting for someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world.
The thing is, no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get them out of it….but that is the grace.….the fault lies within them, but so does the solution.”
These thoughts speak to my stage of life and current challenges. My life has changed drastically since the beginning of this year. But what I am experiencing is that while there are sorrows in life that have no physical solution, we can change how we see them and find the gift they bring.
Just last fall my husband and I traveled with one of our sons around the South West of France. This is Middle Pyrenees’ country so it involved quite a bit of uphill walking and stair climbing. My husband wants to explore every inch of Castles and ruins. We recently turned eighty and seventy-nine, so it was a challenge, but we managed it using a walker in some places and taking lots of Bistro breaks. He still designs on his computer in his home Architecture office and I cook and clean, do his bookkeeping, and chauffeur grandchildren and friends to malls, museums, restaurants and even the zoo. I also lead worship once a month and began at seventy-five doing some stand up comedy on aging. So, though no longer young, we had interesting and purposeful lives.
Until New Year’s Eve.
Then I became ill with a respiratory infection and ended up bedridden for three weeks. The day after I got well enough to grocery shop, we were shut in by snow and ice for two weeks. The next week, I tripped carrying laundry down our hall and broke my right shoulder in three places. The two weeks waiting for surgery were unbelievably hard for both of us. I was totally helpless and in excruciating pain even with pain medicine, so my husband had to do everything for me around the clock. But his tenderness and constant concern for me brought us to a whole new level of intimacy and love. I had never felt so cherished and tenderly and totally loved by anyone except God. Even in the worst pain I had ever experienced, there was joy.
But after my reverse shoulder replacement surgery, it was obvious my husband was too exhausted to continue taking care of me. So I went to a nursing home for physical therapy for two weeks to get over the worst of my pain and helplessness and give him time to recoup. After the first few days, I actually enjoyed the people I met in therapy. Even the therapists and nurses were kind and laughed at my jokes. The food was amazingly good, and my room was filled with beautiful flowers. Friends and family came to visit bringing treats. I didn’t have to clean or cook and aides even helped me shower and dress. After eating in my room a few days until I could manage it left handed without baptizing those near me, I went to the beautiful sunny dining room for meals. The first day, since dressing took help, I was in my slightly scroungy clothes for Physical Therapy. So I felt seriously intimidated when I realized the other women were dressed in elegant suits with matching jewelry. I soon relaxed however when a caregiver came around and put large terry cloth bibs on all of us. Bibs are a great leveler. I confess there were times after I returned home that I missed my vacation experience. As I left the facility the therapists and nurses asked me to return to do some stand up comedy for the people living there.
When I came home we managed well with lots of help from our son and daughter-in- law who live near by and friends at church who fed us frequently for two months. My husband drove me to out patient therapy and we celebrated each bit of progress such as the red letter day I could use my right hand for eating and brushing my teeth. Becoming able to shower and then finally even dress myself were momentous events. With each small accomplishment I felt like an Olympic winner.
But, then my husband, who has had lung problems previously, came down with the respiratory infection. After three weeks in bed none of the steroids or antibiotics had helped and he was fighting to breathe and almost too weak to get to the car. He was hospitalized for two weeks while the increased steroids and antibiotics not only didn’t help him, but gave him thrush in his mouth and throat and a yeast infection in his esophagus. A bronchoscopy finally showed that he had serious permanent lung damage from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is incurable and progressive. They sent us home with my husband too weak to walk, unable to get up from a chair without help, and still having trouble breathing when sitting up or standing. Fortunately, I had been cleared to drive the day before he went to the hospital and even our children who lived in other cities and states rallied and helped get us through the first hard weeks. About mid-May my husband began to go to therapy with me to build up muscles in his legs. We were managing fairly well with two walkers and a new to us larger car we had just gotten at Christmas. Good timing once again.
We found many people our age and even younger with problems similar or worse than ours at therapy. And we bonded with them and laughed together more and more. We went to therapy three days a week and it became the highlight of our week. We both improved enough that when I ran out of Medicare for therapy, he was able to continue on his own. When we were able to go back to church everyone applauded and welcomed us back with hugs, which I managed to turn my left side toward. Grace abounds in community, whether of shared challenges or shared faith.
We found that we were still limited in how much we could do physically. If we did what used to be a normal amount one day, we were wiped out the next. My natural rhythm for work is to work in spurts and do something pleasant and sedentary in between, so it suited me to not over do. (In fact, it was sort of nice not to have to feel guilty about it.) But my husband just naturally works until a job is done or he is exhausted, so this was a difficult adjustment for him. Finding some TV series that were mentally stimulating on Netflix helped him accept the need to rest and increased our time spent together. For a while, I needed to do most of the house hold chores my husband used to do, like taking garbage out and filling bird feeders and watering outside plants. After his devotion to me when I broke my shoulder, it was a joy to have the chance to do things for him. He had always preferred cold cereal while he read the paper undisturbed early in the morning, so I used to sleep in (I tend to want to talk). Now I managed to get up four or five days to fix hot breakfasts that he needed and now began to enjoy. He even started reading bits of things from the paper to me and we discussed them or laughed about them. More and more we have begun to see the humor in even frustrating things. These are new blessings for us.
To be continued…………Learning to Live One Day at a Time.