Category Archives: evolving

Expensive Grace

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

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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

The Death of Feminine Values?

I am struggling with the turns feminism has taken. I thought it was about freeing women to be themselves, not expecting them all to want and be good at the same things, and that women who needed to work or chose to work outside the home would be rewarded equally with men. And my hopes for it were that it would bring traditional feminine values into the places of power traditionally held by men. I realize that not all women are nurturing, any more than all men are competitive. So when I talk about traditional feminine or masculine values, I am not limiting the yin and yang of them exclusively to either gender. Of course, like any movement or theory, we manage somehow to always take it to illogical extremes. Our economy has adjusted to two salaries and now, unless we marry and both partners work or one partner makes a whole lot of money, women need to work. So, the ones that want to be hands on with raising their children and love to cook and decorate and create and maintain beauty and welcome for others in their home environments are more and more forced into working outside the home, often in very limiting and non-creative jobs. And many women, who are not married, live close to poverty.
I went to an exhibit at the Frist museum recently on the history of the Samurai. Samurai were the greatly respected and highly honored soldiers of Japan. During a long peaceful time in Japan’s history, there were women Samurai. This period led to better treatment for women. Though better is a relative thing. Still, it surprised me, since this was a long time ago and  it was a position of honor traditionally only held by men.
In Sweden, Dads are now being given turns with wives at new parent time off from work. And two American women have qualified as Army Rangers. The whole point these days is to not consider anything as identified appropriate for only one gender.                                       This would work out, if nurturing professions and skills were rewarded the same as combative ones. Though the rank and file of the military don’t get paid extravagant salaries, as long as they are on active duty they live in a completely socialistic society. Retired military used to have pretty much the same benefits, but with constant wars the cost of supporting the military and war has gone up with corresponding cuts in veteran benefits and services. If you aren’t actively killing enemies, you aren’t important any more. Teachers are underpaid.  They are not provided free medical care, reasonable housing, cheap retail prices, inexpensive or free social activities, free churches and religious education, and special schools for their children. And frankly these days a lot of schools in the civilian arena are the equivalent of war zones.                                                           I think what I am trying to say is that while I want women and men to be equal, I also want traditional feminine values such as nurture and inclusiveness, to be considered equally important and rewarded as such.                                                                                                             Sexual mores are obviously now emphasizing the pleasure of sex as more important than its role in creating, deepening, and strengthening relationships. When the immediate gratification through pleasure becomes the accepted goal in life, relationships become disposable. Human relationships are simply not constantly pleasurable. They aren’t even meant to be. Pleasure for pleasure’s sake only, with no balancing maturing in relationships, leads to a population of aging irresponsible children.                                               Okay, I haven’t thought all of this through, so I need to stop and reflect on it. It’s hard to free myself from my generation’s programming enough to discern what is progress and what is throwing the baby out with the bath water. I tend to think traditional feminine values (not roles) are more evolved than masculine ones, so I don’t want to have those values disappear.  Obviously, I am prejudiced. But, before I take a break, I have one funny story that sort of illustrates some of the challenges.

Some years ago I had an army staff sergeant friend who had fought in Korea and Vietnam. Close to the end of his twenty years, he was given a cushy staff assignment in Boston near his wife’s hometown. After several staff meetings with his female officers all crying at times in each meeting, he volunteered to go to Korea, which was not a cushy assignment. I could understand a reasonably kind, but combat seasoned soldier, being uncomfortable with weeping officers, but I also wondered if the officers on all sides of conflicts cried instead of becoming aggressive, maybe it would cut down on the wars. After all, Jesus wept, why shouldn’t we.

 

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.

Perspective : Poverty and Affluence

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.

Darkness before Dawn

If this quote is too obscure, read on down to my translation.

When you get hooked into emotional reactivity, an opportunity has come to cleanse your perception.
From the perspective of wholeness, triggers are a special form of grace. Not the sort of grace that is sweet, peaceful, and calming, but the kind that is wrathful, fierce, and reorganizing.
When it gets tight, claustrophobic, and you are burning for relief, the invitation is laid before you. To lay down a new pathway. To turn into the disturbing energy and flood it with presence. To infuse the vulnerability underneath the storyline with warm, empathic attunement.
And with the earth as your witness, to commit to the radical path of non-abandonment.
These triggers are not obstacles to your path, but are the very path itself. While they may disturb you, they are eruptions of creativity and aliveness, and guardians at the threshold. In this way, they are worthy of your honor, your care, and your holding.
While it may appear otherwise, they are only love in disguise, appearing in infinite forms to guide you home.
~Matt Licata   From the Blog: Make Believe Boutique

My translation:  When life throws you down and defeats you and you are reeling in pain and railing against fate, go with the suffering.  Enter it and feel it. Curl into a fetal position and weep bitterly, if you need to, but accept the grace of the pain. Don’t run from any part of it.  Don’t project blame on others.  Don’t use anger as an escape. Don’t sink into self pity or self justification. Don’t seek revenge. Don’t play “what if….?” Because this is a doorway to rebirth.  This is a cross you die on, so that you can become a new person, with new wisdom, new strength, and a new ability to love more deeply, both others and yourself.

 

 

Nothing is Permanent Except Change

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Our Historical Era: Post-Christian or Pre-Christian?

Scholars say we live in the Post-Christian era. I say we still live in the Pre-Christian era. To me Jesus represents a turning point in human growth(evolution) from survival of the fittest to sacrificial love for the weakest. And anyone with eyes to see, can’t help but recognize that we haven’t gotten anywhere near to the kind of spirituality that God calls us to through Jesus. Perhaps, by finally giving up the warped worldly view of Christianity as “top dog” by force, we may finally be entering the bare beginnings of a true Christianity.  That is, a Christianity which doesn’t focus on winning or controlling, but on learning to risk loving instead. The worst set back Christianity has experienced was when the Emperor Constantine converted and made it the “state” religion, a religion of privilege instead of sacrifice.

A Spot Unpainted

There’s an artist that always left one small spot unpainted. The idea was that nothing is perfect. There was a time in the total silence of a new fallen snow that I stood alone on a hill at night looking at millions of stars. I felt incredibly tiny and insignificant in the face of such grandeur and enormity. I could literally feel myself shrinking. But suddenly I felt at one with all of it. Like a tiny anonymous dot that fills in an empty space in a painting, I not only had a right to be here, but was needed for completion, to make the universe whole. We are all tiny, but crucial parts of the whole. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Death and resurrection, sorrow and joy, mourning and dancing, loss and hope, the reality that all of these seeming opposites are inseparable is the paradox at the heart of life. The cross as the symbol of Christianity symbolizes this truth. Buddhism says the same thing in slightly different language. There is truth and wisdom in Buddhism, but with Christ there is also the dimension of relationship. And relationship takes you where you are and walks hand in hand with you to where you are being called. I experience the beauty and power and truth of God in the universe. But God is way bigger and more complex than I can comprehend. I sense the presence of God within me some of the time, but other times I need that human expression of the love and power of God, Jesus, to relate to, to show me how to love, and to hold my hand when I crumble under pressure

There are goodies and baddies to everything in life. If you are a mom with another career, you are beset by guilt over whether you have not been a good enough mother, particularly when your children as adults turn out to be human with all that goes with that. If you are a stay at home mom focused predominantly on your children, when inevitably they turn out to be human as adults, if you have not let go of them as your reason for being, their human problems and mistakes become about your ego, not their or anyone else’s pain. Though not true for everyone, it took me until midlife to recognize how very flawed I was and how silly it was to expect my progeny, no matter how bright, funny, talented and kind, to be perfect. None of us gets or passes down all the good genes. None of us, even with what we consider our best traits, gets it perfectly right for raising another human being with a different mix of genes and traits. That is one of the less appealing realities of life. Luckily, none of us is finished yet. And I actually think the younger generations are facing some of these unpleasant realities earlier in their lives than we did in ours. So, in spite of the discouraging state of humanity, there are signs that we are still able to evolve once we realize we need to.

I used to get my feelings hurt not only easily, but deeply enough that I cut people out of my life. It came from an unrecognized need to be perfect and anything said that implied to me that I wasn’t, devastated me. Being able to see the door because of being 79 helps a lot. I figure at this point the only one I have to worry about is God and He knew I was a difficult person before I did. It also helps, when people who tend to be insensitive hurt me, to look for something redeeming about them. I’ve found this way I can care and even make sacrifices for people I find difficult to like (including myself). 

Henri Nouwen in his A Spirituality of Living writes that possibly the main human suffering comes from loneliness.  So, it is important to develop our capacity for solitude where we can experience the love of God.  Other wise we are going to expect someone to give us that perfect, unconditional love.  They cannot.  Often this means a painfully temporary quality in our relationships.  Instead of long lasting involvements that grow stronger over time, we may experience separations and growing despair about finding someone who can meet our deepest desires for intimacy. Developing the capacity for solitude is the groundwork for creating community and becoming capable of commitment in our relationships.