Category Archives: Failure
Loving the books my friend Tracy loaned me for getting through this isolation. The author Brennan Manning in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, says what it seems to me is crucial to experiencing the Good News. “Repentance is not what we do to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven.”
A year ago, a friend of mine from church dragged a homeless person to my apartment to talk to me. He knew him from years ago as kids and later when the man had his own successful contracting company. Now he was in an advanced stage of alcoholism and literally living on the streets. As we talked, it became clear that as a soldier in the war with North Vietnam he had done things that he could not forgive himself for and did not believe God would forgive. We both tried to convince him that he was already forgiven, all he needed to do was accept it, be freed to begin over by the grace of that amazing love, and let God show him how to get on with his life.
He talked some about being Catholic, so I could understand why he felt that way since I was Catholic for most of sixty years. But even when I tried to tell him that the church had changed since Vatican II and even Catholics were understanding that all fall short of the glory of God, but Jesus died for our sins. If Jesus’ death didn’t redeem us, what was the point of it? The veteran couldn’t hear us. It was heart breaking. And he went on self destructing and finally succeeded.
I think we all sometimes forget that we were already forgiven before we even sinned, so we carry burdens of guilt over things we can’t undo. We see God as a Judge keeping count of our sins and we struggle under a debt we feel we owe, instead of letting the grace of that love continue to heal us and free us to change.
My very kind and loving husband, Julian, felt that way and couldn’t understand the freedom and joy I had from accepting that Jesus died so that by recognizing and accepting that incredible love and forgiveness, we would be freed to grow more loving. Forgiveness is the heart of love and God’s love cannot be earned. We are his beloved children. Period. Once we experience that love, it is so glorious that we want to let it fill us, heal us, free us, direct us, and empower us to somehow share it with others. It’s a taste of heaven. When I was more or less a “second hand Christian” having been brought up in the church, I definitely didn’t want to go to hell, but I could never imagine anything I’d want to do for eternity in heaven either, not even the things that gave me pleasure or made me happy. But once I experienced that mind blowing joy of being both known and loved totally and tenderly by a God who is Love, I knew I would be fine with an eternity of the joy of that Love. My Julian was not a verbal person. He thought mostly in images and related best to logical concrete things. One day Julian was driving to work and decided to test some of the things I said. So, he prayed as he was driving, “God, Eileen says you’ll talk to us if we listen. So okay, I’m listening.” As he thought these words, a flashing light and siren started behind him. And a trooper pulled him over for speeding. When the trooper went back to his car to check on Julian’s credentials and fill out the ticket, Julian was thinking sarcastically, “I can’t wait to tell Eileen about how God spoke to me!!” Then the trooper came to the window again and said, “Mr. Norman, while I’ve been working on giving you this ticket, every car that went by here was speeding, most of them more than you were. So, I’m going to tear up this ticket. You be more careful now.” And he literally tore up the ticket. When Julian got to work and called me to tell me this, all I could think of was, Romans 3:23… “since ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a GIFT through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” What a perfect image! Thanks to Jesus, we know that God tears up our ticket.
Only when we have experienced humanity in its range and complexity is our humor at its deepest and truest. Redemptive humor is more than the ability to enjoy the isolated humorous situation. It is an attitude toward all of life. Not only is humor a gift of the later years; it is indispensable to hope and healing during that time. Humor recognizes that limitations and failures are not final and unredeemable tragedies. Like a ray of sunshine piercing a dark and overcast sky, humor suggests God’s abiding presence and brightens our human prospects. Humor recognizes the tragedy of the human condition, the finitude which in one way imprisons us. But by laughing at this condition, we declare that it is not final. It can be overcome. Humor is a gentle reminder of the reality of redemption……..Humor is social because the joke is finally on all of us……We are laughing not simply at our own condition but at the shared human condition…………………..A mixture of good and evil is inevitable in this life. Our successes are mixed with failures, our joys contain sadness, love can coexist with hate, health is marred by illness, and possessions are threatened by loss. Excerpt from Winter Grace by Kathleen Fischer.
The rest are my reflections:
Often midlife is the crisis time of recognizing that we have used up as much time as we are likely to have left. So often, it is a time of admitting we have not achieved all we had expected and that there not only may be too little time left, but we may also have to recognize that we do not have all the attributes or resources needed to accomplish our dreams.
There are four roads out of mid-life. 1: Become obsessed and abandon everything and everyone that doesn’t contribute to your goals. 2: Become disillusioned, cynical and angry at life. 3: Choose an addiction to dull the pain. 4: Or adjust our goals to fit a more realistic assessment of our chances to reach them.
Only when we have survived enough of life’s contradictions and made some adjustments to our assumptions can we laugh in the middle of the mix. By then we know that the only thing permanent in this life is change. Often there is a greater freedom to live by our own values and priorities, rather than for an image that pleases others. Hope becomes open ended. We gain a wider perspective for all our limited hopes. And as our lives narrow, we can begin to find true joy in the small things. Happily there are many more small things than large.
Sometimes, as we age we find fulfillment in passing on our hopes and dreams to the next generation, who may be able to take the next step in working toward them. But often, we find more than enough meaning in simple kindness or creating pockets of beauty to be shared with others. Either way, the focus becomes others, instead of our “self.”
Since my experience of the total love of God through Jesus when I was thirty after several years of rather hedonistic agnosticism and then several more years spent searching for spiritual meaning and purpose, my heart’s desire has been to somehow communicate that love to others.
God’s love didn’t make me perfect, but it brought meaning and purpose, an acceptance of the reality of my human weakness, and hope for growth and change through grace. Change for the better has been slow and spotty, but is still part of my journey at “almost’ eighty. ( I have a couple of hours left till the eighty.)
My most natural gift is speaking. And a Spiritual gift of seeing the connection between Scriptures and daily life came with my conversion. For a long time I just did whatever needed doing, like teaching, making soup for the sick and poor, smiling at people, organizing my husband and children into a work crew for church and school events, recruiting and getting training for religion teachers, and and at that time a new ministry for laity and particularly women, reading the Scriptures aloud for worship services.
Some of the more obvious experiences of God curtailing my tendency to hubris seem worth sharing, if only to give others a chuckle.
One came to mind this morning as I was checking my old lady chin for whiskers. Forty years ago when teaching a fifth and sixth grade confirmation preparation class, I was (I thought) waxing eloquent on the opportunity at confirmation to make their own choice of Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord and how wonderful that is. At the end, I asked if anyone had a question. One rather quiet boy raised his hand. My heart filled with joyous expectation as I said, “Yes, Jesse?” To which he replied quite seriously, “Mrs. Norman, Do you have a mustache?”
Finding what we love and have the talents for takes longer for some of us than others. We may have a lot of small talents and interests, so we tend to move from one project or job to another.
Often those who naturally have good study or work habits will out-perform those that appear to have more talent or higher IQ’s.
And lack of confidence can cause us to be over sensitive to suggestions for improvement, making us unteachable and leading to discouragement and giving up.
But, when we combine our natural abilities and focus those on what we value most, it makes a huge difference in how well we do.
Then motivation becomes the key to perseverance. And even those of us who hate detail and repetition can manage to do the necessary nitty-gritty to accomplish what we consider important.
PRIORITIZE: What interests and energizes you most that you are reasonably competent to do?
FOCUS: Identify resources of time, money, space, training, materials, and support people needed to accomplish this.
PERSEVERE: Don’t give up if you fail. Learn from your mistakes. Get help when you need it. Constructive criticism is instruction. Be realistic in your goal.
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.
I stay on the edge of just being totally overwhelmed with sadness about every level of life. Struggling to do the simple task I set myself of gathering information, mostly by computer, on local homelessness and what is being done to help has shown me just how inadequate I am at simple tasks. If there is any way to complicate simple tasks, I seem to find it. And my love/hate relationship with my computer brings me to my knees daily. Not being able to remember the name of the street where I live when I was asked yesterday, didn’t exactly help my sense of competence. Seeing how overwhelming the problems are for so many, who live on the precipice of homelessness even here in a small town, is heartbreaking and scary. Across America the waiting list for any sort of housing with government help ranges from one to ten years. The money is there, the housing is not. Watching America become controlled by fearful haters with no real perception of either the immediate consequences of their actions on innocent people or the long range global political and economic destabilization is devastating. Recognizing how un-Christ-like Christianity has become, or perhaps how blind I have been to the fact that most Christian groups have never been like Christ, makes me question who will bring Christ to the young now. Dealing with the ever increasing problems of aging, both mental and physical, and realizing they aren’t going to get better doesn’t help me wake up rejoicing. Insurance policies are our largest expense each month, but still having to pay over $400 dollars for just one heart medicine for a month, makes me wonder which will run out first, my husband’s heart or our money for the medicine. Realizing that our next line of defense, our children, some how got old while we have been busy worrying about ourselves, makes me both nervous and sad. They are already having many of the same problems we are.
But recently my teen-age granddaughter, Sophie, told me about a girl at her school who was having a screaming match with another girl and finally shouted, “If I didn’t know Jesus, I’d knock you on your ass!”
Well, friends, if I didn’t know Jesus, today I’d just lie down and become a speed bump.
But, God bless God, Jesus hangs in there even with wusses like me. Thanks be! PS Sorry, I realize this was garbage dumping. But I do feel better. I promise I’ll write something more hope filled soon. Sometimes, I just have to defuse the inner boiling bubbles by letting them out and looking them straight in the eyes.
During a Jungian inner journey in my late fifties, I had a very vivid dream. My husband and I were in a dining room on a boat on a river cruise. They brought us a series of small appetizers one at a time, which my husband ate with great pleasure, but I ignored while waiting for the main course. At some point, I realized there would be no main course. I was furious and went searching the boat for another dining room. When I found one, they only brought me an apple, which I threw against the wall in frustration. I went out on the front deck of the boat to see where we were going just as it began to go through a dark tunnel which became so small that I had to hunch down as we went through it. I felt total despair at first, but became hopeful when I saw some light at the end of the tunnel. Since then I have learned to delight in and treasure the small joys of life, while accepting the pain of failures and disappointments that are part and parcel of being an imperfect human being in an imperfect world. I used to live focused on the future with its possibilities, missing both the joys and the grace available in the difficulties of the present. At seventy-nine, I am pretty much running out of future! But since that dream, I have had many experiences, both joyful and heartbreaking that have become grace for me. Life is about spiritual growth from living in awareness and finding meaning in the whole reality of the journey, not ego or worldly gains or idealized scenarios.
Heartbreaks that have brought grace:
The pain of loss filling me with hate, but persistence in prayer freeing me to let go and accept not only loss, but mine and others’ flawed humanity.
Letting go of past ways of experiencing tenderness and intimacy and becoming open to new ways of feeling deeply cherished even in my helplessness and physical pain.
Accepting that one of age’s delights, sharing laughter with the one I love the most, has an expiration date, because it brings on debilitating coughing spasms due to his progressive lung disease, then finding peace instead in quiet moments of just holding one another.
Letting go of the need for understanding, so I can begin to love instead of need.
Sadly recognizing my own vulnerabilities in the generations following me and knowing the pain these will bring them, but beginning to see that God can bring them through to joy as he has me time and time again.
Knowing that life will not get easier, but believing that grace will continue to bring the fruit of love from both heartbreak and joy.
Appetizers on the journey this Christmas season:
The tree full of cardinals outside our windows, children’s laughter, babies’ smiles, hugs from my husband Julian, people being kind and friendly in a crowded grocery store right before Christmas, Americans’ amazing kindness to the handicapped, Christmas decorations, Julian sitting quietly in the dark enjoying his Christmas village, both Leonard Cohen’s Halleluja and Handel’s Messiah, getting to do the sermon from the molehill at our worship service on Christmas day, our son Mike’s photos and delightful descriptions of his students at the Cambodian orphanage for children born HIV positive, our son Chris getting an interesting new job and so many people in Dickson telling me how wonderful he is, my suicidal friend now ministering to others, seeing friends find new hope in the person of Jesus without having to buy into the hang ups of any denomination, Tylenol taking away all my pain for a while, my loyal friend Margie being a constant in my life, my sister-in-law’s mouth-watering fudge cake, my first cup of coffee in the morning, Christmas memories on face book, our son Steve’s humor and willingness to take care of us Aged Parents in bizarre experiences in foreign airports, all of our grandchildren and great grandchildren, grandson Josh and wife Paula and seven year old Eisley’s adventurous spirits, grandsons Jordan and Jake’s caring hearts and courage, Nativity scenes, granddaughter Hadley so happy wearing her Unicorn Onesie at Norman Family Christmas, granddaughter Emma and her BFF talking and laughing non-stop in the back seat while I drove them to the mall, getting freed from my temporary insanity of hating someone by saying a prayer for love and peace each time while writing it on over a hundred Christmas cards, our teen-aged granddaughter Sophie hugging Julian whenever she sees him and laughing and discussing great books with nephew David, the HO HO HO’s – my friends who are not afraid to color outside the lines, my very own fun super drummer boy great-grandson Aaron, our daughter-in-law Molly’s incredible ability to continue to love even those that bring her heartbreak, our daughter Julie’s infectious laughing attacks that we call “Julie moments”, eight year old Bella’s unfettered enthusiasm for life, memories of waking up to a snow covered world, grown granddaughter Carmen’s resilience and lightning quick sense of humor, the delight of making vegetable soup to share with sick friends and the poor, becoming friends with our fascinating and loving cousin Mary Eleanor, my ninety-four year old friend, Barbara’s children coming to see her in shifts from all over America this Christmas season, grown up great grandson Ryan still having good memories of going downtown with me before the stores opened to earn nickels by sounding out words on signs, some people actually responding to my blogs, being able to keep up with my best friend from High School and College on line, getting to know interesting and friendly people in Canada, England, Nigeria, France, New Zealand and other countries across the globe through the internet, my Study Club women friends, who have miraculously bonded across huge differences in religion, politics, age, background, economics and interests.
These are just a few parts of the wonderful collage of my life that bring me seasons of joy in what sometimes momentarily seems like the “cesspool” of life.