Category Archives: faith

To Pray or Not to Pray: Chapter 7

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Again, I want to stress that we are all different in many ways.  I am an extrovert who explores the outside world with an openness to people and possibilities.  I respond to the outside world from my feelings first. I am open ended in my perception, which keeps me always open to new ideas and solutions.  So, I do not necessarily move to closure on belief or unfortunately projects either.

Once more, my husband of sixty years was the exact opposite and we were both extremes in our approach to life.  He was an introvert who explored the world without need to share his views or feelings with others.  He was more comfortable with the concrete world than people.  His response to the world was logical.  And he tended to not only persevere in tasks, but move as fast as he could with no detours to closure in both thinking and doing. 

Each way of being in the world has strengths and weaknesses. Moving to closure is perseverance, but can result in opinions put in concrete early without all the facts, so prejudging or prejudice.  Not moving to closure can result in being open minded, but a jack of all trades, master of none. Each aspect of our personality has an upside and a downside. And there is a lot of variety in the combinations and strengths of traits from person to person.

I have found that as we age, we grow better at our opposites. It’s scary at first, because there’s a time (sometimes around mid-life) when we lose our ease in our strongest gift in order to develop our weakest (or shadow) side. I call it a dying to self.  And it’s not comfortable or easy.  And it can complicate our lives while in the process. Actually, at eighty-four I am beginning to become good at things I never could do before.  And I am seeing new aspects of faith.  I don’t think the developing stops until the moment we die (or who knows when?).

So, I am pointing this out again for those that didn’t read the early chapters first. No one knows the hand each of us is dealt, so we cannot safely judge each other or even ourselves without a lot of work on self-awareness.  Only the creator can judge.

As a person who values relationships, I tend to talk to and about God as a person.  But I do not limit the creator of an astonishing universe or universes to either a logical law imposing ruler or to an “Abba/Daddy” human like Santa Clause person. Anything worthy of being called God is far beyond my human understanding. Hence, my attraction to Jesus.  I can relate to him and learn.

I apologize for the repetition, but I need to stress that my way of experiencing the world, prayer, God, relationships, etc., may not relate to yours, at least at this time of life.  So, if you cannot connect with what I’m sharing, put it in a file labeled, Possibilities for Another Time in My Life, even if you find it very threatening.

Here are some of my early experiences with prayer and faith. Jesus challenged us to come as a little child. After not letting my children go to church, when I experienced the Love of God through Jesus, I came home and invited them to say the prayer accepting Jesus as their savior and lord.  The oldest, Chris, was 8, next was Mike, 6, then Julie, 5, and Steve 4. (The youngest wasn’t born yet.)  Their responses were all different.

Soon after saying that prayer, Chris, the oldest (and most logical) was praying the night before his Junior Pro Football playoff game.  He started praying for God to help his team win, but stopped and asked, “Mom, do you think the kids on the other team are praying for God to help them win?”  I answered that I thought some probably were.  So, he returned to praying with, “Never mind, God, we’ll do it ourselves.”  Interestingly they tied.

Our second son, Mike, immediately wanted to take a copy of the prayer to share with his class at Show and Tell time. Having once opposed prayer in the schools, I had to tell him sadly that it wasn’t allowed. Shortly after that he announced at dinner that he now wasn’t going to cheat at family games. None of us knew he cheated, but we praised his change of habit.

A few days later when the two oldest were playing a game, to my dismay the oldest called to me, “Mom, he’s cheating. He’s cheating!” But before I could express my disappointment, he continued, “He’s praying, Mom, isn’t that cheating?” As I considered this thinking of the Notre Dame/Army game that week, the younger son saved me by promising to stop praying to win.

My daughter, who was five, argued fiercely with me every morning over what to wear to kindergarten. She would find the loudest plaids and combine them with pastel polka dots. The morning after saying the prayer, she came to me and said, “Mom, I think Jesus would want me to wear what you want. What do you think goes with this top?”

At mid-year her teacher left and Julie cried every morning with the new teacher, so I finally let her drop out.  But, the next year in first grade she was the only one that didn’t know the alphabet.  The teacher called me for a conference at six weeks to say that she didn’t know how to help Julie. She said Julie seemed to have a mental block on the alphabet and now the rest of the class were reading and Julie couldn’t.  I panicked and began drilling Julie on the alphabet, but she was totally blocked and after I lost it and yelled at her, I told her we needed to pray.  So, we prayed together that God would help her learn the alphabet and to read.  The next day, she knew the first half, the day after that she knew the second, and after that she rapidly learned to read.  Her childlike faith got her over her mental block. 

The next Summer she developed warts all over her fingers and hands.  Other kids making fun of her sent her home in tears, so I took her to the pediatrician.  He said, “No problem, I have a quick cure.” And with that he waved his hand over her hands saying, “Abracadabra! Warts be gone be tomorrow.”  And said to me as we were leaving, “Don’t worry. It works with kids every time.”  And sure enough, all sixteen warts were gone the next morning.

The faith of a child.  A bit scary when used as magic, but a clue to what Jesus meant.

One Sunday morning when scheduled to teach Sunday School, I woke up feeling down on myself.  I don’t remember why, but it was a bleak feeling. So, I went straight to my prayer closet, my bath tub right off my bedroom.  As I soaked in the warm water, I prayed, “Lord, I know faith isn’t about feelings, but if I am going to teach about your love with conviction this morning, I need help.”  Just as I finished praying, my daughter came from all the way across the house into the bathroom.  This was a “no-no” and I opened my mouth to scold her for violating my privacy.  Before I could say anything, she wrote in the mirror mist, “God loves Mommy,” smiled, and left.

Our four-year old, Steve when asked if he wanted to say the prayer, replied that he wanted to think about it a while.  (A response that kind of blew my mind coming from a four-year old.)  So, he thought about it for a week and then came back and said that he wanted to pray the prayer and he did.  Steve is a very private thoughtful person.  His response was not as public as the others.  He is very loving and willing to make major sacrifices for people in need that he doesn’t even know. He has never married, but has many very close friends.  He doesn’t talk about religion, but he lives kindness.

I know from experience that whatever God is, faith can produce miracles.  But interestingly enough so can caring.  These three things are important, Faith, Hope, and Love. But the greatest of these is love.

Caring is love.  My husband was a doubting Thomas.  He believed in what he could see and touch.  He was not into prayer and definitely not into healing.  But one cold winter night as we watched TV in bed, my knee was hurting badly. I hadn’t injured it and it was the first time it had ever hurt like that.  When I told my husband that I was in a lot of pain, he reached down and held my knee. He didn’t pray out loud, just said quietly, “There, it’s healed.”  And it was.  I know faith can be a gift, even a temporary one, but he’d never shown any faith before.  But he was a very loving man and he cared that I was hurting.  I think caring is love and love is even greater than faith. So, maybe when someone loves, it’s enough. Though I know from experience that neither faith nor love always heal, I’ve experienced both enough to experience hope.

Once I was distraught that one of my children might have wrecked his life.  I was sharing my heart break with a friend who doesn’t believe in what she can’t see.  But as I expressed my fears and pain, tears poured down her face. It was one of the most healing experiences I’ve ever had.  Sometimes when I’m asking my friends for prayers, she will respond that she will cross her fingers. She means she cares.  And that may be enough, because what faith in God is all about is finding the grace to care however much it hurts.

Voting and Loving

Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.

The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.

I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.

It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.

We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.

Go Tell It On The Mountain

For the last fifty-three years Jesus Christ has been very alive to me. He’s a real person who is actively involved in my life. This relationship is a reality that can be known and experienced by everyone. Many times in small personal ways I’ve felt that incredible healing love, a love from the inside out. It’s a love for the whole me, a kind of love that no one, including myself, can have for me because none of us know the whole me. Often that love has been shown in ways that seem supernatural, beyond chance, or imagination. The experiences don’t give me a feeling of pride, because they gently make me aware of my need for healing, yet being tenderly loved even in my brokenness.
There are still dry periods with lows and a sense of estrangement. It’s not a permanent press glow that never wrinkles. It’s not a heavenly or earthly insurance policy against pain and suffering.
But it’s a love that continues to deepen even more from times of pain and confusion. It definitely is not a blanket permission to remain selfish. Yet that combination of being both known and loved allows me to acknowledge those areas where I remain childishly selfish and frees me to begin to let go of some of my crippling ego needs. And even though I still cling to many, they will go. God is not finished with me yet.
I want to share these experiences of love with others, but often don’t, because they are inseparable from the process of Jesus saving me from my neediness and inadequacies. They are part and parcel of Jesus freeing me from that part of me that sees myself as separate from others, in competition with others, or even against them. It’s the part of me that will try to prove to myself that I am worthwhile by hiding who I really am and spending my life gathering acorns of affirmation.
The price of that need for image is too high. To be free to share the Good News of that tender, no small print Love with its amazing grace, I need to be willing to share who I was, who I am, and who God created me to become. I need to write it. I’m a devout coward, so I may never let anyone else read it while I’m alive. But I need to write it.

TAKING ISSUE WITH A CORY BOOKER QUOTE AND WITH BOTH SIDES OF OUR DIVIDE

I am BOTH a born again, evangelical Christian and a liberal Democrat. Here’s the Booker quote and a few of my problems with it.
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all his children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith; teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I ‘m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
If people were perfect there wouldn’t be any need for going to church or believing in Jesus. If Cory Booker were perfect, then he could throw stones or even boulders. We Christians and Agnostics and whatevers, in our conviction that people who disagree with us are worse morally than we are, have stopped trying to understand each other. The thing that has puzzled me all along the great political and religious divide is that most of the people I know personally,(who are NOT politicians,) but are either: 1. Trump supporters, and /or: 2. Evangelical Christians, are kind people, who actually do go the second, third, etc. mile for anyone they don’t consider a possible serious threat to their children, loved ones, or their own freedom. In my attempts to actually dialogue with and understand several of my family members, I found that they have reasons for some of their fears that I had not heard before and I don’t yet have enough facts to prove them wrong. Politicians and the Press have manipulated us ALL into being judgmental, self-righteous, offensive, and closed minded. If we want to claim the moral high ground, we have to start with loving each other enough to commit to trying to understand one another. This is where it needs to begin. Trump winning or losing the next election isn’t going to change the stalemate of “solution blocking” division. Listen to what Cory Booker actually says by what he wrote that at first sounded reasonable: “Don’t talk to me about Jesus or grace or a need for moral guidelines until you are perfect.” I doubt if anyone on either side can measure up to that. Please, please, please…..let’s start rethinking on what the biggest blocks to solving our problems actually are. Some major blocks are everyone needing to win, needing to feel righteous, and wanting a scapegoat instead of working together to find some sort of reasonable solutions to our shared problems. There are real and scary problems to be solved and it won’t happen until we try to hear each other and find a way to work together. We are choosing to self-destruct as a nation because of our own pride. And pride goes before the fall. Is it really worth it?

Grace for the Moment

Our prayer for each of us is that we will be open to grace for the moment all through the New Year. Grace for the moment is within the limits of our tiny mustard seed of faith. So we pray for grace for each moment. Grace to live in hope each moment. Grace to hear God in each moment. Grace to trust God for the moment. Grace to be delivered from the control of idols/addictions for the moment. Grace to forgive ourselves and others for the moment. Grace to love ourselves and others for the moment. The grace of peace for the moment. Our blessings to you and yours for the moment throughout the New Year. ( A card from Donnie and Seth Norman)

Albert Einstein on Jesus, Science, and Religion

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus. . . . No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some them have been said before, no one has expressed them so divinely as he. (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein — A Life [John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996], pp. 277-278)
What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.(“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)
The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. . . . (“Science and Religion,” cited in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp. 41-49; from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, 19 May 1939. It was also published in Out of My Later Years [New York: Philosophical Library, 1950] )
GUEST: I have a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to my father in 1943. In 1940, my father read a “Time Magazine” article that stated that Einstein was quoted as saying that the only social institution that stood up to Nazism was the Christian Church. My father is a Presbyterian minister in a little northern Michigan town called Harbor Springs. And he quoted Einstein in a sermon, and a member of the congregation wrote my father a letter saying, “Where did you get your information?” So my father wrote “Time Magazine” and “Time Magazine” wrote him back, and I have that letter, too, but they didn’t give the source, so my father wrote Einstein and he wrote back, saying, yes, he did say that the Christian Church was standing up to Hitler and Nazism. [ . . . ]
Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. (From a written statement [September 1937] as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, editors, Albert Einstein: The Human Side [Princeton University Press: 1981] )
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force. In “Moral Decay” [1937], also published in Out of My Later Years [1950] )

Does God Heal?

Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.

I Am Not You

The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that. (Melissa Skidmore)

A scripture that has echoed through my mind over the years is the one about getting the log out of our own eyes, instead of judging others. The problem with that is that the log in our eyes keeps us from seeing ourselves. We ALL have blind spots when it comes to seeing our whole selves.

Years ago I began to work with a personality indicator called the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator ( MBTI.)  It was spooky to take it and then read the description of my way of being in the world. How could anyone know those things!!

The MBTI helped me become more aware not only that we come into the world with very different ways of being, seeing, understanding, valuing and responding, but that the world needs all of these diverse ways of being.  It also needs us to become aware not only of our gifts, but of our blind spots. That’s the only way every ones’ gifts can be valued and work together for good.

The MBTI years ago when I studied and taught it, focused on affirming our gifts. So kind of naturally many of us just focused with relief on our own gifts, not realizing the importance of “gifts differing.” And not using the knowledge to rid ourselves of our blind spots.  Belatedly, I recognized that there’s a built in pattern of growth in us where we become more receptive to the gifts we did not have and usually did not value equally to our own natural ones.

There’s a catch to this. To develop in the area opposite to our strongest gift or way of being in the world requires dying temporarily to our own way of being and seeing.  It’s a dying to self. Technically, the MBTI doesn’t make any religious claims or statements. But believe me, this dying to our most valued gift is a real part of becoming whole, of becoming the best person we have the potential to be.

Unfortunately, dying to our “selves” is never easy or comfortable. By my age, I have seen creative people bog down in misery when their gifts seem to have dried up. I have myself panicked during a time when the Scriptures no longer spoke to me. I have heard others panic when ritual or their life long way of praying no longer works for them. But, I have also seen accountants become “creative” in good ways, artists learn to keep accounts, and engineers open their eyes and hearts to the mystical.

What I have witnessed and experienced convinces me that the universe is designed for opportunities and challenges to come our way at a time in our life when we are called to die to our strongest gift and become not only more balanced and whole, but more humble, and thus more understanding of those “others” that we have judged harshly most of our life.

What I found through sixty years of living with a man who was totally different in every area of being from me, is that only by becoming free to understand and value opposite ways of seeing and being in the world do we become free to truly and humbly love.

Recently I discovered that in the twenty years since I worked with it, the MBTI has been further developed in ways that help this process. It begins by helping us become aware of and accepting of our way of being in the world.  Then, it can also help us accept not only that our way is a gift to the world, but that it isn’t enough.  We then can begin to see how this dying to self can free us to become whole or “holy” and better able to understand and truly value both ourselves and those who are very different from us.  It isn’t either/or.  And no way is better, because no way is whole without the others.

Many years ago I was taking a turn preaching to a sizable group of Directors of Religious Education from very diverse denominations at a training week for DRE’s. I was going to use Paul’s scriptures on the Body of Christ and how all of the parts were equally important. As I was reflecting on this scripture, suddenly in my mind’s eye I saw a figure coming toward me.  It was coming very slowly and jerkily, because the legs were clumsily, tripping over each other and the arms were flying in different directions and the head twisting back and forth.  My immediate response was horror. “This is what we have done to the Body of Christ!”  And I cried out, “Lord, what can I do?” And into my mind, clear as a warning bell I heard, “Admit what you can’t do.”   As I have grappled with many aspects of this challenge over the years, two things have become clear to me,  One: The world needs all of us, different political thinking, different religious understandings, different cultures’ values, gender traits, racial strengths, talents, skills, on and on and on.  And  Two:  Only the grace of each of us truly knowing ourselves and knowing with heart and mind that we are loved as we are by God, can we become humble enough to love those very different others, just as we are loved.  And that is the only way we can ever live in peace. We need all of us.

The MBTI isn’t gospel.  But it can be an amazingly helpful tool for knowing ourselves better, and coming to value ourselves in a way that allows us to equally value others who seem completely different from us.

There’s a site on line called “16personalities.com” that offers greater understanding of the going with the flow of letting go and developing in new areas until the day we die. I am finding it both challenging and helpful in learning to let scary changes open my eyes to opportunities in my new life at eighty-two as a widow.

The Variety of Grief

I once heard a very kind priest friend say of a well-known priest author, “That man has never had a thought he didn’t feel he had to express.” I was a momentarily taken aback, because my friend was a very kind man who never said anything negative about anyone. I realized then that he was expressing the same mystification most introverts must feel about extroverts. Of course, extroverts frequently misinterpret introverts’ silence and need for privacy as dislike or disinterest or even distrust.
After years of studying and working with the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator, I have admitted that I don’t really know what I think about something until I manage to express it in words. And verbal dialogue is also intrinsic to my sense of relationship. I’ve learned that this is not only problematic for introverts that live or work with me, but often downright irritating.
Luckily, I have lived long enough to experience the wonderful outlet of the internet. I can express and hear myself in print at any hour of the day or night. And no one has to listen unless they want to and only when it’s convenient for them and only as long as they wish. And the introverts don ‘t have to say anything unless they feel like it and even then, all they have to do is hit one key to make a response.
Recently, I’ve been experiencing life changing challenges and I really do need to explore my feelings and insights by expressing them. Also, I think it’s possible that my describing what I’m feeling and learning may be some help to someone else out there. And happily, if not, they don’t need to waste their time reading what I write.
One of the challenges I am still facing is that we really do differ in our ways of dealing with grief. No matter how many stages are described as general, we don’t experience or work through them all the same. Partly because of differences in personality, but also because of many different factors about the way a loved one died, the timing for them and us, and past experiences with our own grief and others’ ways of grieving.
My husband was like a cat with nine lives. When I read back over his medical history, he came through so many close calls with death, I lose count. And in the last few years he fought valiantly with cardiac issues with stents and a pacemaker, AFIB, Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, successful surgery for a malignant tumor in his lung, a return of lung cancer that was inoperable and that spread beyond the lungs as stage 4 cancer, stage 3 Kidney disease…..all of which weakened him too much to risk chemo therapy. He was in and out of ER’s, hospitalizations of various lengths up to two weeks several times, and finally five months in a nursing home, first attempting through therapy to get strong enough for chemo, then failing that, for nursing care and hospice.
We have five grown children who have been simply awesome in their active care giving and support through all of this. And each of them is grieving in their own way now. And I have realized that not all of them are finding my way easy to understand.
To begin with, I generally live in the future of possibilities, both negative and positive ones. In other words, I worry way ahead of things, but I also like to explore new ways of being happy or productive or creative or loving.
When my husband was diagnosed with IPF over two years ago and I learned it was incurable, fatal, and a horrible way to die, I began to worry and pray that he would be spared that death. Of course, heart failure seemed a much better way to die, but with a pacemaker, less likely. My husband’s strongest trait was perseverance. When he grew weaker and no longer able to work effectively at what he loved, he became stressed and began to have some memory issues.
Finally he had to admit that he could no longer continue working. Now he was suffering anxiety attacks, frequent pneumonia and bronchial infections, then surgery to remove a tumor in his right lung, and then cellulitis contracted during a hospitalization, and finally kidney issues and depression. The physical and emotional stress affected him in many ways and by the time he entered the nursing home with stage 4 cancer, he simply wasn’t the strong silent gentle man that I had lived with for almost sixty years.
I did not love him less. I loved him more. And I gladly learned how to take care of many of his medical needs. But long before he could accept that he was dying, I began to work through my fears, experience loneliness, take over unfamiliar tasks, and try in many ways to prepare for having to survive on my own.
The wonderful physical, financial, and emotional support our five children gave us helped me to do this. And my faith and the amazing love and faith of caregivers at the nursing home lifted me out of my darkest moments. And the nurses and support staff of Hospice were able to help me anticipate and understand the rapid changes that were happening toward the end. The dying need very different things than those who are able to try to get well.
Some of the influences on my way of dealing with the loss of my husband were my tendency to anticipate and plan ahead, my deepest fear of his having to suffer terribly fighting to breathe, my having seen my very strong mother simply close down when my father died totally unexpectedly at fifty-two, watching her die by inches with Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, but particularly my many experiences of grace and glimpses of meaning in my own and sometimes others’ suffering over my eighty-one years.
I have usually dealt with short crises fairly well. It’s been the long haul attrition kind of things that could defeat me. So, over the two and a half years of constant crises, I have learned to watch for beauty, kindness, love, tiny joys like sunshine and flowers and birds and small kindnesses and laughter. I see these as grace, as the gentle touches of God. They are all around us every day if we watch for them. They seem small in the face of death of one we love, but they are myriad.
I am a weak person, easily overwhelmed by too many practical details and emotionally vulnerable to the unexpected blow. Having a large caring family help me deal with details has been an incredible blessing. Having time and medical personnel who have been down this road before me to help me understand each phase softened each blow. The blessing of the final gentle pain free death from his heart stopping before his having to fight to breathe has kept me from despair.
At times the reality that he will never be with me again in this life feels heart breaking and overwhelms me. But so far, at least, it has not robbed me of gratitude for my caring family, of healing laughter, hope for creativity in my life, the energy to try to keep reasonably functional, or my many memories of the love and joy my husband gave me.

Wrestling with Reality

It’s a monster size time of change and challenge with my husband Julian now in the nursing home on Hospice. Our almost sixty years together have been a normal human mix of happy and sad, easy and hard, comfortable and scary, tender and frustrating, but we have persevered and now it’s like we are both part of one imperfect, but whole person. He panics now, if I leave him alone. But bless our five children and grown granddaughter Carmen, who are so thoughtful and willing to give up their free time so I can have some down time. This weekend, I finally admitted that I need the down time, not just to go home to sort and clean there,. Writing and connecting with friends to sort out my feelings is much needed therapy. I think most extroverts need to express what is going on within to get in touch with it themselves.
Today, I realized that I am reacting emotionally to trying to make The Meadows a home and then coming back to our apartment where much of it is now in the unfinished process of drastic change. The garden outside the window at the Meadows is lovely and is kept up beautifully by a team of people. And yesterday, our family, with Julian making decisions, turned the room into a tiny apartment with everything but a stove. (I have my choice of three microwaves in all directions from our room anyway.) It has a wonderful homelike feeling.
Though it isn’t permanent and isn’t really ours, going there has been the right choice, because most days I am busy helping Julian and couldn’t manage to clean and cook like I would need to at home. Also, as he becomes weaker, I would not be able to take as good care of him alone. In an imperfect world, it is an amazing luxury, one that most people do not have. I am humbled by our good fortune and sad that all cannot share it. Though with our life in such a period of change, I do sometimes feel “homeless.” But at this moment, I am looking out at the pretty flagstones Steve put around our bird feeders, at the now healthy holly tree that I feared was dying, and a familiar bright cardinal in the lush greenery outside our windows. My small comfortable bedroom/office with walls covered with photos of all our family at different ages and stages feels so familiar, safe. and comforting. But even though family offered to take turns to let me stay home several days, after two days, I miss Julian so much, even in his grouchy or fearful moments, that I feel lost. And I realize that home is where he is.
Handling all the maddening business challenges of our situation sometimes gives me an almost overwhelming desire to curl up in a fetal position in my very own bed and suck my thumb and not answer the phone, the door, or open any mail ever again! But like now, a tiny wren sitting outside the window looking at me makes me smile and I rally.
The helpless feeling,when Julian wakes in the night and talks about how lost, confused and frightened he feels, leaves me speechless from feeling unable to console him. But sitting close and holding him until he calms some, I blow lightly in the wispy hair left on the top of his head. It’s something that makes him smile, bringing memories and a tiny moment of joy that heals us for a while.
And after a sleepless night alone in our apartment, when the first colors of the sunrise finally warm the world and my heart, I think of the words of the song, “And then comes the morning, yesterday’s sorrows behind.” And I remember that both the dark and the light come and go. And thanks to grace all around me, I can let go and start again.