Category Archives: Gifts of Age

Suffering, the Door to Grace

The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus.                                                                                      Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering.  Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
Spring
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.

Positive and Negative Side Effects of Feminism

When we focus on only one side of a goal, we have tunnel vision. Often, a perfectly good goal, if carried out without taking into account the realities of human nature, will have side effects, both positive and negative that no one anticipated.
In the struggle to give women with talents and proclivities other than maternal or domestic a level playing field with men, we created an economy based on two incomes. While this helped free women from abusive or unhappy marriages, it also increased the number of one parent households. Corporations, growing to sizes that have more employees than the governments of many countries, no longer have to be focused on pleasing customers or employees. Instead their priority is on increasing profits by both growing exponentially and maintaining a low minimum wage. This, combined with the other trends, has increased the number of children living below poverty level exponentially. In our small county’s school system there are at least two hundred children without an actual home. Many are living in cars or motel rooms or are in a cycle of moving from one friend’s house to another’s. And every where, women whose talents and personalities are maternal and domestic are not only no longer valued for who they are, but unless married to a wealthy man, cannot afford to stay home to raise their children. Until we recognize the side effects on children and ultimately the culture, getting a reasonable minimum wage will not become a national priority.
In the wake of women taking pride in their bodies and all this involves, such as pregnancy and breasts to feed their newborns, the fashion industry jumped on the bandwagon with styles that leave little to the imagination. Now older women with crinkly necks are looking on Amazon for Muslim clothes shops. This trend doesn’t really help us in our struggle to get respect for physical boundaries. Men and women may be equal under the law, but the reality is that generally we do not have the same reactions to bodily exposure of the opposite sex. When a man with the values of Jimmy Carter admits to looking at women with lust in his heart, it should open women’s eyes to how innate and strong the difference is. (I admit I do enjoy the freedom that the invisibility of being an old lady gives me while waiting in airports. I pass the time comparing the pecs and buns of the young men passing by. But it doesn’t make me want to grope them.)
If women want men to not only actually hear what we say in the board rooms and as teachers, preachers, and leaders, but to respect our physical boundaries, the reality is we need to dress reasonably. Recently, I heard a young woman arguing that women should be free to go shirtless, since men are. I think we are becoming out of touch with the reality that no matter how equal we are, there are some general, though variable in degree, differences between most men and women.
In the beginning of the feminist movement, my hopes were that women would bring the classical Yin/feminine traits, such as nurturing, conserving, subjective relating, unifying, and receptivity into the workplace and government to give balance to the Yang/masculine traits of competing, creating, objective questioning, separating, assertiveness. What I didn’t realize is that taking on the male power structure would require women with more of the Yang traits than traditional Yin ones. I hadn’t even thought about the obvious fact that we all come with different degrees of both. And on top of that, hormonal shifts, relative to age or health, can change us drastically.
It seems to me that the greatly increased acceptance of women as equal to men though not the same, may play a large part in the growing acceptance of the reality of feminine men and masculine women. It has become obvious that there are innumerable variations in combinations and degrees of feminine and masculine traits. And we may can fake ours, but we didn’t get to choose them when we were born. And our dominant ones may not match our exterior bodies. And while many men seem to be threatened by this, most mothers love their children whatever their individual mix may be.
So, as with everything under the sun, every change sets off many side effects, both healing and challenging, that we didn’t expect. And it take open minds and kind hearts balanced by practical reality to increase positive results out of them, while minimizing the negative.

Finding the Gold in the Golden Years

Whatever time is left

Use it up

Wear it down

Regardless how thin

The fabric becomes

It is rich with the sounds

Of laughter

Salty with tears and

Friends.

(From the poem Time on the blog: poetry, photos, and musings, oh my – by lea)

Six years ago, my ninety-one year old friend Barbara, who was on a walker from a painful hip surgery, expressed her despair from feeling useless. But as we shared lattes with a friend in her mid sixties, who had slow growing cancer, we laughingly imagined walkers for us like baby walkers with crinoline skirts to hide them, and small secret Porta-Potties built in. Then, in the parking lot as we attempted to help Barbara into the van, somehow she got stuck bent over half way in. We tried to gently boost her backside without hurting her hip, until the giggles overtook us. Frozen in place, the three of us laughed helplessly, humor overcoming even our fears of age weakened bladders. When I called Barbara the next morning to make sure she hadn’t been hurt, she started laughing all over again, insisting she had been laughing all morning just thinking about it, and even wished we had a photograph.

The next day, I visited my friend with dementia in a nursing home in Nashville. She had once again dreamed of her parents’ death as a present day event and had awakened overwhelmed by loss and frantic about funeral arrangements. Each time she grieved anew, I could only hold her hand and ache for her endless losses. But later, seeing the wonder in her eyes, when she listened to me telling one of the caregivers about her courage and faith and her kindness to so many in her life, I recognized a moment of grace even in the now worn fabric of our lives.

The following day, my alarm went off three hours too early and I had the coffee made before I finally noticed the actual time. Later, I realized on my first stop of the day, that I had my coat on inside out. That night at a my sister-in-law’s eightieth birthday celebration in an upscale restaurant, I somehow managed on my second trip to the bathroom, to go into the men’s room. Then when leaving, I couldn’t find my coat check number in my tiny purse. Since I don’t drink, I couldn’t even blame it on something temporary. At least it’s fodder for a blog post.

The Gold in the Golden Years are our friendships and shared memories, but perhaps most of all, the freedom to laugh at ourselves. Laughter is carbonated grace.

Wishing all of you a joyous Christmas season filled with laughter. Eileen

Deleted

 

Another Truth I Didn’t Want to Hear

Though I’ve lived long enough to have had to face what a flawed human being I am,
I have still clung to the thought that I have a few traits that I’ve always considered virtues,                                                                                                                                                                          forgetting that everything has a flip side.

One is that I don’t tend to gossip.

Another is that I outgrew getting laughs at others’ expense
fairly early in life and turned my need to be humorous onto myself.

On face book the other day, someone had put one of those truisms people like to collect.

This one made me cringe.

” There’s a plus side to egocentric people.
Since they only talk about themselves, they don’t
tend to gossip about others.”

Ouch!

Wanting More

I think one very basic human trait is wanting more of whatever we need or value most. The “what” varies greatly from person to person, but we always want more of it.
Some people want things you can see and touch. Whether it’s collecting unusual or expensive things, or something as simple as recipes, or tools, or books, or even as someone once said to me, ” I just want the land I own and all the land that touches it.”
Other’s collect people: friends, lovers, fans, followers, students, or people to help in some way.
Quite a few collect power whether it’s over family, fellow citizens, employees, soldiers, clients, or even animals.
Many want visible accomplishments, whether on a grand scale like city planing, building sky scrapers, or simply working with our hands at a craft or garden. It’s the being visibly productive that appeals.
Others seek experiences, like travel, extreme sports, or the arts, nature’s beauty, even food.
Then, there are the challenges of developing skill in things as varied as golf, or dance, or photography, or writing poetry. Then it’s the always trying to become more proficient.
And the lucky ones are focused on collecting knowledge, which is something in abundance and variety all around us.
And of course,there’s collecting wealth for its own sake, like the story of King Midas.
I guess failing to achieve in any of these, there’s always indiscriminate hoarding.
But what we all have in common is that we always want more.
And maybe that is what old age, even illness, is about.  It can free us to stop and let go.  Then we can be still enough to open our hearts and minds to the greatest treasure, the glory of God,.   And that is what all these things have in common.  They are tiny tastes of the glory of God.

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.

A Spiritual Journey: Ways of Being

There are four ways of being: thinking, feeling, doing, and creating.
Thinking usually involves questioning and problem solving.
Feeling, whether positive or negative, is usually in relationship to someone.
Doing often involves care taking of things or care giving of people.
Creating is about new possibilities and may involve any or all of the other three.
Life involves all of these and though none of us does all of them equally well, I’ve noticed that through the stages of our lives we seem to eventually be challenged by life to develop in the areas where we don’t have natural gifts. This applies to our spiritual lives also.
At different times in my life I have found grace through very different sources. In my twenties I began to question my religious upbringing and for a few years I made the world and its pleasures my focus, but my questions finally took me on a journey of studying various religions in a search for meaning. Then in my thirties, a friend helped me begin to relate to Jesus, not only as a Savior and Lord, but as a best friend, and prayer became a conversation with him. Starting to read the scriptures to get to know him better brought them alive for me and I began to see their connections to even small things in my daily life. Gradually, they opened my eyes to the struggles of people around me and I began to recognize things I could do to help them. Then to my consternation, the Scriptures ceased to speak to me and health issues put me in a wheel chair, dependent on the kindness of others. Then accepting love from the kindness of others became a source of grace instead of frustration. And worship and rote prayer became my way to inner peace and a sense of the presence of God. Taking up art as a hobby began to bring me the freedom to live in the present moment creatively and even opened my eyes to blessings of God in the beauty all around me. Somehow, all of these ways of being came together and I felt a hunger to share my sense of the love of God expressed in Jesus, the presence of God in all things, and our oneness with God and each other. That led me to worship where I could give what I call my sermons from the molehill at Sunday worship services. We are all on a Spiritual journey whether we know it of not. But it does not go in the same order or timing or tidy little stages for all of us. We are all different, so our journeys will be different. And the places best for us to grow and learn spiritually will be different. But I’ve become convinced that over our lives we will have challenges with opportunities to experience growth in all of these ways of being.  When we recognize these, we can accept them, instead of being threatened by change and resisting.  Then eventually we become able to recognize God in everything and each other. This is very oversimplified, but is the essence of what I’ve experienced in my spiritual journey.  The key to our personal spiritual journey is recognizing that the only thing in life that is not only inescapable, but  when accepted, is a source of grace, is change.

Sixty Years

 

Julian (Tuffy) and Eileen

Tuffy
Young, tender, vulnerable.
Funny and fun loving.
A crooked boyish smile.
Blue eyes with a Christmas morning sparkle.
Slow dancing, holding me gently, like I was fragile and precious.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Love poems before we ever even kissed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Dozens of roses and one time a black orchid.
Cutting in at dances when I went with someone else.
Dancing, I only come up to his chin.
I often ask: “Are you still up there?”
And every time he answers: “Always.”
And he meant it.

Through Memories
I look at you through memories
of running in the rain,
of funny children’s stories
and haunted Halloweens.
Of how you learned to hold me
and simply let me cry,
listening to my fears
to heal me of my fright.

 

 

 

 

 

Of you overcoming phobias,
so I wouldn’t be alone
while camping in the woods
or giving talks on Type.
Of nightmare trips in broken cars
and cabins full of scouts,
houses filled with strangers
and jeep rides in the night.
Letters shared in parking lots
and rooms full of  golden flowers,
the kaleidoscope of memories
that fill my heart with love.

 

 

 

Psalm of Fifty-eight Years

All these years of tenderness and love,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            of fears and frustration and laughter
there has been you.
Your love has always been my strength                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            because I knew you would be with me,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            any where I went.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Now, in this new heartbreaking time                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              of fearing the ocean of loneliness that lies ahead.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I struggle to let go, to set you free,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                to not make it harder to accept whatever comes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Grace comes at night when I turn to God ,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        who has been with us always in both the pain and joy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Then I know we’ll be together once more                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        with tenderness, and laughter, and love                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            at home with God.

 

 

I Miss You
In the silent nighttime loneliness,
even in the sunshine’s warmth
and cheerful chatter of the birds,
there’s still an emptiness.
I miss you.
I even miss your morning frown
from reading that day’s news,
when I would try to get a smile
by showing you the comic strips.
I miss your laugh.
In the busyness of daily chores
I often turn toward your door
to ask you someone’s number,
then catch myself, suddenly in tears
from missing you.
You always were so softly quiet,
I’d wonder if you’d gone out.
Yet silence now is so profound,
it has the very solemn sound
of sorrow.
On Fridays, our party night,
I fix our usual picnic supper
and find my favorite TV show,
but you’re not here to snuggle.
I miss your snore.
Even church is not the same.
I keep waiting for you to come
and fill the empty spot beside me.
Then my tears begin to blind me,
because I miss you.
I remember that I complained
about how little we just talked.
Now, it would seem enough
If I could just hold your hand.
I miss you so.
I ‘m truly happy you now have joy.
I trust there’s a reason I’m still here
and that grace will get me through
until we’re together once more.
But I still miss you.

 

 

Once Upon A Time

once upon a time
in a land far away
no one got old
and no one died
very few people
ever even cried
life was simple
people were kind
no one seemed
to need very much
living was so easy
no one had to struggle
but after a few decades
they all turned to mush.