Category Archives: hope

Humor and Hope

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.”

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We See Through the Glass Darkly: We Need One Another

Human beings, even in the same families, are born with unbelievably different ways of being in the world. It seems like God really complicated life on earth by making us this diverse. Yet, the mystics of all the world’s religions insist that the spiritual reality is that we are all one.

And even the Apostle Paul tells Christians, that we, the person next to us in the pew, and presumably the Christians worshiping God across the street and around the corner, are the Body of Christ. Every single one of us is an indispensable part that needs all the other parts to function as Jesus Christ’s visible presence in the world today. When the smallest, least important part is ignored or neglected, the whole body suffers.

Some years ago, when reflecting on this scripture while preparing a sermon for a group of Directors of Christian Education from diverse denominations, a very disturbing image suddenly filled my mind. I saw a person with their arms flailing in different directions, their head twisting side to side, and their out of sync legs struggling to stumble forward even a little with each step.

I felt like I had been hit in the stomach as I grasped the reality that this is the Body of Christ now. I literally cried aloud, “God, what can I do?” And immediately into my mind came the answer, “Admit what you can’t do.”
Well, that took me several decades. 

But I have finally realized that neither I, nor any of us, can discern God’s will unless we recognize with Paul that we see through the glass darkly. No matter what our natural gifts or spiritual ministries are, we need to be humble enough to consider other visions, so we don’t block what the Spirit is saying to the Body of Christ at any particular moment in time. Our vision may be valid, but just not in God’s timing for a particular part of His motley crew of Christians.

And like Paul, I have finally come to see that the most important gift really is love. That no matter how wonderful our own gifts are, unless we do the work of God with hearts open to all, with gentleness, sensitivity, patience and above all, humility, we become a noisy clanging cymbal that cripples the Body of Christ and blocks our broken hurting world from hearing the love of God expressed in Jesus.

The Broken Body

Reflecting on the Body,
you the hand, I the foot,
Christ the head, perhaps the heart,
all at times the hidden part,
I let the Scriptures
flood my mind with images,
with suddenly one image,
a moving picture
so harshly real
I gasp aloud.
A person staggers
stumbles forward,
arms flailing, head jerking
back and forth in spasms,
body parts all pulling
different ways.
This then, reality,
Christ’s earthly body now.

God, forgive us.

The prayer of my heart:
“Jesus, I want so much to use the gifts God gave me and the gifts of your Spirit to bring your love to our broken world and hurting people. Give me both the courage to let God use me and the humility to accept God’s timing. But most of all teach me how to love humbly, so that I do not become a clanging gong or clashing cymbals blocking others from knowing your love.”

Couldn’t Resist This One

The Story of my Spiritual Life Illustrated

 

Living Only in the Present Moment: the Downside

A cautionary tale of our religious ancestors:
First we have Esau, an outdoors, physical kind of guy who lives in the present moment. And in this story he is so focused on his physical hunger in the moment that he’s oblivious to the long term consequences of his choice. Seriously, sell your whole future for the quick fix of a bowl of stew? (Jelly doughnuts maybe, but not stew.) Esau might have skipped lunch, but he isn’t starving. And then there is his twin brother, Jacob, a guy who not only thinks about the future, but wants the security of being number one so badly he robs the person closest to him of his birthright while he’s feeling weak. Obviously, there’s nothing new about dysfunctional families.
Like Esau and Jacob, we also have hungers that we justify as needs, because they dull the pain of being imperfect and vulnerable in a scary world.
I don’t know about you, but I’m often a bottomless pit of needs and wants.  Which makes me inclined to addictions, the need to control, and often being judgmental in my heart. And those are just the things I’m willing to tell you about.
But, thanks be, Jesus himself tells us that God’s love for all of us, not just for the goody two shoes, is like the tender love of a mother and father for their own tiny new baby. I’ve experienced that awesome unconditional love of God through Jesus. And though I believe the title ‘chosen’ leads to hubris and the word ‘saved’ can delude us that we are finished, I do know heart, mind, and soul without any doubt, that I (and all of you) are tenderly and totally loved by the God that created us.
Then why is life, even with its beauty, pleasures, love, and joy, so darn hard? Perhaps, the problem is that humanity is still childishly frozen in the terrible twos’ stage, where like Esau, we want what we want when we want it, no matter the consequences.
Whatever Jesus being one with God means, the human Jesus took on our frailty and struggled just as we do. Like us, he often learned the hard way by trial and error. Think of Mary and Joseph- frantic when their twelve year old stays behind in Jerusalem without telling them. Finally, only after his mom makes him realize how unkind that was, Jesus goes home and by obeying them, ‘grows in wisdom and goodness.’ He didn’t come into the world finished. At the wedding in Cana, we see the thirty year old Jesus reluctantly start his public ministry when he is again nagged by his mom to be kind. Later, the now amazing miracle working Jesus, not only gets totally exhausted, but sometimes is so overwhelmed by the huge crowds of needy people, that he tries to escape them. Then we hear him venting his frustration with his followers for always missing the point. And near the end, he gets so upset and angry that he calls his best friend Peter, ‘Satan,’ for tempting him to deny the suffering ahead. NOT kind! He even breaks down and weeps from the heartbreak of failing to reach his own people. This is a Jesus we can identify with. After first resisting what were then heretical challenges, he shocks everyone by allowing women, unbelievers, and even an enemy Roman to convince him to include everyone in his ministry to the ‘people of God’. That’s a BIGGIE.
But his most important example for us is that over and over, he needs one on one time with God. Because God is his number one source of wisdom, power, strength to persevere, and most of all – love. And he knows that the Spirit of God is within, so he goes to the mountain top to get away from the clamor of daily life so he can hear that quiet voice. If he needed that, how much more do we need to take that time to listen.
In the garden when he faces all that he must lose and suffer, in an absolute agony of fear, he sweats blood. He even begs God to spare him, but then his first-hand experience of God’s love frees him to trust God’s will. Still, at the very end, rejected and betrayed by his friends, he cries out in desperation when he feels like even God has abandoned him. But, even in the depths of that terrible loneliness, he chooses to commit his spirit to God.
Jesus living in the limits of humanity is able only because of His always deepening relationship with God to survive the failure of his best efforts, rejection by his own people, betrayal by those closest to him, and even death, all without becoming embittered or unforgiving. From the cross he prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Ultimately he shows us, that from a close relationship with God, all loss, even death, can become a doorway, not an ending. To me, without the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, life obviously not only doesn’t have a happy ending, but wouldn’t seem to have any lasting purpose, never-the-less a reason to keep on struggling to learn how to forgive and love unconditionally.

Grieving Life’s Diverse Losses

Today I am realizing that when our children or couples we love divorce, there’s a mourning period involved. Particularly with friends that we only knew when they were married. We have to mourn and let go of those we have loved in relationship. It has nothing to do with thinking they should or shouldn’t divorce. It just involves coming to grips with the differences.

With a child we knew and loved long before they married or divorced, we at least have something to look back to, but not with the spouse that we only knew as a unit with our child. They simply aren’t the same person now that we have only known. There really is a necessary time of mourning, particularly if we truly came to love them as part of that unit. And mourning involves the stages of grief…..denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

I think recognizing this can help us not bog down hopelessly at any point in the process. I am also beginning to reflect on the possibility that we have to go through a similar process when either people we love or we ourselves change because of aging or illness.
I realize now that I need to cut myself some slack and take time to reflect on the effects of this recent period in my life that includes my own losses of abilities and joys through age and illness, my husband experiencing losses from these also, one of our adult children and a spouse that I loved deeply as a couple for many years now being divorced, and friends that I have loved and only known as a couple divorcing.
The last year and a half have simply been overwhelming and I have been bogged down in emotional denial of some of these things and in anger over others.
Hopefully, recognizing this  and my need for grace will help me move through to the peace of acceptance.

Surgery Update

Julian’s lung surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, May 23rd. He has to be there at 6 am, but not sure of the actual surgery time. Heart and lung doctors and consultants all say his heart is fine and his pulmonary fibrosis has not progressed in the last year and so far it looks like the cancer cells are limited to one spot in his right lung. All prayers for my husband, Julian, greatly appreciated.

A Sign of Hope: Test of Faith or Time to Heal?

My husband’s surgery for lung cancer was scheduled for next Wednesday. His thoracic surgeon ran lots of tests and conferred with a team of heart and lung specialists to try to make sure the surgery would not make his Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis worse. They all agreed the tests showed that his heart is working well and his Fibrosis isn’t nearly as bad as they had feared. So the consensus was to do surgery since the cancer appears to not have spread. They can just remove one lobe of the three lobes of the right lung.. The surgery was scheduled for May 17th with him stopping his blood thinner today, the 11th. However, the Cardiologist that did his stents and the doctor that put in his pacemaker needed to sign off on this plan. They both feel they should see him and do a stress test also. This doesn’t happen until Monday and he can’t go off his blood thinners until they give the go ahead. It will likely be at least another week from then before they can do surgery. Every day has seemed like a month since his diagnosis. But this morning when seeking peace about the delays, I remembered when our youngest son went through a similar series of delays getting a cardiac catheterization at the age of four. Reflecting on two stories of memories about that experience has freed me to let go and trust God.

Daffodils, a Sign of Hope: An Easter Story

My heart sank and I felt a wave of nausea as I read the thermometer. One hundred and four degrees.
“Oh, God. Not again please,” I whispered, as I coaxed medicine into my feverish son. While I was fixing him juice, the telephone rang insistently until I finally answered it.
“Eileen,” a neighbor said, “you need to get over there to my granny’s old home place and get yourself some of those daffodils. They’re just coming up. If you plant them now, they might go on and bloom for you next month.”
“I can’t take Tommy out today, Mae. He’s running fever again. Besides are you sure it’s not stealing??
“Naw. There are thousands of them now, all from the ones my granny planted years ago. They need thinning out, so they’ll keep blooming. I’ll come over and watch Tommy for you.”
“Well……Okay,” I answered hesitantly. “I’m just putting him down for a nap. Come in about twenty minutes.”
I sighed as I hung up. I didn’t really feel like going out in the cold January weather, but I couldn’t think of any more excuses. I picked up my three year old son and began to rock him to sleep. His face was flushed and his thin little body felt hot against mine. Poor Tommy. I hope this isn’t going to be another long siege, I thought silently.
“I love you, little one,” I said softly.
“Love you,” he whispered hoarsely, patting my face gently as his eyes began to close.
As I carefully put Tommy in his bed, I heard my neighbor come quietly in the front door.
“Hi, Mae. Thanks for coming. He’s restless, but I think he’ll sleep,” I greeted her. “But I don’t have anything to put dirt in. How will I carry the daffodils?”
“They don’t need dirt. Just put some newspapers down in the back of your station wagon. Get yourself a lot. They’ll look great along your driveway and out front of the house.”
A few minutes later I gasped and shivered when the cold wind hit me, as I got out of the car. I wished fervently that I hadn’t agreed to do this. I started digging as quickly as I could, eyes tearing from the wind. I dug for several minutes, then thought about giving up and going home. Each time I’d begin to straighten up, I’d see another thick clump just barely pushing through the frozen ground, seeming to beckon to me. I kept going until I had almost filled the back of my stationwagon with hundreds of bare bulbs.
When I finally got back and sent my neighbor home with thanks, I went to check on Tommy. He tossed restlessly in his sleep and when I touched his forehead, it almost scalded my hand. Tommy had taken a turn for the worse, so I forgot all about the daffodil bulbs, as I spent the next two weeks caring for him and making trips to the specialist fifty miles away.
With trembling voice, I finally admitted to the doctor how frightened I was, when Tommy’s fever ran off the thermometer and there was no way to know how high it was.
“Don’t try to bring it down below 104 degrees,” he advised me. “If you do, it will shoot back up fast and that can cause a seizure. He catches everything because the hole in his heart valve lets blood circulate without being purified by the lungs. We’ll try another antibiotic. If he has a virus, it won’t help, but we can’t risk this going into pneumonia. We’ll consider surgery when he’s four, but we need to get him stronger first. Bring him back in two days, if he’s not better.”
I drove us home through a flood of tears. Tommy whimpered listlessly, his eyes too bright and his skin too pale under the flush of fever. My spirits matched the bleak January landscape.
I spent the next two days and nights struggling to keep his fever down. Sometimes he lay in my arms limply. Other times when the fever shot beyond the measure of the thermometer, he would chatter brightly, using words far more complex than his normal vocabulary, reminding me of the possibility of brain damage.
Two days passed and his fever was still shooting back up off the thermometer. Trying yet again to bring it down slowly, I put him in a tepid bath, that seemed to hurt his hot skin and make him shake with chills. He looked like pictures I had seen of war orphans with their ribs showing and their sunken eyes pleading. He looked at me like he was asking mutely, “Why are you doing this? Why are you hurting me? Don’t you love me?”
As I wrapped him in wet sheets and sat rocking him, both of us were sobbing. I even yelled out loud, “Where are you, God? I pray and pray and you do nothing. This is an innocent child. Why do you let him suffer? What kind of God are you? A cruel God? An impotent God? Where is the loving God of Jesus? Have you abandoned us?”
As, I exhausted my anger, memories of God’s many gifts of grace in my life flooded my mind and I began to pray again, “You are my God, the only God I have. I have seen Your awesome glory in the beauty of Your creation and I have felt the depth of Your love through Your son, Jesus. So, I, like Paul, will try to praise you at all times, in joy and in sorrow. Right now, I can’t feel it, but with my will I praise you. I thank you for the many times you have blessed me and for the grace you have poured into my heart even in my darkest moments. But, please God, help me know you are with us in this. I feel abandoned.”
Then I began to dress Tommy for another trip to Nashville. As I carried him to the car, I was stopped in my tracks by an incredible sight.
Hundreds of bright yellow daffodils in full bloom completely filled the back of my car. It looked like Easter morning! I felt like God had put His arms around us and whispered, “See, I am with you always. Don’t despair.”
I drove to the doctor’s singing hymns of praise.

The next post: God is in the Timing continues the story of the journey of Tommy’s heart defect.

Another Hurdle! Another Miracle?

Wow. Sometimes I feel like one of those plastic blow up clowns with sand in the bottom….you can knock it down over and over, but it comes back up for more.
A year ago, shortly after I had a reverse shoulder replacement when I fell and broke my shoulder in three places, my husband was diagnosed with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. The idiopathic means they don’t know what causes it, so they don’t know how to cure it. It is progressive and the longest survival is usually five years from onset. We were pretty sure he had it for several years before diagnosis. Well, last year when he was hospitalized fighting to breathe for two weeks and growing extremely weak quickly, they sent him home worse than when he went in. He could hardly stand, couldn’t get out of a chair by himself and couldn’t walk any distance at all. All the muscle tone was gone from his legs. They were skeletal and weak. He started physical therapy and continues still. He can walk reasonable distances , stand, bend, and do the bicycle in therapy now. After his diagnosis last Spring, in the Fall he had another bout of a combination of allergies, sinus, asthma, with terrible coughing, but fast and aggressive treatment with antibiotics and steroids got him back on his feet and breathing in a few days. He works on a computer from home as an architect, often working six or even seven days a week. Our work comes in bunches, then stalls, but often deadlines come close together for a one man office.  Now a year after our disastrous Spring, I had to have spinal lumbar fusion surgery. I am still recovering from it. About three weeks ago, my husband once again started coughing and wheezing and fighting for breath, but the quick medical treatment again got him almost completely over it in a little over two weeks. Through all of these challenges, we have been supported in prayer by people of many faiths. The morning before he came down with the respiratory problems, he had his yearly lung check up with CT Scans and breathing tests. The doctor came back with miraculous good news: the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis has not progressed any, since this time last year. But, then came the bad news: a spot on his lungs that was biopsied two years ago and declared benign has grown. So, he had another lung biopsy last Friday and it showed a tumor with some cancer cells. He gets PET Scans this week, hoping they will not show any cancer having spread, so they can just remove the tumor without radiation therapy.

I am convinced that gathering prayer from many praying people of diverse spiritualities has made a difference in the progress of the fibrosis. I don’t understand prayer, but I have witnessed miracles, and do believe that in some way we are partners with the power that created everything. My husband has become much more spiritual as he has gotten older and more aware of his own limits, and he has become much more involved in helping those in need.

Of course selfishly, I want him to live longer and have a good quality of life, but I also really believe that God isn’t finished helping him become the person he created him to be and is still wanting to use him for the good of others.

I also believe we are all connected….somehow we are one. So, whatever we do for or against anyone has an effect on all.  And when we join together in faith and caring, miracles can happen.
So, internet friends, if you are a person of prayer, please pray for my husband to become the person he was created to be and to be able to help others as he truly longs to do. And for me to be able to be a support for him in this.

And for all of us to realize that however small our faith is, when we join it together in caring for others, miracles can happen.

Thank you. Eileen

Forgiveness, the Heart of Love and the Core of Christianity

In the Gospel of John, when the risen Jesus appears to the frightened disciples, he says something unexpected and amazing. He tells them, if they forgive anyone’s sins, they’re forgiven. But if they don’t, then they aren’t. This isn’t power, this is responsibility. Jesus has spent three years trying to make them understand that receiving forgiveness and forgiving others are inseparable. In his agony on the cross he prays, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That prayer was not only for all those who played a part in his physical crucifixion that day, but for all of us who continue to crucify him in each other.
The humbling, often heartbreaking, recognition of the harm we have done to someone is designed to bring the life changing acceptance of God’s forgiveness that gives us the grace to forgive others. It’s all one spiritual process. Sometimes, our first clue to what we need to ask forgiveness for is what we cannot forgive in another.                                           And over and over the message is the same: forgiveness is the heart of love, the core of Christianity, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and it’s our commission. And there is no escape clause in the small print even about forgiving repeat offenders. Remember the seventy times seven?
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, Whenever you are praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. This isn’t just a whim of God. It’s a cause and effect that was designed into the human condition.                                                                                                                                   Listen closely. Jesus died so that we might be forgiven, but in order to accept forgiveness, we have to admit humbly and sorrowfully when we need it, so we can be freed by grace to pass forgiveness on. This is the key to the kingdom of heaven that Jesus gave us, because all fall short of the glory of God.

Note:  Forgiving a broken person does not mean allowing them to abuse you or anyone else.  God forgives them, but doesn’t remove consequences that can make them recognize the need to change.

Sources of Grace for Scary Times

This is a break from my series, because so many of us are struggling right now with fear and depression:

So, I am being redundant – again. (That’s a lot of redundancy.)

My two hands-down favorite authors of a spirituality rooted in Jesus, but not religion, are Henri Nouwen and Anne Lamott.

Henri Nouwen writes incredibly healing and understandable theology saturated with the love of God. He chose to spend the latter years of his life living in a community for the mentally handicapped. For an introduction and short overview of his writing, I recommend,” A Spirituality of Living.” Also another short book: Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life, which changed some of my deeply rooted prejudices.  He was a Catholic priest, but wasn’t limited by it. 🙂

For our nitty-gritty stuggle to live a grace filled life, I don’t think there’s a better author than Anne Lamott. Anne’s spiritual journey has been through alcoholism, abortion, single motherhood, great losses, and a terrible bitterness toward her mother on to the freedom of self- honesty, the grace of humor, and an always growing acceptance of others. She finds this amazing grace from a personal relationship with a risen Jesus, who is still calling us, healing us, walking with us, forgiving us, and suffering for and with us. I think she belongs to a small Presbyterian church with a woman minister. Or it might be non-denominational or both. She’s definitely eclectic in her spirituality. She has written novels, but I much prefer her autobiographical books. She is the most personally honest writer I’ve ever read. Here are several of her books: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, Grace (Eventually). She also has a marvelous face-book page that will share to your own page her day to day struggles with discouragement over our current political situation.

I realize that we are all very different and these authors might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I am by personality focused on relationship, but not everyone is. These authors’ writings are what help sustain me in my journey by always reminding me of my greatest (though not, only) source of grace, the Love of God expressed in Jesus.