Category Archives: Personality

Motherhood (Part Two of Law and Pleasure Series)

I was born in 1937 and married in 1958. I was a born idealist, living mostly in the imagined beauty of future possibilities. I grew up Catholic, but with only one sibling who was ten years younger than I am. I envied my Catholic school mates with lots of sisters and brothers as built-in playmates. My religion sent me a lot of mixed messages about my worth as a woman, but motherhood was definitely held up as the ultimate purpose for a woman.
Although I went to college on a full scholarship at Rice University, which was a predominately male, technical school, I simply didn’t feel attracted to a career. I was a history major that didn’t want to teach. I wanted to get married and dreamer that I was, I thought I’d enjoy having a lot of children as playmates. In fact, when I married, we spent time picking out names for thirteen children of both genders. (Thirteen was my lucky number. I passed Calculus on the thirteenth of one month and was chosen as a Yearbook Beauty on another thirteenth. At the time, I didn’t realize that neither of these was going to be particularly helpful in bringing up children.)
My father wanted me to be a scientist. So he discouraged me from taking Home Economics at my girls’ only high school and my mother gave up after one disastrous attempt to teach me how to cook.
She had decided to start me off as simply as possible with a cornbread mix. All I had to do was put the mix in a bowl, add water, some vegetable oil, stir and put it all in a greased pan. She put everything out, pointed out the instructions on the box and left me to it. I was doing fine, really. But she came in right before I was going to put it in the pan. She said, “OK. Now, wash your hands and put it into the baking pan.” And she left again. I was confused. My mind tends to connect ideas and discover new possibilities. This is often a gift, except when I connect the wrong things. I wondered why I needed to wash my hands? I did remember reading somewhere that bread baking involved using your hands for some reason. So, I began to scoop out the mix with my hand and shake-fling it into the pan– and around it. Between what missed the pan and what was stuck to my hands, there wasn’t much left to cook. As I was standing there puzzled, mom returned, took one look, and yelled, “What in the world are you doing? What a mess!” I started crying and backed away from the mess. Unfortunately, I backed into the stove where there was a small pot of melted butter for the fresh artichokes mom was cooking. The butter went everywhere, down into the burner, down the front of the stove, down my back, onto the floor. As Mother stood open mouthed in horror, I fled sobbing to my room and threw myself, butter and all, onto my bed.
Mother was also a perfectionist housekeeper. Since my mind was usually occupied with ideas and impossible dreams, my attention to physical details was pretty much non-existent. So Mom didn’t delegate many housekeeping tasks either. And since she herself didn’t iron, I never acquired that skill either. Are you beginning to feel sorry for my husband, who fell in love with me at first sight in Calculus class?
Coming back from our honeymoon in Acapulco, Mexico, we visited my in-laws in Nashville. Then as now, fifty-eight years later, my husband wore white button down dress shirts. I decided to wash and iron them, more in an attempt to impress my in-laws, than out of love. It never occurred to me that this was an acquired skill, not a natural talent for all women. I remember hearing my father-in-law come into the house asking in a loud voice, “What’s burning?” and my mother-in-law hushing him with, “It’s Eileen ironing.”
The next part of this series will deal with both some of the humorous challenges of having four children in five years and the Religious crisis of my doctor telling me that having another cesarean section in the next few years would most likely kill me and my Catholic Pastor’s response that, “Lots of children end up with very good step-mothers.”

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An Undiagnosed Killer of Marriages

Differences in personality types can have a lot of effect on marriages.  I respond to the outer world emotionally first.  My husband responds with logic.  I am an extrovert, so I tend to react openly immediately. My husband is an introvert and he only responds after much thought. When I would get either excited or upset about something and babble over  about it, he would sit back, cross his arms and put on his “here come the judge” face.  After several moments of waiting, I ‘d get frustrated, either disappointed that he didn’t share my enthusiasm or angry because he was looking judgmental.  And unfortunately his first logical problem solving response is to focus on the practical problems or negative aspects.  After some years of marriage, without realizing it, I began to try to push his buttons just to get him to express a feeling of any kind.  The problem with this is the introverted thinker may go years without responding openly to provocation, only to one day reach overload and either explode violently or simply leave and not look back. Fortunately, since we had five young children, I recognized my pattern before my husband reached overload. I have since realized that when asking him for a yes or no decision, I need to give him plenty of unpressured time or he will play it safe and just say “No.”  The same with arguments. I now state my case and go wash dishes or do something else while he works out his response, and then gets back to me.  Unnatural as this is for me, doing this brings much better results and lessens conflict.  I’m pretty sure that it is a total shock to one of the spouses, when marriages disintegrate  from unrecognized inborn differences such as these.

 

 

God’s Terrible Taste

I had a somewhat amusing, slightly terrifying thought this morning. God loves both Trump and Hillary equally and unconditionally. God loves because of who God is, not because of who we are. I’ve always said God has terrible taste, because God loves everyone. God loves sinners and saints, the smart and the stupid, the kind and the cruel, the sane and the insane, the crook and the law-abiding. Boy! That means if God has His/Her way, heaven is going to be as diverse as earth. I guess I better start forgiving a lot of people, so I can fit in with all of the above. I find I can forgive people if I can picture them as a child with a childhood that was unbalanced between love and the reality of there being consequences of our choices. Often, too much love and no consequences has pretty much the same effect as too little love and unrealistic expectations. Both are impossible to outgrow without the grace of recognizing both God’s love and the consequences of our choices. The present friendship and cooperation between Bill Clinton and the Bushes show how the responsibilities of the office of President obviously challenge Presidents to outgrow their limited viewpoint. So, regardless of whom you vote for, pray for both of them to experience God’s love and be freed to become the person God created them to be, whether they are in or out of political office.

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Spare Parts

There was a note from Netflix in my email today. It said,
“We sent you Spare Parts.”
I got excited for a moment, because I certainly could use some replacement parts! Then I realized it meant a movie named, “Spare Parts.”
Pretty soon I guess, though maybe not in my life time, we’ll get catalogs in the mail for spare parts. If, they get where we can shop for a new brain, I’d want to know a whole lot about the person it came from.
It’s taken me over seventy years to get comfortable with mine. Even with its retrieval hiccups, I’ve become quite attached to it.
And its quirky little thoughts give me a lot of laughs. That may be more important than knowing people’s name or phone numbers.
Anyway, there’s probably an app somewhere for phones, that shows faces with names in files grouped by gender, age, likability and relationship to me.
Think I’ll keep the brain I have, just for laughs.

Grace Comes in our Helplessness and in the Present Moment

For me who naturally lives in the ideal land of possibilities, it takes both faith and perseverance to find grace when facing the harsh limits of human reality. I can only stand up to my inner Greek Chorus, that keeps me frighteningly aware of my frailties, by focusing on God who simply says over and over, “I love you.”

Some twenty-five years ago by the end of my mother’s fourteen years of dying by inches from Alzheimer’s, I really wasn’t strong enough to devote myself to holding her hand and sitting helplessly with her at the foot of her cross. It was partly because of my own emotional weakness, some because of selfishness, but ultimately because her suffering shook my faith in God.

Now, I’m being challenged once again to seek grace to live that out as my husband’s Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis progresses. Some personalities are naturally reasonably good at accepting reality, however harsh it may be. But I’ve always been a change agent, a problem solver,  a person that is good at finding alternative solutions.

Now, I know that there comes a time when that is not what we are able or even called to do, no matter how naturally good we are at it.
We are called to find grace in our weakness. But that is terrifying and only done by staying aware that though we are not good at this, God is and God is with us.

And grace comes only in the present moment.  That is where God meets us. And learning to live in the present moment is a whole new way of being in the world for many of us. Some of us live in the past, while others focus on the future.  I’ve always focused on the future with its infinite possibilities.  So my first challenge is to only ask where is God in this moment and reach for His hand. My second challenge is to accept that God isn’t asking me to solve anything, but to trust and stay with Him in the circumstances, like Mary at the foot of the cross of those we love most.

Nothing is Permanent Except Change

 

One of Louise Penny’s characters, Myrna, who is a psychologist in the book Still Life, discusses a quote, “Life is loss.”
Myrna goes on to say, “But out of that comes freedom. If we can accept that nothing is permanent, and that change is inevitable, if we can adapt, then we are going to be happier people.” (My note: Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament emphasizes the same idea.)
Myrna explains a turning point in her career and life, “I woke up one morning bent out of shape about this client who was forty-three but acting sixteen. For three years he had always had the same complaints, ‘Someone hurt me. Life is unfair. It’s not my fault.’
For three years I’d been making suggestions and for three years he’d done nothing. I suddenly understood. He had no intention of changing…
Many people love their problems. They give them all sorts of excuses for not growing up and getting on with life…… They spend their whole life waiting for someone to save them or at least protect them from the big, bad world.
The thing is, no one else can save them because the problem is theirs and so is the solution. Only they can get them out of it….but that is the grace.….the fault lies within them, but so does the solution.”

These thoughts speak to my stage of life and current challenges. My life has changed drastically since the beginning of this year.  But what I am experiencing is that while there are sorrows in life that have no physical solution, we can change how we see them and find the gift they bring.

Just last fall my husband and I traveled with one of our sons around the South West of France.  This is Middle Pyrenees’ country so it involved quite a bit of uphill walking and stair climbing. My husband wants to explore every inch of Castles and ruins. We recently turned eighty and seventy-nine, so it was a challenge, but we managed it using a walker in some places and taking lots of Bistro breaks. He still designs on his computer in his home Architecture office and I cook and clean, do his bookkeeping, and chauffeur grandchildren and friends to malls, museums, restaurants and even the zoo. I also lead worship once a month and began at seventy-five doing some stand up comedy on aging. So, though no longer young, we had interesting and purposeful lives.

Until New Year’s Eve.

Then I became ill with a respiratory infection and ended up bedridden for three weeks. The day after I got well enough to grocery shop, we were shut in by snow and ice for two weeks.  The next week, I tripped carrying laundry down our hall and broke my right shoulder in three places.  The two weeks waiting for surgery were unbelievably hard for both of us.  I was totally helpless and in excruciating pain even with pain medicine, so my husband had to do everything for me around the clock. But his tenderness and constant concern for me brought us to a whole new level of intimacy and love. I had never felt so cherished and tenderly and totally loved by anyone except God. Even in the worst pain I had ever experienced, there was joy.

But after my reverse shoulder replacement surgery, it was obvious my husband was too exhausted to continue taking care of me. So I went to a nursing home for physical therapy for two weeks to get over the worst of my pain and helplessness and give him time to recoup. After the first few days, I actually enjoyed the people I met in therapy.  Even the therapists and nurses were kind and laughed at my jokes.  The food was amazingly good, and my room was filled with beautiful flowers. Friends and family came to visit bringing treats. I didn’t have to clean or cook and aides even helped me shower and dress.  After eating in my room a few days until I could manage it left handed without baptizing those near me, I went to the beautiful sunny dining room for meals. The first day, since dressing took help, I was in my slightly scroungy clothes for Physical Therapy. So I felt seriously intimidated when I realized the other women were dressed in elegant suits with matching jewelry.  I soon relaxed however when a caregiver came around and put large terry cloth bibs on all of us.  Bibs are a great leveler.  I confess there were times after I returned home that I missed my vacation experience.  As I left the facility the therapists and nurses asked me to return to do some stand up comedy for the people living there.

When I came home we managed well with lots of help from our son and daughter-in- law who live near by and friends at church who fed us frequently for two months. My husband drove me to out patient therapy and we celebrated each bit of progress such as the red letter day I could use my right hand for eating and brushing my teeth. Becoming able to shower and then finally even dress myself  were momentous events. With each small accomplishment I felt like an Olympic winner.

But, then my husband, who has had lung problems previously, came down with the respiratory infection.  After three weeks in bed none of the steroids or antibiotics had helped and he was fighting to breathe and almost too weak to get to the car.  He was hospitalized for two weeks while the increased steroids and antibiotics not only didn’t help him, but gave him thrush in his mouth and throat and a yeast infection in his esophagus. A bronchoscopy finally showed that he had serious permanent lung damage from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, which is incurable and progressive. They sent us home with my husband too weak to walk, unable to get up from a chair without help, and still having trouble breathing when sitting up or standing. Fortunately, I had been cleared to drive the day before he went to the hospital and even our children who lived in other cities and states rallied and helped get us through the first hard weeks. About mid-May my husband began to go to therapy with me to build up muscles in his legs. We were managing fairly well with two walkers and a new to us larger car we had just gotten at Christmas.  Good timing once again.

We found many people our age and even younger with problems similar or worse than ours at therapy.  And we bonded with them and laughed together more and more. We went to therapy three days a week and it became the highlight of our week.  We both improved enough that when I ran out of Medicare for therapy, he was able to continue on his own. When we were able to go back to church everyone applauded and welcomed us back with hugs, which I managed to turn my left side toward.   Grace abounds in community, whether of shared challenges or shared faith.

We found that we were still limited in how much we could do physically. If we did what used to be a normal amount one day, we were wiped out the next. My natural rhythm for work is to work in spurts and do something pleasant and sedentary in between, so it suited me to not over do. (In fact, it was sort of nice not to have to feel guilty about it.) But my husband just naturally works until a job is done or he is exhausted, so this was a difficult adjustment for him. Finding some TV series that were mentally stimulating on Netflix helped him accept the need to rest and increased our time spent together. For a while, I needed to do most of the house hold chores my husband used to do, like taking garbage out and filling bird feeders and watering outside plants.  After his devotion to me when I broke my shoulder, it was a joy to have the chance to do things for him.  He had always preferred cold cereal while he read the paper undisturbed early in the morning, so I used to sleep in (I tend to want to talk). Now I managed to get up four or five days to fix hot breakfasts that he needed and now began to enjoy. He even started reading bits of things from the paper to me and we discussed them or laughed about them.  More and more we have begun to see the humor in even frustrating things.  These are new blessings for us.

To be continued…………Learning to Live One Day at a Time.

 

 

 

 

 

Most important: Intelligence, Kindness, or Humor?

I used to think intelligence was the most important trait. Later in life, I decided kindness was.
After this election year debacle, I suspect both are equally important and that a sense of humor probably is way up there with them, because it can free us to see ourselves honestly. Age doesn’t automatically bring wisdom, but it often brings humor which can be the beginning of self-honesty.  And once that happens, you empty your pockets of all those stones you are tempted to throw at others. And that’s the beginning of wisdom.
Kiddos! We ALL see through the glass of our limited perception darkly (imperfectly)! Quick! Get rid of the temptation of those stones before they come back to haunt you.

How Free is our Free Will?

A seriously spooky, but incredibly affirming and helpful tool for gaining a better understanding of both ourselves and others is the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI).
I came across the MBTI several decades ago. My first response to my results from taking it was, “How could anyone possibly know all those things about me?” I hadn’t even recognized some of them myself until I read the MBTI’s description. It was amazing, but almost scary, how well its description fit.
It gave me greater self-awareness and both an appreciation of my strengths and an understanding of why some aspects of life were much less appealing and even difficult for me. And gradually, as I moved past learning about just my own personality, it explained the challenges in my relationships with people having a different set of both strengths and other aspects of personality that were less natural for them.
That was thirty-two years ago and I am still being helped by this tool in my relationships, particularly with my husband, whose strengths and subsequent ways of being in the world are the exact opposite of mine. In fact, understanding about personality differences  has probably been one of the most significant reasons our marriage has lasted and grown stronger over almost fifty-eight years.
Different personality types focus on different aspects and therefore actually “see” the concrete world differently. The information we take in on any given day, even in the same environment, will vary drastically. Also how we respond to it, personally or theoretically, emotionally or logically, will differ greatly.  Even our dominant focus, whether inward most of the time and only outward on a few people or locations close to us versus mostly outwardly and on the larger world including the future of the whole planet, will also be extremely different. An example: My husband will fight to save a beautiful old tree on a specific site, but isn’t particularly concerned about the rain forests in distant countries.
Personality differences have implications for every aspect of life, not just relationships. I became a consultant on the MBTI and gave workshops on its significance for Marriage Relationships, for Teaching/Learning Style Differences, for the Variety of Approaches to Spirituality, and even for Corporate Management Styles and Employee Responses.
At seventy-nine, I haven’t been professionally active in this for some years, but the MBTI seems to have stood the test of time in both the educational and professional worlds. And I am still discovering areas where it sheds light on our personal human journeys. I am not going to attempt to teach about type. The Association for Personality Type is the professional site for learning about type. However, there are many people writing about type on the internet without sufficient expertise in the subject, so take care in what you accept that isn’t backed up with some credentials.
One of the issues that the reality of inborn personality differences raises questions about, but also sheds some light on, is what degree of free will we have. I’ll begin to explore that in my next post.

A Spot Unpainted

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

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

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

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

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