Category Archives: Prayer

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.

Needing Prayer

My sixty year old son, Chris, is having triple by-pass surgery around 7 am Wednesday, July 8, 2020. He is obese and has diabetes, so this has many hazards, never-the-less Covid-19, and other infections at hospitals. His wife just had major back surgery. The hospital is allowing more than one visitor, but only one at a time in the room. The hospital is about forty minutes away and the waiting rooms are crowded with many people not wearing masks, so at 83, I am hesitant to go there to see him while he is there. All prayers greatly appreciated for my son, Chris and his wife, Molly, his daughter, Carmen and me his mother, Eileen.

Spiritual Alzheimer’s

Face book sent me a memory of advice I gave a friend years ago. It spoke to my condition today. My spiritual director once told me I had spiritual Alzheimer’s. I thought that was a tacky thing to say, since I was caring for my mother who actually had Alzheimer’s. But it appears he may have been right. I think I need a tattoo of these on the inside of my arm!

1. Remind myself that God loves me because of who God is, not who or what I am.

2. Pray the most used prayer: “Help!”

3. Reassure myself that struggle and dark times are a natural and necessary part of the process of living and becoming the person God created me to be.

4. Try to focus on the present moment and take the next small step

.
(PS I bribe myself into doing tasks I hate, by rewarding myself after I do them by doing something I like. That may not be wise, but I do it anyway!)

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)

“Come, Lord Jesus, Come” : Our Advent Prayer

Many years ago, I began on the first of the four Advent Sundays to pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for Him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life. And most years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize His coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.

As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him (and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter here on the lake in town. When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve menu. As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.

For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked them what happened when Mary and Joseph knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out,  “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”

It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family. So, when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,   “Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”

On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others. And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more in the heart of a child.

As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior, he was active in the Baptist Student Organization at Memphis University.  He and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers downtown in the August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer.

After college David became a missionary teacher, first in Indonesia where he reached out to homeless teens by organizing soccer teams and coaching them.  Then, in Afghanistan he taught in a school with two hundred students.  It was in a compound, but three Afghan students who were siblings and one of their parents were killed by the Taliban for being Christians and the school was warned that there was a plan to bomb the school so it was closed immediately and the foreign teachers scrambled for flights home.  His last three years out of the U.S. were spent teaching in Bolivia.

Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

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.

God’s Footprints in the Wine Press or ” And a Can of Oil.”

I grew up living in apartments in large cities. From eight years of age until thirteen, I actually lived on the seventh floor of a ten story apartment building near downtown St. Louis. After I met and married a Tennessee boy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, we moved to Nashville where his parents had both a downtown apartment and a large weekend country house in a neighboring rural county.
As our own family grew, we spent more and more weekends at Birdsong, their hundred year old log house that now had all the modern conveniences, but still radiated the warmth and charm of a by-gone era. It was on a two hundred acre rural setting of both woods and fields with a river sized creek complete with waterfall and swimming hole. It also had fields of peonies, horses and barns, a pond, a replica of Fort Nashborough built for the grandchildren to play in and a historic ruin of a real civil war powder mill.
At first I followed my mother-in-law on excursions into the woods to look for Jack-in-the Pulpit and tiny delicate wild Iris with a city dweller’s fear and trepidation. “Snakes and ticks and poison ivy, oh my!” But after a new and deeper awakening to the reality of God, I began to fall in love with His creation from its obvious glories to its fascinating hidden world of tiny treasures.
When I was expecting my fifth child by Caesarian section along with a scheduled hysterectomy, my in-laws decided to sell Birdsong. They offered to trade us the main house, barn, the tenant house, pond and the thirty- five acres of creek front woods and fields in exchange for whatever we could make from selling our house. Not only did I covet Birdsong, but this was an incredibly good financial trade for us. Our house was a pleasant traditional two story, four bedroom house in walking distance of an excellent public school, but Birdsong was twice its size, historic, beautiful and uniqueThere was even a tenant house that we had been remodeling. After prayer and discussion, my husband and I decided this was the chance of a lifetime and we put our house on the market a month before Thanksgiving when our baby was due.
While I was in the hospital recuperating from my C-section and hysterectomy, our house sold with the agreement that the buyer could have possession by January 1st. To say the least, the move was a daunting prospect at Christmas time in my post-operative condition with a new baby and four other children under ten. But, it seemed like a miracle to sell so quickly for the price we were asking. Besides, I wanted Birdsong more than I had ever wanted anything. To top it off, my husband’s oldest brother had hired a baby nurse to stay with us for the first two weeks I was home. This was a perfect baby gift that would help us with the move considerably. The move just seemed meant to be.
Unfortunately, shortly after we got home from the hospital, we discovered that our baby, who was miserably unhappy both night and day, needed surgery for a painful strangulated hernia. Our wonderful baby nurse and I prayed together for healing for him. But instead, at the hospital the night before his surgery, an intern discovered that our baby also had a heart valve defect. It was obviously his first examination of a baby boy, since he didn’t think to protect his new Christmas tie from a tiny fountain of pee. Shaken by his discovery, but hoping his lack of experience had allowed him to be misled, I called my pediatrician, who managed to get there in fifteen minutes. After emergency tests, the surgeon and our pediatrician agreed that the heart defect didn’t appear life threatening and since it was the type that sometimes closed naturally, they went ahead with just the hernia surgery. It was a scary, stressful time of tears and exhaustion, but with many people joined in prayer for Tommy. After the unscheduled surgery there was only room for us in a four patient room. The spoiled princess part of me was distressed over having to be in a room with three other mothers and their crying babies, all of us sleeping on cots literally under our babies in their high metal cribs. But, I had hardly had any sleep since my surgeries, so when Tommy awoke hungry the first time in the wee hours after his surgery, I didn’t even wake up when he cried. The kindness of strangers touched me deeply, when I finally woke and discovered that the other mothers had fed him his bottle and rocked him tosleep, so I could sleep. It was a humbling glimpse of how false my priorities were.
The day we brought him home from his surgery, my in-laws came to visit and announced apologetically that they had accepted an offer for Birdsong, including the whole two hundred acres and all the smaller buildings . I was devastated. My heart felt literally broken and I recognized that coveting really is different from just wishing for something. Eventually, I accepted that God was trying to set me free.
But ending up two weeks before Christmas having no where to go after the following week was pretty much of a shock. At that day and time there were no condos or apartments in our neighborhood. Checking the papers and calling local realtors turned up nothing to rent while we tried to figure out what we wanted to do. I didn’t want the children to change schools mid-year, in case we decided to make the change to living in the country somewhere else than Birdsong. Available houses were as scarce in our school zone as apartments. After I had called the last realtor, I sat on the couch with tears flowing down my cheeks. The kind baby nurse, an older African American woman with seven grown children, sat down beside me and put her arm around my shoulders.
“What do you need exactly?” she asked.
I thought about not being able to drive or climb stairs for over four more weeks and answered, “A five bedroom, one story house in walking distance to our school to rent for nine months. That will give us time to decide where we want to live without our children having to change schools.”
She responded immediately with a smile, “All right, we’ll pray for exactly that and a can of oil.”
“A c-c-can of oil?” I stuttered.
“Yes,” she said, “We have to take the baby back to the doctor’s tomorrow, and I’m not comfortable driving your car and mine needs a can of oil.”

I tried not to look incredulous, as she began to pray very specifically. When she finished and we said, “Amen” together, she smiled cheerfully and went to get me a cup of coffee. As I sat there stunned, the doorbell rang. It was Sarah, a woman that I knew from the school’s Parent Association.
“Eileen,” she said,” I’m sorry to bother you. I hope I didn’t wake up the baby, but my car gets eccentric sometimes and it has stopped at the end of your driveway. Can I use your phone to get my mechanic to come?”
“Sure,” I replied, “If you’ll ask him to bring a can of oil.” After making her phone call, she joined me for coffee while we waited for the mechanic and the can of oil.
“I hear you’ve sold your house and are moving to the country,” she said.
“Well, yes and no. The move to the country fell through and I’m in something of a panic. I don’t want the children to have to change schools until we figure out where we want to live. And right now there is nothing available to rent around here.”
Sarah’s eyes lit up as she asked, “Do you know about the Keck’s house?”
“No, where is that?” I responded.
“It’s one street over and two houses down from you. You can see the back yard from here. They are going to the Philippines as missionaries for nine months. They are supposed to leave the first of January, if they can find a renter. They aren’t advertising, because they will be leaving their furniture and possessions and don’t want to rent to complete strangers.”
Breathless with my heart racing, I asked, “What is the house like?”
“It’s a one story with four bedrooms and a study, and a large den. It also has a wonderful yard and patio.”
I actually gasped in disbelief. “That would work perfectly for us and we have a large basement storage area at our office where we could easily store their things. That would probably be safer for their belongings and happier for our kids.”
It turned out that we had many mutual friends with the Kecks, so they were happy to rent to us. Dr. Keck taught theology at Vanderbilt and had a library of books that I read hungrily in the months we lived there.
So, three weeks later we moved a block away and after several months of looking for land in the country, we bought our own ‘hundred acre wood’ with a creek and hundreds of tiny wild Iris all along the banks. That fall, we moved into a marvelous house my husband had designed very specifically for us and in a county with a much better school system than where Birdsong was. Eventually, my husband moved his own business here to Dickson county
One of the best parts of this memory is the woman who prayed with me. She had raised seven children in serious poverty and mostly by herself, due to her husband’s dependence on alcohol. To her, I must have seemed like a spoiled affluent weakling, yet she cared about my problems and believed God would help me just as He had her when she needed it.
An important addendum to this story is about forgiving. I was grateful for my in laws’ original very generous offer, but they seemed oblivious to the challenges their change of plans presented for us and I was not feeling very kindly toward them. I still couldn’t drive, and our baby and I were both still recuperating. Christmas expenses and moving were draining our resources and as temperatures dropped along with my size, I needed a winter coat. As I was wondering how to solve this, my mother-in-law appeared at our door. She came in obviously in a hurry handing me a shopping bag, saying, “I was in Dillard’s buying underwear and saw this coat. You may not like it or need it, so you don’t have to keep it, but something just told me to buy this for you.” And there was the most beautiful coat I had ever seen. It was a perfect fit. She brushed away my thanks and hurried on to an appointment.
As I prayed for grace to forgive, I thought, If she can hear God in this, maybe God has a reason for all of it. And I was able to shift perspective, let go of coveting and start looking forward again, seeking God’s will without assuming I knew what His plan for us was. Time has made it clear that we were meant to start a totally different life . A few years later, another crisis of circumstances led to starting an architecture firm in our new area which has been once again a challenging, but grace filled, serendipity.
Sometimes, it seems to me, there are values that we accept when we tell the creative force behind all things that we want to be aligned with its highest purpose, then we become part of the flow with complex circumstances uniting to accomplish this in our lives. And the pattern is like a tapestry that we are part of, seeing only the crisscrossing mish-mosh of threads from our perspective, while a glorious work of art is emerging from a universal, eternal perspective.
(I do admit however, on a feeling level, it often feels like being grapes in a wine press! And God has very large feet. )

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.

The Prayers of Our Lives

It is a prayer of faith when someone struggling with depression continues to face each painful day by clinging to God even in their desert night.
The act of hope of parents who lose children and risk loving again is prayer given flesh.
The breadwinner who quietly quits their job rather than go along with corruption is a light on the path to the Kingdom of God.
Couples that struggle to forgive and rebuild relationships that have crumbled under human failure are living prayers of love.
The many sitting vigils at the foot of a suffering loved one write bright prayers across a winter sky of faith that does not have to see.
And when a rough hewn, weary farmer speaks softly of a moment when twilight mists in freshly mown fields fill his heart with awe, I see that, for that moment, creation and creator have become as one.
Perhaps the purest prayer of all is when an autumn breeze swirls golden leaves like sudden showers and a tiny toddler spontaneously and joyfully applauds. Then the praise of angels has touched us here on earth.
Prayers have flesh and bone and walk among us every day. There are myriad ways to pray.

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.