Category Archives: Success
The gift of learning to love unconditionally.
The gift of realizing that life is about becoming the person we alone were created to be.
The gift of learning to want all others to succeed in their own journey.
The gift of sheer joy over small, but difficult accomplishments.
The gift of living in the present.
The gift of freedom from image and others’ opinions.
The gift of your best self being called forth.
The gift of patience.
The gift of tenderness toward all who are vulnerable.
The gift of humane values.
The gift of courage.
The gift of seeing beauty in those different from yourself.
Anyone who has not been blessed with the opportunity to love a handicapped person, needs to attend a Special Olympics to experience these gifts.
The moment of pure grace for me was when one of the children fell down in his race and the other runners all turned back to help him up. And every child was thrilled with finishing the race no matter in what order they came to the finish line. Each parent cheered equally hard for every child in the race, not just for their own.
The greatest blessing is realizing that life is not about winning, but about loving.
I spent the day cleaning our three bedroom apartment in spurts of about five minutes with fifteen minute rests due to back and arm pain. At this rate, the day I finish the last room, the first will be furry again!
At seventy-nine, I’m not exactly spry. And if you want me to remember something, you better write it down. Neither am I affluent enough to donate a significant amount to any charity. But I am not dead yet.
My women’s group at my small church are mostly between their late sixties to late seventies with a sprinkling in their eighties and one ninety-four year old. None of us are very financially affluent, but we have been disturbed by hearing of more and more single mothers and even grandmothers raising grandchildren who are living hand to mouth in roach motels in constant danger of ending up homeless. We couldn’t figure out what we could do, Several other churches are serving free meals either monthly or even weekly. We were pretty sure we couldn’t take that on by ourselves. So, I started gathering information both on people needing help and what various groups are doing already. It turns out that there are a lot of people wanting to help, but almost no communication between groups or publicity on what’s being done. But there are ways to connect with most local groups on line, so I’m finding groups with facilities but no volunteers, and other groups with funds and food but no system of transportation. I’m beginning to reach more and more organizations and I plan to share the information in an email newsletter to both those with ministries and also those who might be able to help them, plus give it to the newspaper and radio stations. I got side tracked by the holidays, but now the project is picking up speed.
Whether this helps will depend on others’ responses, but at least I found a way to try to help that was within my physical and mental limits.
Also I can still drive, even at night, so I have started going to the NAACP meetings and will also be going to my local political party meetings. And if there seems to be a way for my LOL (little old lady) friends to help at those, I will be able to give them rides to the meetings.
I am not sharing this to brag and I am well aware that with my husband’s and my health problems, what little I am doing might come to an abrupt halt.
What I am trying to do is encourage people like me with limited resources, but free time, to be creative in exploring ways to make a difference in these challenging times. Most men and women under sixty -five and many over that age are working full time. Churches and other Charitable and Political organizations are desperate for volunteers. Our local Help Center needs people to just sit and check expiration dates on canned goods and use a sharpie to mark through the bar codes. If we can’t use a computer, we can do telephoning. If our memories are scatty, we can write down instructions. Our society’s needs may be great, but many joining together to help in small ways can make a difference. We can find a way, no matter what our limits are. Joining with others strengthens our commitment. And joining with God in prayer at every step of the way empowers us.
When you’ve lived as long as I have, you’re a walking history book of sorts. I’ve known six generations of my own family, been through five wars involving America, personally experienced both affluent times and scary times of scarcity, lived in big cities and in back woods’ ‘hollers,’ and traveled to fifteen foreign countries, some of them several times. My father’s family were very wealthy until the depression. Then they lost everything. There were nine children. The older ones experienced all the trimmings of affluence, summer homes and homes abroad. The older boys became Vice Presidents of their father’s company and the girls were debutantes. But, the younger ones had to make it on their own. Though as one of the younger ones, my father didn’t get to finish college, he eventually became an editor of a big city newspaper. This didn’t make us rich. I grew up living in apartments. And in my younger years I was frighteningly aware at times that we lived close to the precipice of poverty. But a newspaper editor has a certain amount of status and connections. One senator, who eventually ended up President, in his early political years asked my father to be his press secretary. Speaking and writing English properly were important in my family. My husband’s father on the other hand grew up seriously poor in a large family. His English was not always perfect. He worked from a very young age, put himself through college, and became a very successful lawyer. He knew several American Presidents, even had Jack and Jackie Kennedy to brunch at his home. My husband, as the youngest of five, grew up affluent in a house with twelve fire places, that later became a private school. We ourselves have experienced being reasonably affluent. But through a combination of circumstances and timing, we went through some financially challenging times. Those included an unforgettable night with our whole family out in the snow. My husband was cutting down a tree, while the rest of us passed logs in an assembly line for the wood burning stove, both to keep us warm and keep the pipes from freezing.
There are some things I have learned from the rich variety of my life experiences.
Ancestors do not define us.
Money doesn’t make us virtuous, but poverty doesn’t either.
Neither does knowledge make us wise.
Adversity can, but does not necessarily, strengthen us.
What we mean is more important than how we say it.
Ultimately, what’s inside us will matter much more than our circumstances.
There’s a difference between smart people and intelligent ones, but I need to learn from both. I delight in talented people and am actually most comfortable around people who march to a different drummer than the majority. I have grown to particularly appreciate people who have persevered and become compassionate through seriously hard times.
I am enriched by any kind of beauty whether in nature, art, music, people, or things, but don’t need to own them to experience joy from them.
I have enjoyed having money for extras in life.
However, I am most grateful for the enlightenment that comes from experiencing a taste of the limits and fears that go with poverty, but also discovering the possibilities in the wider world that come with affluence.
And now at this age, there are two characteristics that I value more than anything else: simple kindness and the humility to laugh at ourselves.
The song in my head won’t stop
no matter how I try to drown it out.
I have a Greek Chorus always
providing back ground music.
They sing Bass while I sing Treble,
overwhelming my feeble voice
defending my reason for being.
Over and over the chorus sings,
“You’re no good! You’re no good!”
I hear it echoed in small slights,
whether imaginary or real,
in jokes that sound like put downs,
in my endless longing for affirmation.
And my envy of my friends’ success
Just confirms that awful chorus,
“You’re no good.”
It’s easy to lose sight of God in our lives and when we do, we become vulnerable to idols. These days an idol isn’t a golden calf, it’s anything we become dependent on, other than God. In the book of Jeremiah, God warns that not only will we suffer if we choose worldly idols, but so will our children and even our grandchildren. That part about grandchildren really gets me where I live. Though I don’t hear this as punishment, but rather as a natural consequence. So, let’s consider some modern worldly idols.
A very popular idol is pleasure, which isn’t bad in itself, only when we turn to it instead of God. Pleasures we turn to when feeling insecure or unhappy can vary from sex to jelly doughnuts, but if they become a dependency they lead to adultery or diabetes or other equally bad consequences.
Another potential idol is financial affluence and while there’s nothing wrong with being successful, it can grow into a need that becomes the focus of our lives to the point of destroying our relationships.
An even sneakier idol is an attachment to social acceptance that leads us to surround ourselves only with people just like ourselves, which not only gives us a warped view of the world, but isolates us from those in greater need.
How can we protect ourselves from idols? It’s a discombobulating world and sometimes I feel like the child of Christian friends, who when told to wash his hands muttered: “Germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus! That’s all I hear about around here and I can’t see either one!”
One thing that helps me, I call putting on “God Glasses.” That means consciously working to see God in everything. Surprisingly, the beginning step can even come through finding God in the hard things.
When heart break or pain has kept me awake all night, the first glimpse of morning light coming through the window often brought relief. Recently, after finally getting over several weeks of insomnia from the pain of a broken shoulder, I would wake up momentarily at sunrise each morning remembering that feeling of relief and thanking God with quiet joy that morning had come again and yesterday’s sorrows were behind.
Ever since an ice storm left us without hot water for eighteen days some twenty years ago, whenever I feel that first marvelous spray of a hot shower, I treasure it for a few moments while thanking God profusely.
Some months ago, our hearts were heavy when a beloved grandchild stopped chatting and smiling because she sensed family conflict. Last weekend, she kept me awake once again cheerfully chatting about her favorite books and beamed with glee at trouncing Granddad at UNO. Now, as I go to sleep each night, I cup those memories in my heart with tears of joy and thank God.
Please, while you can still hear birdsong, stop and listen with your heart and thank God for it. Thank God not only for flowers, but the strength to water them and even to cut the grass. Thank God for the joy of that first taste of morning coffee or tea. Age can take all these away from you. Enjoy them now and let them bring you to God. Thank God for faith to pray. What a wondrous gift that is. And definitely thank God for laughter, which will be your saving grace in old age.
Watch, listen and thank. All these small things are the face and voice of God. And more and more you will experience the deep joy of finding Him in each moment. Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God. And joy trumps idols every time.
The day of my Spiritual Awakening was the day I saw, and I knew I saw, all things in God and God in all things. A quote from an unknown Author:
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.
Scholars say we live in the Post-Christian era. I say we still live in the Pre-Christian era. To me Jesus represents a turning point in human growth(evolution) from survival of the fittest to sacrificial love for the weakest. And anyone with eyes to see, can’t help but recognize that we haven’t gotten anywhere near to the kind of spirituality that God calls us to through Jesus. Perhaps, by finally giving up the warped worldly view of Christianity as “top dog” by force, we may finally be entering the bare beginnings of a true Christianity. That is, a Christianity which doesn’t focus on winning or controlling, but on learning to risk loving instead. The worst set back Christianity has experienced was when the Emperor Constantine converted and made it the “state” religion, a religion of privilege instead of sacrifice.
From Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Living
“We all have wounds…….It is a feeling of loneliness that lurks behind our successes, a feeling of uselessness that hides under all the praise we receive…….that makes us grab onto people and expect from them an affection and love they cannot give. If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a heavy burden.”
Nouwen goes on to say: “I love Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son. The father holds his child, touches his child, and says, ‘You are my beloved. I’m not going to ask you any questions. Wherever you have gone, whatever you have done, and whatever people say about you, you’re my beloved. You can come home to me whose name is Compassion, whose name is Love.’
Nouwen says, “ If we keep that in mind, we can deal with an enormous amount of success as well as an enormous amount of failure without losing our identity, because our identity is that we are the beloved. Long before our father and mother, our brothers and sisters, our teachers, our church or anyone else touched us in a loving or wounding way —— long before we were rejected by some person or praised by someone else-that voice was there. ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’
That love was there before we were born and will be there after we die. A life of fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred years is just a little moment in which we have been given time to say, ‘Yes, I love you too.’ ”
Henri Nouwen was a priest theologian/author who toward his later years went to live and minister in a settlement for the mentally challenged.
This quote is from a tiny gem of a book put together from insights from his other books, called A Spirituality of Living.