Category Archives: Total Humiliation

A Dirty Sock Under The Christmas Tree

The Beginning of my annual Advent reruns of Christmas posts.
My mother always made Christmas extraordinary, even when money was in short supply. She polished and decorated every square inch of our apartment. The presents may not have cost a lot, but they were wrapped beautifully. There was a constant flow of guests, often widows without family near-by or young families without parents and grandparents around. There were special treats to eat, but also even the plain old potted meat sandwiches were trimmed and cut into triangles with parsley sprigs around them on silver trays.

When my father died and she passed the Christmas torch to me, I tried to do the same. And I added being active at church in teaching classes and organizing Christmas pageants. My five children and I even spent weeks happily making presents for all their teachers and for all my students. I never thought about the fact that mom had two children and a small apartment and I had five children and a large house, which was a home away from home for a constant flow of college age house guests involved in Christian ministry. Mom had set the bar very high, but without realizing it, I had raised it.

So, pretty much every year, sometime close to Christmas, I would reach my annual Christmas overload, yelling at my family that I hated Christmas and slamming my way into my bedroom to collapse for a day or night. One year after once again crankily retreating to curl up in a fetal position and figuratively suck my thumb, I awoke in the wee hours of the morning realizing that I was scheduled in a few hours to give a talk on The Spirit of Christmas to the Women’s Group of another denomination.
I seriously considered calling and saying I had broken my leg, but I figured that was risky. God might have ways to keep me from being a liar.
As I prayed for help, it seemed like God was telling me that although I was doing many truly good things, I was missing the point of Christmas. Christmas wasn’t about how much we could do or how perfect we could make it:
Christmas was about being open to receive our much needed Savior, the tangible expression of God’s perfect love for us imperfect human beings.
So, I ended up simply telling the women the whole story of my pattern of Christmas breakdowns, my panic over giving the talk, and what I thought God was saying to me in all this. It actually seemed like everyone there could relate very well to my experience. Then, for reasons unknown to me, I ended by saying, “No matter what it takes, even leaving dirty socks under the Christmas tree, I’m going to keep my focus on the meaning of Christmas.”
Now, really! Dirty socks under the Christmas tree?
Of course, mother arrived, guests arrived, children were freed from school and Christmas Eve arrived with the stress building and with me once again tensely rushing around. As I was putting laundry away in a bedroom close to our great room, I heard my mother ask,
“Eileen, why is there a dirty sock under the Christmas tree?”
I got goose bumps. I could almost feel Jesus standing there with His hand on my shoulder, gently shaking His head. I dropped the laundry on the bed and hurried to stop my mother from removing the sock.
“Mom, leave it there. Let’s get a cup of coffee and sit down, right now, to read the Christmas scriptures to remind us of what we’re celebrating.”
Now, each year all through the Christmas Season, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and watch expectantly for Him to come some way, perhaps even in a dirty sock under the Christmas tree.

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Total Humiliation as Grace: My One Stooge Act at the Altar

About forty years ago, our quite elderly parish priest had been a Scripture Scholar and a consultant for Vatican ll, so he was very up to date on the changes that were being made. I guess I was as close to being a feminist as anyone in our small rural church, so he asked me to carry the large Bible at the front of the procession into the church at the beginning of Mass. (A first for laity and a first for women in our parish) I was to carry it open, held out prominently, bow, go up the two stairs to the altar and then carry it over to the lectern on the left. I would then step down on that side to sit until time for the scriptures to be read. I would then be the first woman in our parish to read the Scripture aloud as part of the Mass. It was a great honor, but very scary, since I am a terribly clumsy person and the potential for disaster was mind boggling. I was terrified. I made it all the way down the aisle without dropping the rather heavy bible, but unknown to me, carpenters had raised each of the two steps up to the altar an inch or so that week. So, I tripped on the first step, staggered drunkenly up the second, and did a juggling act trying to keep the Bible from flying out of my hands. Some how I got it onto the lectern and started shakily down the two stairs to the pew on the side, looking down to make sure I didn’t trip again. I forgot there was a pillar there and ran head on into it, almost knocking myself out. I sort of fell into the pew and by the time my eyes could focus, it was time for me to do the first reading. It suddenly hit me as funny. It seemed like God’s somewhat warped humorous way to remind me to let go and let Him do it. And I was able with His grace to read the scripture with clarity and feeling and understanding. And ever since, when I get nervous about preaching, reading or leading prayer at worship, I remember that beginning and think……well, I’ve already done my total humiliation thing…and with grace survived it and learned from it. Then I am able to chuckle to myself as I visualize that first time and let go and let God do Her thing.

Be Humble or Be Humbled

Since my experience of the total love of God through Jesus when I was thirty after several years of rather hedonistic agnosticism and then several more years spent searching for spiritual meaning and purpose, my heart’s desire has been to somehow communicate that love to others.

God’s love didn’t make me perfect, but it brought meaning and purpose, an acceptance of the reality of my human weakness, and hope for growth and change through grace. Change for the better has been slow and spotty, but is still part of my journey at “almost’ eighty. ( I have a couple of hours left till the eighty.)

My most natural gift is speaking. And a Spiritual gift of seeing the connection between Scriptures and daily life came with my conversion. For a long time I just did whatever needed doing, like teaching, making soup for the sick and poor, smiling at people, organizing my husband and children into a work crew for church and school events, recruiting and getting training for religion teachers, and and at that time a new ministry for laity and particularly women, reading the Scriptures aloud for worship services.

Some of the more obvious experiences of God curtailing my tendency to hubris seem worth sharing, if only to give others a chuckle.

One came to mind this morning as I was checking my old lady chin for whiskers. Forty years ago when teaching a fifth and sixth grade confirmation preparation class in a Catholic School, I was (I thought) waxing eloquent on the opportunity at confirmation to make their own choice of Jesus as their personal Savior and Lord and how wonderful that is. At the end, I asked if anyone had a question. One rather quiet boy raised his hand. My heart filled with joyous expectation as I said, “Yes, Jesse?” To which he replied quite seriously, “Mrs. Norman, Do you have a mustache?”

We Are All Defective. It’s Another Word for Human.

This is a face book post by the author, Anne Lamott
We all secretly think we are defective–this is why our parents were unhappy, or unfaithful, or abusive, or whatever. Believing this gave us our only shot at control in households that were chaotic or cold: If we were the problem, then it meant our caregivers were good parents, capable of nurture and the healthy raising of children. And it meant we could correct our defects, and then our parents would be happy, finally, be nice to each other, and stop drinking.
I have spent 30 sober years healing from this survival tactic, of thinking I am annoying or a screw-up. I have just toured the country promoting a book on mercy, called HALLELUJAH ANYWAY, whose main premise is that if we practice radical self-care and forgiveness, this will heal us and radiate out to our families and communities, bringing peace.
However, I have done something so out there, so On Beyond Zebra, that it drew into question every aspect of that guiding principle (i.e., that I am NOT defective). I thought I was 80% over this. As a child, I agreed to believe it because it helped my family function and helped the other members feel better about themselves, because at least they weren’t screwed-up, annoying me.
But I have outdone myself. I have done something so amazingly incompetent and so profoundly inconvenient to so many people I love that it will allow you to forgive yourself for almost anything. I will be your new gold standard; you will no longer be secretly convinced that you have Alzheimer’s. You will think you are just fine and have been overreacting. You will understand why my son, Sam, so frequently mentions the website A Place for Mom to me.
So: six months ago, I was invited to give a talk at the 2017 TED conference in Vancouver. This was very heady stuff, as sometimes millions of people see these talks online and might want to buy your new book, saving you from financial ruin and having to go live at the Rescue Mission and live on government cheese, which is very binding.
So I wrote and sort of memorized my 15-minute talk, and my various caseworkers worked for months to get me to Vancouver this morning from Seattle, where I did a reading last night.
I got to the airport an hour ago, got out my passport, and tried to get a boarding pass for a flight I’ve been booked on and obsessing about for 3 months.
That’s when I’d realized I had grabbed the wrong passport at home. The expired one.
Therefore, I would not be able to catch a flight to our tense new enemy, Canada, to give the biggest and most important talk of my life.
It is hard to capture my feelings at that moment: terror, shame, self-loathing and catastrophic thoughts about my doomed future.
I texted my agent, ran to TSA, pleaded my case and how I must be HUGELY important (albeit brain damaged) to be giving a TED talk.
No go. And no way to get on board any flight to Canada. I was doomed.
But those 30 years had not been in vain. Because within a few minutes, I had remembered 3 things:
God always makes a way out of no way.
Radical self-care and forgiveness are always possible – always — and always the way home.
And HALLELUJAH ANYWAY is half about how there is nothing outside of yourself that can heal or fill you or make you whole unless you are waiting for an organ. A TED talk was never going to have been able to fill me with respect. That’s an inside job.
I hate and resent this, but it is the truest truth — union with God or Goodness, including our safest, most trusted friends, and deep friendliness and forgiveness to one’s sometimes very disappointing self.
So five minutes later, my agent and the TED people had worked out a plan whereby as I write this my son is flying to Seattle with my passport. He’ll be here in 5 hours. There’s a late flight to Vancouver, and the TED people have created a space for me tomorrow morning out of thin air. Talk about making a way out of no way.
Additionally, I charged $30 worth of medicine, magazines and a sack of peanut butter M&Ms.
I’m not sure what the message of this is. I quoted Samuel Goldwyn in Bird by Bird, who told screenwriters that if they had a message to send a telegram. All I have to offer is this story: that we get to make huge mistakes, and that the one I made this week is almost certainly bigger than any of yours. But neither of us is defective. We are perfect children of the universe, although maybe still a little funny around the edges, with tiny character issues and failing memories. We possess every day the capacity to extend gentleness and forgiveness to ourselves and those suffering nearby.
I am smiling gently at all the miserable frantic people at the airport and telling them I like their hats. I gave a sobbing child my IHOP crayons. (This is the path to world peace.) And I will never, ever hear the end of this from the people who love me. Ever. Believe me.      Written by Anne Lamott on her face book page on 4/28/2017.

Controlling Conditioned Responses

Okay, This probably will be an equal opportunity offender, but sometimes you just have to tell it like it is!

When my co-feminists have said things like, “Men’s brains are in their genitals,” I took offense for men. This was certainly a sexist statement. But recently, I have begun to rethink this issue.

As a little old lady, I’ve made an interesting discovery relating to the differences between conditioned responses and mind over body controls. Little old ladies have little old bladders with diminished early warning systems. So it’s sort of touch and go, or rather see and go, to make it not only into the bathroom, but specifically to the commode. I have discovered that we can maintain control by giving our bladder verbal commands and encouragement. Seeing the commode evokes a primal level conditioned physical response. But language is a higher human ability and engages our minds to respond to the challenge. While it is a matter of mind over body, it seems to require at least mental verbal expression.

Perhaps counting or doing math problems would work. I haven’t tried those. I know that our male counterparts can at least slow down other conditioned physical responses in similar ways. So, I’m assuming, that at least when reasonably sober, they should be able to engage their minds by counting possible negative consequences when their bodies react with a conditioned response to physical temptation.

I think I’ll begin testing this theory at the sight of jelly doughnuts.

Whistling, Number One Survival Skill for Old Age

It’s Monday. Does everyone remember what Monday is?                                                                                         Monday is the day the Lord hath made for whining.                                                               Sooooooooooooooo, here I am using my Monday whining card.
There’s whistling in the dark, whistling while you work, and whistling in old age. Ladies, you can’t imagine how much you may need this skill.
I am not very flexible or graceful at getting up from a sitting or prone position anymore. So, I have a handicap safety bar to pull up with on the side of my bathtub. Today, I decided my knee was finally healed enough from surgery for the luxury of a sit down bath. It was lovely! Until I tried to get up and out of the tub. Realized then that even with the handicap bar, I get up on my right knee first to get leverage. My right knee incisions are safely closed, but the knee itself is still very tender. Made several attempts with different approaches, but all were pretty ineffective and scary. I finally decided I needed help. I knew my husband was in his home office, but I had the exhaust fan running in the bathroom and he is pretty hard of hearing. From past experience I know that if someone in one of these apartment groups pounds on a wall or yells,”HELP!” loudly, someone from another apartment will call 911. Normally this is reassuring, but not a comforting scenario in this situation. I would have just stayed in a hot soaky bath until Julian missed me, but I had only a short time to get dressed for an appointment.
So finally, I tried whistling. I was almost blue in the face by the time I heard Julian calling, “Is that you?”
Saved by whistling! Who could have imagined a childhood achievement would save the day at seventy-nine!
Another experience along the same lines last week has me puzzling for a solution. For some inexplicable reason many restaurants are putting one tall handicap toilet and all others are obviously for “little people” or children. At my age, sometimes when the handicap stall is in use, you can’t wait to be picky. You just have to take the first available. Unfortunately, these low to the ground toilets do not have any kind of grab bar or help button. Last week in the “Ladies Room” of an elegant restaurant,  I contemplated whether to yell for help or to just stay there until the cleaning crew came that night. Somehow, after much struggling, I eventually managed to get to my feet and hang onto the sides, so that I didn’t end up in the toilet. Perhaps wearing some sort of piercing emergency whistle at all times is the way to go for little old ladies. I’m just not comfortable with a with a call in necklace that shouts, “I’m on the toilet and I can’t get up.”

Only the Good Die Young

I’ve always been puzzled by the saying: “Only the good die young.” Now, I’ve decided that’s because old age is at least purgatory, if not hell.
Recently a friend’s husband, who has both a broken shoulder similar to mine before my surgery and loss of muscle in his legs like my husband has right now from being in the hospital, somehow slipped down between the bed and and a low, but heavy bedside chest of drawers and couldn’t get up. If you have the black humor most of us old guys have developed, her description of figuring out how to free him without hurting him would have you howling with laughter and wishing she had gotten a video for U tube.
If, however, you are twenty years younger, you would know that anyone under sixty would want to put their eyes out and run screaming from the sight of the video. Nobody wants to know about the ridiculous, humiliating and painful experiences of old age before they have to deal with their own.
The grace in all this is that these events give us our black humor and we laugh a whole lot, in fact pretty much all the time. The other good thing is, if your marriage lasts this long, you get over a hell of a lot of silly sparring and blaming. You have to become a team or you won’t survive. And since you both get turns being the one needing help, there’s a lot more empathy and tenderness that comes from the challenges.
So it seems to me that maybe old age is just a sort of refining purgatory.  That would help make some sense out of it.

The Miracle or the Hundred Acre Weed and Rock Sanctuary

I need to start with a disclaimer of sorts. Our five children not only survived my weird mothering style, but have all become basically good, reasonably happy, creative and productive people. This is the miracle. I dragged our family out of a comfortable suburban ghetto to live in the middle of nowhere, six miles down a dirt road from the nearest small town. We were the first outsiders to move into this particular back in the woods “holler” since before the civil war. It was a different world. After a couple of months, our first grader said to me, “You were right, Mom. We are going to learn a lot from living in the country. Before we rode the school bus out here we didn’t know any cuss words.”
When our preschooler and I spent days exploring the land collecting weeds and rocks for making nature crafts, we weren’t close to a bathroom. And frankly, I never really did very well with the whole toilet training thing anyway. So he just targeted the closest tree. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to teach him a protocol for trips to town where to my chagrin, he dealt creatively with the lack of trees by using car tires instead.
Another of our sons was by nature both incredibly kind and extremely private. For some reason this combination brought out my dark side. One Easter, I put money for each child in a large plastic egg and painted lovely flowers and scenes on them. For reasons known only to God, and maybe Satan, I cement glued this son’s egg together. I knew that of all our children, he would be the only one that wouldn’t destroy the art work to get the money, but he also wouldn’t let anyone know about his problem. Sure enough, there he was surreptitiously grappling with his egg as the others were happily counting their money. He finally quietly slipped away to his room, where fortunately he couldn’t hear his mother’s evil laugh. I finally did weaken and help him break the egg open while promising to paint him another one.
Siblings are going to fight. It’s a law of nature. Having been ten years older than my only sibling, I was not used to family infighting. It drives me over the edge. Our kids fought furiously every single morning. So as soon as they got old enough to pour milk on their cereal and get themselves dressed for school, I simply put the pillow over my head and slept until they left. One morning our oldest came in saying he was sick. Could he stay home? He still claims I was awake and said yes. That day, I was busy with a project and never got over to the kids’ side of the house. When I had finished my project by lunch, I began to regret that I had told him yesterday I wouldn’t be able come after school to take him to a friend’s house. So I called the school to ask them to tell him I would pick him up. I doubt if they ever believed he didn’t skip school, even though I tried to explain why I didn’t remember that my child was home sick.
I was an equal opportunity embarrassment for all my children. I variously humiliated: one by attending her elementary school’s Halloween Open House dressed as a witch, another child by gathering pine cones in his Junior High School yard while his classmates watched from the bus, and also the first musician in our family by running with tears of pride all the way down main street along-side his marching band. And I pretty much humiliated all of them by playing the senile fairy godmother when the local theater group put on a warped version of Cinderella at their schools. The list could go on.
Surprisingly, the only time they actually rebelled as a group was when I put our garden near the faucet right outside our sliding glass doors. In spite of my pressing all my children into forced labor, previous attempts at gardens had failed due to droughts and lack of accessible water. I now read that I could get a tremendous yield from a very small garden by making an environmentally friendly fertilizer using horse manure soaked in buckets of water. Unfortunately, our house was cooled by attic fans and lots of open sliding glass doors. Once spread, the manure tea was horrifically pungent. We had to choose between everyone gagging for days or dripping with sweat from closed doors. My lynch mob family threatened to either set fire to the land or run away from home en masse if I ever attempted another garden. My fantasy of a bountiful farm had to be traded for the creative possibilities of a weed and rock sanctuary.

up jumped the devil! but when there is love……….

can’t type caps much right now….last week i was carrying some laundry down the hall and managed to trip over a ladder back chair and throw myself full force, right shoulder cap first into a door jam! surgery scheduled for 2/22/16. need a what? reverse shoulder replacement? i picture me with my right arm on backward! 🙂 a nightmare week reminiscent of several levels of Dante’s Inferno……..another week still to go….then six more weeks with Dante…six months to almost full recovery. doctor sadly warned me i would never be able to reach the top kitchen cabinets again. i laughed! i was sitting in a wheel chair, so he didn’t realize at five foot tall, i’ve never been able to reach them. frankly, i’d be scared to see in them!
and though this has been one of the most physically painful weeks of my life, i have never felt so tenderly and totally loved. i know there are many many unsung heroes care giving elderly or ill spouses and i believe they, like my seventy-nine year old husband, are right up there with mother Theresa in deserving a nobel prize.
After all she got a face to face encounter with God to lure her into caregiving….not having had that i can’t claim to be able to compare that to what lured my husband into this situation. hmmmm…..on a scale of one to ten…..face to face with God or 50+ years of good nooky, but not so hot cooking? I won’t push my luck by putting that question to my husband, until i can manage the bathroom on my own. 🙂

Domesticity is Not my Middle Name

When I married in the 1950’s, the domestic, house-proud woman was the cultural norm. Unfortunately, I was neither domestic nor house-proud, but self –awareness also wasn’t one of my strong points back then.  My mother’s despair over attempts to teach me to cook as a teenager should have been my first clue.

She tried to start as simply as possible by just setting out a box of corn bread mix along with the other ingredients and utensils for me.  I read the instructions and combined the ingredients in the bowl. That seemed simple enough.  I might have actually managed, but mom came in at that point and said, “Wash your hands and put the mix into the pan.”  After she left, I thought, “Why am I washing my hands?  Is this one of those baking things I’ve read about that you do with your hands?”  So, I used my hands to scoop the mix out of the bowl and to sort of shake/fling it into the pan. When not a whole lot of it made it into the pan, I began to suspect than my intuition about using my hands was off base.  As I was trying to figure out how to get the rest of all the corn meal off my hands and into the pan, my mother returned to check on my progress.

She lost it. “What in the world are you doing?” she shouted.  “What a mess! Why is it all over your hands?”   I, in turn, had a meltdown, starting to sniffle, backing away from the mess on the counter into the stove behind me, where there was a pot of melted butter.  As the butter poured into the burner and down the front of the stove, I ran crying from the kitchen with half the corn meal still on my hands.  Neither mother, nor I, ever found the courage to attempt to domesticate me again