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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. )

My Good Friday God

What kind of God are you, dying like that?
I want a real God, a “fix it “ God,
not one that gets himself crucified.
You’re just as helpless as the rest of us.
Here we are dying together.
What a weird way to save a world!

Such sorrow pierced your mother.
Yet, she didn’t run away.
She stayed there suffering too.
Was she filled with a mother’s self doubt?
“Could she have done anything?
Would it have made a difference?”

I watched my mother die by inches.
Her dignity destroyed
by fourteen years of Alzheimer’s.
I’ve seen my children make choices
that would cost them for years.
I could only ask, “Am I to blame?”

I listened to my friend whose mind
had become her enemy.
I heard her pain, yet could not help.
I hate being helpless, not good enough
or smart enough to help
even the ones I love the most.

Not long ago, you did miracles
even in my own small life.
Now I just see our brokenness.

You are a Good Friday God.

I think about the expectations
you gave your Apostles.
Only Judas got the picture.
How disillusioned he became.
He must have felt that you
were betraying them all.
Sometimes I’m just like Judas,
recognizing that we
are all sheep being shorne.
I’m even as cowardly
as Peter in asking
more or less, “Jesus who?”
But I know as well as John did
that your love is perfect.
That we need nothing more.
Even though like doubting Thomas
I fear a hard ending,
you are my Lord and my God,
my only God.
So I ask for grace to follow
though through the cross you call,
my Good Friday God.

As Easy as A B C

A: Age – 78 ½. Favorite ages: 35– after doing miserably in college, I went back finally actually wanting to learn and got my degree Summa Cum Laude.   60 – Took up painting and loved it.  75 –started my blog and did my first stand-up comedy gigs.
B: Biggest Fear – Losing my voice. Stopped smoking cold turkey after 3+ packs a day for 28 years after noticing a lump in my throat. Fear of death never motivated me, but the possibility of not being able to talk did. 🙂                                                                                        C: Current Time:– 11 pm. Should be sleepy since I woke up at 5 am and never got back to sleep.
D: Drink I Last Had – A Sprite Zero, no caffeine, no sugar, why do I even bother?
E: Easiest Person to Talk To: Myra, my best friend from high school and college. We’ve stayed connected across long distances for 59 years by mail, phone, a few visits and for the last 15 years by face-book and e-mail. My husband is the easiest person to just be with, without talking.
F: Favorite Song – Dream, Dream, Dream by the Everly Brothers. It was my husband’s and my song when dating in college. (Our teen-age daughter was very outraged when she found that out, because it was her and her guitar playing boyfriend’s song. 🙂
G: Grossest Memory – Had an unexpected visit from a General , who was a friend of my husband’s family in another state. As our toddler was running back and forth in the living room, I nervously served coffee from our seldom used silver tea service. I realized to my horror that he was dropping small balls of poo all around the coffee table. I grabbed him under my left arm while scooping them up as quickly and casually as I could with my right hand and excused myself quickly to change his diaper. Unfortunately, before I could wash my hand, my husband called me to come say good-bye to the General who needed to get to a ceremony in his honor. Of course, he held out his hand to me and I couldn’t think how to avoid shaking it. I often wondered if anyone got a whiff of poo when he was standing in the receiving line shaking hands.
H: Hometown – New Orleans, Louisiana – Lived in the French Quarter in the Pontalba Apartments on Jackson Square until I was four. Would love to have my funeral in Jackson Square with a Dixie Land Band. (Not going to happen.)
I: In Love With – My incredibly kind and low maintenance husband of 57 years who helps me laugh about the challenges that come with getting old.
J: Jealous Of – People who can write beautifully and touch other people’s hearts.
K: Killed Someone? – Not that I know of, but I did once have a confused looking pedestrian simply walk straight into the front of my moving car. I was driving very slowly and stopped immediately, but he sort of bounced off the car and my heart stopped for a moment, until he just rubbed his arm a little and walked on down the street. I still remember the horrible sick feeling though.
L: Longest Relationship – My husband: we dated off and on in college for 3 years and have been married 57 years.
M: Middle Name – Fatherree, which was my mother’s maiden name.
N: Number of Siblings – One, a brother almost 10 years younger than I am, who treated me like a princess when I went to visit him in Houston last September. It’s amazing when you’re the last two people in your family of origin how much more you appreciate one another. All those bratty little brother and bossy older sister memories just fade away. Another one of the few perks of getting old.                             O: One Wish – That I and all those I love and they love will become the people God created us to be. I know it sounds hokey, but it’s true.
P: Last Person I Called – A friend, to invite her over for homemade soup on Wednesday, when the snow is supposed to finally all be gone from the streets.
Q: Question You Are Always Asked – Are you Julian’s wife, Chris, Mike, Julie, Steve or Tommy’s mom?
R: Reason to Smile – 11 smart funny wonderful grandchildren and 7 smart funny delightful great-grandchildren whom I either see in person or on face book frequently, and even when I don’t , I have thousands of marvelous, often hilarious, and many very touching memories to pull out and savor.
S: Song You Last Sang – “When the Saints Go Marching In.” I sang it to try to show a friend from Norway what the Dixie Land Music I want at my funeral sounds like.
T: Time You Woke Up – 5am…….not my normal time…. Woke up mentally struggling over problems I’m having with a piece I’m writing for try-outs for a stand-up comedy show.
U: Underwear Color – plain old lady white. (I really wanted to lie about this!)
V: Vacation Destination – Took a challenging, but very scenic trip to the South West of France in October. One of our sons drove us and since we had a wheel chair, a walker, two CPAP machines and six suitcases, we had to rent a large SUV. It was a lovely car, but not really sized for narrow winding roads in medieval mountain villages and along cliffs and river valleys in the forests. I’m afraid when we returned it, it was a smaller car than when we started out. My favorite city is still Paris, but I also love the visual beauty of Salzburg.
W: Worst Habit- snacking – absolutely terrible about it. In fact, I think I’ll go scavenge through the cabinets after I finish this, even though it’s almost midnight! I’m sure I hear some chocolate calling me.
X: X-rays You’ve Had – (MRI’s, CT Scans, Mammograms included) Brain, sinuses, carotid arteries, various fingers, chest, breasts, gall bladder, stomach, left hip, lower back, knees, ankle, feet. (Does that leave anything?)
Y: Your Favorite Food – Lobster, but I don’t get it often, so fresh artichokes are a favorite that I get to have more frequently.
Z: Zodiac Sign – Cancer, which sounds so awful…..I think it used to be Moon Children or something equally strange, but not as sinister sounding as Cancer.

Death Where is Your Sting? or The Dance of Eternity

In my seventy-eight years of life I have held the hands of those I love as they died, I have lived to walk again after years of a crippling condition, survived to laugh again after scary strokes, and suffered enough prolonged pain to free me to embrace the relief of death.  And I have, in turn, been freed by each of these to experience greater joy in living.
One of the gifts of age is learning not to take the smallest beauty, kindness, insight, or experience of love for granted. I can see the door from here, which reminds me daily that this moment may be the last of life as I know it now. Yet knowing that life’s greatest mystery lies on the other side of that door gives an aura of light around its darkness.
Though I realize that getting through that door may be terribly hard, sometimes I imagine all my atoms,  with my spirit now one with the Spirit of All within them, being freed from the limits of my body to join in the dance of eternity.  I can almost feel them shooting off joyously into the farthest embraces of the exquisite glory of pure beauty, truth, and love…..in other words, God.

Anatomy of Addiction

Why do some people choose self-destructive addictions?

Some people are just born unsettled, ill at ease with themselves, expecting so much that eventually they just throw in the towel. The pain of failure is too great.

Any addiction in some way lessens our sense of inadequacy. Extreme-housecleaning or obsession with becoming the absolute best in a sport to the detriment of the rest of our lives gives temporary relief; pleasure such as food, drink, sex, escapist reading or watching TV all can deflect us from facing our fears about ourselves. Some of us become addicted to drama by overreacting emotionally to anything even slightly alarming as an excuse to curl up emotionally in a fetal position and expect others to rescue us from any real or imagined dangers.  And any of these can move from just a way to relieve stress or feel better about ourselves to a need, an automatic response to unease or pain or fear: an addiction.

Some psychological addictions can be as hard to break as ones that develop a physical component. Some of us simply have addictive tendencies and may just have to work to find one that has the least self-destructive side effects and has the least negative fallout for others.
We can find relief in many acceptable ways to keep our demons at bay. I simply don’t know if we can get perfectly free of them.

One thing I have realized is that some of us not only feel basically inadequate, we fear that we are literally broken and live with a sense that we may at any time fall into the pit of despair or insanity.

Even alcoholism seems preferable to that, because there’s always a hope that you can manage to quit drinking, but you are not sure that you can quit being crazy once you get too out of control. Sometimes the only way to get past that is to go down into your inner bottomless pit and survive. Then instead of Jell-O at your center, you find a rock to stand on. Some of us call that God.

The Whisper

I hear my name whispered
in the new day’s softness.
I hesitate in the shadows.
Perhaps it was birdsong.
I hear it carried on the wind
much clearer now.
Still, I hide.

I am old and tired.

I have a longing in my heart
a hunger in my mind,
but I have tried and failed
so many times before.
I glimpse Abram and Sara
ahead in the mists  
beckoning.

I cling to where I am. 

Finally, I see a face
with eyes that see
into the darkness of my soul
and a smile so warm
it melts my frozen heart.
His hand reaches out,
as Jesus calls my name.

Here I am, Lord.                                                                                             

Compassion or No One’s Playing with a Full Deck

From when I was quite young, I stayed stressed night and day over the possibility of being scolded for anything. Unfortunately, even if a fellow student was scolded, I also hurt for them, literally. My stomach would ache.  As an adult when a friend was going through a painful divorce, it seemed almost like I was going through it myself. In many ways this made me compassionate and I tried always to relieve others’ suffering in any way I could.

But, my life became controlled by an underlying need to relieve suffering of any kind, my own, my friends’, the world’s. This sounds like a good thing, and at times it undoubtedly was. But suffering is an inevitable part of life, everyone’s life. And a lot of suffering is self inflicted and perpetuated by attempts to escape it, rather than experience it and learn and grow from it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Compassion and fear of our own suffering may be two sides of the same coin.

Over the years I learned that I could not protect my children from suffering. And after a couple of friends, that I tried to give emotional support, ended up committing suicide, I gradually accepted that I am not God and cannot control life for anyone.

Eventually, I also recognized that some people become addicted to being victims and are bottomless pits of needs and wants that no one but God can fill.  I can be kind. I can share insights I’ve gained through my own struggles. I can bring a little laughter into the lives around me. But ultimately, each person’s journey is uniquely tailored to the process of making them into the people God created them to be…no more and no less. We can all only play the hand we were dealt and no one other than God can judge how well we are doing that.
Each person is born with their own set of genetic strengths and virtues. The thing we often overlook is that each strength has a corresponding area of weakness. Our pattern of growth will build on the strengths, but also will involve facing our weaknesses and allowing for them. We can develop survival skills in those areas, but they will never be our gifts.
That means we need one another. That means at times we must set aside our strengths and avail ourselves of the opposite set of gifts of other people. This is a dying to self of sorts. It involves suffering and humility. Not an easy task, but definitely part of becoming a couple, a family, a friend, a community, a nation, a world.

In other words, none of us is playing with a full deck! And we can help one another in partnerships, but not in dependency relationships that keep us from growing.

Compassion calls for not only kindness, but the capacity to accept suffering as part of our own lives and of life in general for everyone.
It comes down to the age old prayer: God help me to change what I can, accept what I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference.

Passiondeathresurrection: Inseparable

I once heard a priest say, “Passion(suffering), death, and resurrection should all be one word.”
Somehow most of us in America have bought into the delusion that life is just for fun. And any discomfort, never-the-less suffering, starts us looking desperately for escapes.
Unfortunately, escapes can’t protect us from suffering forever, they just make us miss the meaning that can be found by embracing the whole of life.
I have always been a devout coward and have used many escapes over the years.
But finally, I began to realize that the greatest suffering would be to get to the end of my life and realize that I had missed the point.

Fifteen Things Mentally Strong People Do

1. They know when to move on.
2. They use their fear to motivate action.
3. They know failure is part of success.
4. They train their brains to see the good in everything.
5. They’re tenacious with their goals.
6. They start before they’re ready or confident.
7. They don’t take anything personally.
8. They believe in themselves.
9. They don’t try to fit in.
10. They allow themselves to be a beginner.
11. They don’t do things they don’t want to do.
12. They celebrate the success and happiness of others.
13. They don’t need a reason to help people.
14. They are unapologetic about their unique selves.
15. They accept what they can’t change.
…..Shannon Kaiser
from the Blog: Make Believe Boutique

The Narrow Gate

My memories collide with one another
congesting into
higgley-piggley log jams
in my mind

Complexity clutters my understanding
and confusions of cobwebs
cling to my bold
broken dreams

Creativity thickens and congeals
dwindling into small
fallow pools clotted with
frustration

Idols of old truths and securities
slam against a wall
of Thomas doubt and
Judas fear

Softly, a voice within warns me,
“Narrow gate ahead.
You must not be afraid
to let go.”

Now, in this present moment,
I must trust my inner Spirit
to transform even this
suffering

Her woman’s deep compassion
to turn my empty heart-
my desert- fertile with
her tears.

eon 1991