Heartbreak and joy are the two sides of loving.
I woke up this morning heartbroken over my husband’s suffering. The last week has been much worse for him physically and emotionally. There is some hope that a procedure he has scheduled will give him a respite from the worst of his physical symptoms right now. But his symptoms may indicate that the end is nearer than we had hoped.
Intellectual denial and emotional denial are two separate stages of grieving. In the first you cling to the belief that medical treatment will relieve the worst of a condition. In the second you recognize intellectually that suffering and loss are inevitable, but do not let that knowledge set off an emotional response. Once you respond emotionally, there are times of deep sorrow and heartbreak. But also recognizing that while God may not take away this suffering, God is in it with you. And in the midst of heart break there are moments of joy.
I have several small daily devotional books I read most mornings. But with the stress now, my memory is getting even worse and I find I can’t keep the helpful thoughts in mind. So, this morning I decided to just randomly chose one book and repeat that teaching over and over to keep it in my heart and mind all day. This morning I chose “The Upper Room.”
Today’s writing was by a woman from Nigeria about her husband dying though she had prayed to God to save him. At the end she takes comfort from 2 Cor. 12:9:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I don’t believe my choice of what to read today was a coincidence. God is with us in this.
This weekend I drove an hour away to pick up a grandchild that we have not been able to spend much time with since the first of the year. She gets carsick and was pretty miserable during the trip. She had also been exploring the woods all day and it had set her allergies off. I was afraid that I had chosen a bad time to bring her to visit. Her parents are divorcing and she has become a very solemn and quiet child. My husband has been heartbroken that she never smiles anymore and I have missed the long conversations we used to have. She and I were sharing a bed and for the first time in a long time, she was very talkative. It was a lovely blessing and a sign that she is recovering from her world being shaken. But after sleeping a couple of hours her allergies became so severe, she was having trouble breathing. She hadn’t brought her medicines, but fortunately I found some Benadryl for children and it gave her relief and allowed her to sleep. The next day she and my husband renewed their long competition at cards. And after trouncing him thoroughly, she rewarded him with one of her brilliant smiles. His smile matched hers.
When you love deeply, you are vulnerable to heart break, but that love also brings great joy in seemingly small events. And when you have reached the end of your strength there is God.
My friend of over forty years, Norma Parham, died last week. She was a very interesting, talented and paradoxical woman. I miss having her to call and laugh with about aging. For the last year she had been a resident in a nursing home in rural Hickman County, where she played the piano for the residents and had just bought a ukelele to learn to play. She was the only Republican I ever knew that subscribed to Communist magazines in the 1970’s. They were delivered in brown paper wrappers. She grew up Church of Christ and converted to Catholicism. Though getting a Masters in Religious Ed made her a skeptic about taking scripture literally, she loved the psalms. Her mind was analytical, but at heart she was a mystic. She wrote poetry, painted, sang, and could tear up a piano playing everything from Boogie Woogie to Beethoven. She loved shooting my Pollyanna ideas down. She taught for 36 years. When I started teaching, she advised me to not smile for the first six weeks. When asked what it was like in her first years of teaching with several grades in one classroom, she said it was like herding cats. She spent summers either traveling or studying abroad on her own. She grew up in Hickman County in the country without indoor plumbing and with heat from a wood burning stove. After teaching about thirty years, she had a rather cynical opinion on the direction education was headed. So, when the new principal, a hardly dry behind the ears coach, called a meeting for all the teachers, she sat in the back row reading a newspaper. After a while the young new principal suggested that she might learn something if she stopped reading and listened. She carefully folded the paper and took out a pencil and pad and took notes for the rest of his talk. When it was over, she gave him her “notes,” suggesting that he might find them informative. The paper was completely filled with his grammar mistakes and her corrections. She was one of a kind. I miss the possibility of her.
A quote by Tara Brach from the blog: Make Believe Boutique
You might ask yourself: “Can I imagine what it would be like, in this moment, to have a heart that is ready for anything?”
If our hearts are ready for anything, we can open to our inevitable losses and to the depths of our sorrow. We can grieve our lost loves, our lost youth, our lost health, our lost capacities. This is part of our humanness, part of the expression of our love for life. As we bring a courageous presence to the truth of loss, we stay available to the immeasurable ways that love springs forth in our life.
If our hearts are ready for anything, we will spontaneously reach out when others are hurting. Living in an ethical way can attune us to the pain and needs of others, but when our hearts are open and awake, we care instinctively. This caring is unconditional—it extends outward and inward wherever there is fear and suffering.
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There’s room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There’s room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, and for creativity and productivity. There’s room for spirit and for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as “the lion’s roar.”
If our hearts are ready for anything, we are touched by the beauty and poetry and mystery that fill our world.
With an undefended heart, we can fall in love with life over and over every day. We can become children of wonder, grateful to be walking on earth, grateful to belong with each other and to all of creation. We can find our true refuge in every moment, in every breath. Tara Brach
I found this quote on the blog, Make Believe Boutique. It’s Buddhist, but the only difference I can see between this and Christianity is our recognizing that we personally fall short of the glory of God and need the saving grace of Jesus. Otherwise it beautifully describes our human experience, hopes and spirituality.
From Waylon Lewis:
I love Christmas: I love simple, personal presents. I love coziness, and world-quieting white snow, which slows us all down and makes even bustling cities feel like they were Norman Rockwell 1940s landscapes. I love fires, and dinners, and parties with old and new friends and children and elders, people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to talk with much. I don’t see my family, these days, they’re all spread about the US, and money is tight, and that always tinges this time with emptiness. But I love sadness, as my mom’s Buddhist teacher said it’s the most genuine of human emotions though we’re not to covet it. I love, at this darkest time of the year, remembering that life is short, and it progresses quickly, and memory fades and all that really matters is being a good person, and making the better of two iffy choices every step along the way. It’s a wonderful life, after all. So let’s put the ‘holy‘ back in the Holidays. Let’s buy gifts that better the world, and support good people doing good things. Let’s put away our phones and laptops and TVs—if only briefly—and make some eye contact, and say the obvious: ‘I love you, and this is why.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry things have been funny between us. Let’s be genuine, and have a good talk.’ Because, before you know it, one third of your friends will have divorced moved away lost their hair become old people or even died of accidents or dis-ease or, you know, life. I’m still only 35, but I lose a friend a year, whether in China to an avalanche or right here at home, just a month ago, an only-recently-perfectly lovely healthy powerful friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage IV. In Buddhism we say: this precious human birth is fragile. Make good use of it. Think about others as much as you do yourself and you yourself will find that elusive happiness. Meditate a few minutes, at least, each morning, before the ephemeral to-do lists that seem so important, the lusts and the anxieties, clutter up your snowy peaceful dozy mind. Don’t chase after the fast food of life: sex, bad food, money, big houses, cool cars. They don’t make you happy, the only thing that makes you happy is you sorting yourself out…