Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hanging Chickens and Hope

There is a day left of 2017 and I'm thinking about hope.  Mainly, because a few days ago, a well-bundled woman approached me as I sat in my very warm car in a parking lot, finishing some last-minute mascara application.  As she walked by, I couldn't escape her searching eyes, nor overlook her hood and bulky scarf, which indicated her plans to be out much longer than I.  I wondered if she was going to circle back to my car.  And she did. 

"I have to walk a long way to get my bike and I just wondered if you had any money or change for snacks or something to eat."

While I was looking in my wallet I heard her say, "I don't know your name, but God knows."  And I was thinking to myself, "Yeah, God knows."  He also knows that I gave her most, but not all of my money.  Maybe enough for a couple of value meals.  Maybe.  And lest you think I was having a "widow's mite" moment, I wasn't.  Embarassingly,  I kept my last two dollars. 

She thanked me enthusiastically and said things were looking up...She just got a new job hanging chickens for $12.43 an hour!

I congratulated her, walked into my work, and have thought about her every day since. 

I am in awe that her hope lies in a job that I could only cry at the thought of, much less do.

The apparent ease with which she asked for what she needed reminded me that blessed are the poor in spirit - probably aware of every blessing because receiving so often necesitates asking.

How many catastrophes I would have to endure to be so humble!

After long awaiting and receiving the Christ child in the temple, Simeon said, "Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled..."

And I wonder to myself, "Will I ever be at a similar place in my life?  A place where all promises have been fulfilled and my only earthly desire is to leave it?"  I hope so.  It seems like death by contentment.

Interestingly, I read Simeon's passage to a small group of nursing home residents during our weekly communion service.  I asked them if they ever imagined they would still be alive in the year 2018.  They all said no.

I wonder what it feels like to live longer than you ever thought you would?  As one widow with Stage 4 cancer said, "I believe if I had an On/Off button, I would push it now."  But, in her hard-earned wisdom, she admits that it is good we don't have such a button,.  We would all push it way too soon.

Hope is that invisible force that keeps pulling us through life, when we'd just rather not.  For a long time, I wondered what it was that kept people going after unspeakable tragedies and horrific losses.  I figured it was something other than great advice, although Winston Churchill ranks highly in my book, with his "When you're going through hell, just keep going."

I've often imagined what I now know to be hope, as a little God-fueled motor propelling us forward, in spite of any desire to move in such a direction.  Or any direction, for that matter.  I've seen it in the poor, sick and very sick, grieving and dying.  I've seen it in all who labor in the skin of humanity, and most recently, in the well-bundled and newly employed.

If you have labored your fair share, it is good to know that hope can be forged.

...knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   Romans 5:3-5

We can have a hope for a particular experience or outcome, a moment or a day, a lifetime or an eternity.  And we can have them all at the same time.

Simeon's earthly hope rested in the fulfillment of God's promise that "he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord."  My hope lies in this same God Who has brought me to where I am - in a town, far away from my birthplace and from where I met the man I would spend the rest of my life with, holding a job I couldn't have dreamed of, sharing a couch with children whose existence was dependent upon the meeting of those two strangers in the hill country, surrounded by a persevering people that keep me circling back, wondering what keeps them going.  I certainly couldn't have stumbled this far on my own, groping in the dark.

Let us not move one inch from our position of hope, be it hanging chickens, a happy death, or any place in between.


The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  
1 Thessalonians 5:24







Friday, December 8, 2017

A Bit of Loneliness

I don't remember much in the way of loneliness throughout my life.  Certainly not after being at home with little ones for years on end.  My greatest fantasy was being alone.

My husband and I used to barter to be the first one out of the door on Saturday for "me" time.  In the end, I had to go first.  My sanity depended on it.  I used to wonder how long I could be in utter isolation (ideally, in some beautiful wilderness, rather than in some cell in Siberia), before I would actually feel lonely.  I guessed it would take a month or so.

This seems pretty heroic at the moment, because I'm coming off a week of feeling pretty crappy (and I think a bit lonely, if I'm being honest).  Some stubborn virus, I guess.  Mostly a week at home and off of work.  Between naps and movies and eating and drinking coffee to make myself feel better and getting on Facebook to make myself feel worse - Sheesh!  Do you have friends who celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas?  Some candy in shoes doesn't seem that hard to pull off, so I'm not sure why I can't quite get it together...  Anyhoo, I think lonely might be a pretty apt description of how I felt along with not feeling well, in general.  Fortunately, this never lasted longer than a school day at a time.

This makes me grateful for having kids at home, and think of those who haven't had the reprieve of a "school day" in fifty years or so.  In the world of my "work", I visit the moms, dads, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles that live in nursing homes.  They are bereft of any feeling that they are important anymore, that anyone is on their way, or will be coming soon.  They wonder why God is waiting so long to come for them.  And yet, they never complain about the time between my visits.  It is often many weeks, and they're simply grateful.  I think waiting and pride have a special relationship. 

Just a little empty waiting put my pride in its rightful place...

I had a little miscommunication with my husband when he said he was going to bring my medicine home at lunch time.  I told him a few hours wouldn't make any difference and he didn't need to make a special trip, which was true.  But, at the end of our conversation, I thought he was still coming.  And so, I waited, in and out of sleep, with one ear to the door.  After two hours passed, the tear that slipped out betrayed my big-girl-self. 

I felt so pathetic.  It was such a little, tiny thing.  But, then I remembered all of the times that my patients/friends tell me to wake them up when I come.  They're just sleeping because they have nothing else to do, they tell me.  And I don't.  I can't.  Even when I try, I slip in, whisper their name, oh so quietly, hoping not to actually wake them, and I slip out.  It's like some primordial instinct from my early motherhood, which quietly, but forcefully insists, "Never wake a sleeping baby."

I imagine myself being awakened by a well-intentioned person who wants to know how things are going.  Blech.  Fine.  Go away.  I'm trying to sleep.  


Why on God's green earth would I do that?!

But, that's me.  A person in the world, who is busy.  Busy giving love and busy receiving love and busy doing all of the stuff that means.  Busy in a world where the shortage is not love, but time (and sleep). 

They don't live in that world.  They live in the other one.  Where time and sleep are abundant and everything else is scarce.

The gift of this week is a resolution.  A very counter-intuitive one, but nevertheless.  Wake the sleeping.  There are no school days in nursing homes.

Advent is a time of waiting and seeking.  Feeling lonely isn't my favorite, but it is fruitful.  And for those of us who are waiting, let's remember that waiting implies hope.  If nothing is ahead, there is nothing to wait for.  In the meantime, as depicted in The Life of the Mystic Luisa Piccarreta, I've been enjoying thoughts of God the Father as Fire, Jesus Christ as Light, and the Holy Spirit as Heat.

If I am always anything, I am always moving toward light and heat.  Now, I know why.  Care to join me?

Image result for fireplace


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Meet Mr. Griffin

Meet Mr. Robert Griffin.

Mr. Griffin is retired from the United States Navy and has been inspiring me for two and a half years.  I had the pleasure of visiting with him today, and a few sentences into our conversation it dawned on me... I wish you could be there.  To see what I see.  To hear what I hear.  To reap what he sows.  

So, I proposed the idea, and he agreed to meet you, too.

Mr. Griffin was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1987, which was probably 5-10 years after the onset of his initial symptoms.  He has been a nursing home resident for "a little over nine years".  He relinquished his driver's license on his 63rd birthday, and he lives as gracefully and gratefully as anyone I've ever known.

When I asked how he was getting along, he replied that things were the same, and God is good.  And then he said, I mean...
I wish... I could still walk...

 I wish...I could roll over in bed on my side, like I used to...

I wish... I could still go to my church.  I always feel loved, but there, it was something special.  They were my extended family.

And as he talked, I realized I have his wishes in spades.  I carry out his top three wishes hourly and daily and weekly and monthly and yearly and am rarely even conscious that I'm doing them, much less grateful for this same fact.  

I park as close as I can to wherever I'm going, so I have to walk less.  I'm annoyed if I'm rolling over in bed because it means I'm uncomfortable and awake enough to make a decision of any kind.  I enjoy going to church, but that doesn't mean I don't grumble about changing clothes or routinely explain to my precious offspring that they don't "have" to go to church, they "get" to.  

Mr. Griffin doesn't chastise me for my cluelessness or ingratitude.  He doesn't have to.  I'm immediately and painfully aware in his presence.  It is one of his many gifts to me.  

I asked him if there was anything else he wanted you to know and I wrote it down as he was saying it...

God is good, every day.

He is the same yesterday as He will be tomorrow.   

He has never given up on me, so I will never give up on Him.

I feel blessed, in a way, for how long it took from my initial diagnosis to going to a nursing home, because I know people who went from being diagnosed to becoming a quadriplegic in 2.5-3 months.  Everybody with MS is different.  I'm not sure why that is, but if it wasn't for my belief in God, I probably wouldn't be here now.  

Because if you don't have something to pin your hopes to, you'll give up...
And hope is what we've got.

Hope, that when we leave this earth, there is a God who will take care of us and restore our bodies.  

One day, I will be able to walk, and maybe run, 
jump, clap my hands, and praise God.  

Like in Amazing Grace, when we've been there for 10,000 years, it will be like an instant.  Because there is never enough time to praise God.

And to all of this, I say...Thank you, Mr. Griffin.  Thank you for being you.  Thank you for having your perspective and sharing it.  Thank you for being the face of perseverance, gratitude, and hope, as I (and now we) count our blessings this Thanksgiving.  May God continue to bless you and yours in abundance, as He blesses us through you.  Amen.



Thursday, November 9, 2017

In It To Win It

We made it!  

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary!  Where are the stickers and t-shirts?!  My runner friends call it swag.  Seriously, where can I find a 15.0 sticker?  I want one.

Not being a runner in the well-understood sense, I know marriage will be the longest race I will ever run.  I'm pretty sure it is a marathon on steroids.  You know the particulars of your own marriage and you know the particulars of mine, because I've shared them with the you.

I want to apologize if I have burdened you with the nuances of my emotional landscape.  As one who lives and works in the world of feelings and as a writer, it is my pleasure, privilege, and duty to attach words to things that can be difficult to explain and more difficult to admit.  The intention behind my transparency is always to instruct, encourage, accompany, and glorify God in the reality and dailiness of it all.   

Since writing last, I've heard from many people who are concerned for me and my marriage.  A sincere thank you.  You have been a great comfort and remind me of this...

2 Corinthians 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.

I would like to comfort you, as well.  Brett and I have been married for 15 years.  What feels fleeting is not.  What feels irreparable is not.  What feels like loss is gain.  This month in the deep, in the desert, in the woods, or whatever you want to call it, has produced more fruit for me (and hopefully, us) than years combined.  I know my husband and myself better now than ever before.

I am in awe of that.  When you're a human being and married, life always comes one day at a time.  It is easy to believe that everything we believe, feel, and understand comes gradually.  This is simply not true.  Things can change in an instant, and they do all of the time.  The drop of a name, an eyeroll, a hint of ingratitude or contempt, a new baby,  a terminal diagnosis, a death, an unexpected gift or word of praise.  You name it...

All of my writings have been "blessed and approved" by my husband.  I love this about him.  It takes enviable confidence and incredible trust to give blanket permission to  another person, who knows you better than anyone else, to disclose whatever seems relevant to the thought for the day.  He can do this because he knows "we" are not going anywhere.  And I can write freely about all of the ups and downs, devastations and joys, because I know "we" are not going anywhere, either.

In the past month, I've watched a young couple make their vows and start their life together.  I've stumbled  around somewhere in the middle of  winning, losing, surviving, and thriving.  I've met people in the "sickness" part of their promise, where their own need becomes exclusively that of meeting the needs of their other.  All other needs, which once held a place of high regard and importance for them are left behind, and they do not see anything heroic about this.  I've attended a grief group for my work, where a dozen women shared the trials of continuing to live after their spouse has died, and how burning a candle in their place at the table might be a comfort to them this Thanksgiving.

I realize flames of hope come in as many ways as people, places, and times.  I am grateful for the journey of being married, for my fearless husband, and all of the people who walk with us in the adventure called life.  My new favorite quote, as shared with me by a dear friend, reminds me of the goal of it all.  Intimacy.

"Intimacy requires a clear self, relentless self-focus, open communication, and a profound respect for differences."                                  -Harriet Lerner





Saturday, November 4, 2017

In and Out of the Woods

My aunt sent me this great quote this morning. 

"Wear your heart on the page, and people will read to find out how you solved being alive."
-Gordon Lish

And that was just the push I needed to write from "the woods", since I am not out of them, yet.  As such, the stakes for writing (and everything else) feel a lot higher. 

If you've been traveling with me on this fear of abandonment stuff, you know the backstory.  If not, here it is on a bumper sticker.  There is some "trauma" from childhood that shows up in my adult life, specifically in marriage.  It is a fear reaction, and it is reflexive.  All I've been able to do is limp through it once it is triggered, and pray that I (and my husband) can recover before it happens again.

I put trauma in quotes, because I've never thought of my childhood as traumatic.  I have not been sexually or physically abused.  Emotionally and verbally, yes, but that is a late admission, as well.  The trauma I speak of, as best as my 40-year-old conscious brain can tell and a professional counselor can affirm, is experiencing an early divorce and 11 subsequent years of painful, tearful separations from my Dad whom I adored, after visiting him every weekend. 

This recurring pain was more than a 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15-year-old could process.  So, the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and physical reactions that went with the pain got "stuck" in my brain.  Twenty five years have passed and it is still there, largely unchanged.

There are diagnoses that name this very thing and physiological treatments for "moving" the stuff into a conscious place where it can be processed.  I am looking into that and will keep you posted.  This is a new and exciting revelation for me.

Since visiting a counselor twice by myself and once with my husband, I have written a pain narrative, realized I am 100% responsible for regulating my own emotions, explored restoration therapy, made a plan, and decided I would work on detachment as a part of that plan. 

I felt more sure of this after reading an excerpt from Deep Is the Hunger by Howard Thurman...

"The basis of one's inner togetherness, one's sense of inner authority, must never be at the mercy of factors in one's environment, however significant they may be.  Nothing from outside a man can destroy him until he opens the door and lets it in."

I've read much on this idea, and know there's some truth in it.  So, I thought I would try it.  I closed the door on my husband.  He is the trigger for the old stuff, so I reasoned that if I didn't let him in, I would be safe.  And it felt safe.  But, it also felt unfulfilling, sterile, and not sustainable. 

Today is my first day of being less attached to the idea of being fully detached.  It doesn't work. 

So, I'm back in the ring.  

Leaving is not an option, but thinking about it is a friend that I like to keep close.  She reminds me that I don't want to leave.  I want to love and be loved.  Know and be known.  Understand and be fully understood.  Patience and perseverance.  We celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary in less than a week.  The woods are home to many a lovely creature.  And, right now, I am one of them. 

           

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fear of Abandonment, Continued...

My second-to-last post about Fear of Abandonment was widely read (at least for my stuff), resonating strongly with many of you, and empowering a few.  So, I wanted to check in with you and update you on me.  If you're still standing in it, swimming in it, or sinking in it, I just wanted to let you know that you're not standing, swimming, or sinking alone.  'Cause I am, too.   

It's been a rough couple of weeks.  I could give you a thorough account of the few steps forward and the many steps back, but I want this to be fruitful for us, so I'm fastforwarding.  The latest development for me is a counseling appointment scheduled for next week.  First ever.  I am feeling excited, mad, hopeful, hopeless, and humbled about this.  

Recently, my husband recommended we "table" conversation on this issue.  It didn't feel great at the time, but since then I realized that "tabling" something can be progress.  The verb "table" means "to postpone the consderation of".  When two people are coming from two different places and speaking two different languages about a subject they disagree on, it is nigh impossible to feel like you're accomplishing anything, but insanity. 

In chess, I would call it a stalemate.  No winner.  New game.  If only.  

But, it's not chess.  It's my life and my marriage.  It feels like I'm standing inside the door of my heart and home, with my hand on the doorknob, and tennis shoes on my feet.  Despair is standing on the welcome mat on the other side, peering through the window, waiting to be invited in.  And I want to run.  

Physically, I hate running.  I abhor it.  But, emotionally, I feel like I could run forever. 

I just read "Understanding the Las Vegas Killer", and was intrigued when it said, "He once owned 27 residences in four states...".  And I realized he was a "runner", too.   If I actually ran when I wanted to run, and had money to buy actual places to run to, I shudder to think how disconnected I could be from life in one place and from the people who live there.  Blech.

This is why "tabling" is a good thing.  You can't table something, if you don't come back to discuss it.  It doesn't allow for one-way tickets.  It implies taking more time to work at something that isn't working.  

We love to say "Timing is everything."  If that is true, and I think it is mostly true, in that it is critically important, we need time.  A continuation of time.  Not five minutes, not two weeks, but as much time as it takes to get back to good.  And this is one of the many places my husband is better than I am.  He is good at being a grown-up, and being where he's supposed to be, and doing what he's supposed to do, while I'm listening to a broken record that no one else can hear, and wondering where can I run to?  

So, I think of all of the couples I've met who have been married over fifty years and how many of them say none of their married years could be described as easy.  And I think of one woman, in particular.  She was married to an alchoholic for sixty years.  When I asked her how many of those years she would consider good, she said, "The last ten."  Her husband finally stopped drinking when his grandchildren came on scene.  She and her children learned how to love him in those last ten years, which was a real blessing, because it meant they could miss him when he died.  And they do. 

So, in this case, and in mine, and maybe in yours, it is good that "Nothing stays the same." 

May God and time and change be with us, and may no one sell us a one-way ticket.  Amen.    


      

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Keyhole

I went on a little excursion with the boys today, to check out a new fishing spot one of them keeps talking about.  The fishing spot is a drainage hole that doesn't drain.  But, that doesn't deter boys.



Or the little girl who looked on while they played.  No one talked to her, and with her bike parked alone on the trail, it seemed like she was quite alone.  After she warmed up, she said she liked walking through the water to the other side, because it seemed more dangerous, and she liked showing she was braver than her friends.

This open need to show her bravery and to feel special confirmed my belief that she probably didn't feel special often enough.

But, the conversation rolled on, with some mention of figure skating, and I was secretly glad she had some interest beyond watching other kids play without her.  And then...

She pulled out her phone and showed it to me.  "This is a video of me figure skating."

And her 9-year-old self was stunning.  Flying around the rink in the spotlight that was hers alone, to the music that was hers alone.  This particular performance was just one in a string of performances over the course of five years!  Goodness me!  I'm not sure how I didn't fall out of my chair, but I suspect gravity was just being nice.

I couldn''t have been happier to have gotten her so wrong, and remember how much I love happy surprises.  Like when I looked at this picture I took a second time, and noticed that it looked like a keyhole.  Which was an awesome surprise, because the only thing I saw when I took the picture was my son.  Kind of like when people take pictures and a ghost or something otherworldly shows up later, without the spine crawl.  And I remember how much I love happy surprises.