Archive for the 'Grace' Category

17
May
11

the color of hope

Yesterday, I began thinking about hope—what it looks like—what makes it happen—what prevents it from being.  I am very familiar with anxiety, despair and hopelessness, as well as many additional states of human consciousness residing on the left side of the ‘miserable to ecstatically joyful’ spectrum. I know what these three feel and look like (to me).

Anxiety, that memory file of unrest and dis-ease, comes in neon variations of brilliant orange, disorienting magenta, brazen fuchsia, magnetic blue, electric purple—all colors except for green—the color of gardens and the earthily serene. Despair, a cousin by marriage to Anxiety, comes invited in by Emotional Pain, with its outer coat of sadness and discord. These haunting dragoons appear in coats of mossy earth tones, capable of generating into steely gray without much warning. Hopelessness, and its deeper shadow, Depression, are big wingless, flocking birds. They are hard to separate and harder to overlook. They come in hot and cold grunge fashion with overlapping shadows of midnight blue and lamp black…often with vivifying streams of hot pink or red flashing throughout.

Some people are hard-wired in ways that make them vulnerable to all of this. Others less so. I am one of the former. My glass tends to be half, to three-quarters empty (as the saying goes). And when it is full, I am overwhelmed by the fullness and feel joy—a state about as common as a four-leaf clover. Happy is a far more common state, but I do not know what it means. I hear this word everywhere. What is it and why is it so sought after? I have not found Happy to have much consequence. It seems ephemeral, like smiling and laughing. It is not fulfillment and it is not joy. I blow my birthday candles out, open my cards and feel happy. I hold my adorable kitties in my arms, hear them purr and feel happy. Far from being lifted or resolved, the concerns I carry are only set aside for a moment or a while.

My goal is joy in exploding colors of the rainbow—the same experience as being in love—an experience of complete, indescribably harmonious fulfillment. I get that when I dance at my InterPlay sessions and am transported beyond my self…into my Self…together with God. My cup is not half full or all full, it runneth over. How this happens is pretty simple: I drive to the place where the InterPlayers gather, participate fully and receive not only happiness, but Joy. It is a type of prayer and worship. Each time I go, I make a down payment on more of it. I haven’t lost my concerns or troubles, I’ve turned my mourning into dancing for a while and the color of anxiety/despair/hopelessness lightens. It does not disappear.

I make this happen because I take steps to be where it can happen. But sometimes joy seems to materialize out of thin air. One minute you are heavy laden with perhaps weeks, months, even years of travail that never seems to lessen or resolve, and then in a flash you are filled with joy and feeling ten pounds lighter…light enough to think you may fly if you so allow…light enough to welcome hope. That is an altogether different sort of happening, one seemingly begotten, not made.

Since 2000 when the film, The Perfect Storm entered our theaters and homes, we have adopted the film’s title to refer to tragic situations composed of parts and pieces of unpredictable events in relation to the fallibility of human decision-making. We often find a modicum of comfort in saying: “It was a perfect storm just waiting to happen.”

Last Sunday, at the little church at the edge of the city, where I worship, I had occasion to experience what I can only describe as the opposite of the perfect storm. I call it The Perfect Rainbow. Days and weeks beforehand, parts and pieces of unpredictability were coming together on many fronts, along with loving, careful,  human decision-making and the result for my partner and me was a deeply fulfilling experience that turned the water in our glasses into bubbling  champagne. More than three years of struggle and emotional pain were met by joy so deep, words could not be found. Had I the room to dance it and witnesses to join in, I would have surely outdone myself. Even now as I write this, my body wants to dance. It was a perfect rainbow after the thundering, crashing storms we’d experienced since returning to the church after an absence of thirty years. The events that led to this perfect rainbow were beyond counting and beyond orchestrating by any one person. Surely the Grace of God’s Holy Spirit was creatively present all the while.

I can still see the rainbow. It’s full from one end of the sky to the other and it brings me hope. The color of hope (for me) is the rainbow, full and audaciously beautiful in even a leaden sky. Storms will surely continue to come and go, but I saw a rainbow on Sunday and I’ve tucked it inside where all my memories reside…the good, bad and the ugly. I’ve given this one a special place. If I should forget its whereabouts, I trust a reminder will come one way or another, even in a perfect storm.

25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

04
Nov
10

update and post script

My posts have been few and far between for a while now. I have been on a journey and not through yet, but thought I’d just try to bring this blog somewhat up to date before doing so becomes a gigantic, uphill climb with a backpack too full of stuff to sort out, let alone write down for public consumption.

This year’s summer was a hard trek, but in a different way than last year’s summer when I was torn into pieces by the church we were invited—then uninvited—to join. Last summer the pangs of betrayal I experienced were felt in the warmth of my family—Big Dawg, Adopted Daughter Bettina and I. We set about fitting into the little church that welcomed us in on the rebound. We were beginning to breathe, but by September Bettina’s cancer returned for a fourth and final time. She died just ten weeks into the new year.

I was completely absorbed in caring for Bettina, and completely involved in helping her to die well. For a long time afterward I was equally absorbed in the loss of her and of our family of three. There were many losses since my cancer diagnosis in 2006 and they came swarming together in a great anguished whoosh. The repercussions were enormous. By spring, I no longer knew where I belonged or why. I was a traveler on the grief road without a sense of direction…just drifting in deep pools of sadness and disconnection. Toward the end of spring and the beginning of summer, quite unexpectedly as if by magic, I became a mother-in-law and a grandmother. There was no time to practice. The summer wore on and still the quiet, disconnected sadness. I yearned for spiritual connection and began attending Catholic Mass, while at the same time continuing in my position as visual art maven at the little quirky church on the edge of the city. The grandchildren were pinpoints of joy—lone stars in a dark sky. I became a woman with many faces, but no mirror in which to see them.

August was a particularly desperate time and called for desperate measures. I could not relate to the little church and could not keep from receiving the sadness bubbling up within. It was a time of affirming forgiveness, 70 x 7 and then some. My path became stony and disorienting. In response, the little church said don’t leave…let’s talk, and formed a small listening group around BD and me. Many things happened in rapid succession, both inside and outside the group. Issues fell into place as we became aware that four years of losses with little time between amounts to post traumatic stress. I don’t normally cotton with these labels, but this time it is fitting, and we are glad to have this understanding as a way to make sense of our wobbly-top selves. I am grateful to the several persons who were angels unaware in this drama, for I was not always so lovable. These people were willing spiritual conduits, each with a different message, each with a different angel’s feather touch. Each bearing God’s love and grace.

In the end, an aha moment was this:  understanding that in the loose, laid-back character of this quirky little church, lay freedom and trust and possibilities, and in return, I must give it all I’ve got. I’ve been busy ever since, not with more than you younger readers are prone to taking on, but with more than I am accustomed to taking on in quite this faith centered way. There are not enough days or hours in the days, and certainly not enough weeks in the month for me. I am swimming in a rushing river to some where that I know not…every now and then caught by an eddy of old thoughts and memories that must be untangled and set out to dry. In a couple of weeks I will turn a ripe 72… Despite my good health report, I am very aware of the time I have left—sensitized to it. Insomnia plagues me lately. It’s not a workaholic compulsion that is the culprit, it is this sense that I am in transition—in training if you will—for the last chapter of my life as a doer/giver. I am such a late bloomer…I want 20 years doing and giving in the space of 10! Sometimes I feel like a child who cannot wait for Christmas morning. Other times I feel like skipping Christmas morning entirely, for surely a gift with my name on it will be much too heavy for me to manage.

Called by name…that is the word I received many times in the dark chemotherapy nights.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame  shall not consume you. Isaiah 43

So when I am not wobbling over with extremes of joy and anxiety, I generally say, Here am I. Send me!”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And I said, Here am I. Send me! Isaiah 6:8

06
Oct
10

after accounting for the selves

My late-life crisis is nuancing into the light of day. I am relieved. Having stepped outside myself to see my many selves and all those lives they’ve lived, I see progress and that is reconciling. The windy corner is calming and I see the rainbow…most of the time.

A voice speaks to me:

Your days will be an autumn harvest way before winter sets in.

A place at the table is waiting for you.

Follow the raven. He knows the way.

And in so doing, many blessings came my way this past weekend. On Sunday my oldest granddaughter, Miss Green and I spent a lovely afternoon, doing and being. What a lovely bit of gentle light children can be. I can hardly believe I am saying this. How did I get to be old enough to talk this way? That in itself is a mystery. Apparently an additional self has been added to the collection. I shall have to get used to her so I don’t think I am channeling my mother!

Both of my granddaughters attend a bi-lingual school…not Spanish/English…Japanese/English! How extraordinary! Nothing like this would have been in existence way, way, back when I was a child. I am amazed. They are both half Korean, which is really not a whole lot like Japanese except for being Asian. At any rate, they are learning Japanese and bringing home interesting little examples of their lessons with writing I can only look at and admire. Very pretty.

This is my name is Japanese written by youngest granddaughter, Miss Pink (5-1/2).

And this is BD’s name written by oldest granddaughter, Miss Green (8-1/2).

And this is BD’s characterture of them.

And as for me and oncology…I am still in complete remission and might not need another CT/PET scan until January or even March. What luck! Surely, the hairs of my head are truly counted, even the ones that fall to the sink as I comb through in the morning 🙂

13
Aug
10

grace appeared

Some may wonder how I got from such deep depression to the light and airy post like the previous one. I’m not clinically manic-depressive, just an intense feeling-type with strong views and thin skin vs. thick skin. It’s a long story with many twists and turns over the past 2 years.

I have some very good friends who showed up in answer to my repetitive prayers for help. Maybe it’s because I am basically such a strong person (and/or resistant), but God often allows me to come to the very edge of the cliff—not just to see it there, but to actually dangle off the side of it before the dawn breaks and I see what I need to see. For me it’s a process of seeing the mysterious connections that light reveals. It’s not a linear mind thing. It’s intuitive…a sense of knowing that is unmistakable from my own knowing this or that. And then with the grace of sudden clarity, I see the path that I didn’t see before. Maybe the path was covered with weeds, or grass. Or maybe I was in a cluttered room that only dim light could pierce, or alone in a dark room. This is the transformative process of coming to the end of one’s self to see the God within.

The thing is, that there will be many ends of myself before my life is over…many dark nights of the soul…many transformative surgeries. The up side is that each surgery brings deeper faith…less of me and more of thee. This is a hard thing to understand. It’s not about becoming no one and nothing. It’s about becoming—one with God as Jesus was one with God. (John 10:30)

I have not yet come to welcoming these trials. Perhaps when I do, they will be less dramatic and more endurable. Now is now and this is where I am. Grace is here. I love that old Gospel hymn,

Just as I am, by Charlotte Elliot, 1840

What can I say? I’m older than you think.

07
May
10

what could have been

I’ve been reading a new book by Kathleen Norris called, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. Ms. Norris is a highly acclaimed poet, and author. All of the words in the title of this book are appealing to me, even the word acedia, and that is because I had no idea what it meant. Acedia, I am told, is a state of spiritual listlessness, sadness, melancholy, apathy, carelessness, and lethargy—a pathway to sloth. Originally an affliction among the monastics and religious, it was considered to have the potential of undermining faith and sensibility. It differs from clinical depression in its spiritual orientation, but can be the precursor of depression.

After the first several chapters I came to see the funk I’ve been in much of the time since adopted daughter’s death, as acedia in varying degrees. This definition stops my free-fall state with a safety net of insight. Like a person ill for years and finally getting a diagnosis that it is not “all in the head”, I feel relief. The book is dense with messages for me on all levels of my life—from aspects of faith life, to matters of creative work, marriage, illness and death, I am infused with new insights to my own shadow side.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ms Norris shares the story of her husband’s illness and death from cancer, and her experience as sole caregiver, that got my heartfelt attention. I identify. That’s me in both places: cancer patient and caregiver. Her account of care giving, both during her husband’s illness and after his death speak loudly to me. I’ve been there. I know. I’m still there.

It has been 9 weeks since adopted daughter died. Not really that long in grieving terms, but my grief has a twist to it. As executors of the estate and caretakers of all things left behind, we have been stunned to find shelves and shelves of her life that she did not share with us—did not share with anyone. In fact, we see that she lived her life in serial compartments, like an old-fashioned rolltop desk. There is a quotation my mother would offer about not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. This could be applied. The problem is that the original comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:3) and is a moral directive to giving, not hiding.

What I have seen is a person I loved dearly enough to call daughter, who didn’t trust me, or anyone else enough to confide the many truths of her life that would have made the executing of her estate a far less messy and painful affair. But more than this consideration is that the love and trust she did give me was the best she could do. That says volumes. Hidden until the end. Every time she called me mamacita, she did so with the half she felt would not be rejected. “I would have loved you anyway’, I say to her memory. ‘I would have loved you and helped you make the crooked as straight as possible in the few days and weeks that were left”. If she were anyone else, I would be speaking philosophically and with a bit of distance, but because I took her as a daughter, I speak with the pain of not having been able to do all I know I could have done for her. This is a tragedy to me. Although I witnessed God’s redeeming forgiveness to her in those last few days, and know Grace was given completely, I feel a mourning for what was left out between us. I would have liked to give her the human forgiveness she was sure she didn’t deserve. But maybe in her morphine altered days, she knew it was there, and maybe she made that transaction in the shadows of her heart and soul…maybe that’s what I saw in her face as I administered the meds hour after hour with more tender love than I thought I had in me to give.

So what is the problem? Why does acedia haunt me like a child playing hide and seek in dress-up clothes? I don’t know. I am beginning to think that acceptance, letting go, and letting be is my spiritual discipline forevermore.

I hoped that by the time I finished writing this post I would have pushed through acedia, at least for a time. The estate is not yet settled and my personal sense of mourning for what could have been is not over. I do not have the sense of adopted daughter’s presence as I did with my sister after she died. I cannot explain this except to say that she never allowed herself to belong to anyone. Despite her promise to learn to hover in our lives, she does not. Perhaps there is a learning curve in the afterlife. Perhaps we are connected by this curve…she over there and me over here. Perhaps there will be a happy ending when my soul finally floats free.

Postscript: The deceptions we keep in our lifetimes may very well come to light after the funeral when there is little that can be done to alter them in any way.




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