Archive for the 'suffering' Category

18
Jun
11

bridging boundaries

The weeks following my last entry, The Color of Hope, have left me wondering what on earth I had left to say. This blog began in the fall of 2009, as a forum for sharing my experiences since returning to the church after a serious bout of lymphoma, the joys and sorrows that return yielded, and the learning curve that has been the composite result.

I gave this blog the title, Called by Name, because that was the passage given to me toward the end of my cancer regimen. Since I changed my first name to Naomi at my Mennonite baptism in 1975, the notion of having been called by name—through cancer and to life beyond—has often been an affirming and sustaining force. Nevertheless, my partner, Judy and I, were unprepared for the painful ordeal the ultimate denial of church membership would be. We had answered the congregation’s and the pastor’s invitation to come follow Jesus with them. That decision proved to be a considerable leap of faith on our part which was not met by the congregation. During the time we were there, I lost my sister to cancer; was receiving periodic maintenance treatment for my own cancer; and my adopted daughter, Bettina, entered her third round of chemo therapy. It was an excruciatingly  difficult and painful period, wherein I became more familiar with the Job story than I’d ever thought possible. We had returned as prodigals, but it was Job and the scapegoat (Leviticus 16) we experienced in that congregation. In a wildly out of control, congregational meeting on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2009, we were categorically denied membership and walked out of the meeting with hearts torn to shreds and legs turned to stilts. One family left with us, easing the humiliation that filled us like flames dancing in a campfire.

Two weeks later, we arrived at the Little Church at the Edge of the City, bruised and battered. We were welcomed into the new congregation, but the situation was challenging to them as well as to us…particularly with the death of Bettina just 9 months later. Many personal difficulties ensued, but we all pressed on as best we could. Fits and starts would be one way of describing those two years—June, 2009 to June, 2011—a roller-coaster of deep despair, longing, grief, and loneliness would be another. Despite having been easily accepted into membership, and the efforts of the Little Church to help us, the experience of exclusion and loss had become embedded like a seed planted in my heart. Little by little, anguish nourished the seed into action, and I became an advocate for the peace and justice inclusion of all persons into the Mennonite Church—one of the world’s oldest peace churches! I spoke out declaratively…but without Bettina’s support and enthusiasm, the road often felt lonely and sometimes a bit scary. Except for a few friends, I just did not feel woven into the warp and woof of congregational life.

Then, just a month short of the two-year anniversary of that miasmic denial of membership, this congregation surprised us by voting unanimously to celebrate and officiate at lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) weddings and civil unions! My personal world took a decidedly positive turn and healing seemed miraculously instantaneous. Suddenly I was not a single voice speaking for inclusion and civil justice. There was a chorus behind me and with me. That was the color of hope…a rainbow of hope.

Marbling throughout the agonizing times, have also been blessings. I do not deny this at all, but the way has been hard…faith-building some will say, and in hind-sight I can agree, but the process itself left me feeling alone and lonely in a crowd much of the time.

In a few weeks Judy and I will apply for a civil union license and on August 21, we, and this brave little church on the edge of the city will come together in a civil union ceremony. Hard to believe, but true! After nearly 34 years together, Judy and I will be entitled many of the legal rights and privileges heretofore denied us. What I will enjoy the most is Judy’s relationship to me changing on the medical documents I sign each time I visit oncology: from neighbor/friend to Civil Union Partner.

Yeah, for the Little Church and yeah for the lovely pastor who feareth not what might befall.

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26
Aug
10

spiritual healing…art not science

I had lunch with a dear friend of mine the other day and we talked a great deal about pain, suffering, and the art of healing. She talked about providing an environment of peace and beauty that encourages one’s own body to do the job of healing. The next day’s Richard Rohr meditation seemed to fit quite nicely with the thread of our conversation and presented me with a launching pad for expressing more clearly my view of the spiritual dimension of suffering.

Center for Action and Contemplation • Richard Rohr • Meditation • August 25, 2010

Paradox

When Christianity aligns itself with power (and the mindset of power) there’s simply very little room for the darkness of faith; that spacious place where God is actually able to form us.

So when we speak of paradox, I’m trying to open up that space where you can fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31), because YOU are not in control. That is always the space of powerlessness, vulnerability, and letting go. Faith happens in that wonderful place, and hardly ever when we have all the power and can hold no paradoxes. Thus you see why faith will invariably be a minority and suspect position.

Adapted from Holding the Tension: The Power of Paradox

This is what I wrote to her:

Dear Healing One,

It’s not that I enjoy these dark times, but I have received so much spiritual growth as a result of wading through them organically. I seem to go to the end of faith repeatedly and then, a huge white bird comes along, picks me up and sets me on terra firma once again. Each time I am stronger and happier. This is one reason why I resist external fixing. I absolutely love the idea of healing friends standing back with arms outstretched in prayer and love..so honoring to me. And every once in a while, when we speak face to face in my own language, my aching heart gets heard and I know I do not walk through the valley without friends. This standing back…listening…hearing…being…is the ministry of healing a bit higher up on the scale than doctoring. I believe that healers are assistants to The One Who Heals. And in addition…that healing is a many layered phenomenon. Healing is wholeness.

God in me and me in God…and in that way, one can say that the wounded one heals herself. Your faith has made you whole, says Mark 10:53 and Mark 5:34.

21
Jul
10

going forward while standing still

Last night baby kitty, Bella woke me up  after  only 1.5 hours of sleep by jumping up to nestle down upon my sleeping body. Normally I would manage this but last night and for the past several nights I have been flushed with concerns and anxieties. I am currently overwhelmed with life in general and mine in particular. I would like to know when the golden years begin. I’m thinking this whole golden years idea might have been one of those advertising gimmicks to sell retirement homes or insurance policies. There is nothing golden going on in my life at present. Definitely nickel-plated.

Big Dawg and I still have 2 houses: the big beautiful one we put up for sale 2 years ago when we answered the call to come follow Jesus with the congregation we were attending at the time, and the charming little cottage in which we now reside. There had been ample time for leadership persons to explain to us that the invitation couldn’t include the two of us, but nothing was said until 3 days after we moved and there we were, sort of like your best friend died without leaving you a handkerchief. Two years later, we still have 2 houses and the strain of floating them, along with all the other vicissitudes of 21st century life is killing us. The strain of having lost Adopted Daughter along with what we’d thought would be a church family, comes home to roost quite frequently. I won’t go on. It will sound like a soap opera.

Two and a half days ago I had what we used to call a nervous breakdown—uncontrollable crying, despair, hopelessness, deep depression. I pulled myself up to a level closer to normal with the help of homeopathic medication, but  I am truly tired, inside and out. The prairie style FLW house we rescued from ignominy and poured so much love and money into has slipped from $479K to $300K and still no real buyers. We are reluctantly preparing to seek renters. This is a band-aid and not a good one, but it might lessen the financial leak. The wound remains until such time as the church that invited us, and then uninvited us, publicly accepts and confesses its culpability to us. Although we have extended forgiveness to them, such a statement would be a very healing balm to our battered selves. In the meantime, we practice the rule of 70 x 7.

Tomorrow BD and I will head out to Minnesota to attend the annual conference of Mennonites and Roman Catholics, called Bridgefolk, to be held at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville. We are looking for something more, but don’t know what it is. I have moments of wishing we’d not signed up for this because I feel so out of the Circle of Light, but we will go and God will bless and life will go on…one day at a time.

13
Jul
10

beginning and ending

The day started with what I thought would be an early visit to the doctor for a cholesterol blood draw, followed by a pleasant, sweet-treat breakfast and chat with one of my dearest friends.

I drove up to the medical building somewhere between 8 and 8:30 this morning, parked my car in the nearly empty lot (lucky me), phoned my friend to say that I’d be at the cafe shortly and smartly proceeded to gather my belongings from the front seat of the car. Oh, oh, no purse…everything else, but no purse! That meant no driver’s license, no insurance cards, no money and no credit cards. Bummer! I (not so smartly) phoned my friend again to say that I would have to drive back home and start again. She was gracious as usual. I was feeling the result of having been too pre-occupied with a challenging email I’d read before leaving the house to think straight. Multi-tasking had eluded me once again.

I drove home, picked up my purse and started out again traveling back the toll road route, which is faster but unpleasantly nerve-wracking. The parking lot had filled in a bit, but miraculously the space I’d vacated 40 minutes earlier was invitationally still there! Still more miraculously, I didn’t have to wait an hour at the lab, only about 15 minutes. What luck!

“Are you fasting” the technician asked?

“No one told me to fast; I had one cup of coffee,” I said somewhat reluctantly.

“Black? That would be fasting,” the technician’s supervisor announced.

“Cream and sugar,” I said.

“Sugar? Sugar? That’s non-fasting…write non-fasting and go ahead with the test,” the supervising lady replied, while keeping her gaze directly on her computer screen.

I was given the choice of right or left arm for the poke and so it was done. I got out of there quick without caring one whit what the test said one way or the other, and called my friend to say that I was on my way to the cafe, where we would have whatever looked good to us. Coffee with cream and with sugar, for sure! We had a fine time eating, enjoying each other’s company, and celebrating her birthday. It was a lovely couple of rejuvenating hours, then time to say goodbye and head home—richer and deeper for the shared time together. What is better than that?

I drove home along the same road I’d gone  back on the first time around. It was 3 hours later. I was mulling over some things we’d discussed, and generally feeling happy, when suddenly I saw a tiny, furry body on the road. It was a small kitten about 6 weeks old—small enough to fit in the palm of the hand—black with a triangular patch of white on its chest. The kitten was lying limply on its side with legs outstretched. How does an infant cat find its way to the highway? It wasn’t there 3 hours ago when I drove this road home the first time. How did it get there? Was it feral? If so, where was its mother or litter mates? Worse case scenario: someone dumped it out the window for whatever reason. This happens, I am sorry to say. Some people think animals can fend for themselves and are better off out there. (This, of course is never true of older animals who have had human companions, or of the young who haven’t yet learned survival skills.) I have heard all sorts of reasons for the inhumane treatment of animals. Humans do not yet realize that God is incarnate in every living thing.

I gasped as my car passed squarely over that baby kitty. In that instant I felt jointly responsible as a member of the human race, and my heart broke completely. Prayers for the kitten all the way home…prayers and tears and helplessness.

Am I an animal nut? No. I am not wed to the idea of  no-kill shelters or heroic measures for the diseased and deformed. There are millions of unwanted animals in this country. I am an advocate for spaying and neutering and responsible stewardship of God’s creatures, which would include responsible and compassionate euthanasia…not the gas chambers until they are dead that often happens in county animal facilities. I do not like to see an animal suffer, just as I do not like to see human beings suffer…do not like factory farming, just as I do not like warehousing of the elderly or mentally infirm.

As I remember that lifeless little body lying there, I feel a nagging sense of guilt mixed with shame and sadness. Although life is more manageable for us now with only 2 (perfect) cats, I am filled with an urge to add another…one not so fortunate as my Ben and Bella—the prince and princess of our towerless castle. Crazy…guilt driven and compulsive…maybe I’ll just pray some more for the kitty and for all those people out there with whom I am connected as a human being, like it or not.

P.S. There will be more postings about the wedding and grandchildren…and pictures too…eventually.

22
May
10

Pentecost Sunday

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday. It is a day of commemoration and celebration of the 50th day following the resurrection of Jesus—the day (according to the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 2) that the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles and other followers of Jesus. It is considered to be the birth of the Christian Church.

Today, as I prepare to dress the altar in my current place of worship, I am painfully reminded of Pentecost Sunday, 2009, a day that began beautifully and joyously in the church I was attending, but ended in gut-wrenching pain and confusion for Big Dawg and me, as our request for membership was euphemistically burned at the stake. The church was in turmoil. We were in shock. The young, inexperienced pastors were immobilized, despite having been largely responsible for the disaster. Since that time nothing has been okay. There has been no respite, no core reconciliation and no going forward. This church has added another sad chapter to it’s history of passive/aggressive behavior. And we languish in the field wondering where we will ever find a comfortable fit in the Body of Christ. There is something so glaringly wrong with this picture. BD and I initiated and expressed forgiveness to the pastoral leadership, yet no confession of responsibility has reached us…sorrow for loss, but not accountability.

I live in a church world I do not understand. There is a bedrock of discipleship, but it is in dire need of a face-lift. No one likes change, but change it must and eventually will. The question is: how many dead and mangled bodies will be piled up along the way? I’m feeling pretty mangled right now. I’m so messed up that I actually miss the church that threw us out! But it is not the same and one cannot go backward. Everything changes and everything stays the same. What a conundrum! I am once again a bird on a wire, and it’s not a comfortable place to be.

At the church I currently attend, I am accepted, but I do not feel affirmed. They don’t seem to see the difference. It’s a cultural thing, I guess. Teutonic peoples are very different from demonstrative middle easterners. When AD was with us, we were a unit. Now I am feeling alone. They tell me it takes longer than a year to feel a part of things. Now why on earth—in God’s Good Church—should that be the case? Why indeed? I have no acceptable answer, but it appears to be my problem.

I am a mass of painful memories, losses and lack of purposeful direction.

If you have a suggestion, please pass it on.

My prayer is very simple: Please help me.

27
Apr
10

sleepless in the subdivision

I went to sleep tonight around 9:45 p.m. By 11:00 I had awakened twice out of disturbing dreams. In my groggy state I began to wonder what was going on. Then I realized: my next door neighbor is at it again—making noise in his family room—loud, penetrating noise with a steady, insistent beat that doesn’t quit and has no mitigating rhythms. I call this barroom noise, calculated to arouse strong feelings and provoke anger-energy responses in those who have managed to retain their hearing. I have tried heavy-duty ear plugs and white noise. Nothing blocks out the banging noise that pulls the covers off my heart and sends my adrenalin into waves of fight or flight response. I want to smash this guy’s windows…send a rocket through his house. I would call the police, but we are in an unincorporated subdivision. And that means, we are on our own. I reason with myself, pray, imagine going over there and dealing with him. I don’t. The music (I believe that is what it is called) has produced responses in me that have made me fearful of my own anger. Not exactly in keeping with a pacifist view.

It is 12:45 a.m. and I am now fully awake. The 4 cars parked in this guy’s driveway are still there, but the noise has stopped. I don’t know what they are doing over there now. Perhaps they are “cooling off” with a drug of choice and a case or two of beer. I am cooling off too—with a mild sedative and a few sips of port that I know will kick the sedation up a notch. I am resentful at having had my sacred sleep time broken into. I am not feeling forgiving at the moment and the tension makes me want to fall in a heap and cry in protest.  I write instead.

This neighbor fellow has no idea what he has done to our night. He has taken his piece of pie right out of the middle! I do not want to confront him, but I do not know how to speak to him effectively either, for I never see him around his house. He is a bit of a phantom. Don’t know his name. He moved in next door about 6 month after us. These are the times I wish I had a big, courageous, burley husband who would take care of this man-to-man. I do not. It’s just us little old ladies and our 2 little cats, living day-to-day, knowing there really is so little time to waste in this life. Two months ago we lost Bettina, as well as another dear friend of 25 years, 1 year ago I lost my sister, 1-1/2  years ago we lost our cousin, 3 years ago we lost another good friend. All of these to cancer—the thief in the night that I call the old black hag.

Tonight my partner, Big Dawg, went to bed with a heavy heart because another of her cousins in dying of cancer. She lies in bed with this heavy heart. Our neighbor does his noise thing with his buddies. The walls of his house and the walls of our house keep us separate, but the sounds of his travail permeate our bedrooms. Ours does not permeate his. There is an irony here, but I wish it were not so. It is now 2:05 a.m. as I head up to bed. God bless us all.

04
Mar
10

wondering

I wonder if losing a hand is anything like losing a daughter…even an adopted one? I wonder if losing a friend is like losing an adopted daughter? I wonder about a lot of things these days, like why I am called to lose this hand while having to hold on to its arm? I wonder why this is happening during Lent when my denomination’s theme is Holding On and Letting Go? I wonder how Mary Magdalene and the other Mary did this at Calvary? I don’t wonder how the disciples did it because I know they could not, at Calvary. It took Jesus meeting them on the road to help them get back on track. After that of course, they did quite well…except for one…

But I am not a traitor and am not falling asleep. I keep watch each hour and even when stumbling I am still putting one foot in front of the other…holding on and letting go. I have seen much radiant light in this watch with my adopted daughter, friend and teammate, but I have not yet received the knowing…that enlightenment that God always sends when I am ready and the time is right. So I wonder why this person dying too young from cancer…and so like a suffering child in some respects…has been chosen to leave before her time. Or is this her time and I am just too self-bound to see it?  Has God chosen her to be his paschal lamb this year of our Lord, 2010?

I wonder because I cannot yet grieve as deeply as I’d like. I am a care giver. That is my job right now: giving care—loving care. Wondering fills the void of  loss. I am wondering because I cannot rejoice. I am no saint. I am wondering like a soul wandering in its velvet deep chamber—discomfited and discontent. I did not choose this assignment. It chose me. Once again I am in God’s transformation class, hoping to graduate as soon as possible. Last year at Lent, it was a class in transformation through rejection. This year it is a class in transformation through loss and that’s my weakest subject! Never was good at loss. Don’t expect to ever excel at it. Just hope to make it through without losing at loss. I am speaking in riddles. My heart is a labyrinth of wonderment.




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