Saturday, April 7, 2018

Waking Up to Time

Isn't is strange that our lived experience has never happened outside of time, and we can still be surprised by it?   We wake up to alarm clocks every day, and yet an instant awareness of time can jump out of nowhere and shock us to the point of tears.

An example...

This morning, my middle boy, properly sleepy-eyed on a Saturday morning, crawled onto the futon with me, where I was reading, and sipping coffee.

I was so thoroughly enjoying it, my heart bubbled over into my mouth and it said, "Walker, never move out, okay?  You should live here forever..."

Now, he's only 12, but he has had an unswerving conviction about joining the Marines for as long as I can remember.  A few months ago, we were cleaning his room and he handed me something.  "Here, you're going to need this."  It was a Proud Parent of a Marine sticker.

USMC Proud Parent of a U.S. Marine Crome Decal Marine Corps Sticker Decal EGA

Anyway,  this morning I told him that instead of joining the Marines, maybe he could write letters to the soldiers to encourage them, and work at HEB, the local grocery store.  He looked at me with pity.

So, I pressed.  So, are you going to go to college before you join the Marines, so you can go in as an officer?  He shook his head.  "I don't want to be in a position where I  have to send people into a situation where they might get killed."  Well, if you're not going to be an officer, what are you going to be?  "Infantry."  Yeah, but you will either be sending people, or be sent.  "I'd rather be sent."

Gulp.  Without my permission, my brain subtracted the 18-year age requirement (without parental consent to enter at 17) from his 12 years and I said "That means we only have you for six more years!"

He smiled.  "I only have to wait six more years.  Six more birthdays, six more Christmases, six more Easters,  six more Mother's Days..."  Stop, I told him, with tears streaming down my face.  He rattled off a few more examples and got a little misty-eyed himself.  I called him on it, but, as a future Marine would be inclined, he denied it.  "It's just that I'm tired and the light is in my eyes."  Whatever, dude.

He got up and said, "You gotta do what you gotta do."

This is something I understand and will support, even if my heart is breaking from sorrow and bursting with pride at the same time.  Sheesh, makes me cry even writing that.

Zooming out from my living room to others, I'm reminded why I love working in hospice.  People live with an awareness of time.  Sure, there are more tears.  But, there is more laughter, too.  There is often less of what they want, but, in most cases, there is more of what they need.  And that is love - whether you are inching through life or hastening toward death.

I don't know about you, but trying to love someone whose days are more obviously numbered (for ALL of our days are numbered), feels like a high-stakes venture...

Did I say too much or too little?  Stay too long or not long enough? Should I send that reflection that made me think of them?  Or a text to say, "I'm praying"?

God only knows.  My own rule is to pray and to follow the inspirations I have.  And, perseverate afterward.  Sorry, that's the best advice I have, if you're looking for some.

Holy Spirit, enlighten our hearts and minds as how best to love those with little time.  And thank you for little conversations and tears to help us appreciate what is, for as long as it lasts.  Amen. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Wondering Outloud about the Parkland Shooter

A 19-year-old boy killed 17 unsuspecting students and wounded many others.  I grieve for everyone who knew and loved them. 

Since that horrific day, I've participated very little and overheard a lot of conversations about who and what are at fault, who is covering up what and why, and how do we fix it, now and forever.

We would be totally deranged if we weren't in a fervor, and if the discussion didn't start around the gun debate.  It is such an obvious starting place.


But, what about the boy holding the gun?  Was there a time he was innocent, and believed the world was a good place, full of people who loved him, and whom he loved in return?

I don't know, but I suspect there was.  Even for a little while.

"An environment is needed for the flourishing of every kind of life...a living environment, circumstances that will allow the person who wishes to live to breathe, grow, and nourish himself.  If the environment disappears, so does the life..."         Fr. Bernard Bro

If I were some fixture in his room throughout his childhood, I wonder how many times I would have wished I was alive and could go to him, because he was sitting in the corner, crying.  Alone.

I have a friend who has endured much loss, disappointment, and betrayal in her lifetime.  She once described herself as feeling like a set of shelves.  A time came when there was one heartbreak too many and she felt each shelf break in turn, right down the middle.

I believe we have threshholds, and threshholds can be exceeded.  And who knows what after that.

"For most people, the family is the place where one learns to love, or not...We most likely do not learn to love from our school, or from our place of employment, or from our interactions with the government.  Now we might, when we are older, learn a lot about love from our friends or a romantic love.  But at crucial developmental periods prior to adulthood, if we do not come to understand the contents of attentive, secure, sacrificial love from our family, we will likely be impaired in ways difficult, if not impossible, to transcend in the matter of giving and receiving love."
-Helent Alvare, The Family and the Values of Human Life

There are people that I love, who are in my life at this very moment, who feel completely missed in the world they show up in every day.    Unseen, unheard, and unknown.  By all appearances, they are thriving, but they carry devastating, life-altering burdens.

I wonder if a milk carton campaign for the "missing" who live among us would be an effective remedy.  Hey!  That's so-and-so who sits over there every day at lunch by himself.  Hey!  That's my  colleague right down the hall.  Hey!  That's my next door neighbor.  Hey!  That's my son!  Based on the little I know about the boy's life, and the number of times the police were involved over an extended period of time, I believe he was missed.  He is not understood, but he is no longer missing.  He is seen.  But, he will never again be seen as a person worthy of love.  And that is no way to live.

I don't know.  And I'm pretty sure I know less now than when I began typing.  The only thing I know for sure is that tragedy has struck, we must continue living, and we've been given renewed permission and encouragement to wonder aloud.

And I wonder if this sort of thing is what God was referring to in The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, [describing perfected souls living in an imperfect world].  They would "be content to endure anything for My Name's sake; and when an injury is done to someone else, they endure it with compassion for their injured neighbor, and without murmuring against him who caused the injury...

That which thou dost not see thou shouldst not judge in thy mind, even though it may be externally open to mortal sin..."

If you've stayed with me til now, and are up in arms, please know that I am not defending the shooter.  I'm just remembering that bit about environment, and life that flourishes or dies because of it.  And I'm also remembering that God, Author and Distributor of Justice and Mercy, has something to say.  And maybe He's already said it. 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

I Want to Die Gambling

I attended my sixth annual silent retreat last weekend.  When challenged to boil three days of silence into one word, "gambler" was the one that rose to the top for me.  28 women circled up and went around in turn, sharing our word.  I was last.  The ladies before me chose words like love, trust, Father, serenity, remember, and silence.  When I said "gambler", everyone laughed.  Until I explained...

At one point, the priest leading the retreat described God as a gambler - one who knowingly takes risks.  Giving free will for the possibility of love was risky.  God did it anyway.  Love has to be freely given to be true.  Loving first with no guarantee of being loved in return is risky.  But, we're called to do it anyway.  I want to be a gambler.  Not ignorant, or in denial of the risks involved, but fully aware and choosing to love - without reservation, anyway.

If my love isn't received or returned, I have my explanation standing ready.  "It could have gone either way.  I knew it was risky."

I recently attended a funeral for a gentleman I've gotten to know over the last several months.  His wife told me once that she was a "fool for love" after sharing some of what she had suffered in her marriage, and yet she stayed - until death do us part.  I admire her foolishness.

During the service, a family member got up to speak, "We come from a long line of slaves and sharecroppers..."

I hope my face didn't reveal the shockwaves I felt within.  I've never heard words like these directly, nor been anywhere this was true for most of the people in the room, nor been anywhere I was the only white person, and yet, there I was - Stopped cold by the hard truth and the stark differences between our stories, our skin color, and our ability to worship without restraint.  Every worship service I've attended prior to this one is pale by comparison.  (I don't know where that phrase came from, but I have a new appreciation for it, for sure.)

No matter our skin color and our earthly heritage, our spiritual heritage is identical.  We were created to love and be loved, freely and fully.  If we are slaves for love, it is because we've freely chosen it.  We've come from the Father and are returning to the Father, just like Christ.  As we were reminded on retreat, this is our foundation, and an unshakeable one.  Our identity and our security is in Who we belong to.  Can I get an Amen?!

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.                                      -John 16:28

In between this coming into and leaving the world, we pray.  Sometimes more.  Sometimes less.  Sometimes, we even write these prayers down.  And more often, we forget that we've ever prayed them.  But, every once in a while, we rediscover them, and realize that our forgotten prayers have been answered, at least in part.  And we thank God.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I should die before I wake, 
I pray a gambler of me you make.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Free to be Fearless

I've had a lot of incredible conversations, lately.  Conversations that skip the inanity of what the weather has done or is going to do, what's happening at work, or how the kids are doing in school.  Conversations that happen right inside the door none of us want to open.  Inside the door that fear and shame beg us to leave shut tight and locked up. 

When we are alone, the room behind this door is the coldest, darkest, and loneliest room we will ever inhabit.  It's the room where we sit with all of the lies we believe, chief amongst them being, "I'm not enough." and in some cases, "I'm too much."

These are confusing beliefs if you also believe that you are a child of God and created in His image.  "I am something other than what I should be" doesn't really seem like an idea God would build into His people.  So, did we learn it somewhere?  Where did we learn that? 

Most of us don't have to look far to find potential, probable, or unmistakable places and times these loud-mouthed, lying seeds were planted in very fertile soil.  I don't like to give the devil credit for much, but it seems he got around and didn't bother getting creative with the message.

Regardless of why or how those seeds took root and grew into patterns of thinking and ways of relating, they've become part of us.  We will often do anything in our power to keep people from discovering the truth about the lies we believe, wrestle with, or operate out of.

Since opening up about my struggle with insecurity and fear of abandonment in my marriage, I've had the comfort of hearing a lot of "me toos".  Sometimes, it looks exactly the same, sometimes different.  But, whatever the particulars are, fear and shame are at the root of it. 

Because my conversations keep circling back to the same things, because of the silent and devastating nature of the lies we believe, and because of our ever-increasing inability to get to places of honesty, vulnerability, and understanding, I want to invite you in and ask you to consider who you would like to invite in, as well.

That cold, dark, and lonely room is transformed by an open door, the light in the hall, and the presence of another. 

As a guest in my room, I want you not only to know my fears, but to know what helps me live with and conquer them, too.

I believe God created us to be FREE.  Free to choose thoughts, words, and actions.  

Free to be fearless.  

I believe that God has allowed the circumstances, which have fortified my imperfection.  My imperfection/brokenness/weakness, is no longer something for me to fix, but a springboard to the One who can fix it, if He so chooses.  I finally see my struggle as part of His Will and not something outside of it

I have noticed something about the saints.  Their prayers always boil down to the same thing.  They want to love God, love His Will, and quite often, to love suffering. 

So, I'm pretending to be a saint.  I've copied a page out of their prayer book and am praying like they prayed.  Lord, please grant me the grace to love You, Your Will, and to love suffering.  Amen.

I cannot convey how dumbfounded I am by the results. Is it really possible that three simple prayers can transform a life?  I think so... 

I say this tentatively, as I'm only about a month in practice.  I've been tried several times, but only mildly.  I cannot remember the last time I've felt so fearless and free.  If I could actually love suffering, I would no longer fear suffering, which means I could use all of the energy I spend to protect myself from suffering, to love others.  And that sounds heavenly.

For the first time in my life, I am treating my insecurity like the spiritual battle it is.  I am no longer asking for it to be removed or healed, but accept that it might be here to stay.  God's will be done. 

Any time I start down a road I don't want to be on or get stuck in a vortex of negativity, which looks like doubt, fear, suspicion, jealousy, resentfulness, worthlessness, etc... I call on Christ.  I remind myself that feelings of fear and of being bound are contrary to what God desires for me, and it is time to suit up and step forward.  I name what I'm feeling, renounce (refuse to recognize or abide by any longer), rebuke, and reject it in the name of Jesus, and cast it to the foot of the Cross, reclaiming the victory that has already been won over it.  I don't have to do anything, but claim what has already been done.   

In these moments, I see myself as a little girl wrapped around my Father's leg and clinging to it for dear life, pleading not for one more ride around the living room, but for peace and love for all that is good.  I mean, have you ever tried to shake a kid off of your leg that is determined to take one more ride?  It's like that...

And I'm okay with this.  

Running away doesn't work.  Looking back doesn't work.  Introspection doesn't work.  Ignoring it doesn't work.  And looking to your spouse certainly doesn't work.  

Looking up works.  Clinging works.  And once this sinks in...oh, man I hope this is sinking seems like maybe, just maybe, Somebody has been trying to tell me this all along.  

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Matthew 6:33 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  
Matthew 11:28

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.