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?

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