Happy New Year

Today I have GREAT news! It is a new year, all our attention is focused upon a future of possibility. We have another opportunity for a fresh start! All the mistakes we have made in the past are passed…the proverbial “water under the bridge.” Turing the calendar allows us to celebrate the triumphs of the outgoing year and physically tear up a symbol of whatever was negative in the year gone by. The days ahead are a blank slate!

Yes, I know that the news coming from Chicago and around the world is not very positive. Gun violence, man’s inhumanity, and the petty actions of our government leaders are still very real. However, a very wise college professor once made this observation, “Commercial news by its very nature must be sensational. The things you read in the newspaper or watch on TV must always have a hook that makes the story stand out. If newspapers ever become full of stories of daily kindness, compassion, generosity, and understanding, the world will be in serious trouble. If violence and brutality ever become the norm, those happenings will no longer deserve commercial space. They will no longer be news!”

That observation has brought me much hope in the times when I begin to feel helpless against the tide of darkness. It is at those times that I look to my neighborhood and neighborhoods around the globe. I look for all the unsung acts of kindness and courage that happen each day without much fanfare. I look at those teachers who go to work daily, diligently studying the needs of their students and searching for ways to make difficult concepts more understandable. I think about the nurses and doctors balancing the concerns of their personal lives with the joys, sorrows, and concerns of patients and their families. I rejoice in the members of my faith family who are always willing to lend a hand when someone needs food, clothing, comfort, shelter, and a ride to the store or doctor. I marvel at those who are caring for loved ones suffering the hardships of declining health or facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s, dementia, or approaching death. I admire the men and women who work one, two, and even three jobs trying to provide for their families. I appreciate all the moms and dads doing their best to raise healthy, happy and responsible children while balancing work and family life. I respect the men and women who lay their lives on the line everyday in the military, fire and police services and their families who continually pray for a safe return at the end of every day. I remember the many people facing serious illness, who endure uncomfortable tests and painful treatments with little complaint. I respect those who honestly pursue ways to overcome addictions, mental illness, and homelessness.

This new year I am struck by the fact that the vast majority of life is just ordinary people, doing ordinary things with extraordinary courage and humility. The thousands of good people I have met in my lifetime, face each day with no media attention. Whenever I have said, “I really admire your courage, perseverance, patience or generosity,” my comment is usually met with a humble and selfless reply which reminds me of the old song, “we did it all for the glory of love.”

Oh, sure we all have our days of complaint when life’s challenges and changes weigh heavy on our shoulders! Those are the times we truly appreciate the ear of a friend, loved one, counselor or confessor who understands our frustration, and points us toward renewed hope.

This new year I stand in awe of the resilience of the human spirit and sing the praises of all those ordinary people who continually find a way to step back, take a deep breath, and face each new day with fresh determination and perseverance, especially those who do it all with a smile and real interior joy! You are my heroes!

I wish each and every one of you blessings, strength, joy, and love in 2017!!

Let Charity and Love Prevail

“It’s on the internet and so it MUST be true!” I was recently at a luncheon when the man next to me sarcastically voiced this cliche to his companions. My first reaction was an internal giggle, but because I am who I am, it was a simple statement that got me thinking about how much “fact checking” I do whenever I am going through e-mail and social media (which is A LOT). I would say that at least half the time I spend on the internet is spent fact checking. This leads to checking the fact-checkers and questioning the agendas therein.

Add to that the many articles written about “fake news” generators and the difficulties involved in differentiating truth from fiction. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO for Facebook, along with other social media experts have been dealing with ways to combat or, at least, make “fake news” more obvious.

The veracity of the internet and the abundance of fake news led me to consider the current political battle taking place on social media. No, I’m not talking about the the Democrats and Republicans. What I AM talking about is the “Merry Christmas-Happy Holidays-Season’s Greetings” debate.

My social media and email have recently been overrun by memes and graphics that insist the TRUE greeting should be “Merry Christmas” and any other is wrong. Yes, for Christians, Jesus is the reason for the season. Still, I believe Jesus would be a bit disappointed with the anger and hatred that is being promoted in an effort to honor Him. A hymn comes to mind, “Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.”

Yes, the truth is that in our current time and among many cultures, the reason we have days off from work, collect holiday pay, decorate our homes, and make major changes in our schedules is because, since the fourth century, December 25th has been the traditional date to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. I am a Catholic-Christian and therefore I say “Merry (or Blessed) Christmas.” However, I rejoice when someone takes the time to smile and wish me happiness and peace, no matter what words they use. I am also glad that, even for non-Christians, this time of year calls us all to ponder the goodness in life and extend our hands in generosity.

img_1927History tells us that fourth century Christians used the winter solstice (the astronomical observance of the shortest day/longest night of the year) to teach others about Jesus as the “coming of the Light.” It is important to note that scripture never tells us the date of Jesus’ birth. Using the lengthening days to teach theological concepts makes sense to me for educational and evangelization purposes. Still, I wonder if the pagans of the fourth century were upset that the early Christians were raining on their parade by using the solstice in this way. If the internet was active in the fourth century, I suspect there would be dueling memes about “Happy Winter Solstice” vs “Blessed Christmas” greetings!

Another truth is that for centuries before the Christian Era, Hanukkah had been celebrated by Jews in the month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, which translated to late November thru December on the Gregorian calendar. I can only hope that, when I say “Merry Christmas” to someone, who just happens to be Jewish, that they accept the good will that undergirds my greeting rather than berating me for not wishing them a “Happy Hanukkah.”

Still another truth is that, since the 1960s, African-Americans have felt the need to honor their African heritage by using this time of year to celebrate Kwanzaa. So, do I wish every African-American “Happy Kwanzaa”? Do I just keep my mouth shut and wait to hear their greeting? I opt for extending a greeting from my own heart and my own experience, “Merry Christmas!” Thus far, this approach has served me well.

To me the heart is more important than the head in these matters. When my heart is overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, I am honoring the ongoing life of Jesus. At those times, I have confidence that the words that come out of my mouth will be promoting peace on earth and good will. It is at those times that I am the best conduit for the spirit of Christ alive among humanity.

With all of this in mind, with complete sincerity and veracity (no fact checking necessary), I use this little part of the internet to extend greetings and prayers for blessings and joy in your life throughout this holiday season, whether you call this time Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the Winter Solstice!

A Season of Less

Are you pulling out all the best china, crystal and linens in preparation for Thanksgiving? Or maybe you are loading the car, having the oil checked, and getting ready for that drive “over the river and through the woods”? Maybe you have the blues because this is the “first” holiday without certain friends or loved ones? Is it possible that you are a soldier or missionary on first deployment far from home and familiar traditions?

No matter what your situation might be, I want to wish you a “Happy Thanksgiving” and let you know that, no matter where or who you are, I will be thinking about you and offering many prayers that you, and those who surround you, will be able to find the peace and joy which this approaching season embodies.

At my age, and with my family’s history, I can easily relate to the mixed emotions stirred by this time of year. I have experienced the gamut of emotions, from innocent childhood anticipation and excitement lingering deep in the recesses of the psyche, to the exhaustion brought on by self-imposed expectations, and the deep sadness which may seem to lie in ambush because that “special person” is so deeply missed.

I am going to make a suggestion for the holiday season of 2016. Make this a “Season of Less.” Yes, I have said this before, less can actually be more. Some valid questions for the “Season of Less” would be, “Does this activity, thought, or process embody the spirit of the season? Does it expand my mind, heart, or soul? Does it kindle a joy that is deeper than the more obvious surface emotions? Does it extend that type of joy to someone else?”

My hope for all my friends, family, acquaintances, and world family is that, from now until the new year, we would make a concerted effort each day to simplify the season. Here are a few suggestions. By no means is this meant to be an exhaustive list. Let the notion that “less can be more” soak in and then act upon that desire to be an agent of simplicity.

  • Be less critical of those who don’t share your “Jingle Bell” enthusiasm or be less harsh on yourself whenever you are not in a “holiday mood.”
  • Be less judgmental of those who have differing beliefs about this season.
  • Refuse to take insult if someone scowls when you wish them a “Merry Christmas” and refuse be cranky when someone wishes you “Happy Holidays.”
  • Make an effort to simplify your holiday decorations. In other words, do you really need all those Griswoldesque lighted displays in your yard and on your roof? The original reason for this holiday season began in simple surroundings.
  • Visit a place you consider “holy” or “sacred” and offer gratitude for that place.
  • Spend a few moments in quiet gratitude for all your memories (the good and not-so-good).
  • Have a good cry over a bad memory and then let it go!
  • Seek someone’s forgiveness for an error you have made. If they won’t forgive, let that go!
  • Watch your favorite holiday movie with friends, this is NOT “wasting time.”
  • Send greetings to your friends in January. It will free up some holiday time and your greetings will really stand out from the rest.
  • Bake less cookies and use the time to call someone you have not spoken to in over a year.
  • Take a one day vacation from all news sources. You may find this so uplifting you will want to extend that vacation.
  • Spend one day free of your computer and/or cell phone. Notice if you have any “withdrawal” symptoms which may indicate you are flirting with a technological addiction.
  • Be on the watch for critical speech. Criticize less and praise more.
  • There’s no need for a gratitude LIST. Just think of ONE thing each day that brings you joy.
  • Spend less.
  • Have one less cookie.
  • Have one less drink.

May each day of this holiday season be filled to the brim with MORE hope, joy, kindness, love, patience, and peace, because you have committed to make it a “Season of Less.”

Vote for Hope

Are you one of the many people who have been disappointed with the tone of our recent political debates and the general state of our local and federal government circumstances? I can tell you that no matter which side of the divide, you are not alone in your discontent.

I have been reading a lot and trying to figure out how to keep my chin up and courageously prepare to cast my vote in the strangest election of my life. I have also spoken to many people who, like me, are dismayed by the fact that none of the candidates are morally upright and worthy of the voters’ trust and neither major candidate supports all the issues important to me.

I have found it helpful to communicate with people about the generalities and not the specifics. Chicago’s Archbishop Cardinal Bernardin and Pope Francis have been my inspirations in this search for “common ground.” It did not surprise me that, when we agreed to leave out the whys and hows, we all wanted the same things: respect for all human life, safety for ourselves, our children and our families, the ability to seek medical assistance when needed (without having to sacrifice food and shelter), the possibility of improving our circumstances through meaningful labor, protection and provision when health or abilities fail, respect and care for our natural resources, and protection of the freedoms detailed in our Bill of Rights, Constitution and related amendments.

The concepts which separate us are always the specifics. What is your definition of “respect,” “safety,” “life,” “need,” “protection,” “meaningful labor,” “natural resources,” and “freedom?” HOW do we stimulate the economy? WHAT responsibilities come with our freedoms? WHO will provide for those who can not support themselves? HOW do we interact on a global scale? WHAT is enough? WHAT is our role on the global stage? HOW do we financially provide for goods and services?

This most recent presidential campaign has really showed me that the greatest need of our age is the rebirth of the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” without trepidation. Unfortunately, fear makes many people twist the adage to “do unto others BEFORE they do unto you.” Hope is in short supply.

Fear has become the key emotion in too many hearts. So many people are launching preemptive strikes in an effort to protect their own interests. Threats, or perceived threats, are creating impulsive shots (physical, verbal, and emotional) between people. Police are fearful for their safety and may use deadly force too soon. People of color are fearful of racial profiling and when confronted, quickly lash out in an effort to protect themselves. Women are destroying the very life within them because they feel abandoned and threatened by lack of financial, physical, medical, and emotional support. People with physical, psychological or emotional instability are left to fend for themselves out on the streets. Those who are blest with a living wage are fearful of being generous because of future uncertainties. Many young people, including our veterans, are resorting to suicide because they fear the future and have lost hope.

I have lived through the administrations of eleven presidents, three wars (“police actions”, call them what you will), a “cold war,” two threats of impeachment, several recessions, major energy crises, several scandals, and an assassination. I am still here and our political union is still here. After 64 years on this planet I am certain of these three things. 1. Life is all about change. Like a Midwestern winter, if you are uncomfortable now, just wait and be patient, this too shall pass. 2. Fear is useless. If we act out of love and NOT self-aggrandizement, courage will arise. 3. The only thing I have any chance of controlling is my attitude. I am a conduit. If I allow negativity and hopelessness to fill me, that is all I will be able to convey to others. When I feed myself with positive, loving, grateful, generous thoughts, I have a better chance of influencing the actions of those around me.

I’m not saying it is easy! I often raise my voice and lash out against the injustices of this world. However, I generally discover that my anger is fueled by fear and accomplishes nothing but the raising of my blood pressure. Just because I am not successful in being a source of peace 100% of the time, does not give me the excuse to give up trying. Whenever I fail to be a channel of calm and balance, I pick myself up, look to the Golden Rule, and renew my determination to try again.

I wish I knew all the answers. God knows I don’t! Still, as we all move through these final days before the elections, I hope we can open our hearts, stop the name calling, conduct serious research to get beyond the lies, exaggerations, and political “spin,” and sincerely pray over our decision before we cast our votes. I can be certain that if the people of this country choose a candidate other than the one I would hope for, I will continue to face each day with perseverance, hope, and most of all courage, because as Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Besides, in four years we will be faced with new political decisions and choices!

Creating a Blockbuster Life

As November approaches and the political rhetoric and social media frenzy amps up, are you feeling as weary as I am? I think of myself as a pretty positive person, yet I am having a tough time remaining that way surrounded by the many prophets of doom and gloom.

So this Sunday morning, in the lazy lavender hours of dawn, as I snuggled with my youngest grandchild (who had spent the night), I pondered life’s many blessings, and decided to share a few snippets of those morning musings and hopefully raise your mood.

I am old enough to remember pre-digital movie theaters wherein noisy machines up in a elevated booth would clickety-clack and pass perforated film in front of a bright bulb so that images could be projected onto the screen at the front of the theater. Sometimes the images were clear, other times the scene was blurred and the projecting lens would need to be adjusted. Occasionally, the sprockets would fail and the bright light would burn right through the fragile celluloid. Sadly, this malfunction would cause vociferous protests in the audience.

Those memories lead me to analogies between that process and how our brains function. Some ideas we project to others are crystal clear, others are blurry because of some difficulty with our lenses and call for adjustments on our part. When we are not functioning at peak performance, some ideas get stuck, we can’t move forward and the jam can cause irreparable damage.

In a similar vein, our lives are much like a long movie that has been produced throughout our length of days. Sometimes the script we have been given has some challenges. As the directors, we end up shooting some scenes over and over again, as we endeavor to achieve a certain emotional outcome. On occasion the others we work with are contrary and even opposed to our artistic vision. We often let our own pride get in the way of asking help of more experienced people. Some events “end up on the cutting room floor,” and are forgotten, because we deem them superfluous or in conflict with the story we are weaving. Ultimately, the “movie” we release is based upon the screenplay we’ve been given, our perseverance, our willingness to seek out the help of other talented people, and our ability to let go of unnecessary scenes.

What does this have to do with the current political climate and the divisions we are experiencing in the United States? I think some of us approach life and endeavor to tell our story like Wes Anderson, others like Kathryn Bigelow, still others like Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, or Penny Marshall. Our childhood, teen and adult experiences, our education, socio-economic strata and religious upbringing, form the physical, emotional, and psychological foundations for the content (or screenplay) we have been given. If we are fortunate, diligent, and have people who believe in us, we are more likely to project a positive influential message to others. While hereditary deficits, brutality, misfortune, and abandonment may spur some to greatness, these “production hurdles,” more often, create a cycle of hopelessness and self-centeredness that enrich no one.

We need to keep in mind that some of us are good at producing “summer block busters,” some excel at romantic-comedies, others show skills with docudramas, animated classics, epic histories, or independent films. Each director’s deepest desire is to somehow impact society by influencing the thoughts and actions of others. The best movies are those that uplift the audience and inspire greater happiness, energy, compassion, or social responsibility.

Have you ever noticed how good directors compliment the works of their colleagues? Likewise, I feel our world is a richer place when we focus on the good in each person and refuse to elevate ourselves at others’ expense. Difficulties develop when inflated egos interfere, when one no longer empathizes with or appreciates the complexity of each person’s endeavors and becomes convinced that his/her own “movie” is the only one that deserves public attention.

My promise to myself, and to each of you, is that I will always strive to produce and project a message that promotes confidence, hope, compassion, understanding, and love. I pray it may brighten your day, encourage your own endeavors and help you to make your own movie Oscar-worthy!

Life Goes On

My sincerest apology to my readers. I have not posted here for most of the summer. As many of you may know, I have experienced three significant losses that are impacting my life in ways I could never imagine. The deaths of my brother-in-law, my favored pet, and the 43-year-old son of long-time friends, have broken my heart open in entirely unexpected ways. The pain of those losses had, for this intervening time, stifled my desire to write. However, life has called me forward and this morning I feel the need to share some observations with you.

I recently celebrated our youngest grandson’s seventh birthday. I gathered with friends and family and, as is the norm at our family gatherings, several conversations took place simultaneously. During one of those merry-go-round conversations, a family member said, “Life does go on!” They were words that I have heard hundreds of times, but in this instance they lit the bulb of deep inner revelation. In that instant, a wide variety of life experiences coalesced in an aha moment. Suddenly, I had a better understanding of purpose here on earth.

Humankind moves forward with a very linear sense of time. We think in terms of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. When someone we love dies (including animals we have loved as pets), in one sense, time seems to stop. The linear sense of time becomes temporarily truncated. Our minds get caught in a whirlwind. We roll the moment of loss around and around in our heads. Sleep patterns are disturbed. Yesterday’s joys and sorrows play out like mental movies. We become preoccupied with “what-ifs” and “should haves.” It becomes a real challenge to focus on the present moment because the pain seems unbearable and we can not imagine a future without the object of our love and affection.

Significant losses induce a psychological, intellectual, and emotional paralysis. It becomes difficult to make decisions. Normal intellectual function gets short-circuited. Internal questions about faith, hope, and life after death are brought to the forefront. Simple tasks become complex. Emotions are extremely fragile and can send us through stomach-wrenching barrel rolls of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance over several months (years) and almost on a daily basis. It can be the emotional equivalent of walking onto quicksand. If you struggle and fight the experience, it can suck you deeper and deeper. As with quicksand, the best action is to remain calm, breathe deeply, relax as much as possible, attend to immediate physical needs, and accept any help that is offered. One article on escaping quicksand advises to think in terms of “floating” rather than power swimming.

If we are patient with ourselves and others, our internal clock eventually resets itself and a sense of “future” reappears. Somehow we realize that we are being called to rebirth and, though life will never be the same as before the loss, we are simultaneously becoming a new person in a world without the physical presence of the loved one. We become aware of how we have internalized the very spirit of the beloved and they are present in each moment at a much more intimate level. Their existence has helped to mold us into the person we are and their memory continues to influence our thoughts and actions, until the day we too leave this physical plane behind.

Over time the journey through grief brings new wisdom and compassion. We become more empathetic to those who have lost someone. We develop a greater appreciation for all loved ones who are still here. We learn that each moment of life is a precious gift and not to be squandered. As my friend grieving the loss of her son said to me, “Hug your loved ones while you can, because it can all change in a single heartbeat!

Days may go by when you feel as if the light is returning and you glimpse a new “normal.” Then suddenly that vision disappears and you get plunged back into the internal chaos of loss. Still, each time the light reappears, the sensation lasts just a bit longer. If you remain patient and open, and if you are honest about your emotions, eventually you too will be able to say with confidence, “Life does go on!”

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Never Give Up on Hope

My husband and I are on our way back home, after spending time with my brother-in-law, Jim, during his last days on this earth. His journey across the divide was shorter than any of us ever expected. We felt blessed to be able to say our “Farewells” and assure him of our love. My sister was by his side when he breathed his last.

After the initial shock, we helped my sister, her children, and grandchildren plan the memorial service and together we grieved the loss of a great husband, loving father and grandfather, brave fire fighter, loyal friend, gentle servant, and generally funny guy.

As I attempted to ease back into some semblance of normalcy, I logged into my Facebook newsfeed and was greeted by this quote from St. John Paul II, “I plead with you – never ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

I know that many of you may call this “coincidence.” Some of you may say that it is an “ironic happenstance.” Still others may say it is just “pure chance” and that, if I had been greeted by any other quote, my broken heart would have found a way to relate it to this recent loss.

Believe what you will, for me, these words have touched my brokenness with love and reassurance, like no other could.

When someone you have loved for over 54 years passes from this life, the loss has deep physical repercussions. For the last ten days, though I feel profoundly exhausted, my sleep has been fitful. There is a physical sensation in the center of my chest that I can only describe as a heavy emptiness. Symptoms of acid reflux have amped up and tears always seem to be just below the surface during any conversation. The mention of his name, and even the most happy memory puts a lump in my throat and pressure behind my eyes. I feel slightly off-balance and easily distracted. It is difficult to accept the fact that I will no longer see him or speak with him in a physical sense.

My usual daily routine has been everything but normal. I have been trying to nurture my sister as she learns to carry the pain of her widowhood, to be a gentle companion as she attempts to get through this dark forest of grief. In some ways it is the blind leading the blind, but I truly believe the old adage “a burden shared is a burden lightened.”

While it is true that we have lost our parents and many beloved relatives and friends, this loss is different. It is a loss that has stripped away great chunks of her confidence and energy. It is a loss that is felt every time she opens the door to an empty house. It will be experienced each time she gets into the car they bought to accommodate his increasing medical needs. It will fill her days and nights in ways that no one but she will truly understand. Still I hope that when those times come, she feels our love and realizes that though she is lonely, she is not alone.

For now, Jim’s laughter and off-beat sense of humor are conspicuously missing. We all tell ourselves that one day his spirit of joy will again well up in our hearts and shine through our own eyes, but right now we are numb, exhausted, and hurting. Right now, hope is all we have. We are contending with the temptations of doubt, discouragement, and fear. We are leaning on the foundation of our faith and the love of friends and family.

Into the midst of this darkness, today a light has shown. It was like standing in a pitch-black room being fearful of stumbling when a ray of light illuminates the familiar and comfortable surroundings. In my heart I feel Jim reaching through the veil. It is his voice saying, “Never ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”

Okay, Jim, I hear you!!

Being a Good Listener

My comment to an online presentation began something like this, “I am frustrated by the natural process of watching my body age. I am glad my health is improving, but I’m struggling with the cost of that improvement. My husband no longer enjoys my cooking, and I’m bucking up against our doctor’s recommendation for a low sodium, calorie controlled eating plan. Though I’ve tried literally hundreds of new recipes, the vast majority fall short in flavor and/or texture. The joy I’ve always experienced with good home cooked meals is gone. Eating is now practical and functional, but all the enjoyment is gone.”

There were very few respondents who truly understood what I was saying, instead most comments gave advice or answers which worked for them. “Eat more organic food.” “Use more herbs and spices.” “Try the THM diet.” “Get a different doctor.” “Your vision is tainted by old feelings that you are not good enough.” Though much of the advice was good and everyone was honestly trying to be helpful, it was not what I was needing. Skilled psychologists, nutritionists, and physicians are easy to find, I was seeking a friend, a comforter, an ally and good listener…a more scarce commodity.

I know it’s a common habit, I have done it myself, all too often. In an effort to be helpful, I’ve given advice, passed on what has “worked” for me, and related my own experience with a similar circumstance, but did I truly LISTEN? The brutal answer is “Not really!”

Years ago, I participated in a week-long seminar in Epworth, Iowa as part of the Counseling and Learning Institute. The whole week was focused on “understanding and active listening.” I guess I never truly mastered what they tried to teach me, though I’ve been practicing for almost forty years. As I get older, I am realizing how important that process is. I guess it is a step in the right direction that I recognize when I haven’t been a good listener, even though it has usually been an after-the-fact recognition.

I believe it was Steven R. Covey who said, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand. Most people listen with the intent to respond.” It is extremely difficult to listen with the intent to understand. The ego must be disengaged, control must be relinquished, and one must be willing to admit powerlessness. The listener tries to hear the emotion and real message undergirding the words, in an effort to become a mirror so that the speaker can better understand the process taking place within. The listener begins with the belief that the person speaking already has the best pathway and just needs another person to help uncover that direction.

This ability to “let go” is especially difficult for people like me who have come to think of themselves as helpers and healers. We become very uncomfortable in situations where we feel helpless or out of control. Our desire to make things better is challenged by the realities of life and death. Sometimes improving a situation is physically impossible, and we don’t like to admit that truth.

In the statement at the beginning of this blog, the responses which were the most helpful were simple. “It is very difficult to age gracefully.” “You’re feeling angry and wondering if all your sacrifice is worth the results.” “You wish there was an easier route to accepting life as it is.” “Change is always a challenge.” “I’m sending positive energy in your direction!” “It’s a struggle, but you can do it!” They didn’t solve my dilemma, but they let me know I was not alone, pointed the way to hope and helped me find my own courage and perseverance.

As I type this blog, my husband and I are on our way to spend time with my sister and her husband. My brother-in-law is very ill and has been in the hospital for over two weeks. He has recently been given the news that his time on this earth may encompass a year or less. Much of that time, may be filled with doctors, medical procedures, tough treatment decisions, and restrictions.

They have been married 54 years! The stark reality of being separated is leaving their emotions raw. They are frightened and overwhelmed. These same concerns are always lurking in the back of the mind as we age and recognize that we have more years behind than ahead. But the word “terminal” and the shortened window of time brings those issues to the forefront and creates an urgency which batters the psyche and causes disorientation and confusion.

My prayer, as I travel, is that I might be a peaceful presence, that I may truly listen and surround them with love and support in this time of few answers.

God is All in All

I just had a wonderful meeting with my “spiritual companion.” After much relaxed conversation, empathetic interchange and lots of laughter, he said, “Geez! We get together and talk about food and so many other things, and never seem to get to the spiritual stuff.” To which I replied, “I think God is IN all these things!”

I really do believe that…God IS present in all circumstances, but not necessarily in the way we would like that to be! As human beings we tend to think in terms of either/or, this vs. that. We can’t conceive of a God who is all-powerful AND all-loving. We have a tough time reconciling the matters of justice and mercy. The questions I often ask myself are, “Is my mind too small to comprehend God?” or “Do I try to make God small enough to fit my understanding?” To both questions I vehemently respond, “YES!”

In the historical record there are thousands of labels and stories humankind has used to try to explain the encounter with the unexplainable. Billions of people have come to understand that there are experiences beyond words and beyond current science. Because humankind has been given the gift of reason, those experiences prompt theories, explanations, dogmas, and doctrines that are then used, by those same humans, for good or evil, as a springboard for heroic service and sacrifice or self-aggrandizement (erroneously labeled as righteousness).

I doubt any of my atheist friends invest any time in reading this blog, but if they happen to be checking in, I know they would admit that there are observations beyond scientific explanation. Those friends and acquaintances would be quick to add the word “yet” because their “god,” (though they would never admit it) is science. They rely on the belief that someday, our human experiences will all find empirical explanation through scientific discovery (if we don’t destroy ourselves first). Interestingly, I too believe that all knowledge will someday be revealed. However, I believe that revelation will take place on the day I die, when I am face-to-face with my Creator.

The debate that often stirs around these beliefs, was beautifully and lovingly discussed by Rabbi Harold S.Kushner in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The answers he poses are touching and faith-filled. If you’ve never read that book, it really is user-friendly and worth your time. Because I am a Christian, and a Catholic, I have some additional theories and answers to those quandaries. Those remedies are centered on the person of Jesus Christ, His example in life, death, and resurrection (whatever that may mean) and His living-presence in my life today.

Let me admit, I lean toward “theology of incarnation” and have my own uncertainties regarding “redemptive theology,” but many very deep thinkers throughout history have debated those questions, so I am happy to leave the nuances of those arguments to them. All I can say is the curtain will not close on that discussion until one shuffles off this mortal coil. I can only speak from my experience, and much of that has left me without adequate words.

The God I believe I have come to know throughout my life has given me free will to be inside or outside of a relationship. As with anyone or anything I have come to love, sometimes their actions have left me frustrated, angry or confused. Sometimes I think I have the solutions to every dilemma and can’t figure out why “the other” seems unaware or uncaring. Still, the deeper I become connected through my earthly relationships, the more I understand and am open to being overwhelmed by a deeper understanding, delight, wonder, and overflowing love. There have been times, when all was said and done, I even came to realize I was completely wrong. The perseverance in and resolution of the struggle made the endeavor all the more sweet. I believe the same is true for my relationship to God.

My experience of parenthood has also given me a tremendous, though still very limited, understanding of myself as God’s daughter. My grown children don’t always choose paths I would have chosen. Ironically, sometimes they even make decisions counter to what I believe I taught them. Still, they are adults and I loved them enough to relinquish control of their lives. I’m sure they love me dearly, but there are also times I’m sure they don’t truly understand me or my motivation. There are times my heart breaks because I want to protect them from some tragedy, but life happens! One thing they can always count on is that when times are tough, I will be beside them as soon as I can to offer any comfort and all assistance humanly possible, and we are simple finite beings, I can only scratch the surface in understanding the love of God.

No matter what I face in this world of free will, foolish choices, and downright evil intentions, I know, from experience, I have been put on this world for relationship. As Neil Diamond said, in Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show, when someone is troubled I have to reach out my one hand because “that’s what it’s there for” and when my “heart is troubled,” I reach up my other hand in prayer and, when I am still and listen, there is an all-encompassing comfort and, as an old spiritual said, “blessed assurance.”

Call me a fool, if you have the need or desire, I will not be false to my experience. This earthly life may pose many questions and predicaments, pain may be extreme and, all too often, I do not live up to my potential. There are times I question my own beliefs and the doctrines of my faith- heritage, but somehow, just then, beyond my human comprehension, I am granted a glimpse of radiance and feel an all-encompassing love drawing me and accepting me, with all my faults and foibles, while simultaneously urging my honest response.

When I am conscious of this relationship-beyond-mere-existence, every moment becomes spiritual. The sharing of a recipe, the frustrations expressed because of human interactions, expectations, and shortcomings, the sunshine or rain, sorrows and joys, a relaxed laugh or understanding word, pleasure and pain, all take place in the loving concern and embrace of that which permeates and animates all creation.

Maybe, if we all recognized that Love was the glue and Life Dynamic at the heart of all existence, we would treat ourselves, each other, and all creation with greater reverence, empathy, gentleness, and compassion.

Auntie Roberta’s Rhubarb Crunch

At this time of year, my rhubarb crop is just about ready for harvesting. This activity always brings delightful memories for me and my family.

In 1982, I was 30 years old and the mother of three, but I had never tasted rhubarb.  Then I attended a party at a dear friend’s home and was introduced to a delicacy beyond compare. It was the perfect balance of tart and sweet, with a crispy crust and lusciously creamy center. For my husband, it brought back memories of his grandma’s farm in Iowa and her delicious rhubarb pie. So I asked Roberta for the recipe.

Fast forward twenty years or so, when our eldest son invited us to a birthday celebration for our first granddaughter. In typical Midwestern fashion, I asked what food I could bring to the feast. He replied, “Is your rhubarb ready? Could you bring Auntie Roberta’s Rhubarb Crunch?” It was at that moment I realized this recipe had become a true “family favorite.”

It is important to know that “Auntie Roberta” is not a blood relative. She is a friend who had become as close as a sister, and my children became very comfortable referring to her by that appellation. My husband and I firmly believe that the term “extended family” has nothing to do with pedigree.

Making rhubarb crunch has taught me many deeper life lessons. Some years my rhubarb “is ready” in early June. Other years the plants don’t mature until later in the month. The experience has taught me patience. When the weather cooperates and the harvest is plenty, the recipe is truly “rhubarb” crunch. When the harvest has been sparse, I have added strawberries to fill the pan and Rhubarb-Strawberry Crunch is equally yummy. This was a lesson in flexibility. I have recently read that apples are another very tasty complement to rhubarb desserts. The lesson is, always be willing to learn something new! I may give that a try this year. I will let you know how it turns out!

For now, here is the original recipe, a picture of my “sister from another mister,” and the recipe (adjusted for a larger batch). The original was in a 9 x 9 pan. I increase the amounts by half and make it in a 9 x 13 pan.

 

Butter stains are a sure sign of a family favorite!

Auntie Roberta’s Rhubarb Crunch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

1 1/2 cups sifted flour

3/4 cup melted butter

1 1/8 cup rolled oats (oatmeal)

1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

Mix all together and press half into a 9 x 13 pan. Save other half for topping.

Pour 6 cups rhubarb (cut into 3/4 inch chunks) over pressed crust. You may also mix in strawberries to make the 6 cups if you don’t have that much rhubarb.

In a medium saucepan mix together

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

3 Tbsp. corn starch

Cook until bubbly and thick. Pour over the rhubarb. Then sprinkle remaining oat mixture over the top and pat down gently. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour until bubbly and lightly brown. Serve hot or cold with whipped cream or ice cream on top.