Tuesday, December 17, 2013

To be held

All these months, six and to the day to be exact, I didn't get it. What the surrender meant. What God was asking of me on that Meetinghouse pew when she gently commanded me to lay down.

Today, I do! I just read a Richard Rohr meditation and it jumped out at me:

"Good powerlessness (because there is also a bad powerlessness) allows you to “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). You stop holding yourself up, so you can be held. There, wonderfully, you are not in control and only God needs to be right. That is always the very special space of any positive powerlessness and vulnerability, but it is admittedly rare."

You stop holding yourself up, so you can be held. That's it. All God wanted was to hold me and for me to feel being held. Simple Truth.

This is the same message, in a different package, I recently received about laying my burdens at Jesus' feet and coming to Spirit naked. Boy, did I need a smack in the head. Fortunately, God is much more loving and gentler than that.

For years I have wondered what that thread was holding me up. I had suspected ego, will, darkness and all manner of things. It's mine to cut.

I wrote that passage Friday, elated at the revelation. Sunday, I stumbled into an old friend who came to visit my mother while I was there. She's a student of healing touch and promised to come each week to tend my mother. I delighted in watching her lovingly protect my mother's heart, re-stitching over the incision, sealing it and working her petite hands, mostly hovered over my mother, up and down, then ending with a repetition of:
"You are blessed. You are healed. You are loved."
As we departed in unison, she hesitated, then asked if I'd like the same. "YES!" I quickly replied. I savored every minute from the invocation of angels to the final blessing and grounding. Jean is quick to note that she's taking her time learning the healing-touch technique – she even shared her wonderful cheat sheets – because she doesn't yet have the ability to feel the energy she is moving and clearing. She's been told that the more she practices, the more surely it will come. I told her I call that faith and strong discipline. Whatever it is she does, she does it with such love and grace and as God's vessel, you know it is healing.
The French monastic community known for its prayer worship
After  a very long day away from my family Sunday, worshiping at my Quaker Meeting, visiting my mother and grocery shopping, I dashed home to discover my girls were decorating the tree at my parent's house, at the request of their grandfather. As I unloaded bags of food and instructed my agreeable husband on a soup recipe, I headed back out for a Taize´ service at the local Episcopal Church. I have wanted to attend for a number of years and two of my neighbors told me at last week's book club how much I would enjoy its charms. So I drifted over just as it was commencing.

Uncertain where it was being conducted in the mammoth church, a kind soul directed me. "They keep it pretty dark in there," she mentioned. Good, I thought, I can do dark and contemplative.

I entered the beautiful, but dimly-lit sanctuary behind a young woman in a beret, who seated herself at the piano. I sat toward the front in a lonely pew. I'd guess there were barely 20 people attending. Made me feel more at home, much like in my Meeting. I happened to look up and glance across the aisle to catch the eye of one of my beloved neighbors. I moved to sit with her. Margaret has always been such an inspiration to me. We hold similar beliefs. I felt honored to be with her, here, at this service even though I had not real idea what it would entail. 

The program was a good guide through the simple, repetitious song phrases, silent prayer, collective readings and Scripture. But what caught my eye was a single sentence: "Those who desire prayers for Healing of mind, body and spirit are invited to go to the pews in the rear corners to receive the laying on of hands and anointing at any point during the service."

So that's where Margaret was off to, not a bathroom break. I knew I'd go as well, though I waited for God's direction, staring into the image of Jesus colorfully cut into glass. I remember, years ago, sitting in the balcony watching one of my daughter's perform in a Bible school musical, witnessing a laser beam of light slice Jesus' heart and directly to me. I felt primed and found myself standing and going to the back. A generous woman, clutched for my hands and asked what I needed: prayer for my mother and me on all levels. She articulated an intricate, heartfelt prayer, then asked if I'd like to be anointed. Yes. I've never been formally anointed, I thought.

Two healings in one day, I mused. So much today has revolved around the heart. First, spending time with my mother as she recovers form heart surgery and then during this service and the Scripture that continues to haunt me:
Strengthen your hearts for the coming to he Lord is near. [James 5:8]
In the Lord, hold firm and take heart. Hope in the Lord [From Psalms 27]
Christ Jesus, broken hearts will be healed, the staring filled. [intercession]
Today, Tuesday I am experiencing a pain day and my heart is breaking for my mother, who is struggling with the grueling after-effects of surgery, anesthesia  and pain meds. I think we ALL could use God's healing and just to be held.

• When have I let God hold me?
• With what difficulty?
• When has another reminded me of God's love?
• How have I experienced healing?
• How do I seek/ask for healing?

what IS holding me up?
I've asked myself
for years

perhaps a better
question is,
how can I let
God hold me?

just hold me
and nothing more,
or less

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Underestimating my mother

Witnessing a parent decline is excruciating, plucking at and uncovering every minuscule  heartstring as you wonder if you've done enough or gotten what you've done right.

How do you care for a parent in a loving, compassionate manner that honors and respects their position in your life as well as the person they are, have been and will become?

This is a place of twisted fate and odd role reversal.

Accompanying my mother as patient and father as caregiver as an adult child is a complex maze, perhaps even a minefield, as I desire to assist them over telling them what to do. Often they amaze me, sometimes surprise me and, rarely, infuriate me. I hope to be more of a guide, carrying out their wishes, than dictator or purporting to know what's best. I want to help them stay independent and in their own home as long as possible. That's also my wish. 

My mother bravely faced a difficult nine-hour surgery head on. She knew in advance that was not the struggle. "What will I know?" she said. "I''ll be knocked out." The recovery would be, she anticipated, her challenge.

In a wonderful Quaker clearness committee, the process of surrounding yourself with trusted others to discern where God is moving by deep listening and thoughtful questioning, she discovered this recovery would be her surrender to Spirit. However, I think she believed it would be a few months, not and entire year as her family practitioner gently, but firmly, reminded her of last week. My father confided that they had heard a year, but did not truly believe it would be that long. She's always bounced back before, we all had remembered.

She's not bouncing back now. I would describe it as more of learning a slow dance, one new step at a time. Long and steady, but surely happening if you can be present to the details we once took for grated: walking a few feet, dressing yourself, getting to the bathroom, having an appetite, remembering and seeing with unobstructed vision. These have all become new obstacles to at once surrender into and master. How that works, I am uncertain, except through faith, trust and prayer.

Improvement is evident in her color, humor, determination and acceptance of help.

Last night in my warm circle of neighborhood book club women, we chatted about aging parents, memory loss, demeanor transformation, expectations, letting go, illness and feeling sandwiched, ever grateful they are still with us. One of the most gracious remarks was about how one mother struggling with dementia still knows to say thank you and I love you. And, when she fails to remember the story she 's trying so hard to relate, acquiesces with "I'll tell you tomorrow." There are bright spots, we all acknowledged.

My mother's family physician soberly pointed out the fact she was walking, talking and cognizant was remarkable given the severity of her surgery. "Remind her of that," he cautioned me, "on bad days," which he said would happen along with entire weeks of difficulty.

Have we forgotten how to care for the aged? It's not a new proposition, yet we are surviving longer. Once, our elders lived with us in largely multi-generational families. As we have transplanted and grown more transient, we've left those customs behind. And also in our social selfishness to focus on ourselves and immediate families.

I am appalled every time I experience someone younger patronizing an elder. It happens in hospitals, nursing centers, in public and privately. In attempting to be true to Spirit's calling, I try to "see" the whole person, beyond the encumbered climbs, faulty mind, thinning hair, stained skin and veiled eyes. We are each a child of God, no matter our age or condition.

• What is my experience of aging – my own or someone else's?
• What are the difficulties?
• Where have I witnessed grace?
• What part of the spiritual journey is this?
• How do I recognize myself and others as children of God?

in a surprise visit
on a snowy Sunday
when roads were
nearly vacant

I spied her head
as she napped
in the wheelchair

I took that as a cue
and treated her
gently, perhaps
too much so

later, she beamed,
suggesting we
witness her progress
in the walker

with my husband
ahead, she
lurched forward,
perfectly in control

teasing him with
her new moves
and teaching
me to never
her courge,
spirit and


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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Never alone

Today I am overwhelmed. With life. With my mother's surgery and very slow recovery. With 15 years of fibromyalgia. With teens. With a faith community I feel on the fringes of. With a culture that seems to have little room for me. With stuck relationships. With adjusting who the world told me I should be to what I am. With feeling limited. With wanting more. With knowing when to push. And when to patiently wait. With thinking I should be thankful. With the stress/mess of Christmas.
Pastel and Conte´ crayon on paper

I simply can not move as fast as the world demands. I lost November, but, even then, was physically back in summer. And, I've really been exploring Easter themes, not Christmas. The cross sticks with me. I have had profound, for me, insights about it recently. But, not today. Today, I want someone to listen. Really listen.

I lost in in the sauna after swimming laps this morning. And again in the shower. And I kept thinking about the cross and what this had to do with that. Then I remembered my new prayer: to lay my burdens at the feet of Jesus and give the rest of me to Spirit. Alone in the sauna and alone in the shower, I did feel heard. As a tear rolled down my cheek, I understood it was as if it rolled down God's as well. I had the flash of detaching and seeing how God views me. With love and compassion. I need to offer that to myself.

My heart is aching. Aching at watching my mother live alone in a skilled-nursing center as she very slowly recovers from massive heart surgery. Twelve days on a ventilator and 17 in bed in ICU have taken a toll. One of her new friends learned it takes three times longer to strengthen what you have lost. That was confirmed by one of her three therapists. Heaped on that are the memory loss, the anesthesia and pain meds working their way out of her body. 

Overwhelming until you look at the little, daily things. Such as her color is better. Her voice stronger. Her humor is back. She's made a table of friends. She's been reacquainted with others she hadn't realized live there. Her therapists say she is progressing. She's eating. She's off thickened liquids and swallowing better. She's alive, surviving a complicated surgery.

And she may be home before Christmas. 

Thinking the past weeks have been such a whirlwind that I need to let things catch up in my mind, body and spirit. I may need to feel overwhelmed and sad, maybe even mad. And in all of that, remember to lay it as Jesus' feet and save the rest, the best for God. AND spread some of that on myself.

Releasing a layer of that burden, I can now feel and express my deep gratitude to Spirit for guiding my mother through the surgery and into recovery. For empowering my dad to handle it all, mostly with grace, and keep himself strong. For giving me steadfast sisters to share the ordeal and family and friends who care.

I am blessed. Even on the days I am overwhelmed.

• What overwhelms me?
• How do I deal with it?
• How does Jesus or Spirit enter into that solution?
• What happens when I surrender those feelings?
• How does God transform my life, my pain and my burdens?

moving so quickly,
it's easy to get
caught up

and roll right

from task to
task, happy
to have a focus

because the
true focus
may just be
too much

until there is time
and the time
is right

to be with it
all, feeling

remembering to
pray and being

we are never

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Beyond the cross

Watching my feet clip at a fast pace toward my yoga class at the gym, I whisper my new prayer, the one that began my last post:

Dear Spirit, I lay my burdens at the feet of Christ and give the rest of myself unto You.

I find these morning walks meditative and prayerful; a great way to clear my head and heart before I stretch my stiff-from-sleep body. Being outside is spiritually conducive to prayer, for me.

I look up only to cross the street, when I notice the sky – rather the striking design of a multitude of vapor trails forming multiple crosses (interesting as I am "crossing" the street). Such an affirmation that this is the right prayer for me right now. I can hardly take my eyes off of the sky and it's clear message.

After a refreshing yoga class, I saunter by the local thrift store on my way home and something says "Go in." As if I need a prompt, I'm always on the lookout for a treasure. I quickly survey what I write off as a junky day and head toward the door when a lone book catches my attention. For 50 cents I purchased the Rev. Francis MacNutt's 1974 book simply titled "Healing."

I have not been able to put it down. I am riveted at his insistence that the New Testament is all about healing: Jesus' healings, the Apostles' healings and the idea that ordinary people can become tools of healing, when as he says "The extraordinary has become ordinary." He writes about wholeness and healing as God's way of being with us. But what reaches me most out of this almost-40-year-old tome is the wrong idea that illness is a cross to bear, "yet nowhere in the gospel do we see Christ encouraging the sick to live with their illness." He mentions how our feelings of unworthiness prevent us from praying for our own healing or that of others. "Healing is not on the periphery of Christianity; it is central," he writes.

MacNutt is edging me closer to understanding the resurrection and salvation message(s). These are not words I am very comfortable with, especially the latter. They are terms that I felt beat over the head with, words that became worse than rote and meaningless; they signaled a human judgment of me. I have never, ever experienced that in my Quaker faith community, which is one big reason I am there and have stayed 15 years. We so rarely use that language.

But I am ready to ... on my terms, from my personal experience and with God's guidance.

MacNutt suggests that Jesus's life and work were based on two objectives:
• "To give us a new life, a loving relationship of union with the Holy Father and with himself, through the Holy Spirit.
• "... to heal and free us from all those sick elements in the human personality that need to be transformed so that the new life may freely enter in."

He includes weakness of purpose, disoriented emotions and physical sickness. I understand these prevent me from becoming whole, my true self, the one God means for me to be. And, that what I also desire – deeply.

This – traveling toward wholeness, health and Divine union – is my path whatever you call it. One of last week's online Henri Nouwen meditations described it as the narrow door of Christ, which reminded me of a dialogue in a recent episode of Breaking Bad (yes, I have my dark habits, too) about the idiocy, according to one character, of Georgia O'Keefe repeatedly painting to same door. The other person suggested it was something she loved and she wanted to paint it perfectly.

Sunday as I sat in silent worship, I chose a spot in the sun's path and noticed shadows of the window panes clearly made a cross. And then I doodled and got to thinking about that space, where the two beams actually cross. Perhaps that is the narrow door of Christ. What's in that intersection? I asked myself.

What's at the crux? An invitation to go beyond the cross, into it and through it ... away from the symbol and idea of bearing a cross to freedom. The cross was man's constraint, meant for death. God uses it as a metaphor for new life. As I ponder these thoughts in worship, a young woman gets up to speak and mentions times we "cross the line." I wonder, have I? And hope that I have.

• What was I taught the cross meant?
• What does it symbolize for me now?
• What's at the crux of the cross for me at this point in my spiritual life?
• Who is Jesus to me?
• Do I agree that in healing the extraordinary can become ordinary?

avoiding it
for years

the idea of the
cross, the
bloody cross

used to instill
fear, and that
if I didn't
get saved, well
all bets and
were off

now I see it

in the sky,
on the carpet
out my studio

and I smile
because, now
I can claim
it as my own

from pure love

to enter
and be

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