From My Reading – November

“Here is the principle: We can only transform people to the degree that we have been transformed. We can only lead others as far as we ourselves have gone. We have no ability to affirm or to communicate to another person that they are good or special until we know it strongly ourselves. Once we get our own “narcissistic fix,” as I call it, then we can stop worrying about being center stage. We then have plenty of time and energy to promote other people’s empowerment and specialness. Only beloved people can pass on belovedness” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, July 4, 2021).

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“In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as well produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus’ terms we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them. In fact liking them may stand in the way of loving them by making us overprotective sentimentalists instead of reasonably honest friends. 

When Jesus talked to the Pharisees, he didn’t say, “There, there. Everything’s going to be all right.” He said, “You brood of vipers! how can you speak good when you are evil!” (Matthew 12:34). And he said that to them because he loved them.  

This does not mean that liking may not be a part of loving, only that it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes liking follows on the heels of loving. It is hard to work for somebody’s well-being very long without coming in the end to rather like him too” (Frederic Buechner, originally published in Wishful Thinking).

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“Maybe it’s not that there are two places beyond the door of death, heaven and hell. Sometimes I wonder if hell is just what heaven feels like for those who haven’t learned in this life what this life is intended to teach. I believe with all my heart that God is not willing for even one person to miss out on the joy and glories of heaven. . . . We are becoming on this side of the door of death the kind of people we will be on the other side” (Brian McClaren quoted by Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations (September, 17, 2001).

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“I want to say to you that most of our brokenness cannot be simply taken away. It’s there. And the deepest pain that you and I suffer is often the pain that stays with us all our lives. It cannot be simply solved, fixed, done away with. . . . What are we then told to do with that pain, with that brokenness, that anguish, that agony that continually rises up in our heart? We are called to embrace it, to befriend it. To not just push it away . . . to walk right over it, to ignore it. No, to embrace it, to befriend it, and say that is my pain and I claim my pain as the way God is willing to show me his love” (Henri Nouwen).

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m Back

Well, finally, I’m back! After months of struggles accompanied by God’s constant blessings, I am perhaps ready to share on this blog what I am learning.

But first, I probably need to share the struggles.  A year ago my husband died after many years of illness and my dedication to his care. Several months later, I experienced the return of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, and began chemotherapy again.  Then within a time span of several weeks, I fell several times in my home and went to live with my son and family in hopes of  being safe while understanding the whys of this new phenomenon. The falls did not stop; they only got more serious. One fall at the door of a dentist office and one at my son’s home injured both my tailbone and my head.  The last fall involved an ambulance and a CT scan – which fortunately revealed no brain damage.  But why the dizziness and the seeming loss of consciousness?  A heart monitor and a telemonitor are now in  place in hopes of determining that.

In the meanwhile, I have  had constant visitors: a nurse, physical therapists,  occupational therapists, and a person who is with me three hours a day to watch over me.  It has finally been determined that I can return home next week – after a careful review of the accessibility of my home and the installation of a grab bar here and there.  I will be returning to an empty garage, since during this whole process I decided I could no longer drive and sold my car. More loss of independence.

So . . . what has this year of loss taught me?

1.  We can survive more than we ever anticipated.  Life goes on and we can adapt. And if we don’t want to adapt, there is always someone who will encourage us  to try.

2. Families are our lifeblood. My son has turned out to be the perfect intermediary between me and every kind of professional that has ever been invented. He is also a chauffeur, a companion during chemo, a  watchful eye when I blunder forth without my walker, and a good listener in between zoom meetings with his college students and preparations for classes.  My daughter-in-law has gone out of her way to find food that I will eat and to think of everything I might need. She does this while preparing lesson plans for the students in her new teaching position and taking care of the rest of her family.  My 16-yearold granddaughter has gracefully given up her bedroom for more than three weeks. And my college-student grandson  has been a perfect caregiver during his fall break.

3. Make good friends and keep them! I have been surrounded by loving and caring friends. They cheer me up and offer their prayers. They give me rides, loan me their  walker, keep me company,  run errands for me,  call me and e-mail and text me,  pick up library books the list goes on and on.

4.  For the last two decades, my favorite spiritual formation practices have been “letting go” (as taught by Ignatius of Loyola) and practicing gratitude (as encouraged by Richard Foster).  These two habits have eased the last year of my life tremendously.  Daily I can find much for which to be thankful.  And letting go of precious people and experiences has been made easier by my being willing to relinquish  as life has gone by.

5.  Keep the promises of God in your heart.  And live the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus preached and lived it.  The remembrance of God’s words and example of Christ’s life make all the difference as we try to navigate the stress and complications that life brings us.

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From My Reading – September

“When we have an understanding of the great themes of Scripture, the whole book from Genesis to Revelation, we see it as communicating a divine pattern to humanity. One basic message is finally communicated to all Spirit-filled people who enter this faith dialogue with the Scriptures. The message of “Good News” is this: You are loved. You are unique. You are free. You are on the way. You are going somewhere. Your life has meaning. That is all grounded in the experience and the knowledge and the reality of the unconditional love of God. This is what we mean by being “saved” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, June 27, 2021).

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“Caring is first a way to our own aging self, where we can find the healing powers for all those who share in the human condition. No guest will ever feel welcome when the host is not at home in his own house. No old man or woman will ever feel free to reveal his or her hidden anxieties or deeper desires when they only trigger off uneasy feelings in those who are trying to listen. It is no secret that many of our suggestions, advice, admonitions, and good words are often offered in order to keep distance rather than allow closeness. When we are primarily concerned with giving old people something to do, offering them entertainment and distractions, we might avoid the painful realization that most people do not want to be distracted but heard, not entertained but sustained” (Henri Nouwen).

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“Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. That, I suppose, is the final mystery as well as the final power of words: that not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate. And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental; and a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth” (Frederick Buechner).

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“I’ve come to the point where I’m not sure anymore just what God counts as radical. And I suspect that for me, getting up and doing the dishes when I’m short on sleep and patience is far more costly and necessitates more of a revolution in my heart than some of the more outwardly risky ways I’ve lived in the past. And so this is what I need now: the courage to face an ordinary day…without despair, the bravery it takes to believe that a small life is still a meaningful life, and the grace to know that even when I’ve done nothing that is powerful or bold or even interesting that the Lord notices me and is fond of me and that that is enough” (Tish Harrison Warren).

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Monoclonal Antibodies and Me

Those of us who have paid attention to the COVID19 pandemic may have heard the term monoclonal antibodies.  These fascinating antibodies are created in a lab to trigger the immune system to destroy cells that have a particular specific antigen, or foreign substance or toxin in your blood.  A particular antibody that targets the COVID19 virus has been developed to be given to people  who develop COVID 19 and has saved many lives.

This week I was astonished to learn of the use of another monoclonal antibody, Daratumuab:  to treat my cancer!  In 2014, the appearance of a blood clot in each leg prompted my doctor to send me to a cancer specialist.  His tests revealed that I have multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable blood cancer.  I was treated for about three years and then taken off the medication in hopes that the disease was controlled.  It remained controlled until this spring when the “numbers” start rising dramatically.  It was decided that I would try a new treatment that has proved very promising.

Cancer is a disease caused by changes, also know as mutations, in DNA that change the way cells work in a variety of different ways.  One way to destroy cancer cells is to use antibodies to protect  the body against  these foreign substances.  An antibody is a protein that sticks to a specific type of protein called an antigen.  When an antibody finds an antigen, it triggers the immune system to target and destroy it.

Last week I had my first injection of the monoclonal antibody Daratumumab.  Daratumumab is a targeted antibody therapy that looks for CD38, a cell surface protein found on myeloma cells. When Daratumumab  binds to CD38, it inhibits the grow of CD38 myeloma cells and causes cell death.  And the cancer is gone.  I will have weekly and then bi-weekly injections of this monoclonal antibody until the end of December.  In May, 2022, I will have another blood test to see how successful this treatment has been.

Stay tuned!

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“The Space in which the Noise Arises”

“Silence is helpful, but you don’t need it in order to find stillness. Even when there is noise, you can be aware of the stillness underneath the noise, of the space in which the noise arises. That is the inner space of pure awareness, consciousness itself. . . .”(Eckhart Tolle).

There is a lot of silence in my house.  It has been nearly eleven months since my husband died. He was always ready to listen my comments and stories and frustrations. I would vent and he would smile. When he was very sick, I would look for things to say that would make him smile. I still have the urge to “tell Fred about this.”

So this year there has been silence but not a lot of stillness. Sometimes silence is helpful; sometimes silence just brings a realization of aloneness. But I am beginning during these quiet times to go beneath the silence and settle into “stillness.”  Because there is no one immediately present to hear my complaints or my silly chatter or my furor over the politics of America, I am learning just to sit silently in my recliner and allow stillness, which Tolle calls the “inner space of pure awareness” to float around me. I’m not consciously deliberating or praying or solving a problem; I am just present. The difference between my silence and my stillness is that though my mind is quiet, I am listening.

It was during one of those times of being “still” that I came to a stunning awareness about my life which has changed everything for me.  Fred’s death had provoked a lot of looking back about how different we were and how differently we responded to the traumas in our lives. And now in the stillness, I suddenly became aware of one of the saddest facts of my life:  “If you don’t have a mother, it’s hard to be a mother.” In my case, my mother was there, but not present to me or even aware sometimes that I was there, too.  This awareness provoked opportunities to share my new understandings with my two sons (who are in their fifties and were probably quite baffled when I started these conversations.) This time of stillness brought me relief from pain and a shedding of long-held guilt and a closer relationship with my sons.

Stillness is, I’m learning, different than silence.  And God can be even more present in our stillness. In the stillness we somehow become free to deal with often decades old “noises” that are painful and loud and stubborn –  that God wants to heal.

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“A Character – Transforming Life”

The goal of salvation is not to get us into heaven.  Properly understood, heaven is not a goal at all, but a destination . . . . Heaven is only a glorious byproduct of something far more central. Salvation is a life, and when we have this [life] physical death becomes merely a minor transition from this life to a greater life  . . .  .The real issue is not so much us getting into heaven as it is getting heaven into us. . . . The daring goal of the Christian life is an ever-deeper re-formation of our inner personality so that it reflects more and more the glory and goodness of God . . . . You see, this life that comes from God and is the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, is a character-transforming life” (Richard Foster in the Renovare Weekly for August 13 – first presented at a 1999 Renovaré International Conference in Houston).

I began reading the article containing these quotes from the Renovare Weekly while trying to work my way out of a purple funk.  My cable network was down and every attempt I had made for more than hour had been fruitless until the help desk agreed to set up an appointment for a tech to come  on Wednesday from 9-10. This was on Saturday. I was upset because of the loss of cable TV for several days (while the bill keeps on accumulating).  But I was just as upset because dealing with cable companies is not my job; it is supposed to be my husband Fred’s job, and sadly, he is no longer here!

But as I read, I was captured in a time warp. I was being profoundly affected by the words of the man who stood about two feet away from me in a lecture room at Spring Arbor University who was calmly sharing these same ideas and concepts that changed everything about my life forever. My spirit, my heart, my brain, even my career were never the same.  And strangely as I read through the whole essay, Salvation as a Life, I totally forgot about the irritating cable problem!

Some of these phrases may now sound like clichés: “Heaven is not a goal but a destination.”  “The real issue is not so much us getting into heaven as it is heaven getting into us.” “The life that comes from God is a character-transforming life.” But for someone like me who had been in and out of churches for decades because all they talked about was “sinners being saved” and “finding eternal life” and never as seriously dwelling on  the life of  the Jesus who had grabbed my heart, these words like this filled my soul and had me searching for more from Richard Foster (and his comrades Dallas Willard and James Bryan Smith and Bill Vaswig and others). 

Many years after slowly and daily learning how to “re-form myself” and attempting to “live my life as if [Jesus] were I,” I can say “Thanks again” for the “cable lesson” – Appreciate what you have instead of complaining about what you don’t have!

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For a beautiful story about the kind of transformation Foster describes in this post, check out Sharing the Hope that is within You, a story about Jim’s new life.

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From My Reading – August

“You can be bored by virtually anything if you put your mind to it, or choose not to. You can yawn your way through Don Giovanni or a trip to the Grand Canyon or an afternoon with your dearest friend or a sunset. There are doubtless those who nodded off at the coronation of Napoleon or the trial of Joan of Arc or when Shakespeare appeared at the Globe in Hamlet or Lincoln delivered himself of a few remarks at Gettysburg. The odds are that the Sermon on the Mount had more than a few of the congregation twitchy and glassy-eyed.

“To be bored is to turn down cold whatever life happens to be offering you at the moment. It is to cast a jaundiced eye at life in general including most of all your own life. You feel nothing is worth getting excited about because you are yourself not worth getting excited about. To be bored is a way of making the least of things you often have a sneaking suspicion you need the most. To be bored to death is a form of suicide” (Frederick Buechner).

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“God created us with unceasing desires. That is, the things of this world are metaphysically incapable of satisfying us. But it’s more, I think. It’s not just that things are incapable of satisfying us, it’s that we’re incapable of being satisfied. We can be gratified temporarily with a breakfast of bacon and eggs but never satisfied permanently. To be human, is to never stop needing. Therefore, we must find a source that never stops giving. And this is what we find in the Eternal Three: Father, Son, and Spirit—they are the never-ending source of sustenance and supply, the everlasting spring of care and concern, the infinite root of fulfillment and well-being. Human life only makes sense, if it is rooted in divine life” (Jonathan R. Bailey in his blog for June 6, 2021).

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Moral distress “arises when we are aware of a moral problem and we determine a remedy, but are unable to act on it because of internal or external constraints” (Joan Halifax in Standing at the Edge).

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“A church that has been humbled by disruption and decline may be a less arrogant and presumptuous church. It may have fewer illusions about its own power and centrality. It may become curious. It may be less willing to ally with the empires and powers that have long defined it. It may finally admit how much it needs the true power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. That’s a church God can work with” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, June 3).

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Once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive . . . But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about” (Haruki Murakami).

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“The enemy, the spirit behind white supremacy, is the spirit of the antichrist. It is not a human; it is not a political party; it is not progressive or conservative. It is a principality and power, and if we try to fight it on our own physical strength, then we most certainly will die prematurely on the battlefield. We will become casualties of war, and we might even be scarred by friendly fire.

This spirit cares nothing about the “soul of our nation.” It disregards the fortresses that some prop up as defenses for the American empire. The so-called battle for the soul of the nation is a deception. It is the fog of war that has so many in the American church distracted. The spirit of white supremacy knows that it is in a war for the souls of humans, destroying white folks, black folks, and everyone”(Natasha Sistrunk Robinson in Comment, April 29, 2021).

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Enough of God to Go Around

This post was first published on November 27, 2012. I’m realizing that the need to recognize the concepts of abundance and scarcity is even more necessary in 2021! It seems as if much of the animosity in our world can be traced to one group or another feeling that there is never enough for them. While many DO live in scarcity of one kind or another and legitimately need our help, the issue seems to have taken new life among other groups who believe that their abundance (of all kinds) is being threatened by somebody who doesn’t deserve it. It has even led to the issue of our former president desperately feeling that he should still be allowed to be president even though the election was legitimately won by someone else.

A dust-up at work the other day reminded me of something I learned from Stephen Covey years ago: the principles of scarcity and abundance.

I was raised in an atmosphere of scarcity.  There was never enough time, enough love, enough affection, enough trust.  My mother taught me at an early age that there was also never enough  God.  Embittered by the death of her husband, an army chaplain, in World War II and left to care for a three-year old daughter on her own, she was careful to teach me never to be too happy because one day “the other shoe will drop.”  Or, never to pray “Thy will be done” because God will take you seriously and take away everything you want and love.

It was astonishing to me, therefore, to read in Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that there are people in the world who were relatively free of fear, jealously, yearning and other emotions that roil around when a family is mired in a culture of scarcity.  These people were raised in an atmosphere of abundance.  There was always enough love, trust, respect, hugs, time, and all the other important things that children need.

And then I learned that the culture of scarcity  also infected my view of God.  What a shock when I read the statement, “You can have as much of God as you want.”    How could that be? I couldn’t fathom not having to fight for or perform for someone’s attention and love. I soon learned that I was not the only one who assumed that God couldn’t possibly notice me because of all the other more important people who demanded his attention.  I had to re-learn the stories I had told myself about who God was. It was  difficult  to understand what Jesus even meant by the abundant life (let alone believe that it could be mine) for someone who had rarely felt an abundance of anything good . . . hardscrabble living dies hard!

I also had to learn about relationships with people.  For example, it is possible for a good friend to love me at the same time she loves another friend. Who knew?  It is possible to assume that people will affirm rather than criticize.  It is possible to walk around with my hands open to receive rather than with tight fists hanging on to what I had.

I think attitudes of scarcity and abundance explain many problems in interpersonal relationships – even in the church.  The gospel of scarcity easily finds a home in the church.  We really don’t want new people to join us because there’s not enough of anything (the pastor’s time, pews in the back, money, parking spaces).  We can naysay all attempts to start new projects, develop new ministries or raise new monies.  It is too much of a stretch to believe that God will provide because we have always assumed there  will never be enough of anything.

On the other hand, people who see abundance are ready to charge forward.  They assume that what is needed will be provided.  They are eager to look at the old problems with fresh eyes because there is enough intelligence, enough dedication, enough determination to do whatever God is calling them to do.  They can trust in the present and the future because they learned to trust  in the past.

Sometimes negativity and fear and unwillingness to change can be alleviated if we just stop to think:   Is my attitude a doctrine of scarcity? If so, can I change my thinking?  Can I trust the fact that I was created in the image of God, and God never is in the business of scarcity?  God is all about abundance.  We need to move into that neighborhood with him.

As I reflected on the incident at work, I realized that it flared up because someone had an attitude of scarcity so powerful that he couldn’t see that he didn’t have to fear that someone would take what he needed.  He, and we, can trust that we can always have enough of God and God’s resources as we want and need.  There is always enough of God and God’s love to go around!

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