From My Reading

“Jesus says: ‘You have a home . . . I am your home . . . claim me as your home . . . you will find it to be the intimate place where I have found my home . . . it is right where you are . . . in your innermost being . . . in your heart.’ The more attentive we are to such words the more we realize that we do not have to go far to find what we are searching for. The tragedy is that we are so possessed by fear that we do not trust our innermost self as an intimate place but anxiously wander around hoping to find it where we are not. We try to find that intimate place in knowledge, competence, notoriety, success, friends, sensations, pleasure, dreams, or artificially induced states of consciousness. Thus we become strangers to ourselves, people who have an address but are never home and hence cannot be addressed by the true voice of love” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

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“I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love” (Wendell Berry).

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“There is no single expression of discipleship that is prescribed, other than to follow. When I look at my companions on the way, I see such diversity in how we live out our callings. Some people quietly, gently touch the people around them. Some have endured great suffering and even death because of their beliefs. We are teachers, prophets, retail salespersons, trash collectors, clergy. We live in mansions and under bridges.

What unites us all is that we travel together as disciples, seeking daily to follow in the steps of Jesus. Sometimes we lose our way. But always, we are called back to the way of the one who guides our steps through the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of life” (Beth A. Richardson, Soul Care for Spiritual Leaders, Upper Room).

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“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.  It took me years to understand that this too was a gift” (Mary Oliver).

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Overcoming Spiritual Withdrawal Symptoms

As I struggle with some old narratives (especially “life should be fair)  while caring for my sick husband, I remembered this blog first published on August  6, 2017. It focuses on the importance of dealing with residual emotions when we attempt to make positive changes in our emotional life.  

The dictionary definition of the term withdrawal is “the act of taking out.” Withdrawal can refer to taking money from a bank, removing your name from consideration for committee or a job, or leaving a college class. The most frequent use of this term is the “group of symptoms that occur upon the abrupt discontinuation or decrease in intake of medications or recreational drugs,” also from the dictionary. Actually, we can experience “withdrawal symptoms” when we attempt to stop any addictive behavior: gambling, Facebook, video games, over-eating, or just thinking we are always right.

I have been musing about the possibility of suffering from withdrawal symptoms when we attempt to curb any of the defensive behaviors hiding in our shadow selves. Most of these dysfunctional behaviors have been building up for years as a protection from pain and insecurity. Sometimes we don’t even realize how we respond to life; we just know we have to be wary and in control.

Testing my hypothesis, I searched back in my life for times when I was trying to change inappropriate behaviors.  For example, as I tried to curb anxious thoughts when I woke up at 3 a.m, my symptom of withdrawal was fear (which became more and more obvious) that I was going to miss something, forget something, or, worst of all, be unable to handle or control something. I learned to turn my fear into faith by remembering that I live in the Kingdom of God. No matter what happens, I am safe.

For much of my life, I believed that the more I accomplished the more value I had in the eyes of human beings and even in the eyes of God. When I was deepest into this false narrative, I rarely sat down to do something “unproductive” because I was afraid of being caught at being lazy. As I tried to change this behavior, I found myself choosing to read a book, or take a nap, or  just sit only when no one else was home.  It took many years of intentional behavior, with its accompanying withdrawal symptoms, to get that false assumption out of my mind and heart.

More recently, as I tried to stem the flow of critical thoughts (and sometimes comments) that erupted almost instantly when someone overlooked me or disagreed with me, I felt weak and “off my game.”  When I stopped building up my arsenal  to respond to “attacks,” I felt even more vulnerable to “attacks.”  I had to choose, over and over again, to recognize the feeling and remember that my value and worth come from being a child of God, not from the recognition or approval of the people around me.

Spiritual withdrawal symptoms are just as uncomfortable as physical withdrawal symptoms. They tempt us to give up and go back to the behaviors or wrong thinking we are trying to eliminate. We lessen their effectiveness by having a plan to counteract them.  Twelve Step programs give us a tool for this: HALT. When we find ourselves in the following physical or emotional states, we will be vulnerable to relapse into the behaviors  or thoughts we are trying to shed.

  • Hungry – not just for food but also for attention, or understanding, comfort or companionship
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired – not just physically but also feeling emotionally overloaded or overwhelmed

We need to be vigilant in noticing these emotions.  When we become aware of them, we need to halt and take care of them.  And then we need to remember that the Holy Spirit is at our side, eager to help us free ourselves from behaviors that keep us from becoming like Jesus. 

Posted in Living as Apprentices | 2 Comments

Transformed Lives Transforming Our World in 2019 -Becoming Open

I was on the phone by a large window in a hall of the hospital (the only place to get reception), reporting to my sister-in-law on her brother’s condition. After we got all the tests, procedures, doctor’s opinions, and medications out-of-the-way, we somehow got on the subject about being stuck in  religious boxes. She mentioned a book she was reading which was really opening her mind to new possibilities about who God is and how he deals with us.

I responded with a “Yippee!” – or a subdued version of that more suitable for a hospital.  I opined that people in their 60’s and 70’s and beyond are often more free to consider  letting in new people, new ideas, new experiences that seem to counter the teachings that have boxed them in for years.  As usual, when someone is open to spiritual questioning, I referred her to Richard Rohr and sent her several of his daily meditations, which, she reported, “blew my mind” and opened up  new pathways in her heart and soul.  My best experiences in teaching have come when a student or a friend or a colleague has a “blew my mind” experience and opens his or her heart to a new experience or a new philosophy.

My road to an open mind came by way of St. Ignatius of Loyala who taught me about letting go and detachment – the necessary spiritual disciplines on the road to open hearts and open minds.  It was reinforced by countless books and authors who presented a new view of our relationship with God, and thus our relationship with others.

Ignatius came to his new awareness and calling by giving up his boxed-in life as a privileged nobleman and brave knight in Spain to meditate and pray in a cave in Manresa for a year.  Countless others have been forced into “tight places” physically or mentally or emotionally before the hard shell around their belief systems cracked. Think of the disciple Peter who refused to accept non-Jews into his new community until God gave him dream. The apostle Paul had to see a vision of Jesus in order to stop persecuting Christians and start changing the world.

Joseph had to be dumped in a well by his brothers and then jailed before he found the political life that allowed him to save lives in Egypt. David had to leave his life as a shepherd to become King of Israel. Abraham had to leave his comfortable tent to learn about being “blessed to be a blessing.” John had to be exiled to an island to write a glorious vision of the Kingdom of God.  All learned that you can’t accept a new opinion or a new calling if you refuse to let go (at least temporarily) of your own long-held positions 

Richard Rohr has said, “If it’s true, it’s always been true; truth simply shows up in various ages and cultures through different vocabulary and images” (Daily Meditations, 12/30/18).  This stretching is hard for those of us who have been taught “the right way” to think about anything, especially God.  

God cannot collaborate with  a person who is stuck in any kind of  box – racial, cultural, religious, political, or emotional.  If we want to join with God to change the world, we all need to examine our sacrosanct beliefs and comfortable traditions and be willing to face ideas and experiences outside our comfort zone. Then we can  join God and his followers in an adventure of discovery.

Posted in Transformed Lives Transforming the World - 2019 | 1 Comment

The Parable of the Lost Fred

Note:  Recently I was poking around in the archives of this blog and noticed the following blog, published on January 21, 2013. I re-posted it again on   August 9, 2014. Now my husband is again seriously ill, and I’m realizing that this is one of my very favorite blogs. Because I’m busy playing nurse,  I’m re-posting it again for those  new readers who might not have seen it – and long time readers who enjoyed it the first two times.

My husband Fred had been ill for several weeks.  By the time he was finally hospitalized, a lung infection had spread to his kidneys and to his brain.  After about two hours in the emergency room, he became non-responsive.  We talked to him,  called his name, asked him questions, but he didn’t answer.  His eyes followed us at some points, but there were no words, no responses when he was asked to move his arm or turn over.  He was there, but he wasn’t there.

Early in the morning a day later, I walked into his room and stood near him, calling his name. Finally he opened his eyes. A minute later they came alive and then filled with tears. “Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!” he repeated as the tears rolled down his face.

“Why?” I asked.  “I didn’t do anything.”  Then, thinking he meant that he was grateful to be feeling better, I said, “The doctors and the nurses were the ones who helped you.”

He shook his head, “No, I mean thank you for being you.  I’ve been in a very dark place. You are the first person I recognize!”  And then the questions came. “Where am I? Why am I here? Why are they doing all this stuff to me?” After about an hour, as more clarity came, he sheepishly said,  “I didn’t know anybody so I asked for a phone, but I didn’t know anyone to call.” We both laughed and he went on. “The only way I figured out who I am was by seeing you.  Thanks again for coming!”

A few days later I heard a sermon on Genesis 3 and  listened again to God’s poignant call to Adam,  “Where are you?”  When Fred was non-responsive, we were all calling him, essentially asking him, “Fred, where are you?”  It occurred to me that my sense of loss when the Fred I knew and loved was “missing” must be something similar to God’s reaction when  Adam was hiding from him.  Where was this creature he knew and loved?

How TrueDuring the last few days, I have thought a lot about this parable of the lost Fred. I thought about how often we go “missing” from God, so far gonedark shadows that we don’t  hear his repeated calls.   I thought about how far on “the dark side”  we travel as we walk farther and farther from God’s voice.  I was jolted by the fact that we, like Fred, concoct useless plans to try to fill in what’s missing when God’s missing.  And how true it is that we cannot know who we are unless we know who God is.   And how grateful  we  are when we finally hear God’s voice and realize who he is!

Posted in Living as Apprentices, My journey | 2 Comments

Transformed Lives Transforming the World 2019 -Making Everything New

We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day as a day full of promises. Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to the voice saying to us: ‘I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it!’ Imagine” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

Let’s practice living each minute as a new beginning.  Let’s imagine living each day as a day full of promises. Let’s receive each gift God wants to give us. Here are some ideas to help us be fully present to God.

♥ While doing a task, turn off any background noise and choose to ignore any activity around you.  Continue the task by offering it to God.  Be in the present, doing what you are doing with a listening heart.  What is this like for you?  What distracts you?

♥ Make the time you spend in the shower or bath tub your alone time with God.  Present yourself to your Creator – all of your body, including all of the dirt that has accumulated in your soul.. Let the water remind you of the water of life that nourishes and changes you. Let the warmth of the water touch you with love. Offer yourself to God for the day.  Thank God for the alone time he spends with you.

♥ Set aside fifteen minutes for a time of thanksgiving.  Thank God for everything you can think of.

♥ Make something.  Draw or paint a picture.  Write a poem. Bake a cake. Refinish an old piece of furniture.  Sew or knit or quilt.  Be aware of the presence and creative power of the Holy Spirit as you create.

♥ Choose a day to do everything in honor of God.  As you drive your car, answer the phone, visit social media, greet people, or stand in line, act in a way that would reflect and honor God. Remember that God is the only audience that matters; let the fact that God is watching and listening guide your behavior.

As you do these activities, watch for the gift God is giving you in the moment.  Rejoice in the experience of making all things new.

Posted in Transformed Lives Transforming the World - 2019 | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

From My Reading

NOTE:  I am spending my days and nights in the hospital with my husband who is extremely ill.  For now my words are deep inside, so I share with you the words of others who have deepened  my spiritual journey lately. 

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“There is no “after” after death. Words like after and before belong to our mortal life, our life in time and space. Death frees us from the boundaries of chronology and brings us into God’s “time,” which is timeless. Speculations about the afterlife, therefore, are little more than just that: speculations. Beyond death there is no “first” and “later,” no “here” and “there,” no “past,” “present,” or “future.” God is all in all. The end of time, the resurrection of the body, and the glorious coming again of Jesus are no longer separated by time for those who are no longer in time. (Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey).

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“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members, a heart of grace, and a soul generated by love” (Corretta Scott King).

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Putting on the mind of Christ” is a direct reference to St. Paul’s powerful injunction in Philippians 2:5: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The words call us up short as to what we are actually supposed to be doing on this path: not just admiring Jesus, but acquiring his consciousness” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, January 14, 2019).

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“The  simple image of Jesus, God’s gift to us, being wrapped up in cloths comforts me with the powerful truth: He understands the bindings on my mind and soul as only someone who has a shared experience can. . . . .

Psalm 91:3 says, “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare.’ It’s such a vivid picture of rescue, being released from a bird catcher’s trap.  But notice what verse 4 says about how God does that: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.” God becomes the bird himself, stepping into the trap set for us and saving us from the inside.  He joins us where we are caught, subjecting himself to the confinement of being human.  This is the heart of the gospel.  And it was right there in the manger.

Even better, the manger isn’t the only time we find God in furoshiki [swaddling]. At the end of his earthly life, Jesus, our gift, was laid in the tomb carefully and lovingly wrapped in strips of cloth.  However, this time around the story ends with the image of the cloths being left behind in the tomb, set aside by the risen Christ.  The gift is now fully ours, the wrappings discarded.  He broke the power of the bindings that had held him in a death gripped and emerged into complete and total freedom . . . . I look forward to the day we will leave behind all that currently binds” (Jeff Peabody, in CT, December, 2018).

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“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out” (Vaclav Havel). 

Posted in Quotes | 4 Comments

A Dream Deferred – The Story of “Pat King’s Family”

We all have dreams – work we want to do, influence we’d like to have, places we’d love to see, children we’d love to raise, people we’d like to meet . . .  Sometimes these dreams come true; sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they are deferred or delayed. This group of posts shares stories of dreams deferred by members of two writing groups that I lead in Holland, MI. In this first post, I tell the background of a book I wrote for adult new readers. For other posts in this category go to the home page and click on the category A Dream Deferred on the right hand sidebar.

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I looked curiously at the unfamiliar Pennsylvania postmark and the awkward handwriting  and then slit open the envelope. As I unfolded the letter, my eye caught the words “adult literacy student.” I sat down to read the note from a new adult reader who had just finished my book Pat King’s Family. She told me that she loved the book, and asked, “How did you know my life?”  I felt as if I had won the National Book Award, an Emmy, and an Oscar!  The dream I struggled to make real had just come true.

Pat King’s Family was written to accompany a series called The Laubach Way to Reading, Skillbook 1, the first book in a series for adult new readers which brought Frank Laubach’s famous method of teaching phonics to the English Language. It was written on a 1st grade level with a restricted vocabulary of about 100 words –  and no long vowels.  If the author introduced a new word, it  had to be used five times on the page it was first used.

Writing the book was a huge challenge in itself. But getting the book published was a bigger challenge! I directed a Laubach Literacy program through the Good Samaritan Center in Holland, Michigan in the late 1970’s. My biggest frustration was the type of reading material the students were given.  It was all based on helping them get along in the world: getting a driver’s license, getting a job, filling out forms, keeping up with the news.  That was all very important, but I knew my students were also interested in reading fiction, stories about people like them – or people and places very unlike them. I decided to try to write my own book.

CLOSER TO THE DREAM

When I learned of a workshop about Writing for New Readers to be presented by Frank Laubach’s son, the founder of New Readers Press which was the publishing arm of Laubach Literacy, I was determined to attend. At that time I was not very adventurous and certainly didn’t have any money for the workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, but somehow I worked it out.

The workshop was very motivating to would-be writers, emphasizing the need for more material for adults who read under a 4th grade level. Dr. Laubach helped participants learn to write with short words, short sentences – few phrases or clauses – and to tailor their writing to the four different skillbook levels in the series.  However, he kept referring to the need for more materials about survival skills. I asked him why he was not publishing any fiction.  He said the students preferred practical reading.  I said they needed both.

At the end of the workshop, I went up Dr. Laubach him and told him I was writing a fiction piece on the Skillbook 1 level and asked if he would read it when I was done. After all, if he was teaching us to write for new readers, shouldn’t he take time to see how we were doing? He agreed.  

That summer I was alone with two small children because my then husband started a job in a new school system hours away and came home only on weekends. During the week I fought to find time to sit in my “study” and wrote like a mad woman (on my typewriter, of course). I told a story I thought my students could understand – a story about Pat King, a young mother of two children, whose husband decided he no longer wanted the responsibility of a family:

Jack said, “I cannot live with this family! The children are sick. The lunch dishes are in the kitchen. The dinner is burned.

Then Pat got mad.  “You are the father,” Pat said. “You can help.”

“I have a job,” Jack yelled. The family is the mother’s job.”  And then Jack left.  

So Pat,  now a young single mother with two children was left for to fend for herself – and her children.  She had to learn about getting a job, finding daycare, caring for her children – being responsible for everything. And she succeeded. In the end, Jack comes back home and pleads for her to take him back, but Pat makes a hard decision:

“I cannot let you live with us again. It hurts me to tell you this. But I cannot live with a man I cannot trust  . . . .  I still love you.  But I will not be hurt again.”

I sent the book on to Dr. Laubach and waited . . . and waited . . .  and waited.  Finally, I wrote him a note and asked if he had read it.  He answered that he had read it and given it to the editorial committee to see what they thought.  If they liked it, he would publish it. I was ecstatic! My dream of writing fiction for adults that was true to their lives was coming true.  

Eventually, I got a response from the editorial committee.  They loved the book! It was a ground-breaker!  But the men on the committee were hoping I would change the ending. They wanted a more hopeful ending. They wanted Jack to be reunited with his family. I was heartbroken. I explained that the women who would be reading this book needed the encouragement that they could make it in the world on their own.  The story shows that Pat and Jack were not happy together, and that she had grown enough to know that the marriage would not work.

I would not change the ending.  They did not publish the book.  My dream was dead.

A DREAM REALIZED

A few years later, I received a letter from New Readers Press.  The men were no longer on the committee. This group would love to publish Pat King’s Family.  Was I willing?  Was I willing!  In 1981, the first book of fiction anywhere for new adult readers was published by New Readers Press.  The book was very popular and went through two or three printings. I even made some good money on royalties.  Eventually the book went out of print, but New Readers Press went on to publish many more books of fiction for adult new readers.

When I read the letter from a young woman in Pennsylvania, I realized that my dream was not dead; it had only been deferred.  It was now reality. Good life lesson!

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From My Reading

“Many people in churches today don’t have a sense of community and in order to get a sense of community, church leaders start gathering people up and giving them jobs.  We’ve lost a talent for relationship and showing interest in the other person.  We don’t have community because we skip over the critical part: being in relationship with the people knowing their kids, knowing their jobs, knowing the neighborhood” (Eugene Peterson, who reports he knew every one in his 600-person congregation by name, in  an interview with CT, December, 2018).

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“Religion tends to prefer and protect the status quo or the supposedly wonderful past, yet what we now see is that religion often simply preserves its own power and privilege. God does not need our protecting. We often worship old things as substitutes for eternal things. (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation for Jan. 1, 2019).

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“The beauty we find in the painter’s canvas, in the composer’s symphony, or even tucked away in a chef’s culinary creation is humanity’s attempt to replicate the goodness we’ve found in God’s beautiful world. The good that He Himself saw at the very beginning (Gen 1:31). When human beings create something beautiful, whether it’s a work-of-art or a work-of-charity, they’re simply following the deepest and wildest impulses of their nature. The beautiful things we create are a reflection of God’s beauty” (Jonathan Bailey in  jonathan @ jonathanrbailey.com 

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“We have no choice about death.  But we do have choices to make about how we hold the inevitable – choices made difficult by a culture that celebrates youth, disparages old age, and discourages from facing our mortality. The laws of nature that dictate the sunset dictate our demise. But how we travel the arc between our own sunrise and sundown is ours to choose: Will it be denial, defiance, or collaboration?” (Parker Palmer in On the Brink of Everything: Grace Gravity & Getting Old).

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“I am beginning to now see how radically the character of my spiritual journey will change when I no longer think of God as hiding out and making it as difficult as possible for me to find him, but, instead, as the One who is looking for me while I am doing the hiding” (Henri Nouwen in You are the Beloved).

Posted in Living as Apprentices