Home

Moping Through December: Journal Snippets, Trump Syndrome, and the Birth of Christ

2 Comments

Moping Through December: Journal Snippets, Trump Syndrome, and the Birth of Christ

I often feel that I have to put a positive spin on life, look for the light in the darkness, seek out the redemptive element of every story. In a sense, this is my natural inclination: I’m a sunny person. I see it as a gift I can share. Which may be why I haven’t written much in December.

I got nothin’.

I’ve been sick for three-plus weeks, running a fever for days at a time, night-time coughing fits, etc. I’ve had multiple cold sores and my stress-induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome is acting up for the first time since my mother died eight years ago.

I suspect this is Donald Trump Syndrome.

From My Journal, Dec. 6

“Maybe it sounds silly, but I think this is Trump-stress. Just like the post-stress sicknesses after college exam time. Only it’s the fate of the world at stake. You, Dear Reader, looking back from your all-knowing perch in the future, will know just how historic and how disastrous this election proved to be. But I do not. Maybe you think I’m over-reacting. Maybe you think I’m prophetic (OK, maybe not). Maybe you are shaking your head thinking, “She doesn’t know the half of it.” The fear is real, from my perspective. I wish I trusted God more.

In a funny way, at least my body now matches my spirit: raw, downtrodden, drained. Maybe this physical illness needs to be part of my overall healing. Or maybe I’m just trying to assign spiritual meaning to the common cold.”

I know what I must do to stay sane in the coming years. There’s a clear connection between my emotional balance and my spiritual practices — prayer, meditation, silence, spiritual community, writing, fasting. Most especially frequent fasts from social media. Every single time I get on social media or see the news, I get upset.

The president-elect is daily proving himself to be exactly who we feared he would be: an impulsive, vindictive Narcissist driven only by ego and money. He throws around threats of a renewed nuclear arms race on Twitter, and I have a few “Christian” friends who apparently think that’s OK. They tell me not to take what he says literally. Really? I cannot bear it. 

From My Journal, Dec 10

“Ah, rest. It’s Advent Quiet Day at Cedar Ridge. I’m starting with my journal, then meditation, then I’ll walk the labyrinth.

Entering In

Entering In

Several people look to be sleeping already. We are all so over-tired.

mary

janie

Grateful to be here. The Barn is lovely, all decorated for Christmas. Twinkling trees, garlands of lights, hanging stars of red, white, and gold.

star

This morning in small group, someone asked me if my sister is my only sibling. In the three years since Biff died, that’s the first time I’ve gotten that question. I think I said,”I had a brother but he died three years ago.” But that doesn’t feel right. I still have a brother — he is a very real part of my life. And he died.”

I’m sure part of my funk has been the anniversary on the 23rd. But I’m so much better this year. I am no longer in grief-survival mode, I am in re-forming and moving-ahead mode. At least I was.

Now I’m in Trump-survival mode. He’s just made clear his plans to purge the Energy Department of anyone who has worked on climate change. Anyone who might disagree with him. He wants no leaks, I’m sure, as he goes about dismantling our climate programs. He has no moral compass.

From My Journal, Dec 25

“Christ is born! Emmanuel, God with us. God is here, always, forever, no matter what. Impossible for us to grasp, but a hope to reach for, nonetheless.

50-ways

Today is a gift I’m giving the Christ-child. I’m staying off the computer to focus on God. Last night I watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ — I hope it always makes me cry.

jimmy-stewart

After communing with Jimmy Stewart, I went out after dark and decorated my front fence and crepe myrtle. It’s bright and cheerful and put me in the Christmas spirit after the candlelight service at Cedar Ridge. I am doing well, missing departed family, but glad for this season to celebrate a great light in the darkness. Now more than ever.”

Thanks for the WordPress word prompt, moping. Quite appropriate.

Love Conquers All

Leave a comment

I’ve spent the morning drafting a blog about Christian voters (doesn’t that phrase send shivers down your spine right about now?) and I think it might be good enough to submit for publication. Hence, I can’t post that offering here. But I really want to connect with “my tribe” in the blogosphere because November 2016 is not a good time to be alone in your head. So I will simply share this quote from Frederick Buechner today.

I cannot say I am here yet, by any means. I am still in the reality of Romans 8:26, where ” . . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

So I groan.

But Buechner has words, and here they are:

“The love for equals is a human thing–of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing–to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy–love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.”

photo-95

What?? How? Why? And What Do We Do Now?

4 Comments

What?? How? Why? What do we do now?

At first, most of us decided we were having a nightmare. You know the kind that seems like it’s going on way too long and it’s way too detailed to be a dream and when you finally wake up you are soooo relieved?

Except we’ve not woken up yet.

Many of us are still saying, “What??” This is where I’ve been since last night: shock and denial, and glad for it. Because I know what happens next. I know gut-grief.

I finally gave in to a short burst of tears this afternoon. How could my fellow Americans have voted for a man who makes fun of disabled people and says he wants to punch a person in the face? A man who talks about grabbing women’s crotches? Just no. And given that over 60% of Americans believe he’s unqualified to be president, how could so many vote for him anyway?

When I Start Feeling Again

When I get beyond this shocked “WHAT??” I will start asking “how?” and look for someone to blame. And I will probably begin feeling again.

I hope that I will not be filled with rage and hatred against Trump voters and/or against the people who voted third party or wrote in someone because they were too pure to sully themselves with our current political reality. And/or against people who consider themselves Christian but who know a different Jesus than I do, one who supports increased military spending and decreased funding for food stamps. And/or against people who did not even bother to vote.

Blaming doesn’t help me recover, although I know it’s a necessary phase of grief.

Making Sense of it All

After “how?” will come “why?” My mind will try to make sense of this. If I can understand it, maybe I can control it and keep myself safe from it. I will ask “why, why, why?” Probably by then there will be tears. There might be wailing. “Keening,” as one dear friend put it. Like me, she has dedicated her life to protecting our planet and is likely experiencing a primal grief for our species and all the others that will suffer from or succumb to climate change.

I’m sure many pundits will be paid for producing many words about “why” for many decades to come. History books will talk about racism and fear of homosexuals and Muslims, and note “nostalgia” for the good old days when we were all white except for our maids, and we all went to our stone churches in our station wagons on Sundays and mowed our little squares of green lawn on Saturdays while our little wives made lemonade.

The Good Old Days

The Good Old Days

There are lots of reasons why, not just one. But my hunch is that 99% of the reasons are based in fear. Fear of the other. And that is a spiritual problem, not a political problem.

Fear Not

So — what do we do now? Well, for one, we must not fear. Because fear leads to hate, as we have seen. That’s what led to President-elect Trump. Which is why the Bible uses phrases like “fear not . . . do not be afraid . . . have no fear” more than one hundred times. Jesus said it. All. The. Time. He knew what fear does to the human heart.

Fear makes us feel powerless, but hate makes us feel empowered. That’s why we go there. That’s why terrorists carry out cowardly attacks, because they are afraid that the west is polluting their way of life and threatening their patriarchal power system. And so they hate. That’s also why Donald Trump is like he is. He is a sick and fearful soul who latched on to judgement and contempt (and money) to make himself feel powerful.

But we who have hearts for justice must not allow ourselves to go there. We must somehow be love in the world. Because love is the opposite of fear. The two cannot coexist. Perfect love drives out fear. Fear got us into this; only love can get us out.

I don’t yet know how to Be Love in this extreme case. The last thing I want to do is make myself vulnerable. Anger feels like the safer route.

I will eventually start praying for the willingness to love. For the time being, though, I’m choosing to stay in numb denial for a little longer.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Her, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” —- Romans 15:13

Digging Up and Looking Up

5 Comments

I haven’t told you about the rosebush. Well, it’s more like a rose sprig at the moment, but it’s shooting up like a gangly adolescent, having grown almost a foot in the five weeks since I prayerfully dug up the three tiny leaves and as much root as I could get.

I had planned to dig up a number of Mom’s plants before I sold her house — three heritage roses, a quince, an azalea given to her by my late friend in honor of my father, a bleeding heart given to her by my best friend in honor of Mom’s sister, a hydrangea from her best friend, mounds of snowdrops and daffodils.

But the house sold fast, I had a broken arm, and it was too emotionally painful to go over there. Life happened, and when I next drove by, the garden had been done away with and nothing remained but a few trees and a smooth expanse of grass.

There!

I was invited to a party at the house in June, my first time back in a year. It was haunting and strange to walk through my childhood home, completely renovated and all but unrecognizable. Late in the afternoon, I wandered over to where the roses had been for sixty-plus years and ran my fingers through the young grass, hoping against hope.

At first I found nothing, but then . . . there! Three miniature rose leaves, so small they might have belonged to a fairy-gardener.

I asked the new owners if I could come by with a shovel and dig it up and they agreed. I hurried over the next morning, fearful that another lawn mowing would be the end of it. I talked to the tender sprout as I dug around it. Please live. I talked to my mom’s spirit and asked her help. Why not, right? She loved those roses.

I have never seen a plant respond the way this one has. Deciding it was too risky to plant it mid-summer, I put it in a pot and have been watering and spritzing it daily. I’ve even hauled the heavy container with me on a few road trips. Tomorrow we head back to New Hampshire.

Here’s the rose on its first trip to New Hampshire in June, just a week after I dug it up.

Life Force

Life Force

This week’s blogging photo challenge is Look Up. So I thought I’d share my rose’s resurrection story and a photo looking up into the glorious blooms of my mother’s magnolia tree, which, thank heavens, the new owners have seen fit to keep.

Glory

Glory

Finding the Beauty in Grief and Loss

7 Comments

In light of yesterday’s mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando, I am republishing this 2014 post on finding the beauty in grief and loss. Perhaps it can lighten your load today.

RAINBOW US FLAG

It’s amazing what happens when you invite people to talk about grief and loss. It’s as if everybody walks around with a lid on their pain until somebody gives them permission to take it off.

I led a spiritual support group discussion last week and suggested the topic, which won’t surprise you, dear reader, since I’ve offered you virtually nothing else since my brother passed away ten weeks ago.

biff among the cards

But I’m not just talking about death. I’m talking about losing a job and not being able to find another one. I know several people who have been in that ego-crushing situation, and it can lead to serious depression and anxiety issues if the loss is not given its due.

I’m talking about having an intimate relationship slowly fizzle out until you find yourself attached to someone you barely recognize. There’s no “crisis,” yet all your dreams of how life could be with this person are lost. You’re left with a gaping hole that you may try to fill with alcohol, drugs, busyness, shopping, porn – anything to numb the loss that you don’t want to confront.

I’m talking about lost friendships that fade out when one of you moves or leaves a job, or a broken friendship that can’t be mended even if you both try because essential pieces have been lost, most often trust.

Grieving over lost health was a common theme in our support group. One minute you’re an employee, a parent, a sibling and you’re cleaning, fixing, planning, and generally living life, and the next you are a patient being cut open or pumped full of poisons that are supposed to cure you.  You lose who you thought you were.

And of course there’s death. One person in our group lost her father to suicide at sixteen. By the time she was twenty-one, she had also lost her brother in a helicopter crash and her sister and mother to cancer. Although we all knew her at least superficially, none of us in the group had ever heard this before. She had a lid on it.

What resonated most with me at that meeting was a woman who said, “I know it’s weird, but I love grief. I live grief.” She said she couldn’t really explain what she meant, but I think I have a clue.

Grief Makes Us One

For one thing, grief is universal. It is something we all share, and it can bring us together. Not always, of course – I’ve heard countless stories of siblings whose relationships imploded on the death of their parents. But in general, we nod, we empathize, we hug each other. We know.

The Bible says that the “God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That’s why it’s important to take time alone to process your grief, to take the lid off and let God in, because there’s cosmic comfort there if you ask for it. And it’s a universal spirit of comfort that we can all share with each other. Depending on the day, God’s comfort can knock you off your feet or set you back on your feet.

Grief Makes Us Real

Similarly, grief elicits authenticity. After September 11th, I had a strange feeling of not wanting to leave that cocoon of grief, that sacred time of national mourning: it was a rare time of authentic community for our nation.

We often feel we don’t know what to say to a bereaved person, but that’s because we’re called upon to be totally real. Everyday words don’t seem adequate. Most of the sympathy cards atop my piano start off with, “I don’t know what to say” and then go on to say something lovely. And real.

Real Words

Real Words

Grief Leads Us Towards Our Truth

Grief is deep – it leads us into our true humanity. It drowns out the TV, the advertisements, the ringing phone, and the beeping computer. If we are courageous enough to take the lid off our pain and share it, we can reach our true self – and go there with others.

We all “live grief,” as my friend said. It’s very much a part of being human, and it teaches us to search for meaning and a larger perspective on our little human lives. It teaches us to open up to God and to love one another.

What have you learned from grief and loss?

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day

2 Comments

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day:

I miss my mom. I hated Mother’s Day for a couple of years after she passed in 2008 — all the advertising and cards and balloons felt like salt in a wound. “Some of us don’t have mothers!” I felt like screaming.

Eight years later, I’m mostly rational again. My grief is gentler now, so I don’t mind being reminded of how blessed I was to have Lorna B. Griffin as my mom. I appreciate the special recognition for the role of mother, and I admire the dedication of my friends and family who are mothers and step-mothers and grandmothers. 

Think Before You Speak

I don’t like it, though, when people wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” without thinking. I want to make up index cards of statistics for these well-intentioned folks, reminding them that nearly one in five women end their childbearing years never having had children. One in five.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I am child-free by choice. Others, not so much — for many, their childless state feels  like a tragedy.

Personally, I’m not too bent out of shape by these misdirected greetings. I know people mean well, and life is too short to make up grievances where none are intended. It’s just a slight annoyance. Still, I know that for some, hearing “Happy Mother’s Day” directed at them is like a knife in the heart. Especially rote, impersonal regards from a stranger.

Try This Instead

I recommend that if you do not know someone’s maternal state, say something like, “Enjoy your day!” If they are a mom, they will hear, “Happy Mother’s Day.” If not, they will just enjoy their day.

Here’s another idea. While everyone is different, I love it when someone intentionally wishes *me* a Happy Mother’s Day, followed by a comment like, “You are a mother to so many people,” or “You are a mother to our church family,” or even (what an honor!) “You are a second mother to me.”

This recognizes and honors me as an individual. There’s no assumption that since I’m female, I must have given birth. There’s no awkward silence or imagined shame that I am somehow deprived because I did not give birth or adopt. There’s no sense of being “less than.” I just feel appreciated.

My Girls

My Kids, Eliza Bean and Mayasika

So: to all my loved ones who are mothers or step-mothers, Happy Mother’s Day! To all the females I love who are not mothers, I honor the woman in you. Thank you for being who you are, for nurturing the people who God brings into your orbit, and for spreading love in the world in ways that are uniquely yours.  Enjoy your day, everyone!

Happy Day, Mom!

Happy Day, Mom!

A Funeral

2 Comments

I haven’t had much to say lately, so lucky for you I haven’t been blogging. I thought I might do a glimpse into my journal — those are always popular with the voyeuristic among you. But as I flipped through the pages, I found a lot of body aches and pains, house de-cluttering, financial musings, and angst about my writing pursuits. So I’ll spare you that.

Still, woven throughout the January dross I discovered a golden thread. (It may be just tarnished brass, but it’s all I’ve got, guys.) I wrote about a funeral, the first I’ve ever officiated in my new role as pastor. I hope you can relate to something.

January 8, 2016

I am not sleeping well. It’s not so much the cough now, it’s stress dreams about a funeral I’m doing in a week. My first. Strangers contacted our church: they want “spiritual but not religious.” Our senior pastor said, “You would be perfect for this.” But it turns out I don’t really know what spiritual but not religious is. Can I say God? Can I pray? I wonder if the family even knows what they mean. Wonder why they came to a Christian church for an officiant?

I’ve dreamt about this several nights. Don’t know why it’s so much in my subconscious. I hope I gain more confidence because I’m going to be doing graveside services regularly for {xx} cemetery. Now I’ve got myself all agitated right before bed, researching eulogies, chaplaincy certificates, and hospice programs. It’s midnight.

And a moment of silence for Elvis’s birthday, Jan 8.

Elvis_Presley_Jailhouse_Rock3

January 9

Went to sleep with tears on my cheeks last night for the first time in months. I somehow ended up back in that hospital room with Biff (my deceased brother). Still very near the surface. Why? Is it preparing for the funeral? I guess. So many connections beyond our ken.

This funeral will be good practice at emotional boundaries. Caring for and serving this family without entering their pain. This is not my loss, it’s theirs. Is it just human nature to want to connect? Deep calls to deep, as the Bible says? Or is it my dysfunction & codependency?

I need to trust God with all my pain and loss if I’m going to help them. I want peace and serenity and confidence that “all is well and all shall be well,” and I want it to be real, not just the appearance of peace. I feel I have so far to go. I know I over-think, over-fret, but I also do *not* want to be caught off-guard, ambushed by emotions I can’t control.

January 13

I met with the family. Wow. Just wow. {Here for privacy’s sake, I will leave out the incredible struggles this family has been through.} I really am in the right place. Trying to watch my boundaries. I’m feeling privileged to help with the service. What an honor. God, make me an instrument of your peace.

This funeral is a challenge on so many levels. I want to be needed. I want to “do well.” Surprisingly, those unhealthy motivations are way less clamorous than they sometimes are, but I’m afraid they could creep in and knock me off-center.

And there’s this fear that I’ll identify too closely with the family and lose my composure at the service. Yesterday, I felt the opposite, afraid I’d be one of those distant, uninvolved, uncaring pastors: “I didn’t know the dead guy, but I wish I had.” I hate when they say that. So I looked into the son’s eyes and thought, “He just lost his father, I know that place.” But then I realized I do not need to take myself there, to pursue empathy. I err on the side of over-involved; there’s no danger of my being distant.

January 17

Surprised by tears again, bereft. I miss Biff so badly, even after two years. Did the funeral yesterday; today lunch with a new friend who didn’t know Biff’s story and asked a lot of questions that took me back there; Sunday grocery shopping *still* gets me — it’s when I used to shop for him and visit.

Then I was listening to music tonight and had to turn it off. Classical, sitar, and chants seem to be the only music I can safely listen to. And — Christmas, New Year’s, the two-year anniversary. I was braced for all that and felt I’d survived, so I guess my defenses came down. Mom’s birthday yesterday, same day as the funeral. Perfect storm.

I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss him. I fear I may be entering a time where the reality of the huge hole in me is becoming more clear. I’ll never love anyone that much again, and no one will ever love me like that again. A big chunk of my heart has been ripped out.

Heart wound

Heart wound

January 19

Better today. Maybe those waves of grief just need to happen. Life is not an easy thing.

I’m glad the funeral is over.

Today I read a quote from a guy saying that Martin Luther King was a saint because he was drawn to suffering; King said he was glad to be alive when things were such “a mess.” Well, maybe a saint. Or maybe codependent, like me. Needing to be needed, like me. Maybe a personality-type thing. Maybe all of the above.

January 20

Watched a great movie last night, one of Biff’s videos. “The Way” with Martin Sheen. It’s theme resonated, as he walked “the way” to Saint James’s traditional tomb in Spain to finish a pilgrimage started by his deceased son. Beautifully done. You can feel him walking towards closure and forgiveness for himself and his son.

I would like to out-walk my grief, “get beyond it.” I keep wanting to be free of some burden, some weight. But now it’s more like a shadow, and it will always accompany me, walk alongside. And I suppose from time to time it will overtake me or overshadow me — the rest of me. But I hope that in time the shadow will get lighter, fade somewhat. Or maybe it will integrate into me. My metaphors are confusing me. 🙂

DSCN4764

♥♥♥

A related post: this powerful post from my blogging pastor-friend John Coleman starts out, “I’m used to burying strangers.” It gave me inspiration in the days leading up to officiating my first funeral.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: