Forty More Days, Day 12–A Day Off

I wonder if Jesus took days off. Never mind, I’m sure he did. He sometimes retreated to quiet places to get away from all the hubbub and press of people around him. I have decided to emulate him and take a day off from writing an original post. Technically, one doesn’t count Sundays in the 40 days of Lent, so I have a little wiggle room and could actually choose to not post at all. But I have the trove of past Forty Days posts I can mine for this evening, and so I shall.

But before I do that, I have a confession to make. I had to laugh at myself this morning. I woke not feeling well–a vague feeling of nausea followed me through my morning routine. I contemplated not exercising, but was able to ignore my stomach and get in 25 minutes on the treadmill. Here is the confession: as I began to feel nauseous, and remembering what happened the last time I started feeling sick, I immediately prayed, “Please God, don’t let me be sick again.” It was then that I laughed at myself. After all, I had previously stated that during the hours that I actually was sick, I didn’t pray at all. I accepted my fate, I surrendered. I was feeling very noble. Then this morning, the minute I was threatened with a repeat of the previous sickness, I immediately went to praying. So much for my nobility. I believe God has a sense of humor, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

So for tonight’s post, I asked Siri to pick a number between one and 25. It picked 19. And so I had four options from day 19. And so I selected a 2016 post in my “The Next Forty Days” blog. As I read through it, I realized it was just what I needed to read. I didn’t even read the other three. Perhaps I’ll save them for another time. I hope you find it as useful as I did.

The Next Forty Days, Day 19–Find Me Unafraid

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
from “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henly

I’ve recently been thinking a bit about fear, and the things that hold us back from experiencing as full and rich of life as possible. I am amazed that when I take the time to explore my hesitation about doing something, it is very often based in some totally irrational fear. Over the last few years my relationship with and to fear has shifted in some fairly significant ways.

When I experienced the series of losses that occurred in 2011, I realized that I had been slammed by a heavy dose of painful realities. I had neither the time nor luxury to wallow in some sustained pity party. I had to figure out how I was going to live and try to continue supporting my two dependents as best I could without a consistent, steady source of income. I spent a few weeks alternating between being scared silly about what I was going to do to survive and depressed and emotionally overwhelmed by all the loss I experienced. And buried not too deeply underneath it all was the fear that I would “never” recover and lead any type of “normal” life again.

There’s a line in an old country song that says, “When you hit rock bottom, you’ve got two ways to go: straight up or sideways.” So I sat for a little while at rock bottom before I slowly began taking intentional steps that pulled me out of it. One of the lifelines by which I pulled myself up was expressing gratitude. Intentionally focusing on the things in my life for which I was grateful allowed me to build a foundation from which I could begin the healing process and get myself back together. Focusing on the many blessings in my life help me see very clearly that, in spite of the things I had suffered, I experienced many, many more good and positive things in my life than I had the negative. And while losing my father, separating from my significant other, being “let go” from my job, and losing my home in the span of a few months was difficult, I still considered myself very fortunate indeed.

I began to gain a new perspective on fear. It wasn’t that I now lived completely unafraid; like most people I still experience occasional fear that something bad might happen to me again. But when I examine the things that used to really make me nervous–like how a former boss was going to respond to something they didn’t like–I realize that their impact on me was minimal. Unless the boss was going to do bodily harm to one of my children or put someone I loved in mortal danger, there was little they could do to me that would do more than rattle me a little. I have not faced death, but I’d dealt with a lot of difficult things. They simply don’t have the same impact they used to. I really resonate with something Eleanor Roosevelt said about fear,

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”

I have learned to “take the next thing that comes along.” It is not pleasant, and in fact can be quite difficult or painful, but increasingly I am looking fear in the face and moving forward in spite of it. And if I should hit rock bottom again, at least I’ll have seen what it looks like and can once again find my way out.

As I think about the various themes of these 40 days, I wonder if Jesus ever felt fear. I mean, before his arrest and torture and crucifixion, which would have frightened the bejeebers out of anyone, I wonder if he ever experienced any of the less dramatic fears that we regular folk sometimes stumble over. How did he deal with it if he felt it? Who comforted him. It is likely that he too had to find his way out of his traumas in similar fashion as we do now. At least I like to think that he did.

I have gained strength and wisdom from some of the difficult times I’ve faced. I don’t want to act like I’ve got everything together now, that nothing can frighten me. I have by no means arrived at such a high level of grace. But I have learned to get back up when I am knocked down, and I definitely learned what I was made of. I like to think I could face “the next thing” with some measure of equanimity. While I’m not anxious to flex that particular muscle any time soon, I believe if I need to I can, that the “menace of the years, finds and shall find me unafraid. I rest in a belief that at the end of the day, all truly shall be well.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forty More Days, Day 11–Just Like Us

The other day as I was huddled on the bathroom floor, I found myself in the interesting space of not praying for help. My stomach was roiling, and I was horribly nauseous, awaiting the inevitable. In times past I might have prayed, “Please God help me…” but I didn’t do anything remotely like that. I knew I was sick, not dying, so rather than fight it, I did my best to surrender to it. The discomfort lasted through most of the night, but by the time I finally struggled to my feet, testing myself to see if any traces of nausea, remained it was early morning. As I had believed, I came through on the other side. No serious prayer needed.

I found myself reflecting a few days later on my having been ill, and wondering if Jesus ever got sick. I mean, he had to have, right? For sure in his early years, but what about in his early days of ministry. All the traveling he did, eating strange foods and drinking wine and all kinds of water, sleeping at time without good shelter would have to result in occasional illness, wouldn’t it? Did he heal himself, did he pray to his Father for aid, did angels come and assist him as they did that time he fasted for 40 days and nights? I know, more of my random musings.

It is comforting, though, to think that, like me, Jesus got sick sometimes. He was, after all, human. Sometimes Jesus’s divinity is emphasized over his humanity. It becomes some ideal that we can’t possibly live up to. But how about instead of aspiring to his divinity, we fully inhabit his humanity. He was like us. He wept, I bet he even laughed, and he definitely got irritated and downright angry, if the accounts are to be believed. And so we can relate to this Jesus because he’s like us. And while I’m not sure he was ever curled into a ball, fighting down nausea, it is even comforting to think that perhaps he also was sick at least once. Just like I was.

This journey of 40 days is a marathon, not a sprint. Are you with me, in it for the long haul? Will you walk the painful way, lay curled on the floor in sympathetic pain? No matter our faith traditions, we can take these 40-days as a time to embody our humanity, empathize with those who are suffering, hold compassion for those who are grieving, give to those in need. The world needs our presence, needs us to be present. And so we shall.

Posted in Random Musings | Leave a comment

Forty More Days, Day 10–The Painful Way

Yesterday evening a coworker got “laid off,” a nice word for “fired.” She came into my office and around my desk to give me a very quick hug and leave me her phone number in case I had any job leads. I stood there stunned, as I had no inkling of what was happening to her until I saw the Human Resources representative helping her load boxes of her personal belongings onto a cart. She was to be “walked off” the premises. I suppose there are more ignominious ways for a person to be “let go” than to take the walk of shame from one’s desk, down the hallway, onto the elevator and out the door of the building where one has worked for several years. There could be a more egregious affront to a person’s dignity, but for the moment, I can’t imagine what it is.

Eleven years ago, I took the walk of shame after I had been “laid off” for a relatively minor infraction that coincided with layoffs that were scheduled to happen due to budget difficulties. I had little doubt that my position was on the chopping block, but by “letting me go” early on a bogus infraction, they got out of paying me severance or any kind of negotiated benefit. It was a weak and cowardly way to handle things, and I was rocked in numb disbelief at what was happening. I had to pack up my stuff–searching for boxes and packing materials–and clean anything personal off my computer.

To make matters worse, I could not speak to anyone about what was happening to me. A work friend dropped by as I was packing and saw what I was doing. “I can’t tell you what is happening,” I told her, “but can you help me find a few more boxes?” Blessedly she didn’t question anything, and helped supply the needed materials. Another work friend stopped by and took in the scene. I told her one line and let her do with it what she would. By the end of the day, I was ready for the walk of shame. Two friends walked me to the elevator–the institution was too small to have someone to walk me out–and ironically, I ended up on the elevator with the person who had decided to fire me. I actually had some presence of mind and said, “Good evening,” to them. They said good evening back and we rode down in awkward silence.

I have spent many years forgiving that person, am still working on forgiveness. But I have not forgotten what happened, nor the feelings associated with it. Later that day I wept bitter, angry tears. I talked to an attorney, and took steps to put the best face on having been part of a “reduction in force” from the institution. I went through the five stages of grief over and over again in the days and months that passed. I don’t think I went through a bargaining phase. After all, how do you bargain with injustice? But I definitely went through anger, denial, and depression, and finally landed at acceptance. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

Jesus had his own walk of shame. I will talk about this more as we get closer to the time of the passion and crucifixion, but I do want to mention his long walk. When he was taken into custody by the Roman officials, it seemed that everything was focused on shaming him. From the crown of thorns placed on his head, to the taunts of the torturers, and those participating in the crucifixion itself, everything was about not only battering and bruising his body, but shaming him and bruising his spirit. Jesus’s walk of shame is called the “Via Dolorosa,” or “the painful way.” His walk to the crucifixion site is captured in many biblical stories. The actual route he traveled might be different from what is currently considered the via dolorosa, but it’s not the route I want to focus on, it’s the state of mind one has to be in to experience it.

My coworker was not walking to her death, and perhaps she walked out with her head held high, experiencing no shame whatsoever. I don’t know. I didn’t see her when she actually left and it didn’t occur to me to accompany her to the door and say goodbye. I can’t say if I was fearful of embarrassing her or of being ashamed that she was let go in the manner she was, but either way, I was not as present for her as I could have been.

During these 40 days, we have a lot of time and total permission to be introspective and reflect on the impact that various life experiences have had and are having on our current spiritual and natural lives. I know and have walked the path of shame, and perhaps even a painful path. But I have learned from each painful and difficult step what I needed to learn, including what I am made of and how strong I am, as well as when I need to surrender and let go. It can indeed be a painful way, but it need not be a shameful way, if we can know within ourselves what is true and stand tall in that truth. So much to think about during these 40 days. And so we shall.

Posted in Suffering | Leave a comment

Forty More Days, Day 9–Excuses, Excuses

Sometimes one has reasons, and other times they have excuses. Reasons can be excuses too, actually. But sometimes reasons are legit and excuses are bogus. Think about it, no one ever admits they are making excuses, they are simply offering reasons why or why not something did or did not happen. To the listener, depending on the circumstances, the reasons sound totally plausible and valid; in other cases all the listener hears is the “Blah, blah, blah,” of lame excuses.

As much as I’d like to think I don’t make excuses, sometimes when I listen to myself in a given situation, my rationales can sound that way. That can be a very uncomfortable feeling, an admission I am not really comfortable making, but must own it nonetheless. Interesting, isn’t it, how often we want to think highly of ourselves and our measured, honest behavior, only to confront the realities of our human frailties, including those times when our reasons are really excuses.

I’m sure this conversation about excuses feels a bit random. Thank you for putting up with the randomness. It all stems from the fact that I didn’t write a fresh blog post yesterday, but had to dip into my reserves of past “Forty Days” blogs. (Thank goodness for that repository.) I most definitely have reasons for that. As I mentioned, I was violently ill, a term I don’t use very often, but it was true. For at least five hours on Tuesday night, I lived on the bathroom floor, eventually being provided with a pillow and blanket by my helpless spouse. At 5:30 the next morning, I had sent emails to my boss, letting him know I would not be in that day, and canceling lunch plans with a group of colleagues. Then I crawled into bed from which I didn’t emerge until close to noon. In spite of sleeping for the better part of the day, I remained headachy, tired, and slow-moving. Given all that, I decided I was in no shape to write a coherent blog post. Reason, or excuse? You decide.

It has taken me a long time not to take myself so seriously and be so hard on myself. There have been times when I would just tell myself to suck it up (what does that even mean?) and do what I needed to do. To the hard-driving type personality, being ill would have sounded more like an excuse than a reason. After all, hadn’t I slept all day? Shouldn’t I have been able to write a simple 500-word blog post from scratch?

A balance exists between reasons and excuses, between “sucking it up” and letting it go. There are times when one must push through and do their best to deliver on something they are responsible for delivering. The key is knowing when those times are and when it’s alright to let something go and take an easier route. I have generally erred on the side of pushing through things like sickness and exhaustion, only to discover that at times it made no real difference.

I’m taking my time over these 40-plus days, to really pay attention to things that reflect who I am in the world and how I show myself to the world. As best I can, I want to operate with as much integrity as possible, knowing that I will fall short sometimes. If I have to offer and explanation for something, I hope to have more reasons than excuses, and while I have no control over whether my reasons are accepted as reasons all I can do is my best to be honest as I can.

I’m grateful to have had the strength to put together a fresh posting tonight. I can tell you that I will on occasion pull from the treasury a stored up post from Forty Days past. I will usually offer an explanation. I leave it for you to decide how you want to hold it. At the end of the day, it’s all any of us can do.

Posted in Random Musings | Leave a comment

Forty More Days, Day 8–The Body Knows, Revisited

How is it possible to sleep all day and still be tired? That is the situation in which I find myself this evening. Last night I was violently ill with a stomach bug, and spent hours curled on the floor in the bathroom wishing for relief. It’s interesting, I didn’t spend any time begging or bartering with God to help me feel better. I knew that all I could do was wait it out. I finally determined that I could get up and get into bed without risk of having to dash back into the bathroom. That was at 5:30 this morning. I slept for several more hours, before getting up to attempt to face the day. Or at least I thought I was facing the day. But after a few hours sitting up, writing in my journal, reading and doing other low-energy items, I discovered I was still tired. How is that possible?

Given my relative state of exhaustion, I have decided to share with you a post from an earlier blog. While I could write a full, original page, my guess is that it would not be very good, given my state of mind and body. And so I employed a sophisticated process for determining which post to use: I asked the random number generator to pick a number and I went to that blog, read it and decide if it’s the one. Simple. So without further ado, please enjoy this post from last March.


From Forty Days Revisited, “The Body Knows”

Sometimes my body know things before my head does. Often, long before it comes to my consciousness that something is bothering me, my body has already sent out signals that something is going on. I noticed today, as I anticipated a meeting with a first-time client, that my stomach was tight with nerves. It only gets this way when I’m nervous, I remind myself realizing that was the only thing that had been different from a little while earlier when I hadn’t been thinking about the meeting. Great, now I won’t be able to eat until after the meeting. There’s no point in even trying. (I managed to eat dinner before the meeting.)

For me, the process often goes like this: my body feels something–nervous,”adrenalized,” heavy–then my heart kicks in, followed last (usually) by my head. It’s a bit like a musical piece: first a solo instrument begins playing (the body), then strings and other subtler instruments rise, and finally the gradual dawning of my conscious thought. Then my head, heart, and body all begin playing together, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in cacophony, but all playing. All of this is to say that for me the body often speaks first. (As I type this, I decided to put on Four Seasons by Vivaldi. Spring is currently playing.)

Spring is an interesting season for me. It holds among the more painful memories in my recent lifetime. I tend to forget about them until I notice my body dragging a bit, and tears tickling just behind my eyes. Then my heart gets involved: I notice a sadness creeping in, like the minor chords of the piece of music. These chords play gently; they have long since ceased to build into a stormy crescendo as they did when these pains first hit me several years ago. Now they are much more subtle as to be almost unnoticeable. Almost. And then my mind finally catches up. Ohhhhhh, this is grief. 

This is the time of year when I commemorate a number of significant losses in my life. I do not think about them consciously until my body, heart, and mind are fully engaged and I recognize them for what they are. As someone who has struggled with depression for much of my life, I have learned to evaluate the signals that come to me through my physical, emotional, and mental faculties. I can now reasonably discern the difference between each thread of what I call “the trifecta” of depression, sadness, and grief. And while I am not entirely sure I can describe the difference between then in words, I have learned to tease out the differences in texture between the three.

Sometimes it takes me a while to sort them out, because they all begin with a sense of heaviness and a feeling like I’m wading through peanut butter. Soon though, if I zero in and listen to myself, I can identify what has shown up and connect it to something that is happening in my life. Sometimes, when I wish it was as simple as grief (as if grief is simple), I discover that it is mostly plain old depression, usually brought on by work stress. That one is complicated because I am constantly living it and must, therefore, work harder to counteract it. Grief, and even sadness are often brought on by things I cannot change, and while that can be difficult to deal with, it generally passes once I have acknowledged it for what it is.

Thus it is that in early spring through early summer, I can depend on grief to make an appearance, as I mark the impact that loss has played in my life during this season. Usually by mid summer the grief has died back down until a brief spike in early fall, when it subsides again and goes dormant until the following spring. There’s nothing for it except to wait it out with patience, compassion, and extreme lovingkindness.

During these forty days, it should not feel at all unusual to experience heaviness of body and heart. It reaches down our collective consciousness that millions of people around the world for whom Lent is significant are experiencing the solemnity and grief that accompanies the suffering and death of Jesus. You can’t put that much emotional energy in the cosmos and not expect people to feel it. And so it is, so it has been, and so it likely will be.

This the Lenten journey that we are on and now halfway finished, by some reckoning. It is walking the via dolorosa, the “way of suffering” that we all walk at some point or another. It is a time to feel the weight of that walk as we go through our days. There will be a time for celebration, but that is not yet. Until then we honor what the body is trying to tell us, even if our heart and head have not yet sorted it out. So it is and so it will be.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Forty More Days, Day 7–Waiting, Waiting

“The waiting is the worst part,” my young friend told me as they awaited news of their father-in-law’s condition. He’d gone into the hospital some days earlier and they had discovered a heart problem that required surgery. The news coming from the operating room was inconclusive and not encouraging. “Please send your prayers,” they asked, and I agreed to do so. My friend would likely have to be the strong one in the midst of other family members, some of whom were not taking the news well. They need a moment of reassurance and comfort from me before putting on their game face and entering the space.

They’re right: the waiting can be the worst part, especially in hospitals. I remember when my mother was in the hospital during her last days of life. My siblings, my father, and I had all sat waiting for whatever we thought was going to happen to happen. Each time my mother drew a ragged breath, we thought it might be her last, and then she would breath again. We sat vigil for hours on that first day, essentially waiting for her to die. We sang songs, comforted each other, and waited. She surprised us all that day by not dying. In fact, I think she looked at us like we had lost our collective minds. She had no intention of dying, not if she could help it. After several days of waiting, it appeared mom was not going to die, so we all went back to our respective homes in and out of state, planning to return in shifts over the next few weeks. My mother, freed from all the drama and the audience, passed away after we’d all gone except for my father, one brother and sister-in-law.

Waiting can be excruciating when it’s keeping vigil like we did for my mother and as my friend awaits news of their father-in-law. It reminds me of the story of Lazarus, who was terribly ill. His sisters, Mary and Martha sent out an urgent request that Jesus come and heal him. They waited desperately, praying and tending to their brother as best they could, but ultimately, he died. Days later, Jesus arrived. “What took you so long?” they essentially said, “We waited for you and you didn’t come. If you had been here he wouldn’t have died.” The waiting wasn’t the worst part, the dying was.

I sat vigil with my father during the last days of his life. I held his hand, watched him sleep, and for the most part I was alone with my thoughts. Different ones of us came and went, but it wasn’t the intense, dramatic waiting we did when my mother was dying. There was a different quality to the waiting when my father was ill. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it was quieter, gentler, less dramatic. Perhaps having gone through the intensity of the experience with my mother we knew more what to expect. And while that didn’t make the waiting easier, it did make it different.

We all experience times of waiting; most of them much more mundane than what I’ve described here. During these 40 days we are very much in waiting mode, as we march toward the inevitability of Jesus’s death. Waiting is part of life. All we can control, as best we can, is how we wait. We can wait in intense drama or with quiet acceptance. Likely we’ll experience times of both and myriad other emotional states. And so we wait. And so it is.

Posted in Random Musings | Tagged | Leave a comment

Forty More Days, Day 6–Don’t It Make You Want to Go Home

Don’t it make you wanna go home now
Don’t it make you wanna go home?
All God’s children get weary when they roam.
Don’t it make you wanna go home? ~~Song by Joe South

I’ve been away from home for six days now, and I am not on vacation. I also am not at work, though my brain has been working overtime on work-related subject matter. I’ve eaten too much and exercised too little, and my digestion is more than a little off-kilter (sorry if that is TMI…) At this moment what I want more than just about anything is to go home.

I think sometimes it’s good to be away from home for a bit; it makes it that much sweeter when you come home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. Still, having been someone who has longed for home my entire life, the notion of finding a place where your heart is at rest is deeply appealing to me. I feel a bit like a vagabond, having moved five times in eight years. So the idea of being home, of having a home, is still a relatively new concept to me. And while the old saying says, “home is where the heart is,” I tend to feel like my heart is where my home is.

I’ve written a lot about home before. It has been an ongoing theme in my blog posts (I wrote about it in my original “Forty Days” blog a few years ago–see Day 22), so apparently it remains present for me and is on my mind this evening. It is amazing to read those earlier posts and find myself saying virtually the same things about home. Oh yes, it is very present and real.

And because this is my Lenten blog, I find myself thinking about Jesus again. Talk about someone who had no home to speak of. For 30 of his 33 years, he lived what was likely an uncomplicated life as the son of a carpenter. He knew the value of hard work and knew how to build things with his hands. I wonder how he knew it was time to leave home and start his formal ministry. Did God speak to him and tell him to put down his workmen’s tools and pack his bags and go? How did he say goodbye to his family. His mother, who knew this day was coming, might have reacted with some resignation, but what about his siblings?

Once he left home, Jesus wandered the countryside teaching and preaching to the masses. It had to be wearisome at times being constantly on the move, never really having a stable place to stay for any length of time, rarely knowing ahead of time what the accommodations would be like. At one point he noted to his disciples, “The foxes have dens, the birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” It puts my own moves into perspective. I remain grateful to have a place to lay my head that is warm and comfortable and safe.

On this journey of 40-plus days, let’s reflect on the ways that our hearts search for a sense of home. May we find that place that our hearts seek and be comforted therein.

Posted in Random Musings | Leave a comment