Forty Days Revisited, Day 23–Facing the Storm

I’ve spent a lot of time writing about perseverance, about how we face difficult times and find ways of getting through them. I’ve had experience with the storms and have come to understand that I am who I am because of what I’ve been through. This post from 2015 speaks to that a bit, that even though things are difficult in the moment, or even for a while, the hard times don’t last always.

Forty Days Day 7–Trouble Don’t Last Always

The other day a coworker was teasing me about how bundled up I was as I was about to leave the office and head out into subzero weather. I was so wrapped up in my hat and two scarves that one could barely see my face. I probably looked a bit ridiculous, but that wind was no joke. I remarked back to my colleague that the bad weather really isn’t going to last that much longer, and that spring really is a matter of a few weeks, maybe a month away. It’s hard to believe when you’re measuring wind chills in the tens of degrees below zero. And even though the groundhog saw his shadow (who came up with that idea?) predicting six more weeks of winter, by my estimation that means that by mid-March we can look forward to spring.

Sometimes when we’re in the midst of the storms of our lives, facing significant challenges and hardships it feels like there’s no way out, like what’s happening to us will never come to an end. And yet, I can guarantee with a fair degree certainty that many of the situations and issues that confront us in this moment most certainly will end one way or another and that life will go on. Spring always comes after the long, dark, cold of winter.

I can remember after my mother’s funeral sitting in the limo as we drove toward the cemetery for the burial. I gazed dully out the window, watching people going about their normal business: shopping, strolling, here and there, blithely living their lives. I found myself thinking, “What’s wrong with you people? Don’t you know my mother is dead and I am devastated?” I even had the nerve to be angry at the sun for rising that morning on such a clear, beautiful late spring day. At one point in my life I believed I wouldn’t be able to function if my mother were to die. I was much younger then and my mother was practically the center of my universe as a child. In dramatic childlike fashion I thought I would never be happy again after my mother died, though even as I thought it I knew it wasn’t true.

Such is the way of humans when we are confronted with those issues that we seem to be unable to comprehend, and we believe we will in fact not get through them in one piece. And yet, somehow we do. Even people who have suffered great losses, who have been faced with atrocities, who have experienced unimaginable situations, even for them these things come to an end and for many of them they find a way through to some degree of acceptance and healing.

“Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Sometimes the night is very, very long and many mornings may pass–months, even years–before something resembling joy comes. But after the pain, grief, sorrow, illness, anger, all the many states that we go through after a trauma, there does at some point come an easing. I think there is a resiliency of the human spirit, a natural buoyancy that we have the doesn’t permit us to stay eternally stuck in a dark, stormy, negative state of mind. This is perhaps not 100% true for everyone, but it has been my experience.

These 40 days commemorate a difficult time in the life of one individual and an entire people. As an individual I can relate to the mental suffering experienced by one facing a single or multiple sources of trauma. One of the strategies I used to cope with a series of losses I experienced a few years ago was to come out of myself enough to reach out to others. I knew that while my situation felt difficult and challenging, I could keep my misfortunes from overwhelming me by reaching out to and helping others who had it even harder than I did. How we approach these situations goes a long way toward helping us to recover and heal from them.

It may be hard to imagine when the wind is howling and cutting through your clothing that the warm breezes of spring and the gentle showers of April really are just around the corner. If I am can wait with some measure of patience, I know that hard times will ease and pass. And so it goes.


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Forty Days Revisited, Day 22–Reminiscences

Florence, Clare, Josephine, Stella, Rose (and even Alice)—the first names of five women, then girls, with whom I went to boarding school in Uganda. The fact that their names (I omitted their last names, even though I remember them quite clearly) is remarkable given that I have not seen or spoken to any of them since I left Uganda 46 years ago.

I just now googled Florence, typing in her name, only to discover that she died in 2002. When I looked for more information, I was asked if I wanted to subscribe to an African news service to read the full story. I felt an interesting pang of regret that, in these days of easy and instantaneous global connection, I never looked for or reached out to Florence or any of the other girls for that matter. Florence had been class prefect for our grade level—the S2As—who were forever getting in trouble, thereby getting Florence in trouble.

     “Banange, girls!” She would utter in exasperation, “can you all please quiet down before we all get in trouble..again?”

Her reasonable admonitions never seemed to do much good, we were always perennially in trouble. Sister Victoire Kennedy, an Irish nun and the headmistress of the school would sweep in to our classroom after another breach of good behavior, assigning chores as punishment, always exempting me as “the new girl” who clearly hadn’t had time to be corrupted by the evil influences running rampant through the S2As.  I only ever had contact with two of the girls—Stella and Josephine—after we left Uganda and returned to the US. For that time to have had such a profound impact on my young life, it’s interesting to find myself reminiscing about those days after all these years.

It’s fascinating how random things can trigger specific memories. This morning on my commute to work a song came on the radio and I was instantly transported back in time. My then four-year-old daughter was sitting in the passenger seat of our big white van as we drove to South Bend to visit my mother. We were just going down for the day, enjoying the time together without “the boys,” listening to music as we rode along. When that song came on, we sang really loud and did all of our hand signals that we’d made up to accompany it. That had been a sweet day, and a sweet time with my daughter and my mother, who’d died a few months later. That was as real to me in the moment as I drove this morning as if it had just happened.

Time is a funny thing. It plays tricks on us, making us believe,if only briefly, that something that happened 20 years ago just happened, or that girls you hadn’t spoken to suddenly popped into your consciousness as if i were yesterday, not over four decades ago. Such interesting and random reminiscences that still have the power to move and touch us.

During these 40 days, I think about Jesus a lot. What did he know, think about, remember? Did the “son of God” have a photographic memory? Did he know and remember everything that ever happened to him from the time he was born and laid into the straw of the manger? Or was he the “son of man” who was most ways just like the rest of us: learning from the things he experienced, remembering snatches of conversations and interactions with his “stepfather” and his half siblings? As I described in an earlier post (Day 11, One Thing Jesus Didn’t Do) he never grew old. He died at approximately 33 years old.  So he didn’t have 46 year old memories, or a best friend of 40 years, or any of those things some of us older folks have. His memories would have been compressed into the 33 years he walked on the planet.

I will spend some time searching for those girls from my boarding school days. I may not find them, but I will remember them. And by recording their stories here, I keep a little piece of them alive. And so the journey continues.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 21–Wherever You Go

Tonight as I sat in front of the fire, have asleep. I decided that this would be another good day to revisit a past post. I asked Siri and Alexa to offer me numbers, and Alexa won. And so without further ado, here is a post from last year’s The Next Forty Days.

The Next Forty Days, Day 8–You Can Get There from Here

I have a dear friend who has a remarkable innate sense of direction. You could probably drop her into the middle of any town and give her a map and a few minutes to orient herself and she’s good to go. Sometimes I’ll be talking to her on the phone telling her I am planning to go a particular store or restaurant. I can hear her mind start working, and a moment or two later she’ll say, “Oh, that’s down by the corner of Crooks and 15 Mile. It’s on the east corner right up the street from a CVS. The best way to get there would probably be to go down…” and proceed to tell me how to get there, the landmarks to watch for, and approximately how long it might take. She can tell me how to get from point A to point B anywhere within about a 50-mile radius. She’s like a human GPS system. This always amazes me. Of course, I can get lost in a parking lot, so I am easily impressed.

I wonder what it would be like to live like that; to have an innate sense of where you might want your life to go. I know some people who have charted out their lives, mapping various steps along the way. They might make adjustments here or there as they move forward, but for the most part they have a very clear sense of what they want to do and what it will take for them to get there. They perhaps make allowances for the occasional unexpected thing and keep on stepping.

Then there are people like me who get lost in parking lots. For us, our journeys through life can feel much less organized. We have a vague idea of which way we want to head, but tend to step out there and start walking without sitting down and mapping out a detailed plan. The interesting thing is that sometimes the planners and the meanderers end up in the same place at roughly the same time. One journey might be directed and focused and the other unscripted and spontaneous. Each gets to the destination, but through very different means taking very different routes.

I used to lament my lack of organized focus. I so envied the planners who’d charted out their paths. They have solid careers, have saved and have plenty of money in their 401k to retire in relative ease. They have worked for the same organization for 20 or 30-plus years and are vested, have various stock options, and have enjoyed a clean and uncluttered path to success. My own career has truly meandered from this to that, place to place, job to job. Anyone charting my career would look at it and ask, “What took you so long to get here?” There was no clear point A to point B for me, some of it was accident, “coincidence,” or dumb luck, peppered with a healthy dose of hard work, perseverance (there’s that word again), resilience, and creativity. I don’t want to make it sound that I had no guidance and no sense of direction; let’s just say I had a very circuitous and eventful journey to where I am today.

So let’s think back to Jesus for a moment (this is Lent, after all.) If ever there were anyone who knew they had a destiny and understood the plan for his life almost from the beginning, it was he. I think that was the “son of God” part versus the “son of Man.” In spite of the fact that his life was laid out before him, I have little doubt that he figured out how to make things work in such a way that he could tolerate and perhaps even introduce elements of surprise and the occasional messiness. And while his last days of anguish and suffering were anything but organized and tidy, they were nonetheless predicted, as was his death and return from the dead. His life, his journey was laid out before him, he simply had to walk it.

The old folks used to say, “Wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey,” that is to say that, although the journey may have been rough, filled with as many obstacles and challenges as victories and successes, they wouldn’t trade it, swap it out with anyone else for any price. On the whole, I think they’re right. For me, I wouldn’t trade the whole journey, but I definitely wouldn’t mind swapping out a few things. Nevertheless, all those experiences have been woven together to make me who I am, and while I’m not always sure I know where I’m going, I continue to get confirmation that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I see no contradiction between those two statements. It’s the kind of paradoxical untidiness I am accustomed to.

So the journey of these 40 days is allowing me to contemplate aloud a variety of life questions and issues. Is it possible to be closing in on the doorway to my 60th year and still feel as though I don’t know anything, that I’m just getting started? There are days when that feels perfectly okay and other times when my “destiny” feels elusively close. At those times, there’s nothing to be done except be patient, live in the moment, and continue to allow the great unfolding of life to occur. At the end of the day, that’s really all we have. And so it goes.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 20–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.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 19–How Can You Mend?

How can you mend a broken heart?

How did Jesus do it? Day in and day out he was, at any given time, surrounded by misery, suffering, grief, despair, pain. How did he deal with that on a regular basis. You know the bible says at least one time that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), but how did he not weep all the time? How did he walk through  all the sadness, pain, and grief of the people around him and not be sobbing.

I suppose I’m projecting here, because while I might walk around and help and heal and touch people to ease their pain, I’d be balling the entire time, tears streaming down my cheeks as I moved from person to person, problem to problem, heartache to heartache. And at the end of a day or week of doing that, I would have to retreat to “a quiet place” not only to rest and to recover from the physical exhaustion, but also the emotional and mental strain of helping people in distress.

The other day I was talking with a close friend who is going through a difficult divorce. Divorce—the dissolution of a relationship—is hard enough, but even worse when there are children involved. As I listened (which is all I really could do), I could almost feel their pain in my own body, so real and raw it was to them. I found I had few words, other than murmurings of comfort and commiseration, and that horrible, helpless feeling that there was actually very little I could do other than provide the proverbial shoulder to cry on.

Jesus spent a lot of time healing the sick, and easing the pain—physical, mental, and spiritual—of the people around him. I wonder if it was his divinity that gave him the ability to both be compassionate in tending to them, while also remaining detached enough to be able to function. But then I think, no, it wasn’t his divinity that enabled him to do that, it was his humanity. I realize that every day there are people—healers—who do the same thing Jesus did: they ease people’s illnesse, physical and mental, touch people, care for them with deep compassion. They are nurses, physicians, psychologists and social workers, special education teachers, and others who  stand proxy for Jesus, doing pretty much as he did. Those like me who have no such skills marvel at their ability to save and heal lives, while not breaking down themselves.

Throughout these 40 days I know I’ll be thinking a lot about suffering and how to connect with those who are suffering without being consumed or overwhelmed by it. Jesus didn’t appear to get overwhelmed, so I can try not to be. As I check back in with my friend in the days ahead, I will offer love and support to salve their broken heart. It’s going to be a while, but it will mend. I have it from my own experience and on good authority. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. And so it goes.

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 18–Time in a Bottle

I am gratful that at the end of another long day (I was up at 4:30), I can fall back on the wisdom of my earlier writings, not just because it means I don’t have to think up and create an original post, but because I have the pleasure of reading wisdom that I invariably needed to write back then and need to see again now. I found this piece particularly poignant because it feels like a younger self reminding an older self not to totally abandon or lose sight of her dreams. On the other hand, sometimes it’s hard to take a dose of one’s own medicine. Perhaps tonight it’s a little bit of both. Enjoy this post from February 2016.

The Next Forty Days, Day 16–Out of Time

“There never seems to be enough time to do the thing you want to do once you find them…” ~Jim Croce

Somehow today time just got away from me. In fact, if I looked back at the last couple of days I’d have to say the entire weekend got away from me. How does that happen?  Today I was trying to squeeze in one more thing before I sat down to work on this evening’s post, and before I knew it, it was after 10:00 p.m. Not the way I wanted to start the week, but there it is. I ran out of time. But Jim Croce is right, there never does seem to be enough time, does there?

We expend a lot of hours in each day scrambling around doing things–before work we’re running around getting ready for work, at work we run around to meetings or sit for hours in front of our computers, or operate machinery, listen to cases, preach, patrol city streets, wait on customers, teach children, and millions of other occupations. We spend eight, nine, 10 hours per day at a minimum before we head into our commute home or rush off to day care, start our second shifts (which for many of us occurs at home), prepare and eat an evening meal, then spend a couple of hours maybe doing something we enjoy or work on home projects. Then it is bedtime. We turn off the lights, go to sleep, and wake up to start all over again.

By the end of the week, we are exhausted, but rather than exhaling on the weekend, we run to soccer practices and dance rehearsals, we go to our part time second job, do yard work, laundry, and a hundred other things that we’re too busy or exhausted to do during the week. This leaves us on Sunday evening, prepping for work on Monday–ironing clothes, assembling materials for lunches for the week, etc. And before we know it, it’s 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. and past our bedtime. (Perhaps I am simply projecting with all of this, but I don’t think so.) Maybe it’s time to think about changing the routine.

Today two different friends in two completely separate conversations each talked about wanting to change some things up in their routines. They wanted to really do much more with their time, that is, spend more time doing the things they care about, spending it with people they care about. “Life is too short,” one of them said. “I need to spend it connecting with the people I love.” Each of them had just come from funerals that deeply affected them. As all of us are aging, it becomes more natural for us to think about our mortality and what we want to do with the time that is left to us.

I imagine that might have been what Jesus felt like as he went about his public ministry, which some estimates put at about three years. Can you imagine the pressure? He had three years to accomplish a lot. In the process of preaching to and teaching the masses, was he thinking in the back of his mind about how limited his time really was? As each week rolled into the next month and the seasons turned over the course of a year, I wonder did he feel a need to pick up the pace. When we in our modern era have a deadline for a project or a news article or something that has to be done, don’t we redouble our efforts, work harder, faster, longer? How much greater would our efforts be if we knew, as Jesus did, that we were running out of time, not to meet our deadline, but were coming to the end of our lives?

It has become almost a cliche to ask the question, “what would you do if you knew you only had three months, six months, one year to live?” But really, what would you do? And if you have an immediate answer, then you also know what you should begin to make time for it right now. If you would spend more time with the people you love–quality time, not simply being in the house at the same time–why don’t you do that now? Start tomorrow. Start writing your novel, memoirs, family history. Take up tennis, painting, skydiving. Travel to each of the continents, learn to sail, take tap dancing lessons. You get the drift.

During these forty days we have opportunity not simply to introspect about the meanings of sacrifice and suffering, death, resurrection, and rebirth, but to take action on all those things. The poet Henry Van Dyke said, “Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live.”  I am not interested in getting to a point where I am out of time and have left too many things undone, too many words unspoken, too much life unlived.   I, like so many of us, need to begin to make serious changes immediately. How about you?

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Forty Days Revisited, Day 17–Time to Rest

Tonight I found myself working yet again, preparing some remarks I need to make at a forum. I knew I was tired, but even as I sat here typing my notes, I nodded off several times. I had acknowledged to my partner what I’ve known for a long time: I don’t sleep very well, and having gone to doctors and such to figure out why, they finally gave up trying to figure out the cause, and simply treated the symptoms. Not very helpful.

And so I thought I’d revisit a post I wrote two years ago about rest. As I re-read it, I found that I still very much resonate with what I wrote then. So I repost it here, for my recollection and your consideration.

The Next Forty Days, Day Eight–No Rest for the Weary

“Foxes have dens, the birds of the air have nests. But the son of man has no place to lay his head.”

I don’t sleep very well these days. I have two different gadgets telling me so. I can speculate why this is occurring, but almost don’t care about the why of it; my concern is on the what to do about it. There are all kinds of articles on the internet about the importance of sleep and the sometimes dire consequences of not getting enough. I look at them through one bloodshot eye and try not to take them too seriously. I know it’s important to get sufficient rest each night (though how on earth they landed on seven to nine hours I’m not certain), and I know I am not getting enough. The trick is not letting this awareness of my sleeplessness make me, well, more sleepless.

The alarm rings at 4:55, 5:04, and 5:11 a.m. (don’t ask). By the time I write in my journal, read in my daybooks, exercise, and perform my morning ablutions I’ve already been up nearly three hours before I start my work day. Most days I flit from meeting to meeting to meeting with almost no breaks, and sometimes there even is a meeting at lunch time. I lead meetings, I sit and listen at meetings, I give presentations (at meetings), and have meetings to plan other meetings. At the end of eight or nine hours of this, I haul myself to the parking garage, climb into my car and commence the 30-minute drive home. By the time I arrive at the house it is 6:00 p.m. and I am ready to crawl into bed. I don’t, of course. I walk and feed the dog, determine what I am going to feed myself, and sit for a bit watching the news while I eat. I check in with various people via phone or text, then settle down to do a little more work, or write my blog, before heading toward slumberland most days before 10:00 p.m. That’s a lot to do on 4 hours and 34 minutes of “quality” rest. No rest for the weary, I guess.

Too many of us these days run and run and run until we’re running on fumes. We rush kids to school then screech off to our jobs, to the grocery store, to the school, to the university, and dozens of other places. We get up too early, attempt to function on too little sleep, put in 8, 9, or 10 hour workdays. We shlep to our parking structures, climb into our cars to run to daycare to pick up children (or doggy day care to pic up Rover), all the while wondering what we’re going to have for dinner. While this is not everyone’s every day reality, it’s all too real for many people. No rest for the weary.

As I think about these 40 days and wonder what Jesus did, what his workdays must have been like. I mean, the guy spent hours teaching, preaching, and ministering to people sometimes numbering in the thousands. Everybody came wanting something from him, some of them coming from miles away, waiting for hours simply to hear him speak, to catch a glimpse of him, and perhaps even to be spoken to or touched by him. (I picture Pope Frances following a similar kind of schedule, actually.) He would interact one-on-one with person after person, touching them, healing them. Each time he healed someone something “went out of him.” How many tens or hundreds of people lined up to be healed by him in a given day? How much energy must it have taken for him to do this day in and day out for three years. No rest for the weary.

I can scarcely imagine what that must have been like–it makes me tired simply thinking about it. At least when I finish a hard day of working, I have a place to come to, a home where I can relax and take a deep breath before getting up and starting all over again. Jesus was essentially a vagabond, a wandering teacher who went from one town to the next meeting the needs of the people in the local area. He said to his people the quote at the top of this post: essentially even the animals have some place to rest and call home, but he had no such luxury. No rest for the weary.

On this journey of 40 days I am taking intentional time to think about the life and the life work and spiritual journey of Jesus, thinking about the parallels I see in my own life. I whine that I am too tired to write my blog or have no energy to do anything when I get home from work except collapse on the sofa, eat dinner, watch the news and then go to bed. But when I think about what it must have been like to spend so many intense hours working with wounded, sick, and injured people healing them and making them whole, it makes my level of engagement feel much more manageable. And just to be perfectly clear, I am exceedingly grateful to have a place to lay my head. There is in fact rest for the weary; the key is to take it when it presents itself and make the best of it. And so it is.

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