April 18, 2017
The Urban Dictionary defines Jesus Freak as:
n. Someone who displays an unusual or embarrasing amount of enthusiasm for Jesus.
I hope this is the way that others view me. I am not embarrassed by my love for and faith in Jesus. I would add that even though I talk a lot about Jesus, for me it is always in the context of the Triune, Father, Son and Spirit.
I know the moment I fell in love with Jesus. Funny how our memories work, I remember the moment but I am not sure how old I was. My best guess is I was four or five-years old. I was attending Mass at Holy Family Church in Seattle (White Center). I loved the church of my youth in that whenever I was there I felt the awe of the Creator. Maybe it was the architecture and design of the church or maybe it was the Spirit of God that captured my heart but all I know is this: When I would look at the cross above the altar and saw Jesus on it, I somehow knew in a non-cognitive knowing that He did that for me.
This is not the best photo but it is the only one I could find online.
You see my reality was this. There were many, many violent episodes in my home while growing up. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details in this post but suffice to say there was abuse in all forms running rampant in our house. When I would go to Mass I would feel safe. I went to 12-years of Catholic School. I spent a lot of time in Mass. I made my first communion while in 2nd grade, was confirmed in 8th-grade and spent four years at Kennedy High School where my favorite classes were religion classes. I wrestled with what I was learning in my religion classes. I was fascinated by the gospel accounts of the life of Christ. I was intrigued by the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. They included riots, beatings, shipwrecks, preaching, conversions, miracles and complete devotion to the good news that the God of the Universe crossed the cosmic divide to come to earth as a vulnerable and defenseless baby in the person of Jesus.
Jesus’ s life was one of loving the outcast, the sinner, the other. He crossed racial divides when he loved the Samaritans and the Gentiles. He treated women with scandalous respect and dignity within the Greco-Roman culture that oozed of patriarchy and misogyny. He touched the ‘untouchables’ in the lepers, the woman with the issue of blood and so many others that were exiled from community. He touched them, he loved them and he rescued them from their lives in exile. He surely brought heaven to earth when he demonstrated power over sickness, disease, nature and the demonic! He practiced life in the Kingdom of God when he turned water into wine, fed the crowds miraculously multiplying food and by cleansing the Temple of the money changers that turned His house into a ‘den of thieves’ and on and on. He turned the religious world of his time upside down! And, it got him killed. By his birth, life and death, Jesus used His power, the power beyond any weapon of mass destruction humans can engineer through death on a cross to conquer evil with love. And that is not the end of the Story.
But as it was foretold by the Hebrew prophets and by Jesus himself death did not hold him, because the same beyond-nuclear power that was demonstrated in his death took hold of death and raised him out of the grave to be the first of the throngs that will be raised to new life at some point in time. We don’t know the year, the day or the hour, but the Hope of the follower of Jesus is just that. Evil, Death, Curse – does not have the last word – Love, Life, Freedom wins!
This is my hope and where I put my faith. In the Roman Catholic tradition I remember the priest would recite ‘The Mystery of Faith, with these Latin words, Mortem tuam annuntiámus, Dómine, et tuam resurrectiónem confitémur, donec vénias translated, Your death we proclaim, Lord, and your resurrection we confess, until you come. Or in other liturgies, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
In a few weeks we will celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. That is for another post.
Today I sit in my office the day after my 60th Easter celebration listening to this song.
April 4, 2017
One year ago today I had an echocardiogram. My doctor had treated me for acute bronchitis for seven weeks but I was not getting better. My friend Sharon offered to go with me so we could get lunch after and catch up with one another. The thing is, the test revealed I was in congestive heart failure and seriously so. You can read that story at in several prior posts about my recovery process.
Today, as I reflect on this past year I am in awe of the healing process. I honestly didn’t think I would be alive to write today. I am so grateful! I have recovered beyond what my doctors ever thought was possible. I can only point to what I have experienced that I believe attributes to my recovery.
My husband. Rich kicked into absolute care mode. He was working full-time when I came home from the hospital. He would make sure I had what I needed (sometimes this meant a caregiver in his absence) and then he would come home, cook a heart healthy dinner and clean the kitchen! He made sure that I had a safe and stress-free space to recover. One of the gifts I have found due to my health crisis and recovery is how strong our marriage has become in the midst of hugely hard circumstances. I cannot express how much I love this man. He is a good, good man!
Our kids and extended family. Our adult children surrounded us with love and care. They were there for whatever we needed. To this day they FaceTime me almost daily. The best was bringing the grandchildren to see me often – this made my heart happy with each visit! My sister and cousins too brought so much care, love and support. My cousins are like siblings. We grew up together and shared in the same large and sometimes lunatic Italian family. They enveloped Rich and me and our kids with love, wisdom, comic relief, prayers and so much more.
Our friends near and far and our faith community, local and beyond. I put these two together even though many of my friends are not a part of our faith community. The amount of support we have had this past year from near and far encompasses practical things like meals, house cleaners, rides to the doctor and other places (I could not drive for six months), gifts, cards, jokes, good, good company through so many tears and so much confusion, prayer, prayer and more prayer, financial assistance in the midst of so much transition, I could go on and on. Our friends and church family are the true riches in my life. They like Rich and our kids stepped in and did all they could to help eliminate stress in my life and for some they did this at personal cost. Another gift I have received this past year – the gift of receiving (this has been tremendously hard for me) and experiencing firsthand the generosity of others. I could write an entire post on just what it means to be on the receiving end of so much. There is so much powerlessness, surrender and trust involved. I have never experienced such an outpouring of so much goodness, love and kindness in my life as I have in this past year. My heart could not help but to come back to life!
My Guides. Guides through this past year have come in many forms. My therapist has been a healing voice and presence over and over. He has listened to me cry, sob, rage, cuss, and has helped me make sense of things that really make no sense at all. And by making sense of it I mean practicing letting go of the things I am powerless over. A surrendering at the deepest level of surrender I have ever had to do. The gift of surrender has left me at peace because for me surrender means letting go and trusting in the God I love. Trusting that God really has me, cares for me, loves me. What I came face to face with is the fact that I know I am not afraid to die. I know that the God I love is just that, LOVE and to be embraced by that LOVE as I leave this life has given me peace and the ability to surrender. So many other guides too. My friend from Southern California that I met just two years ago at a Society of Vineyard Scholars gathering. He had prayed for me there and became a trusted guide over what unfolded these past two years. I could not be more grateful for the gift he has been in my life. Women that helped me process the trauma, books, poetry and art that spoke to me and gave me hope—so many guides, so many gifts!
Today as I reflect on this past year with all the change, losses, gifts and love I have experienced I simply look up and say, “Thank You.”
“Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.” Crowder
March 31, 2017
I could not be more excited about our family gathering this summer in Anaheim! This year our national conference theme is Together Outward Leaning. The keynote speaker for the morning sessions is Christopher J.H. Wright, an Anglican clergyman, a scholar and author. I read several of his books while working on the theological framework for my doctoral dissertation. Most notable to me, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, IVP Academic, 2006. Also, Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament, Oxford: Monarch Press; Downers Grove: IVP, 2006 and Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament. IVP Academic, 2007.
Here is why I hope you will make every effort to be with us in Anaheim. I believe as one of my mentors, Ray Bakke would say, “ I acknowledge two theological functions of any church – Church is never an end in itself, but rather points beyond to the reality of the Kingdom of God. The Church is called first to be a sign of the Kingdom in the present context, but also to be an agent for of that Kingdom in mission throughout the world.”
And as another mentor has said, “I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation. How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross?
I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel– evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one.
But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.”
–Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989), 227.
Because I believe with all my heart that the local church is the hope of the world I would love to hear your thoughts on congregations as a sign, agent and witness to the Kingdom of God. For me it is all about how we proclaim, embody and demonstrate that kingdom here and now where we live, work and play.
I hope to see you in Anaheim! You can register here.
February 18, 2017
One year ago today I was at The Seattle School for meetings. I was not well. I had not slept much all week because I had a dry hacking cough whenever I would lie down.
Our meetings ended for the day. Amy, Jess and I were walking up a hill to go to dinner when I stopped. I could not breathe. I didn’t feel pain in my chest I had shortness of breath and I could not continue walking. Jess went and got the car and we went to dinner. I got home went to bed and coughed all night.
The next day I stayed home thinking I needed to rest and get well. I went through the weekend without improvement. First thing on Monday I went to the doctor. He diagnosed me with chronic bronchitis and for the next seven weeks I went about my life thinking I had bronchitis when all the while I was in congestive heart failure. In the weeks ahead I made two trips, one to San Diego and one to Thailand. When I returned from Thailand I was so sick my doctor finally decided to run tests to see if perhaps my bronchitis had morphed into something else. I ended up having an echocardiogram on April 3rd with the test result showing I was in heart failure. My heart had somehow taken a severe beating was enlarged and was only at a ten percent ejection fraction! The cardiologist did not know how I survived air travel to Thailand and back. He said, “You are lucky to be alive.”
In prior posts I have shared what happened from that time through the past ten months of recovery.
Today as I think back on this past year I have many feelings. So many thoughts. I am not sure how I can articulate how thankful I am to be alive. I am thankful for my family, friends, our faith community both local and beyond, for my doctors and therapist and for all of the love, prayers, care and support.
I have recovered beyond what my doctors ever thought possible. In my faith tradition, we believe that God is real, alive and active in our world. I believe God hears our prayers. So much of what I sense, believe and know about God is pure mystery – in fact I believe that is what ‘faith’ is – it’s believing and trusting in what you cannot see or prove. It is a deeper knowing, a sense and an inner trust in something bigger and greater than what we see. For me, it is a deep sense and a glimpse of something I cannot quite reach. It is a whisper that tells me this is not all there is, that one day all will be made well. Faith then fills up and pours over into hope, hope that whether I live or die I will be okay. Hope that no matter what my circumstances or how scary the world appears there will be a time when things will be made right.
So today, I am spending time sitting with thankfulness. Holding every kindness that has been given to me over this past year. Taking into my heart every prayer, every kind word, every gift and intention for goodness from countless people around the world.
This Psalm says it best for me:
1 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“LORD, save me!”
5 The LORD is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6 The LORD protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return to your rest, my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you.
8 For you, LORD, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
9 that I may walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.
10 I trusted in the LORD when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
11 in my alarm I said,
“Everyone is a liar.”
12 What shall I return to the LORD
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.
January 2, 2017
I am thrilled to welcome 2017! Saying goodbye to 2016 is okay by me. 2016 for all of the heartache (literally) and loss had so many gifts. Yet, I am happy to look forward. The end of the year marks a transition point for me. I am invited to look back to see what happened and to look ahead to what might be. 2016 is done. I cannot change what happened. The new-year is coming, it’s just two days old, so much of it not yet unfolded, a mystery. I think about reflecting on what has been, and for me looking back as a journey reflecting for a moment on the detours, the rest stops, filling stations, adventure, crossing bridges, getting stuck in dead ends, etc. When I reflect on the past year this way I know it will resurrect both joyful and painful memories which give me the opportunity to take not of the state of my being, body, mind and spirit and to remind myself this a time to discern God’s presence with me in all of it.
Janet Rupp in her book, “May I have this Dance” has great questions to ask at year-end:
As you traveled on your road this past year,
Meet someone who helped you find direction? Yes, I met so many that guided me through one of the most challenging years of my life.
Find an unusual treasure on the roadway? So many! I have blogged about many of them in prior posts. I have a gigantic list of the treasures I have found on the road this past year.
Encounter any dead-ends? Oh yes. And in some ways as the “way closed” (Parker Palmer) it was hard, sometimes made no sense but in the long run such gifts.
Fall into a ditch and work your way out? Hmm – almost dying (literally days away from drowning in my own fluids and crashing twice in the hospital) falls into this category. It is now 9-months post heart failure and I have improved (to my doctor’s immense surprise and delight) 100%!!! I did not work my way out on my own. I had tons of support from my family, friends near and far, my faith community, my therapist and my larger faith community known as The Vineyard. So much care, prayers, love and support is how I came out of it.
Get lost? Why yes I did. From the time I went to Thailand in March and came home almost having died, I was in a fog. Everything changed in a moment. My life as I knew it was over. I felt lost in so many ways.
Search for your way back home? I always felt at home. I feel at home in my own skin so though I felt lost in a fog – I did not at any time feel I was not at home. Home for me is with Rich, my kids, my family, friends and faith community. Home for me is being with Jesus every moment of the day. Even in the hospital when I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, I felt at home whether I lived or died. Death did not scare me. I knew in either state I would be home.
Cross over a bridge to new freedom? In so many ways! For me almost dying gave me so much freedom. It makes living all the more sacred to me. The freedom to let go, to live my life to the fullest from day to day is the greatest gift that came from this last year.
Spend time in a place of beauty and rest? My home is that place for me. Having my home to recover in has almost felt like I have been on retreat for the past 9 months. I could not be more grateful for the gift of a beautiful place to live and my family and friends that share my home. There were other places too. Trips with just Rich and I or with family and friends. So, so much goodness!
I thank God for:
Those who have helped me along way. From near and far, in thought and in deed.
The treasures I found on this past year’s journey
The dead ends when the way closed
When I fell down and was able to get back up mainly because of prayer, love and support
Moments when I felt lost, you were there for me, thank you
The grace to be at home wherever I am because you are there
Guiding me through crossing bridges to new freedoms, thank you
The places of rest and beauty, home being number one!
I am grateful to you, Father, Son and Spirit for all the ways you are with me and for the gifts you shower daily. Thank you for your mercy, for your goodness and unfailing love.
The Journey to Come
I am spending time this week naming my hopes for what’s to come. Some things I am thinking about:
What am I anticipating?
What are my hopes?
What practices will help me be open to what is being birthed in my life in this season?
How can I be open to gifts even if they come disguised in the most challenging ways?
I love this quote by Thoreau “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by and infinite expectation of the dawn.” To me the dawn is God in whatever terms you relate to God.
2016 brought many unexpected moments, challenges and gifts – I wait in hopeful anticipation the gifts 2017 will bring. It seems appropriate to end with this prayer from Walter Brueggemann
On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbors who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soon-
that you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”
? Walter Brueggemann
December 1, 2016
It is just about 8 months since I learned I was in very serious heart failure and it is only a few days until Rich and I celebrate our 20-year anniversary!
Recovery continues to be my way of life. Next month I will have another test to see what’s happening with my heart. I will find out if it is improving, staying the same or…
I am learning how to adjust to a new way of life. I am feeling so much better and yet I am not able to physically do what I used to do. It can be frustrating when my physical ability fails me. I am getting better at not scheduling beyond my capacity but who am I fooling it is HARD to say no to things I love to do. The other side of that coin is REST. Never have I leaned into rest like I have to now in order to reboot my body, my mind, my being. This is my new normal.
We hosted Thanksgiving for 21 at our house and then two days later semi-hosted a baby shower for our daughter. By Sunday morning my entire body hurt. I told Rich, “My bones even ache.” I have had down time, resting all week to reboot. I didn’t do too much, it is a point of fact that when I do things I will need to take time for recovery. When I hit my limit I have to rest.
I still have a long way to go to recover emotionally and spiritually from all that led up to my heart failing. What I do have is an amazing support system. Family, friends, church, therapist, doctors, and a Spiritual Director – how can I not be recovering with so much love and support?
In many ways I feel like I am in an incubator. An old life is passing and a new life is emerging. My life seems to correlate with the seasons right now. We are in Advent, a time of “Expectant Waiting.” I think of Mary, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her and told her she was “highly favored.” My friend DeAnn one day last summer shared with me how she was thinking about Mary’s life and what it might mean to be highly favored. DeAnn pointed out that being highly favored of God for Mary meant a life full of sacrifice, obedience and suffering. Yet, the Son of God was conceived and grew in her womb. She is remembered to this day as being blessed. I wonder what God is birthing in my life. I wait, I wonder, I pray and I have hope.
A good friend gave me a birthday card with this quote: “You go on by doing the best you can. You go on by being generous. You go on by being true. You go on by offering comfort to others who can’t go on. You go on by allowing the unbearable days to pass and allowing the pleasure in other days. You go on by finding a channel for your love and another for your rage.” Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
My therapist suggested that my spiritual discipline for this season of my life be “pleasure.” How lovely is that? It resonates with the above quote for me. Finding channels for love and for rage. The truth is I can find pleasure in so many things that I love. Finding pleasure in allowing a channel for my rage has been a new experience and a profoundly healing one. I will continue to allow the unbearable days to pass and allow myself to be present to all of the beautiful pleasure that surrounds me daily. Speaking of pleasure!
Our 20th-anniversary is December 6th! When I reflect on the past twenty years with Rich I can honestly say it has been one wild ride! We have traversed dark death valleys more than once. We have been taken to amazing heights on so many occasions! We have fought like dogs and cats and we have got on like love birds. For me our marriage has been like wine getting better and better as it ages.
Here are a few things I love about Rich. He insists we play! Left to myself my life can become much too serious. Rich actually schedules fun for us. Rich love me, he loves our kids and our grandchildren. He loves God and sharing our faith has become the glue that cements us together. When we got married Rich had five children, I had two and we had at the time two grandchildren. We had Alex together and now we are expecting grand baby number 22 in January!
Rich and I have a tradition. Each year on our anniversary we try to remember what we did for all the previous anniversaries. It’s fun to try and remember where we were, what we did, and what our life was like. For me remembering is an important practice. It is in remembering all the good, the joy, the bad and the sorrow that I know life is woven together and made into a beautiful story.
I would not trade my life for anything (well just about anything). From every valley, mountain and all the in-between is where my story intersects with a larger Story being worked out in human history. A Story that is heading for all things being made right. That is the Hope I hold onto for dear life. No matter what happens, there will be a day as Julian of Norwich speaks of, “but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Amen
November 9, 2016
I am just seven months post surgery and heart failure. My doctors are pleased and a bit astounded by my recovery. I continue to learn my limits as my body adapts to my heart’s capacity. I am not going to lie. Now that I am feeling better I get super frustrated with my new physical limits! It’s hard. I don’t have the emotional reserve I used to when I hit or go over my limits. When I even go over my limits a tad I end up in tears, melting down and so sad that I cannot do what I want. I have to say “no” way more than I am used to saying to the things that I love. Yet, I am grateful for the things I can and get to do.
Rich and I spent the weekend in Canada speaking at the BC Regional Gathering. We had an absolute blast! Rich and I are a good team! He is supportive, patient (with me), and cares for me so well. I am so grateful for him. We met amazing leaders. We loved pouring into our Canadian brothers and sisters and in the pouring out we received so much! We love David and Anita Ruis and know we will be doing more together in the future. I came home with a heart full of gratefulness. Then last night…
The election did not turn out the way I, or many of us expected it to. So many sat in shock as we watched the election returns. I had to turn it off and tried to sleep. I woke up hoping it wasn’t true. Today was a day full of tears, not just over the election but over accumulative loss I have experienced over the past eighteen months. I could say more about the election but it will suffice to say that we now have to pull together. We have to honor the rules of our democracy but that does not mean we don’t work hard. In fact, we have to work harder than ever to stand on the side of all those who are most vulnerable. If you voted for and support Trump I respect that right. We must try to respect one another and fight for civil discourse about our differences this is America.
For me as a person of faith I will hold to the promises for the new world I read about in my sacred text, I will pray, I will respond to hate (to the best of my ability and by the grace of God) with kindness and I will keep working for justice in any way I can. Platitudes are not what any of us need right now. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton she showed leadership and grace as she gave her concession speech. She quoted this text and I could not agree more, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Today I am grateful that I am alive, that I have an amazing family, friends and faith community. On Saturday evening I look forward to celebrating ten years of Turning Point Seattle’s good work serving under-served youth and their families. I cannot wait to honor the volunteers, kids, families, investors, partners and all that have made the past ten years possible. This is what my life’s work will be about. Working for justice, for those that need support, for those that are the most vulnerable in my community. I want to be a person that is a conduit for the love of God. I want my grandchildren to learn that we have privilege and that with privilege comes responsibility to join God in the renewal of all things making this broken world better for all.
I will end with this prayer offered by Brian McLaren:
Lord, please make us instruments of Your transforming love.
Where hostile voices yell in fearful anger,
help us sing loud songs of courageous friendship.
Where people trapped in bigotry send out their shrill dogwhistles of fear,
let us form a resounding multi-faith choir of generous inclusion.
Where bulldozers of greed roar in to plunder all that is green and alive,
Empower us overcome their noise with our hymn of praise for this beautiful earth.
Where cynicism echoes in the broken hearts of struggling idealists,
Let us crescendo with a new song of resilient hope.
O, Holy One, may we seek
less to silence our opponents and more to teach them to love your music
And join the choir.
Oh God of all beauty, may we be instruments of your transforming love,
And may your holy melody rise in us again,
More sweet, loud, and strong than ever before,
Starting now. Amen.
October 20, 2016
Yesterday I turned 60! Rich and I are in Arizona for meetings that begin tonight. We came a few days early to rest and celebrate that I made it to my sixtieth birthday. I think turning 60 would not have been so difficult had I not experienced heart failure six months ago. I have often said to folks since then, “I feel like I turned 80 over night!” My body has had to adjust to my heart’s capacity. It has taken six months of recovery to get to a place that I can set a rhythm that seems to be working out okay. I definitely have to have time for my body to reboot itself.
One of my favorite passages is Matthew 11:28 from Eugene Peterson’s Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
I love the line, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” Since my heart failure, I have been “Forced” to live the unforced rhythms of grace. I have had no choice. Here is what that looks like for me:
Depending on people to care for me. Rich and Alex have had to do the bulk of caring for me. I cannot emphasize how they have paid attention and attended to my every need. My family and friends have filled in with visits, prayers, meals, gifts and so much love that I think my heart is being healed from all the goodness being poured into my life. This has been an absolute necessity and so very hard. My need for others to do or provide for basic needs like cooking, cleaning, rides to places and so forth has been very humbling. The gift of receiving has become an unforced rhythm of beautiful grace.
Rest – I need to rest in order for my body and brain to work. Rest for me has become vital and a source of peace and strength. Whether I am actually sleeping or sitting and spending hours coloring, rest is a rhythm of grace that literally I cannot live without. Forced rest (an unforced rhythm of grace) has taught me that time is a gift to be treasured. Being present to the present moment has never been more real to me.
Surrender – Every day I have learned the grace of surrender. First of all, to the best of my ability surrendering my life and will to God. Letting go of the things I have no power over. I have learned that control over one’s life is an illusion. I have control over some things, choices I make minute by minute but in the larger picture of life and in my moment to moment breathing I know that God is the giver and sustainer of my life. The grace of surrender has become my lifeline to the transforming love of Jesus.
Gratefulness – For me, facing death square in the face and surviving has brought a new level of gratefulness for my life that I have never known before. I notice the smallest kindnesses, the smallest offerings of beauty and grace and I am truly thankful for every gift this life brings.
The poem Guesthouse has become my practice of grace.
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond. – Jelaluddin Rumi, Translation from The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks
I am learning that the practice of gratefulness enlarges my heart for God, for my family, friends and enemies.
Faith, Hope and Love – As a continuation of gratefulness, I am thankful for my upbringing in the Roman Catholic tradition. I learned to love and know Jesus as a young girl. I loved mass and I loved my school.
Faith is a gift from beyond that enables me to believe and trust in the goodness of a kind and loving King of the universe!
Hope can be a challenge. When I think about hope I think about the song lyrics, “I get knocked down but I get up again.” I heard Dan say, “Hope is like a petite little old woman who can kick your ass!” That has been my experience. As much has hope presents a challenge to me, it also grounds me in the sentiment from Julian of Norwich, “but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’
And finally, “Love.” I cannot count the ways in which God’s love has been shown to me through out my life but especially in the last six months! I have experienced God’s love in so many ways, experiences that show me and say to me, “God sees, God knows and God has this!”
Here is one example. In the last twenty years I have had a reoccurring experience of people calling me “Ruth.” Either by people that don’t know me and think my name is Ruth or by people who know me well and call me Ruth and then say, “Why did I call you that I know your name is Rose??” This has happened so many times that I have wondered if there is some message to me from the biblical character Ruth. I have read her story over and over and have had many aha moments relating to her story and the work of God in her life. But here is where I know that God sees and knows me. I subscribe to a wonderful weekly email written by Ronna Detrick called “Notes from Her.”
I received this one yesterday on my 60th birthday! There is no way this was a coincidence! Dear One: Unplanned and unwanted, we often face tremendous loss, great sadness, and painful sacrifice. In the midst of such, we are hard-pressed to see how any of these things could possibly work out, heal, or offer anything good. But one day you will be surprised by delight, joy, kindness, and redemption that is yours to overflowing. You will recognize that you have, somehow, landed yourself in a vast and beautiful love story. You will see that you have been crafting a legacy beyond all imagining; an impact that lasts for generations. I promise. This was my life. And so too, yours. I am Ruth and you are my daughter, my lineage, my kin.
There are so many ways the unforced rhythms of grace are holding me in the unconditional, unfathomable love of God. These are just a few that come to mind as I celebrate 60 times around the sun!
September 30, 2016
It has been six months since I found out I was in very serious heart failure rather than having acute bronchitis. I am feeling pretty good. My body is adapting to my heart’s capacity. I have just started cardiac rehab that consists of exercising while attached to a heart monitor to see how much exercise I can do without putting stress on my heart. I am learning my limits. The past two weeks I did over schedule myself a bit and ended up feeling pretty rundown for a couple of days. My body actually felt sick. I am learning to pace myself. Even though I feel better I still have a lot of limitations because of my condition. I am easily out of breath and need a lot of down time so my body can reboot.
A very interesting thing has transpired. From the day I came home from the hospital I began coloring. I am not an artist but I found myself wanting to sit for hours and color. As coloring books came with almost every visitor (I am so grateful) I found myself binge coloring! I could not focus on reading, watching much TV but I color for hours and hours at a time. A few months ago the strangest thing began to happen. I would be coloring in the quiet, no one around and random memories began to present themselves. I would not be thinking about anything and a memory of being four-year-old in the backyard smelling the laundry hanging on the clothes line, or I am in the hospital after my oldest son was born, or I am on a trip. Random memories from all stages of my life started coming up. Mostly good memories were coming up. I was a little afraid that it was because I didn’t have much time left. I thought, “My life is passing before me” and it made me wonder if my body knew something. I recently told my therapist about it and he said, “No, your coloring is accessing both hemispheres of your brain and it is healing the trauma of the last year that landed you in heart failure and almost dying!” He said it is like doing EMDR work. It is amazing to me that we are wired to heal. Without even knowing my brain craved the very thing that could bring healing to the trauma. If I go a day without coloring, it is almost like an obsession. I need to color!
Living As Though You Don’t Have Much Time Left
Have you seen the commercial that goes something like this? An elderly man is looking out the window singing, “The sun will come out tomorrow.” Then the voice over says. “For people with Heart Failure tomorrow is not a given.” I actually don’t like the commercial because it reminds me that tomorrow is not a given for me. Because of that realization it has made me very mindful of how I want to spend my time and energy. I find it interesting that living as though I don’t have much time left has not made me anxious trying to fill each day as if it is the last. Just the opposite has happened for me. I want to savor memories, moments, and I have learned in this season that rest is a must. I am living in the present moment more than I ever have in my life. Early on when I came home from the hospital my friend Julie Clark prayed for me. She had a sense that I would find treasures in the day-to-day moments as I recovered. This has been absolutely my experience. One quiet morning while sitting on my deck drinking coffee all of a sudden my faithful little dog tore off barking at a squirrel in the trees. The next thing I see and hear is a crow landing in the tree, “Caw, caw, caw,” and Mr. B goes doubly crazy! Then the next-door neighbor’s cat has been calmly watching the animal circus in our backyard decides to jump in. She jumps from tree to tree, enjoying teasing my little dog. Mr. B runs from tree to tree – the squirrel, the crow and the cat exceedingly thrilled that they are tormenting this little white dog. I was so entertained! These are the moments I sit and marvel at the beauty of creation and I am grateful for the treasure it truly is.
I have also spent time reflecting on my life. This past week I have noticed so many little things. Things I have taken for granted and now realizing how rich my life is. Several weeks ago as summer was coming to a close, Rich and I sat on the deck and noticed dragonflies, butterflies and all matter of small flying creatures. We sat in the sun and gave thanks for where we live and how gracious God has been to us for the past twenty years! We will be married twenty years in December. We thought about how insanely blessed we are to have been able to travel to places we never imagined we would be able to see. I have been to Italy, France, and Thailand with Rich, Alex and Nicole. Rich and I have been to Italy three times! We stopped in Iceland on our way home last summer. I have been to Africa, India and England not to mention so many places in the US. As we rehearsed how all of these trips were amazing in such different ways we sat in quiet and tried to take in all the goodness we have experienced thus far in our journey together.
I have been thinking about a bucket list. I have a few things I would like to do and see and if none of them happen I can honestly say my life has been thoroughly a gift. Our kids, grandchildren, family, friends and last but not least our church are the things I treasure most.
I am going to end my six-month update with a Psalm that read every day. I pray it for my life and I pray it for my kids, grandchildren and for folks that I know who are experiencing infertility. It grounds me in what is true.
Psalm 139The Message (MSG)
A David Psalm
139 1-6 GOD, investigate my life;
get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too—
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
I can’t take it all in!
7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
God, I’ll never comprehend them!
I couldn’t even begin to count them—
any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you!
And please, God, do away with wickedness for good!
And you murderers—out of here!—
all the men and women who belittle you, God,
infatuated with cheap god-imitations.
See how I hate those who hate you, GOD,
see how I loathe all this godless arrogance;
I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred.
Your enemies are my enemies!
23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
find out everything about me;
Cross-examine and test me,
get a clear picture of what I’m about;
See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
then guide me on the road to eternal life.
August 31, 2016
Actually September 4th will be the five-month anniversary from when I found out that I have massive heart damage. Today as I sit down to write about my recovery the number one word that comes to my mind is “Thankful.” I am so thankful to be alive and for the family and friends that have surrounded me with everything I need in order to recover. Honestly, I now know how rich I am. I cannot imagine what people do if they do not have the safety net of family and friends to get through something like this.
My husband, kids and grandchildren have been absolutely amazing! They have surrounded me with love and support. My sister, her husband and kids and my cousins have shown that our family bonds run deeper than I could have imagined. I do not have enough words to express how much I love and appreciate them.
This weekend we had a family gathering in Portland. My Aunt Virginia (my mom’s sister) and Uncle Nick have seven children. They are all adults and have their own kids and grands. It has been a long time since I have been with this part of my family. We reminisced and laughed so much. The good, good memories of growing up in our highly dysfunctional families came to the surface and it was good for my soul! I lovingly call them My Big Fat Italian Family. We grew up close together. There is a bond with them that is much like a bond between siblings. Something so deep because we share not only the same DNA we also share so many memories, both good and bad. I like this quote by Marion Garretty: “A cousin is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost.” I remembered this weekend how much I love all of them. We share so much in common and that commonality bonds us for life.
Again, I do not know how anyone gets through the most challenging of times without faith. I guess you really don’t. Whether you have faith in God or the Universe or not it is still a matter of faith. Faith in whatever it is that gets you through. For me faith is about the transforming love I find in Jesus and the people that are conduits of that love knowingly or not. I love VCC and the Vineyard and I am so grateful to be a part of this family.
I cannot leave out friends. Rich and I have some of the best friends on the planet. Friends have provided so much love and support. I am overwhelmed by the generosity of our friends. Old friends and new ones we have met over the last year are treasures that we don’t ever want to take for granted.
So today I sit in a calm sea of gratefulness. It is like floating on an air mattress in the Mediterranean off the coast of Positano listening to Italians on holiday, smelling the sea air and basking in sunlight.
All I can say today is thank you for every prayer, every good thought, and every gift.