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Posts Tagged ‘humility’

The things that trigger the need to write always surprise me.  This time it was a simple question asked by my friend and oblate mentor that set me to pondering for days.  “How are you doing?”  I know, I’ve written before about answering the “How are you?” question but this was different for me; I’m hoping that by writing today I’ll figure out why and maybe even be able to answer it.

First, a little background.  Since I am mostly homebound, I thought at first that it might be impossible for me to be accepted as a Benedictine Oblate candidate.  But God does indeed use all things and inspired the Oblate Director of the monastery with which I am now affiliated to offer me the opportunity to study at home.  Part of his decision included asking a particular oblate of the monastery to act as my mentor. Their actions speak strong lessons regarding what it means to invite Christ more deeply into one’s life via the Rule of St. Benedict.  She and I have met only twice in person but, I am honored and happy to say, have become friends as well as fellow travelers on the Benedictine path.

So, why did the caring inquiry of a friend who even remarked that she didn’t want to intrude into my privacy (something she did not in any way do!) render me mute for so long?

“How are you doing?”  “Better than most and not as good as some” would be the glib answer – yet it’s also true.  Barring the desires of some in power to dismantle my husband’s pension plan, our lifestyle is fairly secure which is something most of the world would give much to be able to say.  As hard as this disease is, there are far harder, so I am once again fortunate.  We have so far been able to afford our medicines; again, almost embarrassingly fortunate.  Our family is safe and all one has to do is look at a headline to know how blessed we are in that!  The wealth I enjoy in these things and others is indescribable, yet I felt completely unable to answer that question.

“How are you doing?”  Well, a medicine I had hope for doesn’t seem to agree with me, adding another to a long list, so I’m still struggling with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  I’m feeling a bit lost, very sick, and trying to cover it up so others won’t leave me out of things more than I already am, so I am still struggling with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  It hurts terribly when  others know more about my children and grandchildren than I do because of the isolation this disease imposes, so I am still struggling with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  I feel overwhelmed by the least things that others do with such astonishing ease, so I am still struggling with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  I get scared about the future even as I profess my trust in God, so I am still struggling with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  I feel I’m handling it one moment and crash the next into a bewildered mess of sickness and pain, so I am still struggling  with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  I sometimes want to scream when someone tells me about ordinary things they do and which I know I will never do, so I am still struggling with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  I fight an unbecoming resentment when there are breakthroughs for other diseases and none for this one, so I am still struggling with acceptance.

“How are you doing?”  I am both irritated with myself  and deeply ashamed for the whole list above and for all the things I haven’t listed, knowing how absolutely blessed I am in all that truly matters, so I am still struggling with – myself.

Well, it seems there we have it , the voice unmuted, the answer I needed for myself.   “How are you doing?”  I’m struggling with acceptance.  I’m struggling.  But in those words “I’m struggling” there is life, isn’t there?   I’m a very poor example of a Benedictine of any stripe, but I’m struggling.  Time to email my friend.  

 

Peace.

 

 

 

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That’s what I’ve been asking myself during this long period of time away from this blog.

“What would I write?  Have I anything else to say?  Can I say anything new of value to anyone?”

That last question was the biggest one and, as I have just now realized, the most arrogant.  Who am I to think anything I have to say has value?  Rather, isn’t the truth that I learn from everyone else?  Isn’t the truth that in the act of writing it is I who receive the gift?

Ah, there’s the truth!  I am the one who benefits by writing here.  And I’m  in need of those benefits.

You see, thanks to this disease and thanks to my personality which  is filled with shortcomings and tends to the solitary (I don’t think I ever really learned how to be a good friend) I am fairly isolated from what I think of as the world and live way too much in my chattering mind.

Now, in some respects that’s a good thing.  I’ve learned strengths that help me deal with this disease for example. I’ve been able to respond to my spiritual call.  But (there always is one, isn’t there) to keep it up for the long term I also need community.  With this disease, that’s a huge challenge.  How does one fit into a community when generally unable to leave home?  How does the community even know one exists?

Another less-than-humble aspect there!  “I want someone to know I existed!” she whines.

Oh, I have so much to learn!  Sometimes I imagine God as someone shaking their head and saying “HL, I’ve given you everything you need in umpteen (yes, God as I imagine this says “umpteen”) different ways – WHAT MORE CAN YOU NEED?”

Apparently, I need this – this non-existent place of electronic communication.  It keeps me honest with myself and gives me perspective.  It takes me outside my own tiny world, my own head.

For what it’s worth to anyone willing to spend precious time reading here, I guess this means I’m back. It definitely means I apologize to those I’ve neglected without explanation.  Please forgive me for that.

I don’t yet fully know where this new era of writing will take me.  I imagine it more as my days of trying to be more accountable for my spiritual life as it integrates with my life with ME/CFS. For those who dislike reading about the spiritual life of another, I can’t separate myself into sections but can say with all my heart that I respect everyone’s path to God (name Him as you will) and do not seek to tell anyone what their path should be!

I hope it will be worth reading – I know it will do me good to write.  I’m thankful to the folks behind WordPress for the opportunity!

Peace.

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A great saint said God could be found amidst the pots and pans.  I thought I understood what she meant until I realized I am the pot.

 

The dinner fails.

The pot sits too long alone.

Unscrubbed, scorched,

Ruined.

 

Hands take it up,

Fill it with warming water,

Soothing soap,

Set it aside to soak.

 

Time passes.

 

The pot poured out,

Residue drains,

Hands begin to scrub,

Harsh steel wool.

 

Time passes.

 

Water rinses,

Harsh splinters slide away.

Spots fewer but

Stubborn, stuck.

 

Time passes.

 

Hands determined,

Pot can be cleansed,

Useful again,

No matter what.

 

Time passes.

 

Soothing soak,

Bliss of being still,

Soap and water working,

Pot unaware.

 

Time passes.

 

Taken up again,

New water, same soap,

Same hands.

Steel wool only on spots.

 

Time passes.

 

Pot has shiny places now.

Rinse and rinse again.

Spots grow smaller,

These most stubborn.

 

Time passes.

 

Hands keep working,

Scrub, rinse, soak.

Pot will be useable,

Scrubber knows.

 

Time passes.

 

Steel wool put aside,

Shine never marred.

Some spots remain,

Accepted for now.

 

Time is future.

 

Rinsed, dried, back with others.

Dinners will be new,

Pot used again,

Hands ready to cleanse.

 

 

“Let us fall into the hands of the Lord

and not into the hands of men,

For equal to his majesty

is the mercy that he shows.”

Sirach 2:18 NAB

Peace.

 

 

 

 

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Recently, I read something which moved me so deeply that I contacted the author and asked permission to post it here.  Receiving a resounding “Yes!… for His glory!” I post the following – may it inspire all who struggle.

Peace.

 

From her book, Wow God by Sister Francis Clare, S.S.N.D. :

 

I will open for you every door I want

and close those I do not want . . .

 

When you are beset by doubts, know that

I am still here. These plans are My plans,

not yours. You’ve asked to be used by

Me and I’ve told you that I will use you.

The plan is Mine to work out. I’ve not

given the plan to you.

 

I’m only asking you to be My tool. The

hammer does not know what the

carpenter is doing. It only follows the

hand of the carpenter. I will pick you up

and I will lay you down. When I need

you I will use you. I know what I am

doing. I know what I am building. All I

ask is that you be on hand when I need

you.

 

Because I have called you a hammer, do

not think that I despise you. A carpenter

loves his tools and the more he loves

them, the better he handles them and the

better work they will do for him.

 

I have many tools. They are arrayed

before Me and I pick the one I need. Be

content to lie still if I do not need you,

for I know where you are and I will pick

you up when I need you.

 

 

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I’ve had snippets of this post brewing in the back of my mind since last fall.  Did I ever admit to procrastination?

It wasn’t until today, after having taken part of the banister off the wall yesterday in an attempt to control a fall during a period of blacking out (POTS – a kind of orthostatic intolerance, and a partial branch bundle block along with other non-life-threatening electrical glitches) that I saw how to better (I hope) write on this topic.

I again caution:  If you are newly diagnosed or if you do not have symptoms mentioned here, please do not assume you’re going to end up like me!  There is every reason for anyone reading this to hope for improvement!

Now, preface over (I can just hear the sighs of relief), onto the topic.

My husband and I often share grins over the behavior of our cat; especially when he’s acting the mighty lion over something silly.  Sometimes, though, it’s not so silly.  He’s an indoor cat but has access to our back porch where, three times now, he has managed to kill a vole seeking shelter when the weather turns to winter.  He’s thrown himself at screens wanting to get at birds.  My husband and I turn to each other, seeing our fuzzy companion as the skilled predator he was designed to be, and say “We can’t blame him for being what he is.”

Living in this semi-rural area, we are able to keep chickens.  They provide us with fresh eggs, much amusement and will eat out of our hands.  They are also capable of killing a newcomer to their roost.  “We can’t blame them for being what they are.”

(The fish mentioned in the title aren’t forgotten, they’re just waiting their turn.)

So, how does this extend to me? I cannot blame myself for being human. I cannot blame myself for being ill.  In those respects, I cannot blame myself for being what I am.  I can, however, think hard and make efforts to do better; yesterday and the days which preceded it have proved to me that I have much work to do in meeting that responsibility.  It took a literal falling down on the job to make me see that I’d been figuratively falling down on the job for several weeks – just when I’d thought I was worthy of superhero status.

We’ve had a home repair job going on here for several weeks.  It became one of those odysseys that begin with one minor repair revealing a bigger problem revealing a larger one yet.  That little ten minute repair revealed a need to dismantle and rebuild our bathroom.   Remembering our youthful days of working side by side taking on any job that needed doing, knowing how well we work together and how expensive it would be to hire someone, my husband and I agreed that we could do the work ourselves.

Wait, don’t laugh quite yet, here’s the biggest “DUH!” moment of all – I shopped for materials with him while sitting in my wheelchair!  “Yes, Dear, I will help all I can” said the woman who couldn’t even stand up and walk through the store.  Reality check on aisle 9, please!

I know, I know, 21 years with this disease…one would think I’d have more sense!  It’s a good thing I never said I was perfect.  Well, I never said it out loud, anyway.

By my actions over the last two weeks, I was saying it, though.  Though my husband actually did need my help sometimes, I began to feel as though nothing could be done without me in the middle of it.  Somehow, with me there, the result would be better.  Since I couldn’t stand, I worked on the floor, since I couldn’t stay on my knees, I sat, when I couldn’t sit, I lay on my side to set tiles or mush in grout (“mush” being a technical grouting term.)  When an intricate piece of tile setting was called for, I completed it even though dizzy and nauseated. I resolved that I was done for good with what I could do on the project.  I knew I was so deeply down the well that I’d be lucky to see daylight again.

The next day, yesterday, I deliberately put on a nightgown after showering to add insurance that I’d do what I knew I must – rest and stay out of things.  I announced my intent.  I had my husband’s understanding.   But there was just one more thing that only I could make better – yep, you read it right, complete arrogance there and could not leave well-enough alone; a lesson I should have learned decades ago since I’ve wrestled with it all my life.  So, I decided I could do just that one thing and began to work on it, nightgown and all.  Then it happened, “I’m going out” I remember saying and stumbling with jigsaw vision out of the bathroom to the hall (another poor choice, the top of the stairs are right there.)  Having dealt with this kind of thing many times alone, I knew I had to control the fall and as my legs went, I grabbed the banister and managed to end up safely on the hall floor.

The details of the project are endless; in fact, as I type this my husband is painting over the patchwork we had to do and preparing to reinstall towel bars.  The difference today is I am resting and reflecting on being what I am; a woman in her 50’s who has been seriously ill for 21 years and a monastic soul who has a long way to go.  A woman who remembers what it was like to be physically strong, but who has lived long enough to know there are far more important things than the physical.  A woman who has been especially foolish lately and made herself so sick she can’t make any choices at all except to share her foolishness in the hope of helping others be wiser than she.

Oh, and that one little thing that only I could do?  I messed it up and my husband had even more work today to correct what I’d done in arrogant stubbornness.

Wait, I forgot the fish you say?  Well, perhaps you didn’t say but I have a little more typing in me before I go.   In the place where I spend most of my time, I have the blessing of an aquarium where five beautiful fantail goldfish reside.  I can see them now, contained in an unchanging place, sometimes coming together to touch, sometimes swimming or drifting alone.  Food appears and they seem joyful.  Food eaten, peacefulness returns.  They never seek to be somewhere or something they cannot be.  There is no discontent, no unrest.  In that quiet blue place there is only –

Peace.

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Lately, I find myself thinking of the exhaustion from which I cannot escape as unspeakable. It is unspeakable in all its definitions.   Dictionaries describe the word unspeakable as unutterable, indescribable, inexpressibly bad, horrendous, beyond description and not to be spoken.

My experience of it is all of those things. It is as though there were an invisible gag stopping me from speaking of the exhaustion and if it were removed, I still could not find words for it – such inadequate things, words. Yet we often have only words with which to communicate, to try to convey to others any ideas at all.

Medical people, even those who sincerely want to help us, still use that completely inappropriate word: fatigue.  How I wish I could strike that word from the dictionary!  At the least, I wish I could strike it from the minds of doctors and from the name given this thing that is truly – unspeakable.

Recently, I was a patient in the cardiac emergency room of a major hospital.  People were so kind, so competent!  My gratitude for their care is immense!  And yet, I can still see how the intake person stopped typing when I had to name my overall diagnosis.  Her face well-schooled, only her fingers betrayed what must be policy.  Nowhere in that record will it say the name of the disease with which I have been diagnosed for over 20 years.  Only the measurable symptoms, including this cardiac issue (an electrical glitch) will be listed.

Inside, I became very small.

Inside, I felt a reflex of need to defend myself; “I did not diagnose myself!  Doctor after doctor after specialist after specialist have confirmed it!   I have documentation!  Do you think I want this label?  Don’t you know that every reputable agency has acknowledged that not only is this thing organic and real, but that they have compared the level of disability to people in end-stage renal failure and stated that patients are more disabled than those undergoing chemotherapy or even an AIDS patient 2-3 months from death?  Don’t just dismiss it!”

Inside, I remembered my brother, who, dying of AIDS in 1995, suddenly looked at me with sadness and understanding and said “Even I am less exhausted than you are.”  We had been talking about him, not me!  I hadn’t even been thinking about my own problems.  So, I have lived that comparison, and know it for the truth it is.

I’m just so tired of explaining.  I am so tired of trying to put words to the unspeakable.  I am so tired of taking care of the ramifications of this disease (even in the hospital several years ago, after major surgery) without the understanding of those who should understand best.  I am so far past the word exhaustion that it is truly – unspeakable.

YES – I know there are worse things!  Oh, believe me, I have seen some things that could have come out of the imagination of Edgar Allen Poe, and yet there are worse things than those!  But this thing, oh what a humbling thing…

…and therein I failed.  I failed in accepting as a gift, this lesson of humility, this opportunity to forgive.  After all this time, does it really matter if strangers understand what I go through? My Father knows what is suffered in secret.  My Father knows if I have made use of it and offered it to be made use of as He knows best.  My Father knows the gifts I’ve been given – the obvious and the hidden, the sweet and the unpalatable – and He tells me I must make use of them, make them grow, share them and account for them.

Thankfully, my Father also forgives and helps me get up when I fall down. 

Thank you for helping me learn from the unspeakable, Father.

 Peace.

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Here I go again, trying to give voice to the struggle for balance amidst feelings that do not flatter me and gifts that bring me some level of peace.

There is no aspect of life which this disease will not alter – none. So, get used to it, right?

I try. I really do. Sometimes though, it’s easier than others to accept what comes. Oh, never forget please, I have said many times and am deeply aware that there are worse things! Far harder situations than my own! I have enough experience of life to have seen people suffer the unimaginable and enough knowledge of life to know there are worse things even than those. So though I may sound self-pitying, and I admit I am guilty of that, I will say that I think that knowing that there are far worse things still doesn’t make this thing an easy thing.

Now, forward with what brought me here today. (Did you think I’d never get to it? Yes, sometimes I wonder about that myself!)

I’ve been struggling a lot again lately with feeling marooned. In my spirituality, I am increasingly aware that I am intended to live differently and that it is both grace and blessing. That doesn’t make it easy – this feeling of being left behind.

As I stand here at the edge of my world, on my shore, friendships drift into the distance. Caught by other currents, destined for other ways of life and sailing for distant lands I can barely remember exist; they embrace lives I cannot have and for which I often ache. Ever greater expanses separate us and though their signal flares can sometimes yet be seen, I cannot quell all pangs of sadness as I stand with my feet planted in the shifting sands of my shore.

I look over my shoulder at this place where I stand, there is great beauty here and much to be discovered, but it comes at a price and I get so weary of paying. Sometimes supply ships come to my shore, my happiness to be among them mixed with challenge to my peace. They bring things I need and also tales of larger life that can be hard to hear, fanning the ember of longing into dangerous flame. One ship’s crew, a frequent visitor in the past, asked me how I manage here and when I said “I pray and God helps me” they left with laughter. Oh well, they asked and what was I to do, lie? I did not preach, only answered a simple truth.

Some of the ships arrive less and less frequently, more fulfilled at busier ports of call. Some, I suspect, will not return, and though difficult to accept – it may be for the best. I can do nothing to change it anyway.

As the ships make for the horizon, the pain grows too great and so I turn inland, away from the shore, to my familiar camp. I build my fire and take my place seeking calm as day turns to night. As dusk deepens to darkness the leaves whisper, and this place that graces me in my solitude awakens. Frogs begin to call and make me smile, a prelude to the magic for which I hardly dared hope; fireflies begin to dance, sparkles high and low, increasing in number with every passing second and then, like the breathtaking pause of an orchestra before the sublime, a moment given to one who thought herself left out, a sound unlike any other – a song beyond a song – a chorus whose meaning I need not understand in order to be awed and swept up, first one voice, then before it reaches its last note, many others – soaring, sweeping, lifting higher and higher from many directions – an aria of coyotes reminding me that there are finer things than those for which I ached.

I am experienced; I know the ache will come again and the ships will continue to sail to ever more distant ports.  I also know that there are arias for those who stay and listen.

Peace.

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