Thursday, November 29, 2012

My work among the elderly brings me into contact with some very special people. The greatest gift I can give to them, I believe, is the ministry of presence...being with, listening, hearing what they have to say. And recently I have begun not only remembering but recording their words, trying to convey the essence of who they are- for myself, but also for you, my readers. I hope these "sketches" draw word pictures for you of 3 wonderful, uniquely different women who I have come to love and respect.  

Elizabeth’s thank you…
There were nine of us, she said.
Nine of us and mama raised us all, 
             ‘til she died…
Only forty-three, she was, and
I was twenty-one- married with two chirren
Of my own, but I raised them up, every one.
My sister next to me, she did the ironin’
And got them all a-dressed and fixed for school
‘Cause I went off to work.

Eight hours on my knees, scrubbin’ tiles-
Didn’t have no mops in those times,
Just time spent on my knees. Three places
I scrubbed floors, then went home and
Did the cookin’ and the washin’…
And somehow, we all made it,
And they’re all fine- good people, every one,
No drinkin’ or hangin’ with the gangs,
But good, God-fearin’ folks. You know,
My grandmother took us to church every Sunday-
Even when we didn’t want to go.

She saw to it we went- to church and Sunday school
And the BCYO- we was there all day! But that
Made no mind to her. It was God’s day and we
Was to be in God’s house. That’s just the way
It was- and now I thank her every day for
Bein’ how she was with us. It set our minds
Where they should be and kept us in the Lord.
And now my grandchirren walk that same good path-
My one granddaughter has got straight As all
Through her school but just one B- and now she’s
In her junior year and just as smart as she can be-
And good! She don’t hang with no bad’uns but
Has three friends and they’re good girls-
Go to the movies and such together and put

They studies first…well, next to God. She’s such a
Pretty girl, inside, too, you know…her heart is big
And full of thanks to God.
On Thanksgiving Day, I was just a-lyin’ here,
Tellin’ God how thankful I am for all I have,
And when I looked up, they was eleven of ‘em
Here- my family- come to surprise me and
Bring me Thanksgiving dinner. Chirren and
Grandchirren, here just to see me. My heart
Was overflowin’ with joy. How blessed I am!
And that night, when I laid here waitin’ for
Sleep to come, I thanked God for every one
Of them…and it come to me that every person
Everywhere is God’s own child- and that
I should pray, not only for my family and those
I love, but for people everywhere- in every place,
No matter where, no matter who. God made ‘em all.
         And so I do,
Because that is what I think God wants me
To do.

Anne’s sorrow…
I don’t know how I came to be
In zis place. It doesn’t seem like
Very long ago that I was young and strong,
Doing what I wanted, caring for my family,
Traveling with my good friend…
And now, look! Can’t even take a shower by
Myself or get into my chair. And my
Breazing- it’s not good most days,
But thank Gott for oxygen and these
Little tanks I can take with me.
I think sometimes that this is
Payment for my sins…for all zose
Things I did and didn’t do that I
Should have. I wasn’t a good person-
Not as good as I should have been. Even now,
I am not always kind or patient,
Though I try.  I try to pray, to ask Gott
For forgiveness. But sadness and shame
Sit heavy in my heart and I vonder
Vat vill happen to me in the days
To come. I vant to believe I’m
Forgiven…that I’ll go to Heaven
When I die, but I think instead I’ll
Be spending long years in Purgatory,
In payment for my sins.
Oh, Chaplain, pray for me, since I
Have such a hard time praying
For myself.  I miss my daughter still,
And vonder if I’ll see her again.
And none of it really makes sense
       To me…

Sallie’s complaint
My sons don’t come to see me…of
Course they live far away. My daughter
Comes sometimes but mostly I’m alone.
It seems like no one pays attention to
What I say, and I just don’t know why
I’m here, when I have a home and
Would rather be there. But I’m not
The one making decisions for me. That’s
All been taken out of my hands. It’s
The worst part about getting old, you know-
This inability to control your own fate.
And no one pays attention to what I say-
Like when someone comes into my
Room at night and goes through my
Closet and my drawers and takes
My things. Why would they want my
Things? There’s nothing new, just
Things well-used, so why would any
Person want them? I just don’t understand-
And no one pays attention to what I say.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

21st Century Franciscan Blessing. ..

I used this blessing in my sermon this morning and received so many comments about it, plus requests for it that I decided to share it more widely here.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths,
and superficial relationships, so that you may live from deep
within your heart.

 May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and
exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom,
and peace.

 May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from
pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out
your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you
can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what
others claim cannot be done.

A Wintry Sunday Morning...

Thoughts on a wintry Sunday morning

And suddenly

Winter is here

The near-full moon rising

Casting light upon trees

Bereft of their leaves

Benevolent feeders offer

Succulence and sustenance

To the birds of the air

And walkers on the street

Pass by bundled in ways

Unseen and unimagined

Only a few short days ago

While on other streets and byways

Those without shelter huddle

Neath overpasses, pulling

Their meager garments tightly

Around shivering bodies

Hoping the wintry weather

Will be short-lived

And here I sit- warm and well-fed

Risen after resting in a downy bed

The whys and hows of destiny

As much a mystery as ever

But certain that I needs must

Grant Gratitude a permanent place

In my heart and life

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christmas Grief...Sometimes

Grief is a peculiar thing. Even when we feel we have put it aside or worked through it, even when years have passed between the loss and the present time, it can re-surface without warning in unexpected and surprising ways. Such has been my experience as this holiday season begins, as I have found myself recalling the last Christmas my mom spent with us- the entire family- here at my house. She had not had a good autumn and I watched her getting progressively weaker, her pain level from the periodic vertebral fractures escalating, though she usually denied the pain, feeling that pain medication made her too drowsy. I was tired from the care-giving, from carrying the full burden of the household on my sometimes weary shoulders, and so I announced my intention of not putting up a tree that Christmas.

Mother received the news quietly, as was her way, but after several days had passed, she very gently asked me if I wouldn't reconsider as she would love to have a Christmas tree so we could carry out the family custom of having candles on the tree, something we had not done for a number of years. And so I went to the local nursery and found a "live" blue spruce (the best type for candles) and had it delivered the week after Thanksgiving. Donning my long-sleeved denim shirt and gloves (I break out from the pine needles against my skin), I lovingly brought my assortment of tree ornaments from the attic and decorated the tree which graced the front window of the living room. I placed my collection of Santas on the fireplace mantle and got a lovely pine wreath for the front door, all of my tasks being overseen by Mother, a benificent smile on her face.

When all was completed, Mom sat on the living room couch in front of the fireplace evening after evening, and saying over and over again, "Oh, Linny, it looks so beautiful. Thank you so much for doing this." I was so very glad I had done something which was giving her so much pleasure, and when the family gathered, we indeed burned the candles on the tree, listening to traditional Christmas music and choosing which candle would be the last to extinguish itself. Through it all, Mother sat in the midst of us, smiling and nodding and even shedding a tear or two, her pleasure so obvious, even through the veil of pain which never really left her.

It was after Christmas, after everyone had gone home, that her downward spiral began. Within days, she was spending most of her time in bed and by the end of a week, I visited the doctor to obtain some stronger pain medication for her. After several more days, Hospice became part of our lives, offering additional help as well as pain control.Dear Ruth, my trusty right arm, began coming nearly every day and another lovely woman, Rosa, came on the weekend. My days and nights became almost reversed as I was up many of the nighttime hours, sleeping during the day when one of my helpers was here. My daughter, Hope, spent 5 days here near the end of the month, providing both physical and psychological support...and then, on the last weekend of the month, we had a beautiful snowstorm and late on Sunday morning, with the sun shining on the new-fallen snow, Mother quietly slipped away. And I was left with a feeling of gratitude that I had helped to give Mom the kind of Christmas she most wanted.

Fast forward to the next two Christmases...and I did not put up a tree. Just seemed like too much work, too much bother- or so I said to myself and others. The Santas came out to grace the mantle, but there was no tree. I didn't need one, I said, to celebrate the season. And the grandchildren had trees at home, so why did they need one at my place? I honestly made no connection between that last Christmas with Mother and my lack of interest in holiday preparations. After all, I still baked cookies and cooked for the family...and that was what was important, wasn't it? I had done my grieving, hadn't I? Mom was ninety-two and had lived a full life and I am convinced that she was accompanied on that final journey by her sister, Anna, and my dad, and welcomed by a great multitude of friends and family when she finally reached her destination.

But the other day as I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner for my son and me- just the two of us this year- I was filled with the sense of Mom's presence and I knew that this year I would have a remembrance and honor of that dear woman. And so today, the Christmas season began for me, as I spent the afternoon putting up the lively artificial tree I bought on sale, decorating it with old ornaments and new ribbons, filled the mantle with Santas, and ironed the Christmas tablecloth for the dining room table. Tomorrow, I plan to purchase a fresh wreath for the front door and get some pine branches for the vase near the fireplace to give the house the fragrance of fresh evergreen. And to add to the feeling of the season, I attended a concert of "The Gathering" in Greensboro this evening, two hours of Appalachian Christmas music played and sung by 5 amazingly talented musicians, including the most beautiful rendition of "O Holy Night" I have ever heard.

I realize now that the dark curtain of grief which has covered the past two Christmases has been lifted, without my even realizing it had been there. And I am filled with a fresh sense of wonder and awe and joy at the beginning of this season of light and hope. Mom, I'll be thinking of you each time I sit in front of the fire and admire the tree. And I'll be thanking God for every moment of time we had together. An early Merry Christmas, wherever you are.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Thanks...

Where has November gone? It seems like just yesterday the month was beginning and now Thanksgiving approaches. Most of the trees in my yard are nearly bare, though the lovely Japanese maple is clinging to her leaves which turned color only recently, setting the side yard aflame with an incredible red fire.

As I sit here contemplating the week ahead, I am filled with gratitude, perhaps more than ever before...and I am giving thanks for so very many things. First, I am incredibly thankful that my sister, Kathy, will be celebrating her birthday this week, after a long and challenging summer of surgery and chemotherapy. Her voice over the phone sounds so hope-filled and positive and I surround her with love and light and prayers each day, that there may be many, many more birthdays ahead for her.

Then, of course, I am thankful for my three children and nine grandchildren, such unique individuals and yet, collectively, a delightful conglomeration of faces and personalities and talents which fill my heart with delight and pride and thankfulness for their amazing presence in my life.

Thanks would be incomplete without remembering my friends, near and far- some very, very far indeed. Their faces create a lovely palette of many hues and features, their personalities each so uniquely special, and my life is made so much richer because of them, every one.

This year, I am thankful for my job at Trinity Glen, something which sort of fell into my lap and which has grown on me during the months of 2012. The residents and staff have become increasingly dear to me and I feel- at long last- an integral part of things there, my role and ministry significant and meaningful.

And I am thankful, daily, for my continuing good health. At nearly seventy-one, this is not something I take for granted any longer. I am exceedingly grateful for each new day, even those which bring some aches and pains. I am alive, I can think and feel and DO...
and for this great blessing, I offer heartfelt thanks.

Then there are those things which we most often take for granted but which so many people on our diversified earth do not have: sufficient food to eat, a warm and comfortable and safe place to live, a car to get me where I need to go; hot, running water whenever I want it as well as the luxury of indoor plumbing; an automatic washer and dryer and dishwasher. And I sit here typing on a computer with which I can stay in touch with the whole world. With all of these incredible gifts, how can I help be anything other than grateful?

If you are reading this, I am giving thanks for you, and I invite you to make your own "thankfulness list" this week. No matter how you know and experience the Divine, no matter what name you give to the force I call God, I hope you will take some time during this week of giving thanks to GIVE THANKS...and to reconnect with those you love and who love you. We all need each other, don't we? For without each other, life would lose much of its meaning and richness, its depth and breadth and wonder. So, Happy Thanksgiving, one and all. And remember- you are loved.
love, Linda