2019 — Looking Back, Looking Forward

Note: I don’t really expect anyone to wade through this long, rambling look at events in my life. I just need to write it so as to better see where I am.

My goal is to be in the present moment. But, sometimes life (and Facebook) pull up the past and tripper me to think how I got to the present moment. Then perhaps I can assess the present and rest there more easily.

Yesterday Facebook prompted me to share my status from New Years Eve 2015 (the day before New Years Day 2016). Here’s what I had written:

2015: No doubt I could have eaten less, walked more, run harder, prayed more and been more generous. But, I got to surprise a dear friend by turning up at a celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination, the dogs and I have taken many walks, I’ve enjoyed biking the Gulf State Park, the house didn’t flood Christmas Eve and the tornado in Birmingham missed us by a few miles; I would have preferred to have a miracle for Molly over the miracle of Molly Praying for Molly Remmert Rossell,. It seems too many folks have left us this year. But, Henry turned 1 and there’s another grandson coming in the spring. A we still go out to dinner on Friday night with my mother. Welcome 2016! I’m sure the best is yet to come!

As I read this, I thought — “Wow! I was mighty optimistic about the coming year.” To be honest, 2016 brought a lot of changes. And 2017 even more changes and loss. 2018 has been a time to process and heal. I chose to look at the past 3 years as a period of growth. I choose to take the good.

When I wrote that reflection on the last day of 2015 much was different in my life. I had just finally taken a break from church music ministry.  I still lived in the same house where we lived for 31 years, and raised 3 children, several dogs and cats, survived a house fire and rebuilt. Less than 2 weeks later, on a dream trip to Hawaii to celebrate 40 years of marriage and revisit the place where we met, I stepped off of a banyan tree root and broke 2 bones in my leg (tibia at the ankle end and a spiral fracture in the fibula); The vacation was cut short, and it was almost April before I walked free again. 9 weeks of living non-weight-bearing on my left leg led to more changes. The realization that we could not grow old in that house because of accessibility issues was one of the things that moved us to move.

Letting go of my grounding on Windsor and moving was exciting. By August all was ready for closing and moving. In a space of 2 weeks we closed on the house we sold, found out my husband had colon cancer, closed on the new place and faced the surgery which fortunately removed all of the cancer — and moved. For the second time in a year, one of us was severely restricted for several weeks. By late October, I could ride bikes again and after a week of lots of riding down on the coast, my left ankle/foot finally gave up swelling. By Thanksgiving I realized I wasn’t panicking about falling with every step I took.

Just as JP got the “all clear” in early October, my brother in law got the bad news that he didn’t have appendicitis – he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  He would begin chemo immediately, and do very well with it. JP and BIL had the same oncologist..

Not sure I would have evaluated 2016 as “the best!” Broken bones, 2 cancers, new house. We made it! We faced adversity with a semblance of grace. I understood within myself that my sabbatical from parish musician wasn’t a sabbatical. It was a retirement.

Enter 2017:  Gonna be calmer and better!!! Do want to see God laugh? Tell him your plans.

In February my mother’s cousin (more like a sister, Mama was an only child) fell and broke her hip. 5 days later they were planning her funeral. Mama wouldn’t go, probably mostly because of a fear of falling herself. She had been having problems with that. At about the same time, another of my mother’s cousins lost his wife to cancer.

In March, I watched family deal with a suicide of someone too young to die, and it seems, too broken to live.

By April, my step-brother had died of a massive heart attack. Mama went to that funeral. We had so much fun “driving Miss Martha” around Florence so she could take in the changes since she had moved away. The funeral service was a musical delight and the crowd in the church massive. 4 songs, all verses for communion. That was Mama’s last trip.

May found us saying “Good-bye” to Mama; a return to Florence for a smaller, low key funeral. By now I was feeling a bit shell shocked. But, BIL had been told he had reached the stage of maintenance treatment and should expect to live a full, healthy life.

June was full. Cooper, our 12 year old diabetic schnauzer  left us. When Cooper died I did shake my fist at the sky (at God) and holler. Too much! We left for vacation. My sister called: BIL had been feeling horrible. They were at UAB since his lymphoma had transformed into a double-hit lymphoma. He would spent most of his time for the next 4 months undergoing intense, debilitating chemo.

In September I retrieved him from the hospital after a round of chemo. We had to make several stops on the way home for him to relieve himself (diuretics are a bear!) and to buy him a hand dipped milkshake. He enjoyed it so much that he said I should have gotten him the big one. I had. He returned to the hospital less than 2 weeks later, where he died on October 8.

A part of writing this is to try to find my way through 2017. It is still a bit of a blur. You notice very few actual dates.

2018 must have been healing and loss. One of my son’s friends died suddenly at 32. We had known this child/boy/man since before he could walk. But his friends showed up from far and near for the day of remembrance. His mother is still reeling. A good friend’s husband passed in April. He was in his late 80’s and had been failing for a while. But, one is never truly ready to let go. We celebrated my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday in May. Visited with her as she slipped out of consciousness in July and returned to RI for her funeral in August. And, by year’s end, our dear friend from church (and Sunday breakfast buddy) had gone home to heaven. On Sunday before Christmas, we said goodbye to Grace, our 15+ year old schnauzer (Cooper’s mother);

In the flow of life, 2018 was overall good. I went back to practicing yoga. I’ve continued trying to get back to a bit of running. I’m making peace with the music at church. We’ve ridden bikes. We had a lovely Thanksgiving in Birmingham with my brother and all of the remaining family. We spent Christmas in Florida with my oldest son and his family. Life is good. I find myself a bit more in touch with the eternal “I AM” and better centered in my day to day life. I do better at looking in the mirror and accepting and loving what I see.

For 2019 I pray for peace and grounding. My only resolution is that this is the year of purging [added] sugar from my diet. I’ll start right with cornbread, collard greens (for folding money), black eyed peas (for good luck and pocket change) and ham (hey! it’s pork for good luck just like hog jowls);

Happy New Year.

Belly of the whale

I’m terrified of deep open water. The feeling of floating helplessly above the nothing, the unexplored leaves me frozen. This was the first time I had ever been in an exihibit that lets you feel like you are seeing fish deep under the water, and I was a little shook. Looking up however, I could see the tank continued and let you see the only light source coming into the water, revealing more of this deep water. I smiled. Photo and comment by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash

Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29; Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. (from Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning 21-October-2018)

Last year was a blur. Losing so many close to me — brother, mother, brother-in-law as well as one of my dogs (who had been part of my life for more than 12 years) — sent me to a place where I felt I had no control, no reassurance that the sun would rise. I wouldn’t plan anything of consequence. It seemed I had no chance to begin processing one loss before another occurred. My sister thinks I’ve handled it better than she has. Perhaps this is true, but it came only after surrendering to the grief, walking through it and basically remembering one of the lessons of Cursillo: Let go and let God. Or maybe sinking into Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” Or the signs on walls while walking the Camino: in the end, all will be good. If it’s not all good, then it’s not the end!

The belly of the whale is dark and uncomfortable. At times the darkness might be more comfortable than the light. When one has been taken care of by the belly of the whale, then one can walk in the light again.

Preparation

I fly to Paris in less than 3 weeks. From there I travel by train to Bayonne and on to St. Jean Pied de Port, where my Camino begins on Sept. 27. So, you had better believe I’m up to my eyeballs in preparation. Actually, it is emotional eyeballs as much, or more than physical eyeballs. I fret over exactly what to pack, how to stay light weight but have enough of what I really need. What do I really need?  What can be left behind? Will my flight be a smooth one? Will it be on time? Will I have trouble meeting up with Susan in Paris? Am I in good enough shape physically to attempt this? I don’t like being wet and cold, but I’ll bet there will be times when I will be… Will we actually complete the Camino in the time we have allotted?

You get the picture, huh?

I thought about it the other night before sleeping. When I leave for the Camino, these 6 or so weeks will be the longest separation from my husband in 38 years. I have moved several times, but I’ve never, in my life, just taken off on a 6 week trip.  I believe that if it were up to my mother and my daughter, I might not be allowed to go. I look forward to something that suspect will be part religious pilgrimage and part pure adventure. I can’t tell you (or myself) exactly why I want to go, only that I know it is time and I am called to go. It’s almost “I must go.”

There is a song we sing at church: Companions on the Journey. I’m sure I will meet many new companions on this journey. But, I also will take with me reminders of companions that won’t be walking with me. I have Pheza’s hydration pack in my backpack. Lucy let me use a walking stick. Jeremy loaned me a SIM card for the phone I’ll be taking. Much of my gear was bought with an REI gift certificate that my children gave me for my birthday. I have a good hat and a good rain jacket because JP couldn’t rest until he knew I had them (and a sleeping bag, a well-fitted backpack, etc).

And so, there is the balance: what to leave behind, what will come along because it is chosen, what comes along because it is a part of my very being. I wonder what the balance will look like when I return. That will be interesting.

Ultreya!

 

 

Room for Everyone

Today’s Gospel, John 14:1-6 comes to my mind often, and generally brings a quiet smile.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.
Where (I) am going you know the way.”
Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”
Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I find peace in the idea that there are many rooms (dwelling places) so that all are welcome in this great house we so often call heaven. I find comfort that someone is getting it ready and will take me to just my spot at just the right time. I can relax a bit with the idea that there truly is no written treasure map, but instead the ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus/Christ/God to find the way. If there is no written map, then I don’t have to try to find it – I only need to stay with the tour guide as best I can and let him/her show me the way.

Note: writing this has opened a floodgate of thoughts, feelings, beliefs that I am not yet ready to share. So, for now, I’ll work through them in private, seeking to understand better the Way.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

“Seek and ye shall find” pretty much sums up today’s gospel reading.

The questions for me boil down to:

What am I seeking?

How will I accept what I might find?

I think of my husband’s approach to so many things: Don’t ask questions when you don’t really want to know the answers. There is some wisdom in that, I suppose. That attitude can certainly keep one from following some very painful paths, but it strikes me as a bit of “head in the sand.”  The challenge is to seek, even when I might not particularly like the answers. My reaction to those answers might change over time though as I grow to understand and/or accept them. I’ve lived long enough to begin to realize that sometimes (not always, but many times) what seemed like a crushing blow turns out to be the very best thing that could happen. That horrible thing turns out to be so much better than the solution I would have suggested. At other times, the answer is immediately grand. And then there are times where the finding just creates the need for more seeking.

Seek and you shall find. Knock and that door will be opened. Be at peace and be brave and step through that door.