Archives for category: Spirituality

 

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Photograph courtesy of K. Farwell

Finally. Time to write again. Have been going through an emotional wringer——one of those life passages that grabs you, kneads you, and reshapes you, hopefully, into something better. This is about life after death—–my life after my father’s death.

My father died on Oct. 22 at the age of 92. As I like to think of it,  he left his “shell” behind and entered  into what I’ve come to call the “cloud of unknowing”—-that place where we all are in close relationship with a God that loves us. I have caught glimpses of it during prayer and meditation, and once with a chemically induced ticket. When I focus on centering prayer, I slowly die to what is around me that holds me to this plane, and that is what I watched my father do for months. Unfortunately, they were months that were physically and emotionally very painful for him.

Dementia is not a fun process to watch or to experience. It would be different, I think, if you just woke up one morning and had no memory, could not think clearly, and could not participate in conversations because your mind no longer could keep up with things. Instead, for my father,  it was a slow process that grieved my father until the end because he was aware of what he was losing and had lost. The greatest sacrifice dementia demanded from him was his independence. First, he allowed caretakers to enter his home several times a day to help him with meals and medicine. …and operating both the television remote and the telephone.  But as his dementia progressed, he needed more and more assistance.  It wasn’t until the last few months of his life that we confiscated the keys to his vehicle. To him, I know, that symbolized one of the final straws in his fight to maintain his independence.  When his last surviving sibling died, his younger brother, he voiced his realization that he was ready to die, and we gave him our permission.

Shortly after that, there were multiple hospitalizations for a variety of physical conditions, and I was privileged to spend time with him during most of those times. I am grateful I got to feed my father and to hug him and say the Lord’s Prayer with him as we embraced—-something we did several times a day during his last long hospital stay. Those were special moments for us. In the end, he was too sick to go home, even with care-takers. When he left the hospital in September, as health power of attorney and with his permission,  I admitted him to a facility that provided rehab services.

My sisters and I hung on to the fantasy that his strength would return and he could return to his home. This never happened, and rehab became skilled nursing care. And I felt very, very guilty because one of his strongest desires was never to be in one of “those places;” he was always adamant about wanting to die at home. In less than two weeks after transferring to skilled nursing care he was admitted to a hospital with a diagnosis of pneumonia; he died the next day. I was driving over 300 miles to be with him, but he died before I got there.

My grief has been fed with unrealistic self- expectations and guilt. I am a nurse. I was supposed to help him get better. In spite of everything I did, that did not happen. My dreams have been filled with thinking of things that would “make Daddy well”—-only to wake and realize he was already dead.  But I think I’ve finally started getting better. A friend helped me realize my dreams of repeatedly trying to save my father’s life are actually my way of trying to “re-image” myself as a “successful savior.” With that insight came the realization that I have been trying to do God’s job, and now I am starting to let go of what happened and my need to constantly re-play it and fix it in my dreams. I have been using an Anglican rosary to pray to “Almighty and Merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to bless us and keep us, to have mercy on us, and to grant us peace. It is working. I am starting to accept and move on. Those prayers are saving my sanity and restoring my ability to engage in living my life once more in a way that lets God drive the bus. May God bless and keep you.

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Photograph compliments of K. Farwell

It is time to write again. My world is coming back to some semblance of normal. I was able to have a telephone conversation with my father yesterday. He was happy; he was going to watch a football game with my youngest sister. He was able to hear me tell him I love him, and he was able to tell me he loves me. That seems like a somewhat insignificant thing to be happy, no delighted, about. But, you see, there is a bit of history with that point of delight. On Tuesday of this past week my father’s appeal to Humana to extend his rehabilitation coverage was denied, and, as a result, he was moved to a long term care “restorative program” that will focus on keeping him at his present level of functioning by encouraging walking and regular exercise. He was not physically able to benefit from the rehab therapies—-partially due to his deteriorating physical health/COPD issues. He was, and is, too ill to live at home alone even with caregivers in the home.

Making a move to long term care has long been one of his most dreaded possibilities. For years my father has said he wanted to die at home and has repeatedly asked us to never put him in “one of those places.”  He has out-lived his ex-wife, his wife, his best friend, his younger brother and sister, and his older sister. Now, in spite of everything, he is exactly where he never wanted to be. Most people are “there” long before they reach the age of 92. It is a small miracle he has made it this long “at home ” alone even though he had a lot of loving, caring people helping him do so—-especially when you realize he has severe cardiac problems, COPD/asthma, a history of a bowel blockage, and now, more recently, renal failure and a newly developed  swallowing dysfunction. In addition, walking has become increasingly difficult for him. To make a long story short, he is where he needs to be. And he still loves me and my sisters even though we were instrumental in making the decision for him staying where he is.

It is a gift from God that love can survive and overcome the boundaries of circumstance, environment, and necessity. I can sleep better at night now knowing he is being taken care of by professionals. Granted, I know even though he is in long term care, he can still fall, contract contagious diseases, and even fall victim to MERSA and other dreaded “evils” that lurk in today’s medical care settings. But at least now, if he falls, there will be someone there to help him up, to check him  for injuries, and to notify family if needed. My youngest sister who lives close and other friends and neighbors have been visiting him on a regular basis, and my other sister and I call regularly. It is very important that he not feel abandoned.

Lurking in the back of my mind is the constant, nagging thought that when I am “in my father’s place” should I reach such a cross-roads in my life,  there will be no children to help me make decisions or to visit me. But, then, I remember God has always been with me when I have been hospitalized close to death and away from friends and family.  God will not forsake me; nor will he forsake my father.

Enough about the “family crisis” I have been surviving. What I want to emphasize is the increasing importance of a particular quote I found crumpled up in pocket of a jacket I was wearing when I was taking care of him in the hospital while  he was recovering from renal failure. Finding this note wadded up in my pocket was no accident.  I truly believe it was a direct gift from God. It kept me going then, it kept me going through the stress of finding a good rehab and long term care facility, it kept me going through placing him in long term care, and it is still keeping me going on a one-day-at-a-time basis.  It is a quote from “The Cloud of Unknowing”—-and it has become my mantra: “Love is our task; everything else is up to God.” Not a bad mantra to have in your heart and soul! Thanks for letting me ramble. God bless and keep you.

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On CBS This Morning they talked about John Mellencamp—–and a life changing event in his life that happened not too long ago. There are those when they hear the story who will think the life changing event happened when he was a new born. Of course, it did because he had surgery for spina bifida  at that time that saved his life. His pioneering surgery was the first that a now 92 year old surgeon performed; he performed it on at least two other babies in those early days——one died on the table, and the other lived to the age of 14. John didn’t know about having the surgery until a playmate asked him what the scar on the back of his neck was from. CBS this morning also reported that John tells a story of something that happened to him when he was in his “popular prime” many years ago and a woman stopped him on the street as they were passing each other and asked him if he knew how many angels were surrounding him and how protected he was. He didn’t pay much attention to this incident until he talked to the doctor and found out, at age 62,  what a miracle it is that he is alive. Now he thinks maybe that woman was right.

However, more importantly, I think was an “eternity changing” event this same doctor had a part in when John visited him. The picture on CBS shows this wise looking elderly man reaching out and holding on to John’s arm while he emphasizes over and over again that John needs to pray. In this interview with CBS, John said he has never had any faith to speak of, but it is my hope he will pray and develop a close relationship with his Creator. This ground breaking doctor saved John’s life over 62 years ago, but he has now tried to save John’s soul. I don’t usually sing the praises of doctors, but I cannot help but admire this man who told John he needs to pray.

There are signs all around me that I need to pray. I participate in prayer groups twice a week, and I post a prayer on my church’s Facebook page every day. I attend several meetings a week where the meetings are opened and closed with prayer. I certainly pray when I attend church every week. I have found it harder to pray “spontaneous prayers from the heart” now than it was about a month ago.  I have been almost overwhelmed by my father’s emergent health problems  at home, in hospitals, and in rehab. The part of me that is a nurse and an oldest daughter feels helpless because I cannot fix my father’s health. He is 92, frail, and has several chronic health problems that he has survived when most people would not have.

Somewhere along the line I need to acquire some acceptance and to stop feeling like I have failed to make things better. I find myself wanting to hibernate in my house like a dog licking its wounds. My prayers are short, and sometimes they are forced. I am lucky that God’s grace has stayed and is staying with me and that he knows my needs without me having to remind him. I am tired of not having any energy, and having to work at focusing on doing the next right thing and just moving forward one day at a time. However, my life is full of many  miracles, and I do feel better when I gently nudge my mind to focus on cultivating an “attitude of gratitude.” So, yes, I need to pray, and mostly these days my prayers are ones of gratitude that God can handle this thing we call “life.” I am also asking him to help me strengthen my acceptance of life on life’s terms so I will stop feeling like I’ve failed at fixing things for those I love. On an intellectual level I know I am not God and should not expect myself to “change things I cannot change.” My spiritual work right now is knowing and accepting that at a deeper, intuitive level so my immediate reaction to life’s challenges is not expecting myself to make them better or to fix them. My mission, what my God wants me to do,  is to love and to remember that loving oneself and one another as Christ role modeled “love” does not mean controlling, directing, or fixing things.

In closing, I would like to share some words written by a spiritual leader I greatly admire. These are words addressing the topic of prayer were written by Bishop Charleston on Facebook this morning—–they just happen to address the topic of prayer:

“When the power of love is released through prayer, it does not matter how the prayer is said, or who says the prayer, or what culture they inhabit. It only matters that the words, spoken or unspoken, rise from the heart of a longing soul to touch the intention of God. When that connection is made, when that ancient bond is invoked, then a force is released that cannot be denied. Prayer works. It changes lives. It restores the world. It heals and blesses. It opens doors to wisdom. Thank you all for your prayers. I am honored to stand with you as a people without borders: we care enough for one to pray for all.”

Accessed on 103/14  at https://www.facebook.com/bishop.charleston?fref=nf

I didn’t find those words until after I had written these words this morning. I needed to hear them, and I regard them as a gift from God.  May God bless and keep you.

Holy Cross July 25, 2013

 

Photo courtesy of K. Farwell

This morning we had something different in our church service. Something I hadn’t seen done in over 20 years. It was a “children’s sermon”—-and instead of being a simple five minute show-and-tell type thing it was a real lesson. Surprisingly,  I was somewhat shocked and dismayed to find myself resenting this intrusion into my “grown up” world. I had, for a few moments in my head anyway, become the old lady who doesn’t like or relate to children.  Then, something happened—–something that should have happened from the very beginning. I found myself thinking, “Okay, self. What does this mean to you personally?”

The lesson was about the good shepherd tending his flock, and it illustrated how the good shepherd leads  and protects his sheep as well as how he goes looking for them when they are lost. So I started answering the question I posed to myself. First, I reminded myself that when I was a child I grew up in cattle country where sheep were not thought of favorably. Quite literally, I have always resented being represented as a sheep in this parable. And, of course, my people would have called the sheep pen a corral. Then I let my intellect delve a bit deeper, and I realized it didn’t matter what represented me in the parable—-the truth that has mattered in my life is that Creator has always been there to protect me in spite of myself and my bad decisions. Creator has indeed been there to protect me from evil—-and found me when I was almost overcome by evil and the consequences of my own choices.

In addition, during the children’s sermon, if I heard correctly, one little girl wanted to know what that white thing was that the good shepherd had wrapped around his neck. This question immediately reminded me of how I have spent a life time wondering why Christ had to die on the cross—–kind of like, why does his body, mind, and soul have to go through that torture and die that painful way just for mankind to believe in him.  In a way, the cross that is so prominent in our faith is like the white sheep wrapped around the good shepherd’s neck.  I realize now that there are times when the “good shepherd” has carried me completely—————otherwise, I would not be here today. Perhaps that smelly old sheep wrapped around Jesus’ neck is symbolic of Christ’s crucifixion on the cross—-there would be no resurrection or an unquestionable belief in eternal life in, of, and with Creator, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

The rebellious child in me, however, still has moments when it wants to remove that smelly, hot old sheep—-and that painful cross—–so that there is no tremendous sacrifice, pain, or discomfort. While I’m playing God, I’d like all of life to be like that too. Then I have to laugh, because I know it has been pain and perceived suffering in my life that has provided a firm foundation for my relationship with Creator.  I also must admit I believe Christ dying the way he did allowed God to have more empathy for our human condition. Without pain and suffering I am often not willing to let God lead or carry me. My false self thinks it should handle everything independently. I have heard many say “I am a grateful recovering alcoholic.” I am able to say that, and  I have come to realize I am also a grateful survivor of pain and suffering—–because regardless of the form each crisis took, they all made me “Let go and let God.” They all helped me know that God is there for me and is actually all that matters when the going gets rough. Thankfully,  I am making progress, and I am learning to let Creator be there for me, with me, and be the Higher Power that guides my actions when I am not in crisis.

So I want to “shout out” a big “thank you” to our new Rector for presenting this parable in a children’s sermon; it made me take stock of just where that good shepherd had been in my life and all that we have been able to do together working in partnership. God bless and keep you.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of K. Farwell

I was reminded today that powerlessness is a gift—-it is the spur that goads me into surrendering and consenting to receiving and sharing God’s love. Now, I admit, this is not an original idea. However, my mind ran off with it in a slightly different direction today. The article that was shared (one of Thomas Keating’s—-I don’t remember which one) talked about how this type of powerlessness coming from the wisdom of experience rather than through education. I laughingly commented that nobody ever brags about getting their PhD in powerlessness. But Keating’s article went on to discuss how it is through acceptance of suffering that we are brought to the spiritual path of acceptance—-of letting go of all that is so that we can be transformed into approaching and accepting our own death—-both “death of self” and our own physical death.

This article also talked about a sort of spiritual mindfulness—-one that directs our awareness to seeing and accepting God’s will/plan in all things. My mind immediately wanted to argue with this—-too many times I have used such thinking as an excuse to allow my own bad habits to flourish—–to accept them and let them be. Granted, eventually the resulting pain does move me in the direction I think God wants me to go, but I am slowly learning that I can both accept suffering in myself and others as a conduit to God and also simultaneously take action to do what I can to alleviate such suffering. The Higher Power of my choosing, God, does not want his beloved creation to suffer, he wants us to accept our powerlessness and to consent to drawing closer to him. However, when I draw closer spiritually I am also led to do all I can to transform suffering into being both loved and loving at the same time.

It is important to acknowledge I cannot alleviate the world’s suffering—-on our own border, in Syria, in the Ukraine, or anywhere to which  I do not have direct access. It is equally important for me to be aware that such suffering exists and that I need to do what I can to change today’s world by how I relate to my immediate surroundings and the people and situations I encounter on a one day at a time  basis——-and sometimes on a one moment at a time basis. This is where spiritual  mindfulness comes in; this is where I need to be aware of God’s will at work and what I can do to further his will. This is also where prayer and consent come into play. I need to ask God for knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out—for his will and not mine to be done.  Truly living this prayer is something I  strive to accomplish, but I often fall short. Writing about it helps me remember how important it is.

I am so glad my life is a work in progress and that my God accepts and loves me even though (or because of?) I never attain perfection.  May God bless and keep us—-in spite of ourselves!

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Photo of “small pebble” courtesy of K. Farwell

 

I think it is time to write again. My emotions have been dashed about by forceful waves of fate these days. There have been almost constant reminders of suicide and the importance of reaching out with compassion to each other. Yet, at the same time there have been acts of violence, fear, and frustration erupting in my own state and all over the world. My spiritual studies have told me to hang on—-to “rejoice” in the moment , to go within to reach God’s peace and sanctuary so that I can, hopefully, share that with those who inhabit the world around me near and far.  Wisdom through the ages has taught “as it is within, so it is without.” It makes sense, then, that I must focus on creating a “within” that is worth sharing and then find ways to share it so that it can influence my outer world.

I must admit at times, this seems like an impossible task. At others, it feels like a “pacifist cop out”—-it seems too easy to “hide within” when part of me wants to actively fight for what is right and good. But, you see, that is what most people spreading violence and hatred among one another believe they are doing—-fighting for what is good and right. At times like this I find solace in words of wisdom I find in the Psalms and in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Both focus on harboring and reverencing a “God within”—-and using that “Higher Power” to direct one’s efforts in working on improving one’s own character defects and bad habits so that one can be aware of, willing,  and able to carry out God’s will. There are strong messages of reconciliation in both books—-an emphasis on the need change our own behavior and to make amends for our own wrongs before we judge others or lash out against others.

So, today I must remember that I am a small pebble in a big ocean and that my mission, today and always, is to focus on improving my relationship with God and so I can radiate love, compassion, and peace to help build God’s kingdom on earth one molecule at a time. May God bless and keep you.

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“Circles” photo courtesy of K. Farwell

Well, I’ve put it off as long as I can. I can’t hide it anymore, and I have to write about it. I am obsessed with circles. I notice them now when I didn’t before. Circles are everywhere and in everything.  I look up in the morning, and, if I am lucky, there is the sun. At night there is the moon. Of course, the earth is round as are the other planets.  My dogs run and play in circles. My steering wheel is a round circle. We close twelve step meetings standing in a circular formation holding hands.  The Cape area has at least three “round-a-bouts” I can drive my car around in a circle. If I crochet a doily, it is a circle. If I crochet a mandala, it is a circle. The “paper-plate weaving” we did in a craft group I am part of produced woven circles. The two “creations” I wove  look sort of like bow and arrow targets—–there you go, even more circles. When I set my coffee cup down it frequently leaves a ring of moisture where it had been sitting. My bird bath is round. The wheels on my car, the clock on my wall, and the medicine wheel on my wall are all circles.  King Arthur reportedly had a “round table”—- when placed in a circle everyone is equal. Perhaps our society needs to re-visit the power of the circle in promoting peace and equality.

I don’t want to put you to sleep listing all the circles in my life. But I do want to talk about them and what they mean to me in spiritual terms. To me they symbolize how all of creation is connected with one another and God (Creator). To Native Americans, the circle is sacred, and I realize much of my thinking comes from their ideas. They often look at sacred circles as symbolic of the four directions which can, in turn,  symbolize important milestones in our life from infancy to death. I am increasingly aware that humans travel “full circle” as they mature and age. I do not think it was an accident that Christ told us to  “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14, KJV). I believe children have a closer link to the kingdom of God than we adults—–because I believe that is where they were before they joined us in this reality.

I cannot say I am planning on turning senile and becoming child-like any time soon, but if and when I do, perhaps, rather than dreading the final stages of aging I should begin to consider the final stage of my life as  another “link in the circle” that connects me to God —-one that brought me from God’s kingdom and one that will take me to God’s kingdom.

Yesterday a dear friend brought me some lovely zinnias and heritage tomatoes.  The zinnias themselves are circles, and they have circles at their center. Needless to say, I am enjoying the flowers, and the tomato I had for lunch was indescribably wonderful—–so, you see, today I am enjoying circles around me, in me, below and above me. God bless and keep you.