Tag Archive | awareness

Who Am I? And Who Are You?

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my sofa nook

          Who am I?  And who are you?  As I sit or lie in my sofa nook with a chronic illness which limits my activities and cuts me off from a busy world, I often ponder what it’s all about.  What is the meaning, the purpose of a life such as mine?  In a busy world that judges us all by what we achieve, that counts the number of trophies we can place on the shelves of our minds at the end of each day, my sense of self-identity can so easily slip away.

          It’s very tempting for those of us with chronic health issues to compare our lives with the healthy lives of those around us.  Unfortunately, when we do this, we all too often come away with the feeling that we are “lessened,” that our stories are curtailed, incomplete, deficient.  With so little to show for our lives, it’s easy to wonder who we really are.  

          After his resurrection, Jesus warns his disciple Peter that a time will come when he will no longer be in control of his life. Peter’s response is immediate.  He points to another disciple and asks, “and what about him?”  Jesus tells him rather sharply that that is really none of his business.  Don’t compare your life and your destiny with his, Jesus tells him.  Just “follow me.”  Just live out your own story, and let him live out his.  A challenging directive.  To Peter…to me…and to all of us. 

          Henri Nouwen in his little book Discernment tells of a friend who discovered in his 50’s that he had cancer.  He had been a very active man, and he had always defined himself by all the good things that he was able to accomplish.  Who was he now with his body crippled with cancer and exhausted from all the treatments?  Nouwen and his cancer-ridden friend puzzled together over this. 

          As we might expect from Nouwen, he offered his friend some profound insights.  He suggested that he should see that his vocation as a human was to be fulfilled not in his activities and accomplishments but rather in his ACCEPTANCE of his situation.  In his WAITING to discover what God was about in his life.  In his deep AWARENESS that God, not his activity, was the center of his life, and that God is always the one at work to define our lives and to help us determine just who we are.

          To live out such a vocation is truly a challenge.  I would so much rather define myself by what I accomplish.  I want my activities to be the center and focus of my tiny universe.  I want to control my possibilities.  I want to see who I am in the row of daily trophies sitting on my mind’s shelf.  

          A character in Anthony Doerr’s short story “Mkondo” tells a lost soul who’s searching for his life, “the only way to find something is to lose it first.”  Along with countless others who live with a chronic illness, I have lost many of the trimmings that I once relied upon to define my life.  But I do believe that in my losing I have also been finding.  It’s a slow finding, to be sure, and it’s a finding filled with many questions and many doubts.  But it’s a finding, nonetheless.  The finding of a growing stillness within.  The finding of a deepened attentiveness to the layers of life around me and within me.  The finding more of God’s life burning within my own, even in those moments when I feel so unsure of who I am.

          A challenge, yes.  But when all is said and done, perhaps this is the challenge not just for those of us who live with “chronic.”  Perhaps this is the challenge for the healthy as well as the not-so-healthy.  To let go of old self-definitions.  To learn the way of acceptance, the way of waiting, the way of awareness.

          Who am I?  And who are you?  And what’s it really all about?  We’ll probably never, in this lifetime, know the full answer to all the mysteries of our lives, but perhaps we may come closer to knowing who we really are as we lose more of our “trophy” selves and find ways to live into patterns of a quiet openness to our innermost selves and to the God who lives and breathes through all our doings.  Through all our not-doings as well.

 

A Small Corner of Our World

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          Each morning as I sip my breakfast tea and work my daily word puzzle, I look out my window and see this tiny corner of our world. A corner, for years now, silent and empty. But a corner that, could it speak, would tell a poignant story. A story of young love that flamed bright and laughed heartily.   That made a cozy home and birthed into that home a beautiful young boy, a beautiful young girl. A story of a young father who proudly built this swing set; grinned sunshine as he pushed his wee ones giggling high into the sky. A story of marriage clouds that blanketed four lives and turned the soul of one of the partners so inside out that leaving life seemed the only option.

          All this was years ago. The swing set stands alone these days, the long-ago wee ones now off to build their adult lives. Lives imprinted with memories of skimming down the slide. With memories of swinging up to the clouds. Memories of curling cozy with a book under the roof atop the slide. Memories of those strong hands that once had held them firm but now are only dust.

          The silence often shouts into the quiet of my morning tea.

          I sip again, and note that just beyond the swing-set and the shed, dogs and their walkers stroll by; cars and school busses drive along the street. All of these so unaware of all the sorrow, all the joy this tiny corner clutches in its now empty hands. So unaware that they have come so close to  hallowed ground.

Palm Sunday

cross-rock

I looked out my window on Palm Sunday morning and saw this cross “shadowed” on the rock in our backyard.  I posted the picture on Facebook, and my good friend Jane responded with a poem.  Here it is:

In my garden

A cross shaped tree-limb shadow

Lies on the cold hard stone,

Which has not yet unsealed

The opening to Spring.

 

In my garden

X marks the spot

Where hopes and dreams are buried,

Until  green leaves and trumpeting blooms

Announce a Resurrection.

 

In my garden

A point where two lines meet

Show Earth and Heaven intersect,

In dreary places here below

As we reflect the Light.

Jane Cronkite

3-24-2013

Diminuendo

diner

My husband and I sat across the table at a local diner recently, delighted to be out of the house together and not at the hospital or a doctor’s office.  The day was gray and drizzly, but to us it seemed almost bright.  Almost.  We had travelled together through weeks of my husband’s hospitalization, pain, and weakness, but now here we were, sitting at a diner, smiling gently, almost shyly, at each other across the glossy formica-topped table.

It felt good.  Very good!  I asked my husband how he was feeling—pain-wise and strength-wise.  He paused, smiled reflectively, and said, “I feel I’m  about 70% here.”

“70% here!” I responded.  “That also describes my CFS/ME so well, at least on the better days!”  So there we sat, two 70 %-ers, enjoying a bowl of warm soup, enjoying each other’s company, and enjoying life, diminished as it has become.

Diminuendo.  Yes, the music of our lives, and of the lives of many whom we hold in our hearts, plays out more quietly these days—“pp” and sometimes even “ppp.”   But the music is still there.  No rousing crescendos for the moment.  The trumpets are muted; the violins as well.  But brass and strings still gently play and haunt the byways of our minds and souls—sometimes with memories of earlier crescendos of musical joys; sometimes with the promise of “forte” music still to come, either in this life or the next.

Meanwhile, we live the quieter music of the moment, taking in all we can, releasing the rest to others whose lives know a greater fullness of health.  Sometimes we do this gracefully and gratefully.  Other times we beat the drums of frustration and, at times, even the drums of anger and despair, pray the laments of the psalmists, and hope with them for  grace to hear God’s gentle melodies and once again accept the quieter “ppp’s” of our lives.

Kay Lynn Northcutt is a woman all too familiar with the quiet music of chronic illness.  Ms. Northcutt used to teach homiletics, lead retreats, and provide pastoral leadership in a number of churches.  But a serious illness, which struck quite suddenly, left her able to speak only with difficulty, and confined her for the most part to her home.  However, while she can no longer easily speak, she still knows how to listen, knows how to be attuned to the diminished music of life with every part of her being.  She writes: “My new vocation is that of loving extravagantly the shreds of life that are wondrously left to me.”*

What a powerful statement!  To love extravagantly whatever of life is wondrously left to us.  To stay attuned, attentive, to every melody, every grace note,  every nuance of life that, all together, compose the symphonies of our lives. Truly a worthy vocation for life diminuendo.

For that matter, truly a worthy vocation for those whose healthy lives are lived at full crescendo!

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*Kay Lynn Northcutt, “A holy, mundane essence,” The Christian Century, 3/7/12

Shadow Trees

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Mid-winter blahs.  I realize one morning that for some time I haven’t been very attentive to the mysteries of life inside and outside my windows.  “But what’s to see?” I ask myself, weary of the sometime snow, the sometime shabby brown grass, and the always winter-drab trees.  And then I see them.

Strong and tall.  The shadows of my backyard trees stretch through my neighbor’s lawn, creep up his house and dance their limbs atop his roof.  Bold and stark and inky in their blackness; yet not the least bit sinister, they weave their way across the grass and fling the artful patterns of their branches here and there and almost everywhere that I can see.  So stately proud these mighty shadow trees!  Yet quietly they bow to winter sun, tilting first to west in early morning, then to north about midday, and finally to east as parting sun murmurs its blessing for another day.

Tomorrow there may be no winter sun; the shadows then will fold in on themselves, and nestled deep inside each tree, they’ll patient wait for sun to call them once again to paint their deep, dark patterns that will slice the grass, the snow, the ice—but always gently, always quietly, always without fanfare, always simply there, guests of the sun beneath the vast-arched sky that kindly wraps them soft beneath its ancient gaze.  A sky that wraps us too.  A sky that holds the hope that every mark and shadow that we cast will be as firm and bold, as gentle and as quiet, as playful, as artistic, as the shadows of those trees.

“Liviousness”

“Oh Lord, you have searched me and known me”

“You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me”

“Wonderful are your works; that I know very well”

(from Psalm 139)

Much of the time I live my life in obliviousness.  I focus on my “to do” list or worry about some petty concern, and I can be almost totally unaware of the beauty all around me, unaware of quiet places deep within me, oblivious to the rhythms and cadences of God’s persistent presence in my life.  In our busy, high-tech world, I suspect this obliviousness is true of many of us.  Who has time to be more aware of the depth and richness of life, when all our gadgets are chirping at us with the latest info or enticing us to play yet one more game on our laptops or iPhones?

So my prayer for myself  these days and for those of you who will pause to read some of the posts on this blog from time to time is that we may become more “livious.”  That we will be able to delete that little “ob” (“un” or “against”) from the obliviousness of our lives and cultivate a “liviousness,” an ever-expanding awareness.  An awareness of the mystery of our inner lives.  An awareness of the splendor that surrounds us in the natural world.  An awareness of the reality of God’s steadfast presence pulsing quietly in all the corners and crevices of our lives.

The psalmist who wrote Psalm 139 was so keenly aware of himself, so keenly aware of the majesty of the creation around him.  And he was also so very aware of God’s intimate closeness to him.  As we become more “livious,” I hope we, too, will sense the hum of God’s hovering presence in our lives and, with the psalmist, will be able to say: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me”—in our darkest nights and in our brightest days.

So thanks for stopping by.  Because of the toll of  CFS/ME (chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis as it is also called), I won’t be on any regular schedule for posting on this blog, but I hope you’ll visit from time to time, and I hope what you find will help you to move to a greater awareness, a greater “liviousness” of life in all its richness.  I invite you to share your thoughts and responses.