Thursday, October 22, 2015

Greek Tragedy played out at Nursing Home

Several years ago my SIL made an analogy as to how daughter Julie and I often interact verbally and physically, especially when times are tense: we act out Greek tragedies in our communication with one another. She was so right on. The drama at that time was about how Julie was not being careful enough while drinking a soda, thereby spilling it on herself and the floor. I chastised her, and Julie retorted in kind, scoffing at my concern, unaffected by the work it caused for others to clean up the spill. 

The analogy my SIL acted out, interspersed with a Greek Chorus humming in the background, still makes me laugh. Good for the soul to laugh, but also tragically sad. But if one can't see the humor in life, that is sadder still. 

Thus follows my latest Greek Tragedy of Julie and me playing out yet another little drama in our interactions. We were at her residential facility yesterday afternoon when this newest scene occurred. 

Short Synopsis of the Play: Main Character, Julie, a middle aged adult woman, feels misunderstood and dismissed since her husband died and she has left the ancestral home she and her husband built together in South Carolina.  Secondary Charter: Mother, large and in charge, often overpowering Main Character by force of will

Stage Set: The Garden Room of a local nursing home, several people in wheelchairs in a large open room with windows looking out onto a grassy area, locked in by doors opened only by ambulatory people in authority who hold special keys to the outside and unprotected world 

Characters: Julie, her mother (me), nursing staff and other residents; unseen character is a scheduler on the telephone 

Scene I: Julie is in her wheelchair, legs stretched out in front of her on leg rests, draped sheet in place over lower part of body. She sits at a sturdy card table, her wheelchair alongside table at an angle. I sit in a chair beside Julie, knitting bag containing lunch, water bottle, cell phone, and knitting accouterments scattered about on table. A few other patients in wheelchairs, dozing or just sitting, the room is large without a specified activity scheduled 

Atmosphere: Relative quiet, patients being wheeled to early lunch, or patients milling around the nearby hallway slowly making their way to the dining room. Ambient social noise in background 

Dialogue Begins with Nurse, walking towards me: “Could you come to the phone to answer questions about a prior surgical procedure performed in South Caroline? The scheduler is needing some questions answered and maybe she also wants a signed consent.” 

Me: “OK, be right there.” (putting down knitting project and rising from the chair) 

 Julie: facial expressions: scowling, acting offended, muttering quietly under her breath, giving Nurse a surreptitiously castigating glance with her eyes lowered 

Me: Walking twenty feet over to the phone and saying, “Hello, this is Nancy, so glad you are scheduling her for a consultation. You need a consent form signed to obtain hospital records from which physician? We have been through all this many times over the summer, and records are all over this town. Yes, yes, I do hold Power of Attorney for Julie. Yes, yes, we can get this done fairly quickly.” (inwardly sighs) 

Scheduler on phone speaking unknown dialogue, me listening with phone receiver to ear

Me: “Let's call the (insert name of hospital) and just have them faxed over. What? You need ANOTHER consent form signed? All right, the fax number is (insert numbers after hailing down a nearby nurse on her way to fix another patient problem and on whose phone I am speaking)...” 

Julie: wheeling over to the nurses' station as quickly as she can, looking even more aggravated, further scowling 

Me: trying to ignore Julie and concentrating on what the scheduler is trying to relay on the phone 

STAGE RIGHT: two nurses simultaneously enter on stage, approaching the nursing station where I am seated. Their facial features: showing concern and interest as they hear what is going on from their approaching vantage point; both are appalled that now both Julie and I have invaded their work area and are speaking with raised voices; further facial expressions: nurses' eyebrows arched as they listen to our conversation 

Me: hanging up phone receiver, informing Julie of the date of the appointment, rising from the chair to return back to the Garden Room, speaking to Julie in a somewhat raised tone of voice due to irritation

Julie: (with highly raised voice) “WHY did she not ask for ME to schedule the appointment? Why did YOU talk to her? It is MY appointment!” (implying that Mother is interfering and taking charge when it is not necessary) 

Me: (backpedaling, glancing at a small group of observers now gathered at the nursing station, both staff and patients, my voice still loud): “Probably because there needs to be coordination of efforts concerning how to get you there, whether you need to be prone or in your chair, and because I would like to be there with you and you do not know my other calendar conflicts.” Way too much disgust in my voice and attitude at this point... implying that “here we go again.” 

ME: I am now behind Julie's wheelchair, trying to exit Stage Left, impeded by onlooking patients in their wheelchairs 

Julie: (speaking in a whining voice) “It is MY body and MY concern, so why wasn't I asked about it instead of YOU?!” Julie's body language is now of extreme consternation and she begins to cry; slowing the cries rise to a crescendo of wracking sobs, tears falling fast 

Greek Chorus: inaudible mumbling with sing-song background chanting begins 

Me: rising from the chair at nurses' station, maneuvering to get behind Julie's wheelchair, pushing her onward and back toward the Garden Room, barely avoid a crash collision with another person in a wheelchair who has now made her way to the nursing station to catch the drama 

Greek Chorus: continues singing in background, interspersed with small gasps, sighs of resignation, humming to the tune of “Oh, Me, Oh, My, What is Going to Happen Now?”) ....sound of drums beating slowly along with the low murmuring and humming of background noises. 

Chorus continues as dialogue ensues ... 

Me: Now back in the Garden Room, vacated by staff and patients, talking to Julie the entire time, cajoling tone in voice, trying to quieten her sobbing, saying in as patient a voice as possible while trying to stifle irritation, “We all love you and want the best for you. It is hard to coordinate all efforts made in your best interests. I know your life has changed dramatically since the death of your husband, but these changes have affected my life as well.” (Again speaking loudly out of irritation) 

Julie: “I just feel like I do not have control over anything anymore. When I lived in South Carolina, I made my OWN doctor appointments.” Wracking sobs given by Julie. (Chorus grows louder as sobs subside and chorus dims to silence) 

Me: “Well, that was THEN. Now you live in a place where all efforts need to be coordinated as far as transportation and yours and my life now need to work together somehow.” 

Chorus in background: “Yes, Indeed, Yes Indeed” (sung in a three note cadence, two beats up, one beat down) “YES INDEED YES INDEED” repeated three times, louder with each repeated stanza, quieting down to silence again....moments pass

Me: “Are you OK, are we good now?” 

Julie: sniffing, wiping nose with back of right hand, sniveling, snuffling, acting perfectly the part of the victim 

Chorus: chanting, “Mother was Wrong, Mother was Wrong!” interspersed with “Julie is in Charge, Julie is in Charge,” ... chanting fades into background as music, drums and song becomes softer ... "mother was wrong, mother was wrong”

Julie: still feeling victimized, not vindicated, then giving up her sobs to quietly playing Word Chums on iPad... 

Me: after giving her a kiss, I slink off Stage Left, feeling miserable having made this scene occur, while also feeling I have done her wrong by trying to do right by her.. 

Chorus: fades from chanting into ambient background noise... 


Post Script: Activity Director reports later that Julie was acting happy, engaged with dominoes with other residents, relishing the cheese and crackers snack within half an hour after my departure from the scene of the drama.  Go figure.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Seder Dinner, My First

It was 1966 and I was in high school with a crush on my friend Mike. He was ever so smart, with a genius IQ count of 162, if I recall correctly. He was a younger child of the one Jewish family in our small provincial town in the Texas Bible Belt. Mike was brilliant, funny, blew the sax in jazz band, was a favorite of the teachers, and so cool. I thought I was, too. Cool, that is, not Jewish. His father was our family doctor, which also added to his social elitism. 

Mike's mom was sophisticated. She drove over to Dallas frequently to shop and buy foods in the kosher markets, and there is where the family attended weekly synagogue. It was over four hours round trip to drive to Dallas and back home. This time dedication to family and spiritual life awed me. We hardly ever drove to Ft. Worth for high school football games, and that was only an hour's adventure. 

 Passover was approaching that spring. I was invited to Mike's home for the Seder dinner. A bit apprehensive about the upcoming evening, I asked my grandmother what to expect. She advised me of the menu, explained a bit about it, and told me "Nancy, it is an honor that you have been invited to partake of this meal. They are sharing their faith with you." 

We were Southern Baptist, and our only family "holy meal" of the year was usually an Easter lunch after church services when we all sat around the dining room table and shared a roast chicken with mashed potatoes. In other words, we Baptists did not have spiritual meals, except for grape juice communion served before lunch, at church, and on four Sundays annually. And it was not really a meal, it was a commemoration sans involvement of food. 

Apprehensive about the upcoming evening Seder at Mike's Jewish table, I approached Mom with questions: what to wear, what to discuss, were questions about the meal acceptable to ask, what type gift should I take, should I fold my hands when they prayed, should I drink the wine? All concerns answered, hostess gift in hand, I was ready for Seder. 

The appointed time to be at Mike's on that Friday evening was later than my usual 6 PM dinner time with my mother and grandparents. Eating after the sun set only added to the mystery and sanctity of the proffered meal. Several of Mike's high school friends were also invited, and we were seated in the dining room with Mike's mother at the head of the table, officiating at the blessing of the meal. How different this was; my grandfather always said grace before our meals. Mrs. C. intoned kiddush, the recited blessing sanctifying Shabbat, as we symbolically washed hands around the table. This very act of her offering the traditional blessing impressed me as a feminist observance. Another check added onto her list of being experienced and ever so socially cultivated. 

The foods and spices were described at the Seder dinner. Mike offered his explanations about herbs presented on the table, signifying the bitterness of Jewish slavery in Egypt. And there was roast chicken. After all, that was no mystery meat. But I was sure Mrs. C. had seasoned the foul with varied spices other than what my grandmother shook over chicken. Could it have been rosemary or thyme? It was exotically different than our usual roasted chicken served on the yellow Formica kitchen table at my grandparent's home only a minute's drive from Mike's house. 

 Dr. C., Mike's dad, must have been present at the dinner but I do not recall his appearance; it was Mrs. C. on whom my attention was focused. She was gracious and cordial to us, Mike's friends, and it was only years later that I understood the invitation as being a mitzvah she undertook. I am grateful to her and Dr. C., may they rest in peace, and also to Mike for allowing me to partake of their celebration all those years past. The holiness of that meal has not been forgotten.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Notes from April 14: Fiction and Publication

"Your difficulties are not obstacles on the path; they are the path."            Ezra Bayda

"Write with your passionate heart, but edit with your calm brain."            Dinty Moore, The Mindful Writer

Brief discussion of Dialogue sheet and two stories by Emma Donoghue, "Onward" and "Last Supper at Brown's" from Astray

note to self:  Look at The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
          Dialogue can give us a place and the people living there, particularly when they share an assumed body of knowledge:

One example by Toni Morrison, from The Bluest Eye:

"What you want to bet?  Henry Washington said that sister ain't seen Della in fifteen years."
"I kind of thought Henry would marry her one of these days."
"That old woman?"
"Well, Henry ain't no chicken."
"No, but he ain't not buzzard, either."
"He ever been married to anybody?"
"How come?  Somebody cut if off?"
"He's just picky."
"He ain't picky.  You see anything around here you'd marry?"
Sandy Dorr says:

"Dialogue is our characters in their own words, the closest we get to them.  When dialogue flows like poetry, it sounds as if people are speaking in our ears, in their incomplete, jumbled breath.  If it's working, you can excerpt even a little piece of it and get the characters, the landscape, and the flavor of the moment. 

Dialogue is never purely informational.  At its best, it will help advance the plot, but it must do more than one thing at a time.  It helps set the scene, develop the character, develop the conflict, stir our senses.  The words spoken by characters color the air between them and tell us who they are rather than exactly what they're going to do or have done.  Think of dialogue as the shorthand between people who know each other well, a vernacular that's surprising, intimate, new, and often contrapuntal:"
"There is so much fighting and dissatisfaction in the world, lady," the clerk said in his whisper and looking away over the dark landscape of Woolworth's: "and many people thought the advent of television would help, but is hasn't changed anything, so far as I can tell." 
"Nobody know what they want to do with each other or with anything," Marietta said. 
"Sit down," the clerk whispered.
                                                    William Goyen, "In a Farther Country"

Dorr says: "Dialogue can cover space and time in a story."

"You don't have to write both voices to create a dialogue."

1) Write dialogue without quotes.  See what's necessary.  Keep hitting "enter" or return the carriage.
2) Write two people who know each other well, talking.  Each is keeping a secret.
3) Two people talking in a closed space -- a car, a room -- for a defined length of time.  Each has to reveal something in order to exit.  Use few speech tags.
4) Two people who haven't seen each other for quite a while meet (at the P.O, laundry, or more intimate place?.  What do they do and say?
5) Write a dialogue between radically different voices.  Aim for the marked differences (age, ethnicity, English as a second language) or simpler, subtle shifts in syntax.

Notes taken last night on REVISION:
  • It will take a long time to know what is true for you, the writer
  • Take out/remove cliche language
  • Take out anything that does not add to the story
  • Discover, uncover a form where my own voice works for me
  • When working with characters, we need a dramatic event, then tells what is happening, what gets changes, what is transformed?  I.E., TRANSFORMATION is necessary
  • When revising, don't just edit; re-enter the piece, make it new again,  Get inside it; Be inside it.  Edit with a calm brain.
  • "Kill your darlings"  famous not get attached to a piece, sentence, thing you really like, because it may not be all that excellent to someone else.  If a story can do without the event, whatever you are writing, then take it out.  Each sentence must mean something.
  • Again, EACH SENTENCE must have meaning
  • Use gestures, i.e., a woman fiddling with her earring, jewelry, a gesture she makes; notice an animal moving through the room and what the animal is mimicking in your writing, perhaps; notice the light in the room
  • Shame and guilt are internal; make them transform the object in a way that is discernable

Monday, April 6, 2015

March of Dimes in Denver

 Post Script: Baby Kai is a friend's grand-nephew.  Support the March of Dimes in any way you can.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Chapter I of A Mother's View on Spina Bifida

1969 – 1976 (in the beginning)

Imagine a thinly carpeted, fiercely cleaned floor of a living room in a tract home in West Texas in the late 60's.  There I sat, along with Paul, my husband of six months. We were inhabiting, for just a portion of the summer, the home of my in-laws. My father-in-law, Doug, was working in Alaska while Bess kept the home fires burning. This was a two month extended visit before Paul and I were to move to Lexington, Kentucky. Paul had just completed his BA in Austin and was working a summer roustabout job in the oilfields of west Texas before our relocation to Kentucky. 

That summer was like many before when he worked out in the hot sun, acquiring several severe sunburns on his face and chest, showing evidence that attested to his hard labor on the West Texas oil rigs. Post Script: Those sun burns were likely the cause of his melanoma cancer, according to William Robinson, MD, The University of Colorado Medical Center. The melanoma found in 1983 eventually killed Paul in 1986. 

 Paul, Bess and I were watching television, that exciting, momentous event of the landing of the Apollo on the moon. It was in the heat of that July summer in 1969 when all things seemed possible to me, and only a few minutes before the words of Neil Armstrong were spoken to the world when he declared “that's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.” All the world was astounded at this accomplishment except for a few who thought that perhaps this was some sort of a conspiracy theory concocted about “a man on the moon.” Bess was actually one of those non-believers, although it was much later that Paul told me she thought it was just a media blitz, that man on the moon.

Bess was born before 1920 and had lived with her mother and sister in a fatherless home. These three endured the Depression Years and it showed in how she so sparingly lived. Having grown up to be thrifty, Bess saved plastic Wonder Bread bags, used tin foil, and coupons of any nature if a few cents might be saved off list price. She judiciously pasted green stamps into the little S&H books, looking forward to what her stamps might be traded for at the S&H center on 8th Avenue in Odessa. Pots and pans, comforters, sheets, and other mostly household items necessary for homemaking, all could be had for exchange of her neatly filled green stamp books, carefully hoarded until redemption.

Bess was tidy and organized, a proficient housewife, a good cook, and generous in her frugal own ways. Her fried chicken, mashed potatoes and thick cream gravy, heavy with black pepper, were some of my favorite dishes. I generally kept out of her way when she cooked and while she watched her television soap operas on weekday afternoons. Bess entered contests, all kinds of give-aways, clipping notices from magazines and newspapers, filling out the forms and hand lettering the envelopes. She did this every day over probably a five year time period; her grandest prize winnings were a washing machine/dryer set and a new car.

Summer passed, and Paul and I moved on to Lexington in late August, taking two days to drive there in our '62 Chevy coupe, pulling a U-Haul trailer holding a few of our belongings. We must have looked like itinerants from The Grapes of Wrath as we slowly wended across country, our typewriter, clothing and boxes piled high on the back seat of the old Chevy.

We rented an upstairs apartment in a two story house on Wabash Avenue, several miles from the university. We would have preferred living in married housing on the UK campus, but we owned a little dog, and the housing department rules barred animals from student apartments. So we settled into that one bedroom, small kitchenette apartment. I found a part-time job on campus at the university hospital and carried a full load of course work. Paul had a teaching assistantship, also working on his graduate degree. Money was tight, but this was not a new situation for the two of us. And Bess sometimes, most weeks, sent a $5 bill in her letters to Paul and me. That $5 was usually spent on hamburgers at McDonald's, and sometimes we went to a movie. Life was pretty good, as I remember.

Contraception for us in the late 60's was that of the birth control pill, a fairly high dose of estrogen used in that decade. It was only later that the negative side effects of this type high estrogen pill were announced. At my doctor's appointment the prior year, I had been warned to quit taking the pill for a three month time period after a year of use. It was a standard recommendation then to give the female body a break from constant use of estrogen. So I quit taking the pill after the requisite time period and relied on other less effective forms of contraception.

We drove down to Texas for the Christmas break, visiting all our family. The school break lasted about three weeks and I recall not feeling well on the drive back to Kentucky after the holiday school break, thinking maybe I had a touch of flu that was going around that season. It was months later that I determined that little sick spell was actually probably morning sickness.

In the spring, after having felt ill for a number of weeks and having gone to the student clinic yet again, a pregnancy test showed positive. Paul and I had never discussed having children, not even prior to our getting married. I was 20, he was 23, and the possibility of becoming parents had not been considered by either of us. And I had always used contraceptive measures, so it was a moot point to discuss children at this stage of our lives, or so we thought. Completing our respective educations was the priority then.

It was while I was at my part time job when I received the phone call from the student clinic and was told that the blood test taken to determine pregnancy had come back as positive. How could this pregnancy have happened? Upon hearing this news, I was dumbfounded, devastated. I believed I could not continue with my education now that I was going to be a mother.

These thoughts were running amok in my head as I finished my work shift and drove back to our apartment in the chilly spring air. Steering down the curving street toward home with tears in my eyes, I felt desolate at receiving this news of an unwanted pregnancy. How would Paul react when I told him I was pregnant? I was so unhappy about this situation, crying and praying for a sign that I could get through this ordeal, give birth to a baby, become a mother, and that my schooling was not ending. 

It was then I noticed a bird, flying just to the left of my driver's side window. It was perhaps twenty feet away, flying toward the west, and it had a blue breast. I took it as a sign that all would be well and was shored up by this sighting of a “bluebird of happiness.” It was a sign I have never forgotten. This sign, a bird in flight, touched me in a place of deep despair, giving me consolation. 

That next school semester continued, with little difference in my life other than an expanding waist line and the continuing pregnancy. Paul did not say much about the impending birth of a baby, or the pregnancy, but I knew he was worried about what the next year would bring. His draft number was to be called up within the next month after his graduation, at the simultaneous time of expected birth. I fretted about his being drafted and dreaded the time when I knew we were soon to be separated. Anticipating being a new mother, I was not looking forward to having the baby in his absence. 

It was the late summer of 1970, the war in Viet Nam was in full swing and Paul's draft number was scheduled to be called soon after his graduate school status extension ended in August. Jane Fonda railed against the soldiers, men were drafted or volunteered into the armed services, death tolls were counted on the Viet Nam front as the year rolled on. Returning soldiers were not welcomed home, PTSD was not recognized or treated, and draft dodgers went into exile in Canada or elsewhere. He assumed his fate was settled after he was drafted, at least for those next two years as he served his time in the Army. 

We made tentative plans for the year after the baby was scheduled to arrive and while he would most likely be in Viet Nam. My parents had divorced in 1965.  I was to go back to Texas and live with my father in the Ft. Worth area where he was then working. Dad was selling and renovating houses, and I planned on living there with him and the baby. Living with Mother was not an option because she had a one bedroom apartment and also had a part time position as a house sitter and companion to Mrs. David Tandy, whose husband was the founder of Tandy Leather Company in Ft. Worth, Texas. I never even thought about living with Bess after the birth of the infant, although that might have been an option also. 

But none of those scenarios occurred, and those tentative plans were never put in place. In September of 1970, a month after the baby was supposed to have been born, calculations made by the “best OB in Lexington,” that our baby came into the world after just a few hours of labor at the Albert B. Chandler Medical Center on the campus of UK. 

I knew only a minute or so after she was born that something was wrong with my baby. She made a little cry as the nurse was taking her to another area in the delivery room, away from me. I asked the sex of the baby and if the baby was healthy. No one said anything for a minute, so I continued asking. I was told the baby was a girl, and that they would talk to me about her as soon as they could. A few minutes later a doctor already there in the delivery room said there was something wrong with her back, but she was breathing fine. He came over to me and said he would call in another physician to talk with me. His demeanor said it all: downcast, and with a broken voice. That was when I knew something was wrong, very wrong with the baby, that child I had never even asked for.

A nurse must have transported the baby to another unit, because I did not get to see her until a day after her birth. My feeling were of guilt, guilt that I had done something wrong during the pregnancy, and guilt that I had not wanted a child. (I chewed on that guilt for many years, its taste creating a villus bile that often set me on edge when I would see a child without defect, a product of lucky benevolence.) 

A specialist came in to talk with me in the recovery room and explained that our baby had a birth defect termed “spina bifida with myelomeningocele.” I could not comprehend at first what he was saying. I expected a baby, yes, but not one with problems needing specialized care. I had never before heard the term “spina bifida.” The doctor went on to say she would likely also develop hydrocephalus. I was heartsick, because I did understand the ramifications of the anachonistric term “pumpkin head,” because I had attended first grade with a child who had a brother at home, shut away with untreated hydrocephalus. (See Chapter on "Shunts")

Here is a brief definition of the birth defect from
The term spina bifida comes from Latin and literally means "split" or "open" spine. This defect happens at the end of the first month of pregnancy, when a baby's spine and spinal cord (a bundle of nerves that runs down the center of the spine) are developing. The nerves that branch out of the spinal cord may be damaged.
Sometimes, the defect causes an opening in the back, which is visible. The spinal cord and its coverings sometimes push through this opening. Other times, there is no opening and the defect remains hidden under the skin.
Depending on the severity of the defect and where it is on the spine, symptoms vary. Mild defects may cause few or no problems, while more severe defects can cause serious problems, including weakness, loss of bladder control, or paralysis. Children with an exposed opening on the back will need surgery to close it.
Hydrocephalus occurs in 95% of children whose back is closed closed by surgery.
We named the baby Juliet Parke. Julie's meningocele, the worst form of spina bifida, was closed when she was four hours old, and a ventriculo-atrial (VA) shunt (See Chapter on “The Shunts” for more detail) was placed in her skull on her fourth day of life to ameliorate the effects of hydrocephalus. Surgeries were performed by Gordon Brocklehurst, MD, a renown neurosurgeon from the United Kingdom who had recently started a specialized unit at the Chandler Medical Center for infants born with spina bifida. He was one of the few surgeons around, certainly in Kentucky, that performed the specialized neural tube defect repair surgeries necessary for sustaining life of infants born with this birth defect. 

At the time of Juliet's birth, one in one thousand babies was born with spina bifida. We felt fortunate Julie was born at this teaching university hospital with state of the art care available. During the '90,s the Spina Bifida Association lobbied the government to require supplemental folic acid be added into foods supplied to the U.S. because folic acid in the diet of pregnant women was found to greatly reduce the incidence of neural tube defects. (See “Resources” appendix). 

 Beginning in 1996 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to require that folic acid be added to specific flours, bread and other grains, fortified because they were staple products for most of the U.S. population. If only I had known prior to pregnancy to supplement my diet with folic acid, perhaps all our lives would have been different. 

After Julie's initial surgeries were completed, we brought her back to our upstairs apartment in Lexington. Paul spent time and efforts getting a hardship deferment from the Army, which was granted in due course after Dr. Brocklehurst had written a letter on his behalf requesting a deferment from active service due to the fact he was needed at home to help care for a handicapped child. Then Paul began looking for a job teaching at the college level and relatively quickly acquired an assignment at Lamar State University (LSU) in Beaumont, Texas for the term beginning in 1971. 

Our beloved little dog was extremely jealous of Julie, and jumped on her a few days after we brought her home. We subsequently had to find another home for the dog because I was fearful of further damage to our baby.  Upon reflection, the sorrow of giving up our pup almost surmounted that of having birthed a handicapped child. Or was it a transference of sorrow, a trade off of a happy and loved animal for the acceptance of a new human life with seemingly insurmountable problems?  This trade off was difficult for me as a young woman with few life skills under her belt.

In December of 1970, we moved to Beaumont and Paul began his new job teaching sociology at LSU. Julie had one shunt malfunction and subsequent revision while we lived in Beaumont. At six months of age, her eyes looked “buggy” and her fontanels bulged upwards. Her shunt was repaired in a straightforward manner with no ill effects. I thought then that a shunt revision would result in her death. I have no idea where that idea came from, but I had no experience whatsoever in children with hydrocephalus, and I knew it was a risky deal having that shunt reconfigured by a neurosurgeon. Just the word “neurosurgeon” was enough to put panic in my soul! 

A new AV shunt (see chapter on “The Shunts” for further information) was placed in her skull, and the bulging fontanels diminished in size within the first day after revision. She came home, back to her crib, after just a week in hospital.

We stayed at LSU two years while he taught and I finished my sophomore year of college at LSU at nights and in the late afternoons while he provided care for Julie. Julie had physical therapy twice a week, and I also worked with her daily on muscle coordination exercises. The cockroaches in Beaumont were so invasive that our apartment was sprayed monthly. They were not only invasive, they were as large as a small mouse, or so I thought. I kept careful watch on Julie, daring the roaches to rear their ugly heads.

In the summer of 1972, Julie spent a week with Bess in Odessa, just the two of them being a grandmother and grandchild together. My father-in-law worked out of Barrow, Alaska on the oil pipeline for about ten years but was not back in Odessa at the time of their grandchild's visit. It was the first time Julie had been out of my care and I was relieved to have some portion of my life not involved with either being a full-time mother, or as a part-time therapist for her. I recall feeling a bit guilty about this new-found, week long freedom, but it quickly passed, as ephemeral as a cloud in the sky moving on. I was worried Julie's shunt would malfunction and Bess would not know what to do for her. But the week with her grandmother passed without incident, and we drove back to Odessa to retrieve a thriving Julie, none the worse for wear. 

Julie began saying words at the appropriate age and followed most guidelines for normal development, other than her legs did not function normally.

By the time we moved from Beaumont in 1973 and into our first married housing apartment in Lansing, Michigan, Julie had learned to crawl in a rather odd manner. She used her forearms to propel herself across the floor, making each movement in a deliberate pattern on one elbow in front, pulling herself forward, then taking the opposite elbow forward, pulling the other side of the body forward. We termed it the “alligator crawl.” This move was learned in her twice weekly therapy sessions. I also worked with her daily on strength training and balance, and she became stronger and faster at pulling herself forward on the floor.

In Michigan, in 1974, Julie began a half day session for children with developmental delays and was bused in a little white van to an older building, Walnut Elementary School, half way across town. At four, she liked her school and her therapists and teachers. Julie carried her disposable diapers in a cloth bag with her special stuffed animals each day of the bus. (Spina bifida results in loss of bowel and bladder control, so she was diapered for the first five years of her life; she learned to put on her own diapers by the time she was three.)

Julie began socializing more with other children at Walnut Elementary, received physical therapy there, and I helped start a support group for parents who had children with spina bifida. In this group, we shared developmental milestones of our children, and both the kids and parents benefited from being with others of like minds with similar problems. If only I had been able to find such a supportive avenue when she was an infant.

In Montana, in 1975-1977, Paul had finished his PhD and was working for the Federal Goverment. Here is where Julie spent two years in kindergarten, repeating the class a second time because she needed that extra socialization and general time to “catch up.” Or that was the thinking back then. She again carried her diapers with her the first year of kindergarten, but by the time she was just under six years of age, she had learned to independently catheterize herself every four hours in the teacher's bathroom, where she was afforded more privacy. 

Julie catheterized herself with a six inch transparent glass catheter, and I still cringe to think of the safety factors involved with glass in the urethra. But in the 70's, plastic catheters were not in use, especially for children. The glass catheters could be used for a day, every four hours, and then boiled and kept in alcohol until needed. We usually had a supply of four or five boiled glass catheters on hand. It was only in the 1980's that disposable catheters came into common use. (See Chapter “Catheterization” for more information) Julie continued tohave issues with bowel and bladder control.

 Urological advances, and further problem progression in this area led to further surgeries and ostomies for both bowel and bladder.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Chapter Titles for Julie's Story of Spina Bifida

Prologue or Introduction

The Beginning (1969-70) (pp 1 - 8)
Shunts (definition, etc.) (5 pages at 4/2/15)
Catheterization (pp   )
Bowel Issues
Psychological Issues
Family Issues

Resources (National Spina Bifida Assn, etc.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Palm Sunday Reflection

The Path of Waiting
An excerpt from Henri Nouwen's
Finding My Way Home

Passion is a kind of waiting - waiting for what other people are going to do. Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the good news to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say "Yes" or "No". That is the great drama of Jesus' passion: he had to wait for their response. What would they do? Betray him or follow him?

In a way, his agony is not simply the agony of approaching death. It is also the agony of being out of control and of having to wait. It is the agony of a God who depends on us to decide how to live out the divine presence among us. It is the agony of the God who, in a very mysterious way, allows us to decide how God will be God. Here we glimpse the mystery of God's incarnation. God became human not only to act among us but also to be the recipient of our responses.
. . . And that is the mystery of Jesus' love. Jesus in his passion is the one who waits for our response. Precisely in that waiting the intensity of his love and God's is revealed to us.     ...Henri Nouwen

Friday, March 27, 2015

Telling Secrets

Telling Secrets
(Exercise in Dialogue from Prior Post)

Olivia had almost an hour before she needed to meet her next client.  A perfect time to pull out her phone to read, have a coffee and a bit of time to herself. Selling real estate in these days was dog eat dog, but she treated herself to a little time alone now and then. This was the time, a lovely spring morning.

Settling into a corner table at Starbucks so she could be somewhat isolated from others, she noticed a woman sitting alone.  The woman looked vaguely familiar.  Oh, yes, she remembered, she had seen her coming out of another apartment a few doors down from her own the prior week.  It had been in the early afternoon and the woman, red haired, had been with a man as they exited an apartment.  The two had been just a few minutes ahead of her as she rushed to try and catch an elevator ride down to the car park. But that day she was running late for a closing, almost frantic as she fumbled with her door lock when she rushed back inside to retrieve her notebook.  Then, closing papers, phone and notebook in hand, she finally locked up and saw the elevator, fifty feet from her door. had already descended, taking away the couple and her opportunity to exit quickly.  She recalled having to wait for yet another elevator, feeling even more rushed and frustrated because she had missed that first ride down. When Olivia finally arrived in the basement car park, she noticed the couple exiting through the underground gate, the arm open to let through the man's blue Civic with "LUVLAW" on its back license plate.  

Coming back to the present, Olivia straightened the wadded paper napkin in her lap and turned on her Kindle app, resuming the process of trying to enjoy this time alone, ready to drink coffee and get back to her novel.  But two pages in, just a few moments after she found her place, she looked up to sip on her sweet, steaming latte and saw that same woman with the pretty auburn hair was joined by another female friend, a brunette, with coffee in hand. Olivia hoped they would not be too loud as they talked, because Olivia needed quiet in order to concentrate as she read. But sure enough, she could hear them talking about their workouts in the gym.  "Ah, perfect little butt girls proving their cross-fitness," Olivia thought to herself.

Red Head leaned closer to Brunette to talk.  Olivia kept her eyes on her phone, concentrating on the words as she clicked to the next page in her novel.  She tried not to listen, but heard "I know we don't know each other very well, but I need to talk.  Thanks for meeting me."  More hushed talking.  Red Hair: "'s not right, but I feel so powerless.  He has such charisma, and even though he is not that good looking, he seems to really care about what I say. He listens. I really think I am in love with him."

Brunette murmurs.  More words between them, and Olivia thinks maybe now she can comprehend the words on the book as the women are speaking more quietly.  Quick sip, coffee is getting lukewarm, she needs to finish it before it gets too cold.  Olivia looks back down and then hears Brunette say "...but if he is married, you know it won't end well."  

"He says he is not happy and he has been thinking of leaving his wife, and since there are no kids involved, that now is the time he should do it, before it is too late and his wife gets pregnant," says Red Head.  Olivia keeps her head averted, but glances upward to looks at that earnest female face, "a pretty face but certainly not a knock-out," Olivia thinks to herself.  

"I'll bet he won't leave his wife; they never do.  Just enjoy being with him for what it's worth.  You are getting attention and good sex, can't you just take it for that?"  Brunette says, as if she has been in that same situation herself.  Oh, boy, Olivia thinks, "do they know how loud they are talking?" Starbucks has filled up more, but being in the corner, their two voices seem amplified, especially since they are talking up against the window.  Olivia gets back to her reading.

Then she overhears Brunette saying "My husband would never think of having an affair. We have a really tight relationship and share everything.  We are talking about having a baby in the next year or so, and he is so sweet about telling me how he will cherish being a father and having our own little family."  She goes on, "We could stay in our place where we have been for a few years, and have even thought of asking his parents for a loan to buy a house if we decide to have a family.  Apartments are just too small to raise kids in. We could pay off a loan before too many years, even if I quit work, because he is on target with his career toward partnership."  More hushed chatter between the two tight butts.

Olivia notices Brunette gets up to leave, air kisses Red Head, saying "Talk soon.  Just enjoy your time with him, he sounds like a keeper.  Who knows, maybe he will leave that wife.  Hubby is here to pick me up for lunch, gotta go," and she rushes out of Starbucks. 

Olivia sees Brunette get into the passenger side door of the waiting car. As the blue late model car pulls away from the curb, she is astonished to see the back of the trunk with its license plate clearly visible, spelling out "LUVLAW".

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Class Notes from March 24: Dialogue

Last night was writing class and teacher/coach Sandy Dorr told us we were to concentrate, for the next two weeks, on reading and writing dialogue.

Dialogue is just like talking with someone, but, uh, I guess not exactly.  As I ponder on talking with others, my dialogue stinks.  "Yeah, uh huh," are some of my retorts to say "I am listening," but that is not effective in making someone understood, or listened to.  I'll try to work on that.

Reading assignment: "Sister Imelda," by Edna O'Brien (Irish author)

Here is what Sandy said in her handout last night:
Dialogue is our characters in their own words, the closest we get to them  When dialogue flows like poetry, it sounds as if people are speaking in our ears, in their incomplete, jumbled break.  If it's working, you can excerpt even a little piece of it and get the characters, the landscape, and the flavor of the moment.
Dialogue is never purely informational.  At its best, it will help advance the plot, but it must do more than one thing at a time.  It helps set the scene, develop the character, develop the conflict, stir our senses.  The words spoken by characters color the air between them and tell us who they are rather than exactly what they're going to do or have done.  Think of dialogue as the shorthand between people who know each other well, a vernacular that's surprising, intimate, new and often contrapuntal. 
Dialogue can cover space and time in a story  
Dialogue can give us a place and the people living there, particularly when they share an assumed body of knowledge. 
You don't have to write both voices to create a dialogue: 
     Felice? It's me, Graciela.  
     No, I can't talk louder, I'm at work.
      Look, I need kind of a favor. (Sandra Cisneros "Woman Hollering Creek")
  1. Write dialogue without quotes.  See what's necessary.  Keep returning the carriage or hitting "Enter."
  2. Since paragraphs are emotional (Gertrude Stein), write two people who know each other well, talking.  Each is keeping a secret.
  3. Two people talking in a closed space - a car, a room - for a defined length of time.  Each has to reveal something in order to exit.  Use few speech tags.
  4. Two people who haven't seen each other for quite a while meet (at the p.o., laundromat, or more intimate place).  What do they do and say"
  5. Write a dialogue between radically different voices. Aim for the marked differences (age, ethnicity, English as a second language) or simpler, subtle shifts in syntax.
          Write a short tale, a fictionalized account of either something that happened to you or someone you know -- which steps out beyond the actual fact, into the fictional world -- or a memoir, if you prefer.  I'd urge you to try fiction.  You might start with a fictional idea that may have nothing to do with you, and may be told from the point of view of someone quite unlike you.  It's free and enlightening.  If you don't know where to start, try with a character getting up out of bed in the morning.  What happens next?  Who does s/he encounter?  What comes to a head and must be answered by the story?
          Use dialogue within the scenes, and the scenes themselves between at least two people, to advance the story.  Try to proceed from a place where the ending is unclear; put down everything you know, and then see what happens.  Use all five senses.  Allow a mixture of emotions, a tumult, if you will.  Enjoy yourselves.
          Note to self: send to Sandy by April 7, 2015, 5-8 pages in length .. remember that
  • people need to meet or get together somehow
  • something has to happen
  • that something has to end

Monday, March 23, 2015

Two Weeks From Easter

While in church yesterday, Pastor Barbara said something that made me reach for a pencil and my folded up piece of paper so that I could scratch out a few words for this Pause in Lent, sharing with Angela and others here,  Just follow the links on the right upper column of her blog for more posts.

The gist of what was said is this: death precedes life

As I was thinking of death preceding life, my garden came to mind.  All those leaves, at least six inches in depth of fallen cottonwood leaves, are covering the soil of my wildflower garden.  As I was removing the rich layer of decay, of the dead leaves, I marveled at the fat earthworms that were uncovered.  Those earthworms thrived over the winter because of the dead leaves giving them cover and warmth through the harsh time of winter, when the ground was frozen and dead.  But it was necessary that the leaves fell from those old cottonwoods, giving shelter and mulch for the forthcoming wildflower garden that will bloom in the months following.  The worms thrived and will help sustain new flower growth through their organisms.

Through Death Comes Life

As we approach Good Friday, pondering on God giving His Son to death brings mankind to a realization of New Life through this sacrifice.  For Christ did overcome death to live on in eternal life.  He did it for you.  Do you accept his death and resurrection for yourself, for a new life?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Pause in Lent for Blessings

"Blessings" by Laura Story
We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Psalms 27:13
Yet I am confident I will see the LORD's goodness while I am here in the land of the living.
This post is part of A Pause in Lent hosted by Angie.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Third Thing Assignment

write poem or prose using imagery, consider how to tell a story through one thing in your life, the third thing, the tiger in the grass, out of the corner of your eye (up to three pages) ... (begun 3/14/15)

A Musing 

    One goes through a lifetime very sure about one's parentage, or at least I did. You were either born to a mom and dad, or to a single mom, or you were adopted by a family who very much wanted a child because your parent or parents could not adequately care for you. And if you were not adopted, you grew up in an institution called an “orphanage,” not a preferred method of living for a child since Charles Dickens' writings and the story of Oliver often comes to mind. As a kid, I must have become aware of how children came to be in families or other various iterations of children being cared for. It is likely a prevailing world view of how children begin their lives. 

     I was born in the south in the early '50's to a stay-at-home mother and a father who was farming a family dry land ranch plot outside San Angelo, Texas. My two older brothers, six and three years old at the time when I came into being, may or may not have been aware that their world would change when a new baby was brought into the house. There must have been infant crying and other demands on their mother's time which they would likely have felt as intrusive. But then again, most of the families I knew as a young girl had many siblings at home, so new babies were just a fact of life.  

     Cousins, childhood friends, kids at school, in fact anyone born to a parent were all compared to their mother or dad in these terms: she/he has his mother's/father's nose, or hair color, or body structure, or temperament. My older brother was said to have my mother's artistic talents and more sensitive temperament. Our male cousins so strongly resembled their father that it was always commented on. And my mother lamented the fact that she did not inherit her mother's musical abilities for playing piano and organ. My father did not inherit his mother's musical abilities either, and could hardly carry a tune. I must say that choral singing was one of my childhood favorite past times, and I spent years singing in choirs. 

     Both my brothers, as they came into maturity, had idiosyncratic ways of speaking or moving their hands in a certain way when talking that it often brought on comments, especially by mother. As in, “you look just like Charlie when you do that.” They were of similar height, too. But I was always taller than they, and I was blonde whereas they were deeply brunette with skin that easily took the sun. I always burned when outside for more than a few minutes, whereas they sported nice sun tans during the summer. 

    Fifteen years ago, as my mother was dying and when the cancer had reached deep inside her brain, she became less inhibited. Once she looked at me and said “Are you really my daughter?” I assured her I was, patting her hand and giving her consolation. But then just a few weeks before she died, she asked me if there were anything I wanted to ask her about before she was gone, while I still “had time.” I assured her that I thought we had talked everything out, and that I could think of nothing else to ask her. I prompted her and said “Is there anything you want to tell me?” but she shook her head “no.” Pushing her a little further in this direction, she again responded negatively. The moment passed. 

    It was a year or two after she died that my brother and I had a conversation about this odd, amusing event of mother asking me to ask her a question. It was then that the light bulb flashed on in my subconscious. Was my father of 94 years my biological father?

    I don't know. I will never know now. Funny thing, at this point, in the grand scheme of the universe, does it really matter?

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Shunt

1: to turn off to one side:to switch (as a train) from one track to another; 2: to provide with or divert by means of an electrical shunt 3: to divert (blood) from one part to another by a surgical shunt 4: move (someone or something) to a different and usually less important or noticeable place or position
   My first child, Julie, was born with a birth defect: spina bifida. At less than a week old while in Kentucky, she had her first brain surgery to alleviate pressure on her brain from cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) build up. Without that surgery, she would have experienced excruciating headaches and severe mental retardation.  A new and different neurosurgeon operated on her brain in Texas when she was six months old. Thus began the rounds of medical interventions that have lasted her lifetime. 
     Julie grew and prospered and I learned to divert my attentions toward pursuits outside that of a care giver. I learned to paint, went back to school, began observing nature and even planted a garden while living in Montana. The aurora borealis could be seen at night, a glorious sight with its green and white lights dancing in the evening sky, creating fire in the sky. Long days up north lasted until almost 10 PM, and that extended growing season allowed foods to burgeon from the rich soil. 
     During those summer sunlight hours, I energetically prepared soil, planted seeds, and then directed my physical efforts in hoeing between the rows of vegetables, cucumbers and tomatoes, fat and juicy. Irrigation water from the Yellowstone River was shunted off through where it originated in Laural, Montana, and was directed to our valley via the Billings Bench Canal. That river water was then siphoned down to my garden through plastic tunnels where it was further channeled toward to the ditches between raised rows of vegetable impregnated soil where our seedlings were planted. A generous harvest resulted.
     The numerous jars of cucumbers I pickled that summer lasted for two years, and were foisted off on family as Christmas gifts. The older daughter, Julie, at six, wore a wig for a few months because her head was shaved for another brain surgery that Christmas. She and I spent Christmas in the Billings hospital that year while her body became accustomed to a new plastic disk implanted in her skull to siphon off CSF from around her brain. I felt like tearing my hair out from worry over her.
     In Denver, seven years after that first Montana pickle and tomato yield, I planted another garden. These vegetables were planted without the zeal I had for that first garden farther north, as I had time then to garden only on weekends. My time and efforts went toward my career and growing family, not toward that second garden. I turned off those initial physical efforts that were effectively used to grow produce in a prior summer. I did not devote as much care toward the second garden; my efforts were diverted into other emotional and mental avenues, so produce from this soil was sparse. But the cucumbers thrived and I again made pickles. That year I used larger quart Mason jars for preservation and made bread and butter pickles. Hot, sweet syrup water was poured over the cucumbers packed tightly into jars, using a big red plastic funnel to shunt the boiling syrup over those thick, round cucumber disks. They reminded me of Julie's shunt, being about the same size both in diameter and thickness. 
     The cold winter following after that second gardening effort, Denver recorded the largest snowfall in twenty years. My mother came up from Texas for Christmas, and stayed through January. It was a good thing she had time off from work, because she cared for Julie as she recuperated from another emergency brain surgery. 
     I saved out a few jars of pickles and gave them to Julie's grandmother that Christmas, and lots of scarves for Julie. Julie did not like her shaved head that winter, complaining of being cold in her upstairs bedroom. She learned from her grandmother how to wrap scarves around her forehead for warmth, redirecting body heat to her head where the wool layers of yarn retained warmth.  Julie's grandmother had enough pickles to take some back home with her in mid January.
     A few winters later, while still in Denver, home health nurses changed out intravenous bags of antibiotics after a systemic shunt infection almost took Julie's life. These nurses briefly visited our home three times every 24 hours for several months. Each nurse had a key to our front door for access while I was at work, and to come in at midnight without awakening the household while they undertook the IV changes. The home health personnel were like caring mice, quietly coming in and out, and I hardly ever even saw one of them. Like Julie's shunt, the nurses did their job efficiently, diverting attention away from the enormity of her illness. 
     Now Julie is in her 40's and that shunt, or its 100th iteration, is keeping Julie free from CSF building up around her brain. Those AV shunts have been a part of Julie's world all her life. It is her sword of Damocles, and soon again it will kink up or become infected. And each time her headaches last more than a few hours, the shunt lurking in her skull becomes the first target of worry.
     I plan on planting cucumbers this spring and I will recall my diversionary tactic of replacing shunt concerns with the pickling of cucumbers. I expect a big crop.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Notes from March 10, 2015 Class

Readings for the weeks of March 11-24, 2015:

The Mindful Writer, Noble Truths of the Writing Life, Dinty Moore

Ephedra, A Collection of Poems, Karen Chamberlain

Desert of the Heart, Karen Chamberlain
“Dinty W. Moore has collected some very telling nudges from a range of fine writers, and tilted them in a lightly Buddhist angle of reflection to catch the light of your own desire to write.”
—Susan Murphy, author of Upside-Down Zen
Going a step beyond typical “how to write” books, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life illuminates the creative process: where writing and creativity originate, how mindfulness plays into work, how to cultivate good writing habits, how to grow as a writer — and a person! — and what it means to have a life dedicated to the craft of writing. There’s not a writer alive, novice or master, who will not benefit from this book and fall in love with it. Cover to cover, this wise little book is riveting and delightful. Readers will turn to The Mindful Writer again and again as a source inspiration, guidance, and support. from Dinty Moore: The Mindful Writer

Assignments for 3/24/15:
read the assignments as background; observe how images are used in the excerpts from Chamberlain; write poem or prose using imagery, consider how to tell a story through one thing in your life, the third thing, the tiger in the grass, out of the corner of your eye (up to three pages)

Monday, March 9, 2015

"Blessings" by Laura Story

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not,
This is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

Psalms 27:13

Yet I am confident I will see the LORD's goodness while I am here in the land of the living.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Son Who Stayed Behind, The Good Son

Again, for this third Sunday in Lent, I join in with both Angela and the Henri Nouwen Society's virtual community  to answer the question posed here about the elder son:

The Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt van Rijn, c1669, courtesy Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg
 Henri writes that both the younger son and the elder son needed healing and forgiveness and to return home to the father’s love.  “…it is clear that the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home.” (p 66) 
a) Have you ever been lost while at still home? b) Now that we have read about both the Younger and the Elder son, do you agree with Henri that the the hardest conversion to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home? Have you experienced this in your life?
When I first read the question and tried to formulate an answer in my mind about how I felt about being lost while still at home, I thought perhaps every person feels this at one time or place in their lives.  It is especially poignant that as Christians, we who are in the arms of a loving God often feel this.  

And I especially question how our own children who are so loved by imperfect parents can become estranged from us, setting themselves apart with no communication from those who love them.  I can only claim the scripture in 2 Timothy 1:12:
Still I am not ashamed, for I know (perceive, have knowledge of, and am acquainted with) Him Whom I have believed (adhered to and trusted in and relied on), and I am [positively] persuaded that He is able to guard and keep that which has been entrusted to me and which I have committed [to Him] until that day.
For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that Day. I do know that my daughter is entrusted to God, and I have committed her to Him. That is my confidence, that scripture, and I hold onto it this Lenten season.  Go in peace.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Second Sunday in Lent

The Henri Nouwen discussion group is looking at pages 21-53 of The Prodigal Son this second week of Lent. Several questions were asked; here is one.
    Henri distinguishes between “a self-serving repentance that offers the possibility of survival” (p 47) and a repentance that involves a breaking “away from my deep-rooted rebellion against God and surrendering myself so absolutely to God’s love that a new person can emerge…Receiving forgiveness requires a total willingness to let God be God and do all the healing, restoring, and renewing” (p 48). Explain differences.
This post also connects with Angela in her “Pause for Lent” series

We are all in that state of disgrace at almost any point in time when as members of the human race, we have offended others by thought, word or deed.

My disgrace, or need for apology, can be as simple an offense as speaking at the wrong time or place, or speaking thoughtlessly to another. Or it can be grievous, so grievous that words cannot brought forth to ask for forgiveness from another.

A self-serving repentance of saying “I'm sorry” is sometimes said when one is not at all ashamed or repentant of an act or deed. As in “I am sorry if (insert action) offended you.” Perhaps I have said “I am sorry that I do not care to watch that violent television show,” which is in no way an apology, merely a fact stated. Or if I say “I am sorry to bring this up, but...” and then I state my self-righteous opinion.

Neither instance shows that I am sorry for what I said, but “sorry” that you might offended by it. One could hardly term that an apology, just an acknowledgement of the others' misinterpretation of my words. And how many times have I done that? Too many, the answer. That type “apology,” if it can be termed as such, merely allows me to go one with social convention, continuing with a conversation.

But when I am truly sorry, certainly asking forgiveness, is much more difficult a task. It is so onerous a task that to even dredge up an instance brings me embarrassment, perhaps shame. This type of asking for forgiveness is often only asked of God, in the dark secretiveness of the prayer closet. A sincere prayer, breaking away from rebellion against God, is heart wrenching in its truthfulness, and brings forth a new person, forgiven and free to live a different life. This type of honesty with God and seeking of forgiveness and a new life brought me to a new relationship with Him after a painful marital divorce.

My prayer during this Lenten season is that my talks with my God are ones that bring me further toward His grace, being renewed with restoration, healing and strength.