Monday, October 27, 2014

It Hurts Sometimes

As I genuflected, a pain shot through my upper thigh; it’s been that way these past few days.  Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some exercises trying to strengthen my weak arm muscles causing tennis elbow pain, and it seems a bit better.  One pain lessens, and another increases.  I guess in old age it always hurts sometimes.

When I go for my workouts Nick, my trainer, accommodates my pains and my weaknesses.  Today we’ll probably skip those squats which stretch the thigh muscles --- he’ll have to find some other way to torture me,  :-).  I pay Nick for his services, but it is worth it; I am getting stronger.  Some days though, there are pains, and some days my muscles just don’t have the strength to complete the reps required.  When that happens, and Nick can see me straining to do the last few reps, he’ll gently put his hand over mine, taking some of the weight off me, but still requiring that I bear what I can.

I guess God is like that with us.  He helps us carry our crosses sometimes, but still we must carry them.  He doesn’t make them disappear.  I think that’s an important lesson to remember, that just knowing He is there is a lightening of our load --- we are not alone, even when sometimes it just hurts.

This weekend I was asked to join the board of a non-profit which runs homes for mentally challenged adults, children in mind who grew too old to live at home, but too mentally young to live alone.  The organization ensures they live semi-independently, finding them jobs and only stepping in to help when some tasks are more than they can accomplish --- kind of like Nick helping me when the weight is too heavy some days.  Now the organization’s hundred-plus children are aging, and facing new limitations, as are their caregivers.  My experiences and contacts as a caregiver and with eldercare resources are being sought by the organization’s board of directors to develop a strategy and plans for the future they foresee.

I’ll do my homework and pray on their request, asking the Lord:  “Is it I Lord?  Is this what You’d have me do?”

I’ve dealt with this organization in the past, and its charges.  The direct caregivers the organization hires are special people; the ones they care for often grow angry with them as they try to help.  I think it’s a combination of frustration at what they can’t do, and their limited mental capacities, which they are well aware of.  I recall my brother’s words when he noticed that people perceived his mental weakness:  “I’m just a little slow,” he said, never in anger.  He was indeed a special man.  But dealing with these others who more readily grow angry is something which I am considering; if I accept this new challenge I will undoubtedly be in contact with them more often.  I’m not sure how well I will measure up to the task.

Even as those thoughts were in my mind, the priest this morning said his short homily at mass, and included these words:  “Some people who need our love will get angry at us when we give it.  We need to love them anyway.”

It hurts sometimes, when it seems we’re not appreciated, when it seems we’re not loved, or life just isn’t what we would like it to be.  Sometimes we have to bear these pains anyway, knowing God will shoulder some of them, if it is beyond our strength.  But still, He expects us to bear our part.

I have these things to think and pray on.

            - - - - - - - - - -

I was out raking leaves yesterday afternoon.  I noticed my neighbor was doing the same.  A thought came to me, and I stopped and called him over to the fence to have a chat.  “Look at that,” I said, pointing up at the large tree in the middle of his yard.  “How many bags of leaves do you think are still on that tree?”  He stared and then replied: “I don’t want to even think about it.  Do you think I should get it cut down?”  I looked aghast at him.  “No, that would be a big mistake.  You need that tree for the shade it gives your patio, for when you do your cookouts.  No, cutting it down would be a major error.”

We stared up at the tall tree for a few more moments.  “No, what I was thinking as I was raking was that you and your wife aren’t getting any younger.  Maybe it’s time for you to have some kids.  I’m thinking of maybe ten-year old and perhaps twelve-year old boys.  Now they might be some work, but I’d help you with teaching them some important things, like cutting the grass or raking leaves.  Heck, if you had them before Christmas I’d even buy them some snow shovels for presents.”   He smiled.  “No, I don’t think anything will happen before Christmas, but in six months something will,” as he announced his wife’s pregnancy.  “Well, I guess that’s a start,” I said. 

“I guess I can stand ten more years of raking ---- maybe.”

It’s funny how God talks to us, isn’t it?  The touch from a physical trainer, the words from a priest, or the neighbor across the fence.  He shows us little things to let us know He is there, always there.

Take the time to consider how He’s there for you, too ---- perhaps especially when it hurts sometimes.     

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Long Way Home

As I left the church parking lot after Sunday mass, I gazed into the sun and the large expanse of blue sky above.  I considered if I should stop for breakfast, and where, but checking my stomach’s thoughts on the matter I realized I was not hungry.  I thought about the tasks I planned for the day: reading the morning paper, the weekly raking of leaves this afternoon, the taking out of the trash, perhaps some reading and/or exercise, and then the day’s closing prayer time.  I saw nothing unusual there, nothing important, and nothing of particular interest in the hours ahead.  As I drove, I noticed the streetlight up ahead, a long green light for this main highway, and then for some reason I considered the long red which simultaneously shone on the little-traveled cross street. 
And then I put my turn indicator on, and turned onto the long way home, down that quiet byway.
I’m not sure if it really is longer mileage-wise, but I knew the 20-minute ride home would turn into a 45 minute one --- but I felt no reason to hurry this morning.  My usual drive’s 55mph speed limit (where everyone did 65) was 30 on the dirt road in front of me, and with no one behind me I could do 25 if I wanted. 
I passed through an area of dense trees, and saw little dirt roads going off on either side to hidden homes.  After a while the scenery turned to farmland, with open fields and ponds.  The ducks and geese gathered together in some, and in some of the fields wandered horses, with some little foals traveling behind.  And I waved to the cows.
I saw new mansions and homes built in the 1800’s; estates and hovels.  I saw expanses of lawns, and piles of old rusting farm equipment.  And I saw some farmers on their tractors, working out in their fields, hauling in the last of their crops or tilling the land in preparation for the winter.  I saw the large old home, and the small headstones which stood in its yard; generations have lived and died there. 
I saw God’s creation in all its glory this Sunday morning, as I traveled the long way home.
I felt a great peace as I reached the paved roads again near my house.  I had left church thinking there was nothing important to do this day, but I had already done something important.  I wanted to document it here and now, for those days when peace would not come.  I wanted to write a reminder to myself that God is not just in his church, and not just in the adoration chapel I find so much peace in.  Genesis tells us He created this earth for man; and on a bright sunny fall day, with the beautiful colors all about, we can fully appreciate this gift.
Perhaps I’ll take a drive to a park or nature preserve this afternoon and take some bread to feed the ducks, and just sit and enjoy the world created for me. 
I am so blessed.
And so are you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What Is God Saying?

Gen 22:1-19
The weekly class assignment includes meditating and contemplating on an assigned Scripture passage each day.  The first day this week was the above chapter from Genesis, which tells of God asking Abraham to travel to a place and then to sacrifice to God his only son, Isaac.
I read the passage and saw the oft-referenced imagery to God’s later sacrificing of His only Son, Jesus.  I even noticed the similar use of numbers, the two servants who traveled with Abraham (ref the two Good Thieves of the cross?), and the three days journey (ref the three days in the tomb?).  I read the passage a second time, looking for any further insights, but in reading it again I had a “is that all there is?” feeling ---- I perceived no great new insights here.  Oh well, I thought, some days prayer is like that.
The next evening, when I looked for the assigned Scripture passage to read, I found the word “Repetition” indicated --- read it again.  Uh-oh, it was to be another some-ol’, same-ol’ night, but I dutifully took the time and re-read that passage from Genesis.  Blank.  Nada.  Nothing.  Been-there, done-that, heard-that.  Same-ol’, same-ol’.  All Scripture reading is good, but apparently this one had nothing to say to me.
Or so I thought, but God had other plans.
The next morning as I spent time with my morning prayers, the Genesis passage came back to me --- and I found myself walking in Abraham’s shoes.  He traveled for three days with his son Isaac, I suddenly realized, knowing all the while that he would soon be sacrificing him.  What fear would fill my heart, what darkness, and what pain?  And despite Abraham’s love of God, surely he must have been thinking (as I would): why?  And then thinking further on that I perceived an answer:  the answer must lie in the depths of Abraham’s love.
Real love trusts:  it sees no fear; it sees no darkness; it sees no pain.  It does not ask “why” in self-pity (for self-pity is the root of that question).  Real love just trusts the other.
I saw my reactions to past difficult circumstances in my life.  I saw my fears, my pains, my darkness, and my anger, and my asking: why?  And I saw clearly my self-pity, for the real question I was asking was: why ME?  I have walked many difficult roads, as Abraham did, but I saw rarely walked them with his firm love and trust in God, trust that this bad situation was for a good that I could not see.
And then I saw the related imagery of Abraham’s walk, of God the Father and Jesus in Their walk, with the two thieves, and the real death of the beloved Son on the cross, and then their three dark days.  They foresaw what seemed a terrible thing (to us), but in them I saw no fear, no darkness, no spiritual pain, and perhaps most telling, no self-pity.  They trusted all this was for a good reason; They trusted in Their love of us.
In our class we are studying the spirituality of St. Ignatius, and his rules for discerning spiritual feelings hidden in our emotions:  is what we are feeling from God, or from evil spirits?  It’s often a confusing thing to discern, and I find myself wishing there rules which could be simply applied to yield a definite yes or no answer, but there are none, because many of the questions I ask are only answered in due time, God’s timing, not mine.
And then it came to me:  I have found this day some simple answers.  Feelings of fear, darkness, pain, and anger:  these feelings are always of the enemy, not of God.  I can bet on it, and I can reject those feelings.  And the same holds true for those feelings of self-pity.  These are not feelings God wishes for me.  All these feelings are encouraged by bad spirits, encouraging me to not trust, not love, the God who so loves me.
Later that morning I went to mass, and as the priest held the host in front of my eyes before placing it on my tongue, I clearly smelled the fragrance of roses, and I knew I had gotten the message God wished me to perceive from that passage of Genesis.
In reading Scripture daily and contemplating on what God is saying, there is much to be learned, even from the same-ol’, same-ol’ words --- if we would just listen, and pray to hear.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Angry Again?

The morning Bible Study guys got onto the topic of Christian witness:  How do you effectively preach without preaching, or sounding “high and mighty” like you know it all?  But I noticed a rather curious turn in the conversation:  They each gave as examples of their Christian witness attempts some conversations they had with their spouses, children, bosses, or co-workers, who “just didn’t get it.”  To a man, they spoke of long-running disagreements and how they wanted to do the Christian thing, but the other person couldn’t seem to understand, and that made them frustrated or even angry.  To me, it seemed the ones who were speaking of their family members were especially frustrated; without saying it aloud, their tone implied: “But they should agree with me because they love me.”
“Trying to do the Christian thing can be very frustrating,” noted one of the men, and without saying it implied: because THEY don’t get it.  And then as the conversation carried on a thought came to me which caused me to stop and think, and for a few minutes I stopped listening; this thought seemed more important.  And so I said aloud my thought--- and all conversation stopped.
“No one loves an angry man,” I said.
The men went into a stunned silence because each recognized the vehemence of their feelings about their particular example of “Christian witness.”  They thought their thinking was right on a particular matter, and they so worked to convince their other that it made them angry when they couldn’t succeed.  And with my words they suddenly saw it:  they wanted to do a proper and Godly thing; they wanted others to love them and agree with them, but by their anger they were inspiring people to do the opposite thing:
No one loves an angry man.
The men immediately saw the truism of that statement.  It’s as if by their anger they were saying to their spouses or kids: “Don’t love me,” or saying to their bosses or co-workers: “Don’t listen to what I’m saying.”  Speaking in anger is rarely a Christian witness, and it rarely inspires others to agree with us.
We spoke some, then, about acting in love, and perhaps not getting our way.  Jesus did that.  He wanted people to change their ways --- and talk about a “Christian witness”!!! --- but people did not change their ways, nor understand His message, but still he did not express it in anger.  Jesus did not begrudge us for His having to die for us.  He forgave our sins with love.
Part of our frustration over others “not getting it” is that we want them to get it RIGHT NOW.  We see the truth of matters and it frustrates us that they don’t.  What we often forget, however, is how WE came to see the truth of the matter.  Did we study data and facts for hours or days?  Have years of experience or education (or prayer) made us experts on seeing the truth of a particular matter, and its importance?  And yet we get mad that when the light bulb goes on for us, it doesn’t go one for others at the same time?  Others, who didn’t spend the time or have the experience that we do?
I read in the book Roses and Thorns (meditations from St. Francis de Sales) about how some trees never have fruit until in their third year; sooner or later the fruit will come.  Someone looking at a tree may think something is wrong with it because it does not bear any fruit, but it just isn’t time.  Often getting angry with God or our friends does not get us what we wish.  Sometimes we must be content to bear fruit on a matter “sooner or later.”  And anger does not make it sooner.
And in the same book I read this:
Suffering borne well will carry you closer to heaven than if you were the healthiest person in the world.
Sometimes it is the proper “Christian witness” to stifle our frustrations that others “don’t get it.”  Maybe it isn’t the proper time or season. 
Or maybe, in love, we’ll just have to forgive their errors, as He did.