Another link gone

My uncle died last Thursday. It was not unexpected. He had been failing physically for quite a while, and he had Alzheimer’s. And it was a “good” death…he went to lunch, said he was tired, went back to his room via wheelchair, laid down, and just went to sleep.

In many ways it’s a blessing.

And yet…it’s another link gone.

He was my mother’s only brother. Out of the five siblings, there is only my mother and one sister left–and they both have physical health problems. They are also both dealing with mental/cognitive issues–and, at least in the case of my mother, her memories are so scrambled and keep being revised (depending on what she pulls out of her mind) that I can no longer trust them.

I can remember some teasing in our family when the last grandparent died–that now my parents were the senior members of the family. But now it doesn’t feel so funny. We’re getting close to being the senior members of the family…and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. But are you ever?

His funeral is tomorrow. There will be some sharing by individuals who worked with him. (He spent 40 years (!) as an active minister in my faith tradition.) But it was even a bit of a struggle for my cousin to find those individuals to share. After all, when you’re 94, many of your contemporaries have died/moved away/have their own cognitive issues. Yet another reminder of broken links.

And yet, even as I mourn the broken links, I am reminded that the chain continues to grow. There are younger generations who are connected to this family chain. Not always in the way I would have liked–some have gone different directions in relationship to the Divine, and I regret that loss. But even in that different connection, they have brought new understandings, new perspectives to the family–new links in different colors.

And so–we will mourn tomorrow, but we will also rejoice in the connections that unite us, that make us one family…a family by blood but also a family by choice. Yes, one link is gone, but there are still many that bind us together.

The power of words

“Words hurt!!!”

A young friend made this comment the other day–and it’s so true. Words have tremendous power and can shape our lives in both positive and negative ways.

This young friend has struggled for many years with self-image. The struggle hasn’t been helped by comments by parents calling her “stupid” and unable to learn. She does have some learning challenges, but she is not stupid–she just hasn’t always been presented with opportunities to learn in ways that match her intelligence. She is finally gaining strength to begin the difficult work of changing this self-image–learning to listen to other voices that affirm rather than tear down.

Another friend has dealt with issues caused by years of abuse. There have been several suicide attempts, any one of which should have killed him, according to his doctors. The last time, his father told him that next time he should make sure he found a way that worked. Words hurt! Fortunately he has found a way to allow his life to be turned around, and he now mentors others who struggle with similar issues.

I remember one of the first times I showed my mother some of my writing. Her response was “That’s nice…” with the strong implication that there was no way I would ever be able to make a living with it–or with the career I had thought about following. I allowed those words (and others) to change my course and spent years wondering if I really had any abilities in the things I loved.

There are studies that show that it takes 10 positive comments to overcome the effects of 1 negative one. I’ve never counted, but I think for many of us, that gap is difficult to bridge–and the negative comments tend to put down roots deeply in our minds and souls.

There is a time and place for constructive criticism, for calling us to accountability. But more often, it seems that the adjective (“constructive”) is left off, and we criticize each other without being aware of the power of our words.

Proverbs 18:21 in the Bible says “The tongue has the power of life and death…”

There’s also another proverb I’ve heard: “Lord, make my words sweet, for tomorrow I may have to eat them.”

Both are good thoughts to live by.

The Wild Goose…

I just read an article in the June 2012 Sojourners that has caused me to rethink the Holy Spirit. The article is titled “Chasing the Wild Goose” and it’s by Cathleen Falsani.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably usually thought of the symbol of the Holy Spirit (if you think of it at all!) as a dove. After all, that’s how it’s usually presented in the Bible…

But this article suggests another symbol–a wild goose. Hmmm…

I see the geese around town quite a bit. They’re beautiful–but they’re also sometimes a nuisance and a bother. They do what they want…when they want…and they’re often noisy.

This is quite different from a dove–which is soft and gentle…quiet…calm…. I think there are still times when that’s what the Holy Spirit is like. At least that’s been my experience.

But I wonder… There have also been times when I’ve felt something/someone calling–loudly and not willing to be silenced…when an idea has flown into my mind and heart when I’m in the middle of something else and not wanting to pay attention to it, but it continually pesters me. Have I shoved the Holy Spirit to one side because it (she?) didn’t come the way I expected?

I think that’s the essence of the Holy Spirit. It comes to us…calls us into places and activities that sometimes we don’t expect…won’t leave us alone but insists on its voice being heard.

Maybe…just maybe…the next time I see a wild goose, I’ll be reminded that I’m called to go on a wild goose chase–following the unexpected call of the Holy Spirit.

“…more things…than are dreamt of…”

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

That is true in so many ways!

A number of years ago, I would have said “Absolutely not!” to believing there was any value to what were then often referred to as “quack” treatments or “New Age” philosophies (whatever that term was intended to mean). However…

As the years have passed, I’ve come to realize that Hamlet’s soliloquy to Yorick actually contains much truth.

One thing changed for me when a friend–someone I respected–talked about her experiences with these alternative ways of looking at life. It wasn’t someone who was flaky but someone more “mainstream” who had found value in these practices and philosophies that I had held at arms’ length.

So…

I’ve been more willing to look at them–and to even see if I could find value in them for myself. What’s the answer? Yes!

I don’t understand how some of these alternative treatments work…they come from a way of looking at our bodies and our universe that I didn’t grow up with and so aren’t familiar with me. And yes, I admit that sometimes they sound kind of bizarre–and there are some people practicing them that I wouldn’t trust.

But…I’ve heard too many people talk about the positive results they’ve had from them. And I’ve had my own epiphanies…including my most recent one, when a friend gave me an alternative treatment to help my legs begin functioning properly again. (I have MS, and one of my feet was dragging and my knee buckling–had been for about 1 month this time.) Perhaps…perhaps…I was beginning to get better on my own. Perhaps…perhaps…part of the response was due to a placebo effect. But…all I can say is that beginning the next morning, my foot and legs were well on the way to being normal. I’m now walking with my cane instead of always having to use my electric cart–although I’m not pushing it, and still using the cart for any long distances.

I still have what I would consider a healthy skepticism–I’m not going to madly jump into every alternative treatment that comes along without doing any checking.

But if doctors are now beginning to find value in treatments that used to be trashed–and if I find personal value and help with them–then I’m very willing to live with a willingness to explore Hamlet’s perspective.

Renewing Connections

I spent this Labor Day weekend (as I’ve spent the last three) at a weekend retreat sponsored by an organization called GALA (Gay and Lesbian Acceptance). It’s a group we’ve become more involved with over the last few years.

I’ll have to admit that the first year we went, I was a little tentative. I wasn’t sure who would be there…what it was going to be like…who I might know…who I would get to know…

But there was no reason to worry. This group of people–many of whom have been rejected by families, friends, churches–were very accepting of our family. They drew us in–and we became part of each other’s families.

We have shared stories–stories of coming out, stories of being parents/spouses/siblings of one who has come out, stories of being members of faith communities that have accepted (or not) the coming out…

We have laughed as we have outbid each other in a silent auction fundraiser–sometimes going home with unexpected items!

We have eaten together, both casually and at the banquet each weekend.

We have shared our talents together in a talent show (and sometimes the word “talent” is a little bit of a misnomer!)…and everyone’s willing participation has been accepted with delight.

For many of us, this is the one time a year we see each other. Yet the friendship always picks up where it left off–or perhaps a little deeper, if we’ve been able to maintain contact on Facebook or via other means.

This year we missed some specific folks who were unable to come because of health issues. They are part of our families as well–and we worry about them just as much as our blood relatives.

And finally, we share together in worship, meeting each other–and the Divine–at the table of the Lord’s Supper. This is often a place and a time of healing…a place where we learn anew that there is no “we” and “them.”

We” and “them” are really just “us”, children together of the God who made us.