Write In Between

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Writer's Wednesday -- Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Jesus wants me to tell you again... how much is the love He has for each one of you--beyond all what you can imagine... Not only He loves you, even more--He longs for you. He misses you when you don't come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don't feel worthy...

For me it is so clear--everything ... exists only to satiate Jesus. His words ["I thirst."] [are] on the wall of every [Missionaries of Charity] chapel, they are not from [the] past only, but alive here and now, spoken to you. Do you believe it?...

Why does Jesus say "I thirst'? What does it mean? Something so hard to explain in words--... "I thirst" is something much deeper than just Jesus saying "I love you." Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you--you can't begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him.

---Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, the Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta"

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Ideas on the Care of the Sick and Infirmed -- Part 1

Part 1: Spiritual Nurture

“I was ill and you cared for me.” (Mt. 25:36. NAB).

My adult life has twice been punctuated and profoundly humbled by illness and infirmity for months at a time. Touched by pain—physical, psychological and spiritual—I have sought to lead a full life despite these trials. Each time, my Catholic faith in prayer and sacramental graces, coupled with the loving service of many people renewed me with strength, peace, and courage. Looking back, I understand that there is an unexpected kind of blessedness that comes from such times.

As a recipient of spiritual and physical blessings, I hope to provide some insight into the needs of persons who are ill or infirm, as well as share a few practical suggestions for their spiritual nurture (part 1) and physical support (part 2, coming soon).

Twelve summers ago I had four surgeries to diagnose, treat, and recover from an early-stage breast cancer. Back then I was 36 with a husband, and three small children, ages 3, 6, and 9. My family and I needed an enormous amount of spiritual and physical support to get through those difficult months. By God’s grace, we received it.

This summer, I was hospitalized again to have my right hip removed and replaced after years of deterioration. Once again, my devoted husband has been caring for me along with “the kids” who are now 15, 18, and 21. This time around, the need for physical support was somewhat less than our circumstances warranted twelve years ago, but the spiritual needs were still there. I am now weeks into my recuperation and regaining my strength day by day.

Through my medical difficulties, I have experienced much of what the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 1500-1501) aptly describes concerning the problem of illness:

Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death.

Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes, even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him.

I have spiritually prepared for each of my surgeries in the same way. First, I honestly prayed that I would not have to suffer at all. But, if the lab reports proved that I had to, I prayed that God would give me to graces to suffer well in thought, word, and action…by staying close to Him. Second, after the diagnostic process confirmed my condition, I put dates on the calendar not only for surgery and but for the Sacrament of Penance, and the Sacrament of Anointing. Attending Mass as often as possible prior to surgery was also a goal. Finally, I asked everyone I knew to pray for myself and for my family.

Then, it was time to take Jesus at his word, when he said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." (Mt 11: 28-30 NAB). In my weakness, I had to trust Jesus, the Divine Physician, to provide for my care and to be a shelter for my fears and tears that accompanied my medical woes.

If you have a loved one facing similar circumstances, gently remind them about the presence of God and the power of His Grace. If need be, lead them as tenderly as you can to prayer and the sacraments. Sometimes, in the midst of a healthcare crisis, we can become so exhausted by the medical demands, and the fact that “normal life” still is going on around us, that the spiritual life gets overlooked. (Some people have never heard of what help prayer and sacraments can be to their health!) In my case, I was devoted Catholic, but still a very busy mom—I needed help from others to just get away and find a little peace and quiet in order to pray and process my situation with God.

Don’t be afraid to pray—not only for your loved one—but also with them! Offer to go with them to church. Help them make that call to visit with their local priest. If they resist, don’t pester them, just leave the door open. Lovingly, let them know that you are going to Mass for them, and that you’d be happy to do just that. And smile at the privilege.

Here are a few examples on how others supported me spiritually…

~A few came forward to watch my children for short intervals during the week so I could attend daily Mass alone, without a toddler on my lap, as I would normally do at Sunday Mass with our family. This was wonderful preparation for me. (It also gave me much needed time to privately shed a tear or two away from inquisitive children.) In fact, one day it led to a fortunate meeting with a cancer survivor whom I had never met. She sat in the pew next to me and struck up a conversation after Mass. That moment led to a wonderful friendship that lasted for years beyond that troubled time.

~I remember being surrounded by loving friends who stood silently around me in prayer as my Pastor blest and anointed me with the Sacrament of Anointing. They did this also during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament when it was offered.

~Others invited me to their homes to pray the rosary with them. Unbeknownst to me, someone contacted my loved ones in my old hometown urging them to pray the rosary for me too. As a result, my mailbox was full of notes and messages from out-of-town friends and family who sent me powerful encouragements—telling me what a privilege it was to pray for me. It let them “do something” tangible on my behalf.

~On the day of my surgery, many people went to Mass to offer up their prayers and Eucharist for me on that day. Still others prayed and lit votive candles in church in my name.
~At the hospital, the Catholic chaplain brought communion to my bedside. (I signed up for such visits when I was admitted to the hospital.) And when I came home, we contacted our parish church. An extraordinary minister of the Eucharist visited me when my pastor could not.

~In between multiple surgeries, my husband arranged for a weekend retreat for me.

~Still others called to say, “anything on your mind that needs prayer today?” This was a real gift because, honestly, there were many days when I felt empty, or simply too tired to try to pray. I just needed to be. Sometimes the person calling was brave enough to offer to pray with me over the phone. They took the lead, after politely requesting my permission if they could pray with me. I was so grateful that they took the risk to ask.

In conclusion, I found that the grace of the sacraments, and the loving prayers and actions of others, and the intercession of Mary and the saints, carried me through those times. They brought me face to face with the love of God, transforming my suffering from the inside out. I started to understand the unique blessings that could only be found through suffering.

This is echoed in John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris:

Suffering is, in itself, an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the Cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil, of sin and death...

To the suffering brother or sister Christ discloses and gradually reveals the horizons of the Kingdom of God: the horizons of a world converted to the Creator… free from sin… built on the saving power of love. And slowly but effectively, Christ leads… suffering man…through the very heart of his suffering. For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering, and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his Spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.
(John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris - On the Christian Meaning of Suffering, 1994, paragraph 26.)
Photo credit.
©2008 Patricia W. Gohn

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Writer's Wednesday -- Jean-Pierre de Caussaude

From abandoned souls, God demands complete surrender to his grace.

We must keep ourselves detached from all we feel or do if we are to travel along his path and live only for God and the duties of the present moment. We must stop all imaginings about the future, keep our attention on what is happening now and not bother about anything that has gone before or what may follow. I imagine that God's will always governs you. You will then have some inner prompting which makes you say: "I feel drawn toward this person or this book; I would like to give another person some advice or ask for some myself; I wish to complain about something, to open my heart to someone and in turn receive confidence, to give something away or to perform a certain action." We should at once obey these promptings of grace without relying on our reason or considering the matter at all. We must give ourselves to whatever God wishes and for as long as he wishes and yet never get personally involved in them. In this condition of self-abandonment the will of God moves us because he dwells within us, and it should completely replace everything on which we usually rely for strength and support...

All we can say can be reduced to this: "I feel drawn to write, to read, to question and examine. I obey this feeling, and God, who is responsible for it, thus builds up within me a kind of spiritual store which, in the future, will develop into a core of usefulness for myself and for others." This is what make it essential for us to be simple-hearted, gentle, compliant and sensitive to the slightest breath of these imperceptible promptings.

If we have abandoned ourselves, there is only one rule for us: the duty of the present moment. The soul is as light as a feather, as fluid as water, simple as a child and as lively as a ball in responding to the impulses of grace. We are like molten metal which takes the shape of the mold into which it is poured, and can just as easily assume any for God wishes to give us. We are like the air which stirs continually, or water which fills every vessel no matter what its shape.

We must offer ourselves to God like a clean, smooth canvas and not worry ourselves abut what God may choose to paint on it, for we have perfect trust in him, have abandoned ourselves to him, and are so busy doing our duty that we forget ourselves and all our needs. The more closely we devote ourselves to our little task, which is so simple, so secret and so hidden and apparently so paltry, the more does God enrich and adorn it: "God works wonders for those he loves" (Psalm 4: 3).

It is true that a canvas simply and blindly offered to the brush feels at teach moment only the stroke of the brush... We might ask it: "What do you think is happening to you?" And it might answer: "Don't ask me. All I know is that I must stay immovable in the hands of the [artist], and I must love him and endure all... to produce the [art] he has in mind. He knows how to do it. As for me, I have no idea what he is doing, nor do I know what he will make of me. But what I do know is that his work is the best possible. It is perfect. I welcome [it] as the best thing that could happen to me... I concentrate on the present moment, think only of my duty..."

Yes... leave to God what is his business and carry on peacefully with your work. Be quite sure that whatever happens to your spiritual life or to your activities in the world is always for the best. Let God act, and abandon yourself to him. Let the... brush do [its] work even though the brush covers the canvas with so many colors that, instead of a picture, it seems there is only a daub. Let us work together with the will of God by a steady and simple submission, a complete forgetfulness of self and concentration on our duties.

Let us go straight ahead. Never mind the lack of a map, ignore the lie of the land and take no notice of the places you pass through. Keep going and you will attain all you desire. Everything will be given you if, with love and obedience, you seek God's kingdom and his righteousness. There are many people who are uneasy and ask: "Who will guide us toward that mortification of self which will lead us to perfect happiness?" [...]

Let us stay united with God by love and let us walk blindly along the clear straight path of duty. His angels protect you, and if he wants more from you he will let you know.

-----Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751), a Jesuit priest and mystic. This quote is taken from Abandonment to Divine Providence published post-humorously.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Hip Trip: In search of a good leg to stand on, Part 5

I am on Day 21 of recovery.

I'm not spending much time online these days but I'd thought I'd update you on my progress. I came home from the hospital over two weeks ago.

I have several post-op precautions. They are in place to keep my hip in place:
--50% (or partial) weight-bearing on my right leg. I can stand up, but I must use crutches to take a step.
--no crossing of the legs, or letting the legs align close--as in knees or ankles touching.
--no pigeon toes or toeing-in.
--no breaking less than a 90-degree angle at the hip as I sit or move. So I'm either L-shape or standing or laying down. No bending over to tie a shoelace or crouching down to pick something up.

Things that are annoying, but I'm overcoming: having to sit like a guy... feeling awake and energetic one moment, and feeling the wave of a nap overtaking me the next... using the potty without leaning forward... learning to dress myself using various occupational tools and aids to assist the process (i.e. getting my socks on while not breaking the rules of my precautions!)

Re-entry home from the hospital was most welcomed for me. I had enough of the round-the-clock maintenance. But I'm not sure my teens fully realized that their chore-load would really shift... even though we've discussed this for months... suffice to say after three days home, my hubby and I instituted a chore-list and an on-call rotation for my generously cooperative offspring.

The first week home was pretty quiet. I needed time to sleep! The second week home was more active and I moved between floors better. I'm into week three and now fully weaned off narcotic-type pain meds and grateful for a clearer head and reduced swelling that is letting me fit into more normal attire..

In these past 21 days, I've been surprised that I really am content to be in my own home and quite happy to not be out on the road.

I've also been visited at home by a small parade of nurses and a wonderful physical therapist and occupational therapist. They keep me moving! (And encouraged that I am progressing "normally"--whatever that is!)

I do my PT for almost an hour a day, everyday, and will progress to the "heavy lifting" out-patient PT when the crutches go bye-bye.

Oh yes, I am still on crutches and will be until around mid-August when and if my 6-week check-up determines that I can go off them.

Besides moving as I can, I also pray every day and read every day and do other brain-stretching activities. Trying limit time watching video.

I am enjoying my occasional recreational visits from friends and associates, and watching my children cook dinner!

My biggest milestone to date: going in the car this weekend and attending Mass.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Keep your eyes on the pope

Iraqi leader to meet with Benedict XVI.

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Writer's Wednesday -- Henri Nouwen

Every time we see a major crisis in the history of the church, such as the Great Schism of the eleventh century, the Reformation of the sixteenth century, or the immense secularization of the twentieth century, we always see that a major cause of rupture is the power exercised by those who claim to be followers of the poor and powerless Jesus.

What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks, "Do you love me?" We ask, "Can we sit at your right hand and your left hand in the Kingdom?" (Matthew 20:21). Ever since the snake said, "The day you eat of this tree your eyes will be open and you will be like gods, knowing good from evil: (Genesis 3:5), we have been tempted to replace love with power. Jesus lived this temptation in the most agonizing way from the desert to the cross. The long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led. Those who resisted this temptation to the end and thereby give us hope are the true saints.

-----Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, Crossroads Publishing, 1993.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Hip Trip: In search of a good leg to stand on, Part 4

The best medicines come from the Divine Physician: The Sacraments and the Word of God.

The weekend before my surgery, I received not only the Eucharist, but the Sacrament of Anointing, also known as the Sacrament of the Sick. I was anointed and prayed with by one of the priests of my parish. That, and keeping Psalm 16 on my lips got me through the pre-op preliminaries.

As I kissed my husband goodbye and was wheeled into the operating room, I met my anesthetists, Dr. Meredith and Dr. Christine, who gladly read lines (that I had prepared on a card) from Psalm 16 over me as I "went under".

On Day 2, while still attached to my IV pole, I met my helpful physical therapist, Kate, who coaxed me out of bed long enough to stand upright on my new hip with the aid of a walker. Her good humor kept my spirits up as I traversed across the room to the door and back down to bed. An ancient Chinese proverb came to mind: "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I had taken that first step, and frankly, it was exhausting. I prayed for strength. And the next day it was granted to me.

On Day 3, the morphine pump was disconnected and I started taking IV and oral pain medications. After I bathed, I was sitting in bed, praying and reading the scriptures from the Mass of the day in my Magnificat. Still a little hazy from the pain and medications, I read this line from the lectionary of the responsorial psalm from that day, Psalm 59:23:

To the upright I will show the power of God.

That was exactly the encouragement I needed! I certainly was praying for strength to live in the land of the vertically upright, so, OK Jesus, bring on the physical therapy!
(Now, of course, I realize that I'm taking that verse somewhat out of context--it really relates to one's obedience and righteousness before God, which I am working on! But a woman withdrawing from morphine, and about to take more steps on a new hip needs encouragement from wherever it flows from!)

A few minutes later, I had a visit from the kindly woman who was an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist who offered myself and my roommate prayer and communion.

By the time Kate arrived for my physical therapy appointment, she took one look at me and called for a set of crutches instead of a walker! To the upright I will show the power of God. In minutes, we were crutching out in the hall and up my first flight of stairs!

By the time my husband arrived to visit me that day, I was sitting up in a chair, enjoying my lunch, crutches at my side.

By Day 4, I had made enough progress to be sent home! To the upright I will show the power of God.

Thanks God!

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hip Trip: In search of a good leg to stand on, Part 3

On better living through chemistry...

As I woke up from my hip replacement surgery, my cheerful nurse, Erin, instructed me on the use of the self-administered morphine pump for my pain management. No sooner had I awakened from the anesthesia, that I realized I had a new best friend-- the button on the pain pump that shot the morphine through my I.V.

Pain has a way of wrecking one's good nature. And as I lean somewhat towards pessimism in my temperament, I need all the help I can get! The morphine pump--aka "Morry"--was my main squeeze for the first 48 hours post-op. I watched the clock for the 6-minute intervals in which I could activate Morry and get my pain relief. Every six minutes sounds a little much wouldn't you say? It is and it's not. Depends on your point of view. My point of view was that even my hair hurt me. Morry made that hurt go away quickly.

Naturally I was comforted by the handholding and love of my hubby who was by my side the whole first day, and by my son who came by after work that night. But it was Morry I needed most, and they both knew it. They even giggled about my altered state of consciousness... I'd be chatting it up, take a hit from Morry, then drift temporarily into la-la land mid-sentence... then a few minutes later pop right back mid-sentence where I was--not skipping a beat (in my mind.) My attention span seemed normal to me. Not to them. Oh, well.

My two days with Morry made me understand the power of addition that imprisons its victims. I had a need for Morry that dominated my every waking hour. Just. Make. The. Pain. Stop. Now I realize that I had a medically-induced pain that I actively chose via medical consent forms, and medical consultation. But for people who try to reduce the pain--be it physical/mental/emotional or spiritual--of their lives through substance abuse, well after two days on morphine, I got a taste of the "need" for a substance. It was my on-going desire. I just can't imagine living that way day to day in normal life, but indeed, many suffering souls do. So there was another little opportunity to offer my pain up for others. And in the meantime, be grateful for the miracles of modern medicines that have allowed me to cope with the shock of major surgery.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Hip Trip: In search of a good leg to stand on, Part 2

Psalm 139: 1-6; 13-16. RSV

O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me!

Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up;

thou discernest my thoughts from afar.

Thou searchest out my path and my lying down,

and art acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

Thou dost beset me behind and before, and layest thy hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.

For thou didst form my inward parts,

thou didst knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise thee, for thou art fearful and wonderful.

Wonderful are thy works!

Thou knowest me right well;

my frame was not hidden from thee,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance;

in thy book were written, every one of them,

the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

SOME OF THE MEDICAL FACTS. As I wrote before in Part 1, the path to hip replacement started with pain. My first medical work-up revealed I had congenital bilateral hip dysplasia and early osteoarthritis in each hip. Meaning: the deformity of my hip joints have been with me since the womb, and over time, they have develop secondary issues.

Hip dysplasia is routinely screened for in infants these days. And most likely, I was screened for it as well as an infant. Perhaps my case was so mild back then that it went undetected. And since I never suffered hip pain in childhood or young adulthood, there was never any previous investigation prior to age 42 when my hip pain first began in 2002.

There is some research that says some of the most likely hip dysplasia candidates are first-born, female, and breach. Yours truly was all three.

Looking back, as I have reviewed my medical history for the doctors, I didn't exhibit painful symptoms, but some symptoms were there for as long as I could remember. For example, I always wore leather-soled shoes to go with my Catholic-school uniform. Loafers, Maryjane's, etc. They had leather or rubber heels. I habitually wore out the right heel of my shoes and needed new taps on my right shoe before my left shoe wore out. (It was my right hip that was replaced.)
As a youth, I played many sports, some on the varsity level. I backpacked. I rode horses. I swam in the ocean and trained to be a life guard. I played guitar and stood for hours with the weight of it slung around my neck while I performed. I never once had a hospital visit for illness or pain.

As an adult, I had very sedentary jobs in offices and studios. Not that much on my feet, but I was active on the weekends--gardening, traveling, taking part in Church and community events.
My first encounter with "illness" or feeling poorly for an extended period of time were my pregnancies. (Sorry kids! Don't mean to complain! You were worth it!) My first hospitalization was for my first baby. During my pregnancies, I was always "borderline" high-risk. I had every negative symptom imaginable, usually right under the the threshold of "serious". I also suffered very bad sciatica pain during my third trimesters, resulting in occasional use of a cane toward the ninth month. We always thought it was due my short-waisted carriage or my lower back giving me problems. One orthopedic specialist said, no, it was the hip all along.

In 1991, after a head-on car collision, that resulted in seat-belt related injuries and a whiplash, I landed in physical therapy for a year. My physical therapist constantly had problems helping me adjust my hip and leg alignments. He was the first to tell me: you have one leg longer than another. This, I later learned, is one of the most common complaints of hip dysplasia patients.

In the late 90s, I noticed I was not as limber and lithe as I use to be... I had trouble crossing my legs now and again, and set out on a path of weight loss and exercise. Despite weight loss, the ability to cross my legs continues, and by 2002, the diagnosis was made.

Over the last few years, I have gotten much relief from chiropractic care. And have learned that after hip replacement, I can still be "adjusted."

Between 2002 and 2008, as I wrote in Part 1, I saw a slow decline in movement and range of motion, and I just adjusted my life accordingly. I also sought the medical opinions of three renown orthopedic surgeons, in two different hospitals, and settled on be treated at Mass General Hospital in Boston by Dennis Burke, MD.

Surgery was June 30. I am on Day 12 in my recovery.

SOME OF THE SPIRITUAL FACTS. As a breast cancer survivor, also treated by the talented surgeons at Mass General, I was a bit nervous entering the white coat zone for another go-round of long-time rehab. Of course, this was orthopedics and not oncology. And if I had to pick one, I'd go with an orthopedic problem each time. But the ghosts of old memories can tend to linger, so I was none too quick to submit to another round with the scapel.

The news of needing a new hip did not sit well with me for a long time. For a long time, I denied it. Until I realized I was turning into a cranky person when I was in pain all day long. Even when I was eating Advil like candy. As I became more enfeebled physically, it messed with me mentally. I often felt like a weak person in character. I needed to attack a creeping pessimism that was taking hold of me.

I was also a little perturbed with God in that I needed to suffer another "big" medical thing. As if by having breast cancer already, I had somehow paid my dues in the suffering dept. What a childish lack of faith on my part.

But, in time, I sought God's light on the subject in prayer and in the Scriptures.

Psalm 139, listed above, became my go-to prayer verse in doing war with the negativity I was feeling about this next yet-to-be-removed body part. I came to notice that my hip condition predated my birth and my baptism. The only one it was known to initially was the Lord himself. And He Who had the power to change it must have had a reason why he left my little deformed hip as it was. Maybe it was going to be for His Glory. Maybe it was going to be for my sanctification. Maybe it was going to be the death of me. Maybe it was going to be life-changing in a positive way for me. But this psalm strangely brought me deep, abiding, comfort. The kind that stays with you. I, who had done nothing to cause this problem, could do nothing to cure it. I must rely on Him, and ultimately, others that He would use, to help me when the time came.

My frame was not hidden from God's eyes. My bones were, you might say, ordained by Him in that He allowed me to be created in this unique way. I had to come to trust that his Divine Love allows for imperfection and weakness to manifest His Perfection and Strength. If not now, in eternity.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Writer's Wednesday - Peggy Noonan

As you grow older and life itself becomes more elaborate and complex, you find yourself using simpler words. And this is not only because your brain cells are dying. It is also, for some of us, because you have grown used to life, even comfortable with it, and understand that it comes down to essentials, that the big things count and the rest is commentary, and that way deep down in the heart of one's life's extraordinary complexity is... extraordinary simplicity.

I think that to achieve true adulthood is to understand the simplicity of things. We're locked in a funny arc, most of us, in terms of what we know. When you are goony and fourteen years old you think the most important thing in life is love. Then you mature, become more sober and thoughtful, and realize the most important thing in life is achieving, leaving your mark--making breakthroughs in the field of science, or winning an Academy Award in recognition of a serious body of work, or creating security for yourself and your family through having a good house and sending your kids to good schools.

And then you get old and realize... the most important thing in life is love. Giving love to others and receiving it from God. All the rest, the sober thoughtful things, are good and constructive... but love is the thing. The rest is just more or less what you were doing between fourteen and wisdom.

The language of love is simple, it is simplicity itself. The great novelist Edith Wharton noted this when she talked about romantic love. She said that no matter what the gift of the writer, whether genius or dunce, the language of the love letters is always the same:
"I love you, I love you, my darling, you are so wonderful..."

The language of love is simple because love is big. And big things are best said, are almost always said, in small words.

----Peggy Noonan, On Speaking Well, Harper Collins, 1999.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Hip Trip: In search of a good leg to stand on, Part 1

It started to become noticeable in 2002 with a twinge on the "incline" setting on the treadmill. It continued with pain going down stairs... as if my leg was coming out of the hip socket. Then it affected my going up stairs. It shortened my stride, reducing my brisk walk to a stroll. It kept me out of pantyhose and kept me from crossing my legs in lady-like fashion. It delivered me from high heels. Along the way, I gave up a gym membership, cross country skiing, tennis, camping, and long walks on the beach. At times, it made me irritable and depressed. It drove me to Weight Watchers as my weight keep going up because my life became more sedentary. I kept a cane handy for the more physically challenging events in my life.

After three medical evaluations in six years, and three injuries to other body parts caused by this pain, I booked the appointment for a total hip joint replacement at the ripe old age of 48.

I am diagnosed with bi-lateral congenital hip dysplasia. That means, yes, BOTH of my hips are ill-formed. I was born this way. More on that when I have a more lucid opportunity to write about it, for narcotics do not bring out the best in my writing.

Today is Day 7 post-op. Pain medication remains my most dominant need. And prayers. I'll take them if you've got 'em.

I am grateful to God for bringing me safe thus far... and for good doctors and reputable hospitals, for health insurance and for prescription drugs, and for my loving, coping, family.

You'll have to excuse me, my cell phone is ringing. (It's my alarm for my pain medication cycle.) I need to take that call.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Writer's Wednesday -- Fr. James Martin, SJ

On discerning a non-religious vocation...

One’s primary call comes from one’s deepest desires, which are God’s desires planted within us. Then one “tests them out,” to see how things work out. For example, you may have a great desire to be a lawyer and then find out that practicing law is not what you really desire. So “confirmation” of your choice is also important. In general, though, I would say pay attention to what you find attractive, appealing and exciting.

One of my favorite meditations for this is the one by Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the former superior general of the Jesuits (also included in my book!) Here’s his meditation, called “Falling in Love.” It can be applied not only to individuals, or religious communities, but also to anyone’s vocation in life.

Father Arrupe wrote: “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

--this quote taken from A Nun's Life, which hosted an interview with Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of My Life with the Saints, (Loyola Books, 2008).

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