Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Pain Now is Part of the Happiness Then

C.S. Lewis said in his book about his life with his wife who died of cancer, that "the pain now is part of the happiness then." The play caused me to cry off all my make up when I saw it as a young woman on the stage of a theater in London. I knew that it was true - all happiness is tinged with the sure knowledge that when we choose to love someone, we know that we will lose them at some point and we will be in pain.

My sister-in-law, Karen Marie McCarthy Quinn, went from us, from this life, a year ago, September 19, 2010. She was 55 years old. It was not a choice to love her, you just did.

Karen was charming, intelligent, and funny and she contributed richly to all of our lives. She talked about putting her hand into Jesus' hand before she died, just like her mom had told her to, and she lived the last, most difficult portion of her life with grace. Hers was a life to celebrate having been a part of. To have loved her and to have been loved by her was a sweet thing.

The fact that she was so lovely is the very thing that makes this reality so hard. Particularly this month containing both her birthday and the day she died.

And it's stunning to think it's been a year - because it's all so fresh.

We got a call saying that she was gone and headed over to their apartment to spend some time with her before they moved her body to the funeral home. We stood and prayed over her, thanking God for the time we had with her and feeling pretty stunned. It was surreal to have Karen there, but not there. The hospice folks came in and did their jobs, quietly bringing a level of order into the midst of our sadness.

My brother-in-law's family drove down later that night, which made us not so uncomfortable to leave him alone. We went together for dinner to our youngest brother's home and ate. Trying to figure out conversation and still stumbling. We were exhausted and knew that the days ahead wouldn't get better.

At the end of bible study Monday, when we were talking about our prayer needs, the only thing I could think of was to ask for grace over the trip we'll make to Wisconsin in a few weeks to bury Karen's ashes. It will be another hard day.

We'll look back on this from the end of time with understanding, from a place of unimaginable wonder, and most importantly, we'll look back at it together with Karen. Blessedly do not mourn as those without hope. But we do mourn.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trying Something New, Again

A couple of weeks ago, former President Clinton was on CNN talking about his diet - a vegan, low fat one, designed by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr.. Dr. Esselstyn's bottom line is that there are areas of the world where there is little to no heart disease or cancer, which he attributes to diet, saying that heart disease is a food based illness. And as President Clinton has had heart problems that, despite diet and exercise, were not getting better, he looked to this diet that seemed to be the best chance for those in a position of last resort. He's lost 24 pounds and he's doing much better now.

So I got the book out of the library. I've been reading cookbooks for almost all my life, I go through a couple each month (thanks be to the library), and what they all say - in one form or another, is that we need to treat food with respect. Dr. Esselstyn would say we can treat it as life or as a pathway to an early death.

Given a history of heart related health issues in my family, I decided to give this diet a try - with some tweaks. His idea is no fat, no avocados or nuts if you have any heart disease. Forget the EVOO, butter, and cream that I love. Dairy products are out, almond milk is in.

Like so many things in life, diet is an act of will. You have to tell yourself to look at things differently:

Mayonnaise = glue
Milk = baby cow food, not grown up people food
Red meat = something that will make me too full
Turkey = didn't like it anyway, not an issue
Cheese = not doing so well with that one yet, working on it

The diet says no fish, but I'm not listening to that part, as sushi is on my diet. Period.

I am focusing on what I can eat. Whole grain breads, pastas, all the veggies I want. Fruit - three helpings a day - easy peasy.

What really helps is to say that it's not that I am never going to eat these things again. Sometimes, I will have a steak. If I'm eating at someone's home, I'll eat what they serve and be thankful, because this isn't an allergy thing.

So far, so good. I'm down about eight pounds and feel much better. I still have a long way to go, as the words "well rounded" don't just describe my reading list.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Living Faithfully A Hidden Life

When I was a child, I wanted to be the Queen of England. I lived there and knew that she was important and in charge. When we returned to the States, my goal changed to being President of the United States, because he was the important person in charge.

It was my goal to be in charge. Not because I wanted a bunch of people serving my every whim (although if I'd thought about it much, I'd have liked that part), but rather because I figured no one could make someone in charge eat lima beans or meat with fat on it And there'd definitely be no bed time for me. I could read for as long as I wanted.

I was too little to know that I'd have to have married Prince Charles to achieve the former, or run for office to achieve the latter. And now that I'm an adult, neither is an appealing thought. Further, I can cut the fat off of any meat I eat and not a single lima bean has passed my lips since I left home 26 years ago.

The fact that my childhood dreams didn't come true is fine, partially because becoming a Christian vastly changed my perspective. I was reading Christianity Today magazine, catching upon back issues today, and in one of the articles there was a quote from Middlemarch, where George Eliot reminds us of what we owe "to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

Years ago, that would have bothered me, but now it doesn't. Now it seems to me to be an admirable goal.

As I waved good-bye a couple of months ago to a lovely woman who's graced my life, and the lives of those in our parish over the last few years, I was struck by how God works through these hidden lives. He sent her to us, enriched our lives, and then moved her along west to grace the lives of folks unmet in Washington.

She brought depth and joy to our bible study on Monday morning. She ran a beautiful VBS for our kids, some of whom didn't know Christ and were meeting Him for the first time. She made a difference, seeding and watering. And she'll continue that work elsewhere and will fade from the memories of some of our littlest ones here, just as the many women who seeded and watered before all of us have faded from the memories of the little ones they've served and then moved on from.

And what matters is not whether anyone knows or doesn't what we've done in our lives, because we'll be forgotten by men (unless, God forbid, we do something truly awful). But we'll have had the joy of being part of the lives of the saints of God. Whether someone visits our graves or not.

And so my adult dream, I suppose, is to live a faithful, hidden life. I want to serve and be served by those I'm with here and now; living, working, and worshiping together.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tell Me The Stories Of Jesus

"Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard."

Yesterday at All Souls, we began a series on Jesus in Adult Education, which promises to be great. The beginning of the series,led by Dr. Alan Jacobs, focused on how God is exactly like Jesus.

At one point, Dr. Jacobs asked people to tell what their favorite thing that Jesus said or did was...that wasn't exactly how he phrased the question, but that was the gist.

I love it when people answer questions like that. It gives me a deeper appreciation for Jesus when people say what they love about Him. As people told the stories they love about Jesus, the woman by the well, for example, I sat and thought - Oh yes! I love that one best - right up until the next person spoke and I thought - Oh yes!

It's something we should do more often.

I thought about it a lot after leaving church, and realized that my current favorite reflects the quality of Jesus that I feel is most needed in my life at the moment.

Over the past few months, one of my dearest friends has had some trouble, and there have been times that I have wanted to rush in and put all 5'3" of me physically between her and the trouble. She would do the same for me, which would be better for me, as she's taller. We have years of bearing each other's burdens and sharing each other's joys, and the old maxim applies - "do what you want to me, but don't even think about touching my friend...."

Thus it is the story of Jesus and Saul, meeting on the road to Damascus, that resonates so strongly right now. The voice of Jesus saying "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And Saul's confusion - "who are you, Lord?" And the response - "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."

What is appealing is the ferocious love of Jesus for those who follow Him. Saul wasn't in Jerusalem when Jesus was ministering and never met Him while He was alive on Earth. On the face of it, he wasn't touching Jesus. He was, however, terrorizing those who followed Jesus, to which Jesus took exception. So He smacked him down, and then picked him up, and life was never the same for Saul.

Like with most of what I know about Jesus, it's both comforting and discomfiting, because this ferocious love is directed toward me and others. Therein lies the discomfiting bit: I have to look at my own behavior toward those who also love Jesus.

I need Him to bind my tongue (or keyboard) when need be, because persecution takes many forms, and I don't want to be one who persecutes followers of Jesus. Additionally, if I want to be like Jesus, and if I am to have that ferocious love for others, it will spring from a tender love that will push me out of my comfort zone, not just for those I like, but for those Jesus loves. Heaven only knows where that will lead, but I'm sure that "Ann's Comfort Zone" won't be on the signage.

But it's still my favorite story, because I love the demonstration of His protection and love.

Continuing the words of the inimitable Fanny Crosby on telling the stories of Jesus:

"Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see.
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me."