Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In My Father's House, a Post by Nancy L. Agneberg

The fact that it snowed several inches last night and the driveway had to be plowed, and it is 30 degrees on April 23 does not take precedence for me over the fact that I am In My Father's House. Last night I slept in my old room In My Father's House, for at the moment it is important for someone to spend the night in the house with him. My sister has been here the last few nights, but yesterday she passed the baton to me. I said, "The B Squad is here."
     Our father turns 90 in August, and for the most part it has been smooth sailing for him, for us. He has lived alone quite independently since Mom died 10 years ago and has done well. He has even continued some consulting work with a work trip out East planned this spring. That won't be happening. Degenerative arthritis is restricting his movement and causing great pain, and the possibility of a move from the family home to independent/assisted living is real. Adaptations are in progress. We have entered a new stage. 
     Perhaps you are familiar with the story in the Christian Testament (Luke 2: 41-52) about the boy Jesus being in the temple with his parents. They are ready to leave, and he is no where to be found. When they are reunited he says, "'Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?' And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man." These are the words that have been with me the last few days. What does it mean right now to be In My Father's House? And can I, too,  grow in wisdom?
     I look around and see a shrine to my mother in almost every room--pictures of her everywhere, tables crowded with many of her treasures, the last pieces of her clothing, her most dressy outfits, still hanging in my bedroom closet, dried flower arrangements long past their prime, and it feels cluttered and dark and stagnant to me. I see piles of photograph albums piled next to one of his chairs and his devotional materials on a bench next to another chair. I see the braided rug, an accident waiting to happen, he has refused to have removed. I see a 50 year old house--can it possibly be that long since our family moved there?--in need of drastic updating and remodeling and know at some point, perhaps sooner rather than later, this will no longer be My Father's House.  However, for now I am In My Father's House. 
     One knows, of course, that the days of passing the baton will come, that one's role In My Father's House will change, that a new wisdom, a new stature with new behaviors and responsibilities will be required, but why is it necessary now? I am not ready, I protest. Well, too bad. The time is now. 
     We talk about the losses he is experiencing, the blows to his pride, the need to face change and ways we can do that with grace, and we are amazed at how he seems to be handling these changes, but what looms over all the practical arrangements is the awareness of what is inevitable. Our father will die. And so will we  all.  I am not ready, I protest. Well, too bad, I don't get to choose the time, but what I do get to do is be faithful to my spiritual practices, to live with an open heart, to remind myself to relax and release, and to express my love every day I am In My Father's House.   

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Running Responses, a Post by Nancy L. Agneberg

I was driving back to Madison from St Paul when I heard the news about the bombing at the Boston Marathon. I had been listening to classical music for most of the drive, but decided to catch the news when I was only a half hour or so away from home. The news was terrifying. I could feel my throat tighten and tears form. I kept shaking my head and whispered "no," over and over again as I listened intently to the report of NPR, wanting to know the facts as they were known at that time. Two dead. No three dead. Over a hundred injured. 
     Later, I thought about people in my life who might be touched directly by this tragedy. I have a dear friend who lives close to Boston. Was there anyone in her family/friend circle who was there, even running in the event? I thought of another good friend whose daughter is a runner and lives in New York. Was she a participant? Others came to mind as well. I have made connections, and all is well. Relief. At the same time I thought about our daughter, who has participated in the Twin Cities Marathon, and our son, who is scheduled to participate in a relay marathon in Cleveland soon. "Don't," I could hear myself think, as if I have anything to say about the activities of my adult children. But more importantly, I know that response was not helpful or even appropriate. 
     Our responses to such extraordinary events have much to  reveal about our beliefs and feelings. 
     When 9/11 occurred my first reaction was to learn what I could about what had happened. Like everyone else, I was glued to the television. Then I wanted to gather everyone I love around me, at least metaphorically. I knew no one from my family was in New York City at the time, but there was such a strong need to connect, to hear their voice, to know they were safe. After that I could move into response mode, which in my case was to help organize a prayer service at our church. Interestingly, my parents were visiting us in Ohio at the time, and they quickly detached from the coverage of the horrific events. My mother, who in our family was known as the Queen of Happy Talk, was more than ready to change the subject. Furthermore, they had no concerns about driving the next day to visit a friend in upstate New York. Life goes on, they seemed to say.  
     Yes, it does, but...
     Where I struggle sometimes is how to be empathic and show my empathy and DO something, but at the same time not become paralyzed or unrealistic about the ways of the world. Or too attached to the media stories and reports. Terrible things happen. Terrible, terrible things, but it is still possible to move forward with love and hope. In this case I can't deliver chicken soup to a grieving family, but I can quiet my mind and devote meditation time to bringing a bit of calm into the world. I can lift my heart in prayer for all those in need of hope or love or courage or forgiveness. I can pray for peace and attempt to live in a peaceful, yet courageous way. I can attempt to learn what that means and what that calls me to do. 
      Life is a constant opportunity to uncover and clarify what we believe, what we love, and what we fear. I wonder what an event like this most recent tragedy reinforces in you. Or weakens? Do you marvel at the heroes of these days and all their unselfish responses or do you shudder at the evil? What, if anything, does this event change for you or in you? Do you promise to hold life more closely or do you let go in some way of your false control of your life? What do your responses reveal about who you are? 

I offer a prayer by Marianne Williamson in her book Illuminata, A Return to Prayer. Feel free to adapt this to the feelings of your own heart. This seems a good place to start. 
Dear God,
Please remove from my mind the tendency to judge.
Please remove from my mind the tendency to hate.
Please remove from my mind the tendency to blame.
Please reveal to me, Lord,a way to stand in my power, through love instead of fear, and through peace instead of violence.
May I hear not the voice for anger, but only the voice for love.
And teach me, dear Lord, how not to hate those who hate me.
Transform all darkness into light dear God,
And use my mind as an instrument of Your harmlessness.
I surrender to You my thoughts of violence.
Take these thought, Lord, and wash them clean.
Thank you very much.



Friday, April 12, 2013

It's Easier Not To, a Post by Nancy L. Agneberg

Earlier this week I had second thoughts about going to the Booktalk session I attend, even though we would be discussing one of my all-time favorite books, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The morning was gloomy with heavy rains and an unspringlike temperature, and the temptation to stay home and read and write was strong. Attendance is not taken. No one in particular in the large group of 50 or so people would be waiting for me--and there would aways be next week. Wouldn't there? 
     However, I remembered a conversation I had recently with a good friend. She and her husband had just returned from a month-long winter vacation in warmer weather. They had an opportunity to attend an event they both knew they would enjoy, but it was not in familiar territory and would take an effort to make it happen. They almost didn't go, for as she said, "It's easier not to," but they did go, and they had a great time and loved talking about the experience. 
     I went to the book discussion and, of course, had a great time, learned a lot and enjoyed the facilitator's insights and what everyone else added to the conversation. I am so glad I went, but "it would have been easier not to go." 
     I love my solitude and am generally content with the company of my books and my writing projects. I love the quiet of my days, the long stretches for solitary activities. I am rarely bored and in fact, there are not enough hours in the day for all the ways I want to use the time. I know how easy it is for me to just stay put, how often I build a fence around myself, and how much easier it seems to stay inside the fence. At the same time I know how I benefit and grow from being in the flow of the world with its unexpected interactions, the gifts of others' experiences and knowledge and perspectives, the potential heart connections, and the opportunities to stretch and grow. 
     For some the choices beyond the fence may be the easier choice, and it is much harder to choose quiet, alone time. The struggle is the same, however -- when to push beyond one's comfort zone and when one's first inclination, whatever it may be, is the wiser choice for one's spiritual growth. 
     It seems to me that the small, daily decisions are just as important as the big ones, for they are ongoing reminders of our values. The decisions we make uncover the contradictions within ourselves and expose how complicated we are and provide opportunities to wrestle with our fears and perceived limitations.  
     How do you know at any given moment what to choose? 
     Nancy Bieber in her book Decision Making and Spiritual Discernment, The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way talks about "open listening" and "expectant listening" as ways to listen with the intention of receiving whatever comes. She says, "The Spirit nudges us toward being more authentic, growing more into our true self." 
     For me, clarity and choosing what is life-giving is more possible (Notice I say "more possible," not "always possible.") when I adhere to a regular practice of meditation. Meditation helps me sort through the conflicting voices and observe when the thoughts are a form of defense and when a thought prevents me from being the person I was created to be. The form of meditation may change--centering prayer or just sitting quietly with my eyes closed and focusing on my breathing. Meditation helps me listen to my authentic voice. 
     Meditation helps me recognize when I need to move beyond the fence.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The View From Here, a Post by Nancy L. Agneberg

I know it is time to leave my office and head upstairs to the kitchen and begin dinner preparations, but I keep thinking of one more thing to do at my desk. It's not that I don't want to fix dinner. (I will fix a chicken dish with couscous and green beans.) I am just not ready to end this day of exploration. 
     A good chunk of the day has been spent transcribing life review interviews of a hospice patient who died recently. After transcribing them, I will use the interview material to write a narrative of her life. She was someone who, I suspect, would describe herself as an ordinary person, whatever that means. Her resume, if she had one, would not include extraordinary achievements or stellar accomplishments, but as I have listened to her respond to questions from the interviewer, I have smiled at some of her stories and appreciated the glimpses I have been allowed to see into her life. I have thought to myself, "This was a person worth knowing." 
     It is an honor now to receive her life and attempt to arrange her memories and stories into a meaningful format for those who knew and loved her. I assume they will be happy to have this and grateful that she agreed to these interviews, but at the same time I wonder about all that is missing. The depth and width of this woman. What does she really want her loved ones to remember about her?
     I am exploring the idea of forming a group for women who are approaching retirement or are recently retired; a group that will explore issues of this stage of our life, the meaning and the challenges, and the opportunities. (If you live in the Madison, WI, area and are interested, let me know.) In a way this group could be a safe place for doing one's own life review--letting go of who we were, finding out who we really are, and connecting with spirit. In the process of researching this idea I came across some questions posed by the author Joan Borysenko, who has studied and written extensively about women's spirituality. The following statements seem like a good place to begin a life review, launching us into this new stage of life.
*I realize life is both precious and short. When the angel death comes to my door, I will be ready to go because...
*The thing I will miss most when life is over is...
*I have finished with...(Good things and difficulties both)
*I still yearn to...
*In the years to come, I will be grateful for... 
     As I think about these statements and how I might complete them, I imagine a group of women, all of a certain age, sitting comfortably together in a circle, sipping wine, perhaps, and sharing in confidence our stories, the hard learned lessons of our lives, the wisdom we have acquired and our hopes, fears, and questions for the future. None of us have been here before --the view is a new one for all of us. 
    I keep talking and writing about this new stage of my life, and I wonder what "new stage" really means, especially as my 65th birthday is only days away. Isn't this a time of winding down? Of letting go? A time when physical issues, major and minor, are more likely in myself and my loved ones? What exactly is the purpose of this time? 
     Joan Chittister, a wise, wise woman, writes,
     The real truth, I have come to think, is that there is no such thing as having only one life to live. The fact is that every life is simply a series of lives, each one of them with its own task, its own flavor, its own brand of errors, its own type of sins, its own glories, its own kind of deep, dank despair, its own plethora of possibilities, all designed to lead us to the same end--happiness and a sense of fulfillment.
     Life is a mosaic made up of multiple pieces, each of them full in itself, each of them a stepping-stone on the way to the rest of it.
                    The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully, p.xii
     Yesterday was warm enough to open the front door with only the storm door between the inside and the outside, a view I have not had all these winter months. Much was familiar, but at the same time the view felt new to me. Chittister calls these years the "summit-time of life," and also, the "capstone years," and those seem like appropriate terms, terms worth investigating, but standing on the threshold between the seasons, this stage of life feels like A Deeper, Wider View. 
     I invite you to share the view from where you are.