Highest Possibility

I can love you only when I meet you where you are, as you are, and treat you there as if you were where you ought to be. I see you where are, striving and struggling, and in the light of the highest possibility of personality, I deal with you there.

Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge

I came across this quote a while ago and copied it out.

I wrote it again this morning in my journal, thinking about the idea of meeting someone where they are but treating them as if they were where they ought to be.

So, so hard.

In 1949, Howard Thurman wrote a book called Jesus and the Disinherited. It is said that Martin Luther King, Jr. carried two books with him all the time — The Bible and Jesus and the Disinherited.

Thurman was an African-American theologian-mystic-teacher-author. He was raised by his grandmother who had been a slave.

Let that sink in.

We are not far removed from slavery.

Does that change how you read the words of that quote?

How about knowing that he was mistaken for the custodian while he was the dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University? Does that change how you read his words?


It’s been a crap day for me. People close to me have behaved in awful ways. When I wrote those words in my journal this morning, I had no idea how much I would need them this evening.

But if I can just remind myself that those people who are behaving awfully are striving and struggling. I need to seem them in the light of the highest possibility of personality. I need to deal with them there.

Bedside Prayer for an Aging Parent

The following prayer was written nearly six years ago when my mother was hospitalized. She was eventually discharged, but then died later that year.

I share it today because I know so many people are now caring for their own elderly family members. I want to encourage those of you who are in that position to use those quiet bedside moments to talk to God. Offer your thoughts, your observations, your concerns and your memories to Him — maybe in gratitude or maybe as a way of reconciling. The single most important thing that got me through those days was prayer.


O Great Physician —

You love the hoary head,
including my mother’s silver waves,
now matted from too much time on the pillow.

As I sit beside my mother’s bed
and study her lined face,
I watch each breath pass through her lips
with an effort she did not used to exert.
Occasionally, her weary eyes open,
but, Lord,
she doesn’t even know me!

Heavenly Father, cradle her.
She worked hard in this life,
raising five children,
supporting her husband,
preparing meal after meal
for family, friends, and strangers,
using her nursing skills
to give hope to others,
using her tragedies
to encourage those
who encounter the same.

Let her know the rest
that only You can give.

While I sit here
don’t mind me.
I’ll just hold her hand
and weep a little.
I’m content to wipe her face,
give her sips of water,
and wait.

Amen.

A Gentle Answer

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)

I’ve been fighting the Snark Monster in my heart the past few days.

Every response that I begin to form in my mind to an on-line discussion goes snarky after the first few words. I remind myself, “A gentle answer turns away anger,” and try again — always with the same outcome.

Things that bother me — glibness and condescension. For those of you who want to get under my skin, try those two together.

Be glib; be shallow; don’t put any deeper thought into your comment; spit back answers that I’ve probably heard in 37 sermons. Yep — that will irk me.

Pair that with a little condescension by assuming that I don’t know anything and I’m sunk. A condescending tone and, if we’re talking in person, an accompanying smirk will bug the bejeebers out of me.

Things I don’t know anything about and therefore have zero-risk of condescension — automobile engines and living in the heart of a megalopolis. Feel free to explain as much as you want on those topics, but be forewarned — my eyes will glaze over when you talk about engines.

And now I’m bordering on snarky. Sorry. Maybe it doesn’t sound blatantly snarky, but if you could see my heart… ew.

One of the things I love about the way Jesus taught was that he used stories and images to make his point. It’s hard to be condescending in a story. A good story pulls the listener in and suddenly you’re walking on that road to from Jerusalem to Jericho, you’re attacked by robbers, you see people pass you by instead of stopping to help.

Laurel asked me last night why I say half-past or quarter-to when I’m telling the time. “I think it’s because I see that clock face divided into quarters and have a mental image,” I said, realizing that she mostly sees time in a digital format, so it didn’t have as much meaning. Mental images appeal to me.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about the Spirit, he used imagery of the wind. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) When I think about that verse, I hear the wind, I feel the wind, I see things moving with the wind — but I don’t where the wind begins or where it ends — and I realize that I’ve learned something about the Spirit by realizing how little I know about it.

No glib condescension or snarkiness there — just an opening of my heart and mind.

I think my gentle answer needs to be a story. A good story will at least lull the Snark Monster to sleep.

“This’ll teach you to be snarky!”

Dreadful Beauty

There’s more beauty in the truth, even if it’s a dreadful beauty.

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

I talked to my counselor about East of Eden, telling her how I am being so disciplined about not reading ahead. Seriously, I’m not even flipping a few pages ahead to see how small situations turn out. I’m reading one page at a time.

“Why did you used to read ahead?” she asked.

“The anxiety of not knowing was killing me,” I told her.

“Ah,” she said knowingly. “You struggle with regulating your emotions when you’re reading a book.”

“Only good books,” I told her.

Truthfully, if I don’t love or hate the characters, I don’t need to read ahead. It’s when I’m wrapped up in them that I feel this burning need-to-know.

My brother called me out on it. “That’s cheating,” he said, but then he went on, “Once I was reading a Stephen King book and I hated one of the characters so much that I didn’t think I could finish it, so I put the book down. About six months later, I picked it back up and finished.”

That’s basically what my counselor said, too. “When you feel those emotions rising,” she said, “put the book down and let your feelings settle.”

I’ve made it to page 485 of East of Eden using that technique. It’s slow going, but I’m being an honest reader.

And I love the book.

For so long, I have pushed my feelings aside. They’re like the handblown glass animals I used to keep on a shelf in my room when I was a kid. Occasionally, I would take them off the shelf — usually to dust — and handle them oh-so-carefully. Then I would gently place them back in the same spot they had been standing.

My feelings were too fragile to explore. What if they broke? What if I broke?

I remember one of my high school swimmers holding hours-old baby Laurel. “What if I break her?” she asked me.

“You won’t break her,” I said, knowing that holding my tiny baby wouldn’t harm either of them.

But then again, neither will sitting with strong emotions.

“It’s okay to cry,” my counselor told me early on as I blinked back tears when talking about my father.

“It’s okay to feel angry,” she said, when I told her about a terrible situation I had been in.

I just read the part in East of Eden where Lee tells his backstory. I closed the book and stared at it. It may be a day or two before I reopen it. The strong emotion button has been pushed.

The thing is Lee had known Adam Trask many years before he told him his story, and I had known the two of them for nearly 500 pages of reading. A trust had developed. It didn’t make the story easier. It did make it more beautiful — a dreadful beauty.

And I think that’s partly what I’m afraid of when reading intense books — the dreadfulness. I need to remember there’s a beauty there, too.

Truthfully, we are surrounded by dreadful beauty. Most of the time, we don’t even notice. Our eyes are unseeing and our hearts are unfeeling. Not out of callousness, but out of self-protected-ness, because it hurts to see and feel.

It hurts and yet it is beautiful.

East of Eden is teaching me.

The Beaches of Normandy — truly a dreadful beauty

Flawed

Arrogance is the opposite of humility. It compels us to treat our limitations not as unique openings through which God can reveal his goodness but as diseases to be cured.

Susan Annette Muto

O Lord
You made me flawed

I was about to say that You goofed
But You don’t blunder.

In Your blessed tenderness
You said,
“I’m going to make this one awkward.
When she speaks, her words will sound
Inadequate,
Faltering,
Foolish.
On top of that,
she is going to make
A LOT of
mistakes.”

Thank you.

Mental Acuity

I refuse to say that horrible man’s name.

Donald Pollock

When I brought my father to the hospital –whether for a scheduled visit to his primary care physician or an unscheduled one to the emergency room, the doctor would usually ask a few mental orientation questions. Do you know where you are? Do you know what day or month or year it is? Do you know who our president is?

From 2017 on, my father gave the same response to that last question — “I refuse to say that horrible man’s name.” It made me laugh every time.

I always wondered what box they checked when he said that. In their opinion, did he know, or did he not know?

The day he couldn’t draw a clock face (another cognitive screening test) was a sad one.

But the day(s) he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) identify our president still make me smile.

Why am I telling you this story today? I don’t know. In thinking about my self-imposed assignment to write a post every day, my thoughts wandered down this rabbit trail.

In the midst of all that’s going on in our country, I still find humor in one old man’s refusal to even speak the name of our 45th president.

a handsome officer

Honest Prayer

We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us.

C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm



Lord, tonight I’m tired and weak —
Accept these unpolished words I speak.
I pray for peace but I sing of woe
You watched it all.
I know You know
The anger,
Hurt,
Frustration,
Betrayal.
The blindness,
Obtuseness,
Unholy portrayal
Of what it means to love You, Lord.
We fumble and fume in our discord —
As some say, “Hey, we’re doing this for You!”
But I say they’re liars because it’s not true.
For You are Truth and You are Light
Please, Lord, guide us through this night.

A Time of Small Letters

The time is come
when the publication of poems
is to be like that
of pale and very light airborne seeds
flowing in the current of forest air
through the blue shadows,
and falling on the grass
where God decrees.
I am convinced
that we are now already
in the time
where the printed word is not read,
but the paper passed from hand to hand
is read eagerly.
A time of small letters,
hesitant,
but serious and personal,
and outside of the meaningless dimension
of the huge,
the monstrous
and the cruel.

Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction, “To a Cuban poet”
Every seed is a bit of Optimism.

Last spring I painted this on a sheet of plywood to hang on the barn.

However, when I carried it out to the barn and stood by the road to look at it, the seeds in the breeze were barely visible and the words were a little hard to read.

So I lugged it back to the house, took this one poor photograph of it, and painted over the whole thing — a single daisy and the word HOPE.

I needed hope so much in that season. I missed my father awfully. I was overwhelmed with his estate. I felt like I was failing at everything.

This morning I was feeling that aching need for hope again — but for entirely different reasons.

It is, indeed, a time for small letters — hand-written and from the heart.

For slowing down and noticing.

For seeing, really seeing, what is true and good.

I need some seeds to plant in the ground.

And I need to wait in hope.

Questions

And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

John 9:2

O Lord,
I know it’s not a question of
Who sinned, or
Who made the first
False accusation

Do You really care
Who had the first violent protest, or
The most violent protest?

Do we need You
To point a damning finger
At one group
Or the other?

The question isn’t
“Who sinned?”

The question is
“Who is blind?”

The answer is
I am

Priorities

The first duty of love is to listen.

Paul Tillich
Gradačac castle

(Warning: a late-ish post after a long day. My sole New Year’s resolution was to write every day, and, doggone it, I’m not giving up in the first ten days of January!)

My son came downstairs this morning while I was working on Duolingo. I’ve been using the app to learn Scottish Gaelic. “I find that really inspirational, Mom, that you work so diligently on that,” he said.

Mind you, Laurel, found it less inspirational when she was talking to me yesterday and I opened Duolingo. She was talking away and I interrupted with something profound like, “OH MY GOODNESS! LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!” They had just added a whole bunch more levels of Gaelic and I thought I was finishing the only remaining lesson available to me.

“See? You never listen to me,” Laurel said.

I repeated back to her verbatim whatever it was she had just said to me — but honestly, I was pretty excited that I now could continue learning Gaelic. Unfortunately today, I have no idea what it was she said to me.

I was planning to write a post about learning new languages and tell a sweet little story of an experience I had while in Gradačac, Bosnia. I said something in Croatian (which is close cousin to Bosnian) to a girl in a souvenir shop. She whispered something to her friend and then answered me in English. The friend told me that was the first time she has been brave enough to speak English to an American.

But the Laurel interaction niggles at me.

On the one hand, I connected with a teenager in Bosnia several years ago and remember it, despite the fact that that was the extent of our relationship. On the other hand, I was not giving my own daughter full attention yesterday morning and she felt the sting of it. Which of these people is more important to me?

Laurel. Hands-down, without-a-doubt Laurel.

Yet a connection over a cultural divide is also important. My poor Croatian betrayed my non-fluency and gave a girl a little boldness. I’m glad I was brave enough to risk sounding foolish.

So, if, as Paul Tillich says, the first duty of love is to listen, I need to do better. I need to close my computer, put down my device, and pay attention to the people who are most important to me and right in the room with me.

But somewhere down the line in duties of love, there has to be something about remembering those little moments, those little interactions, when you connect with someone else, maybe even someone from a totally different culture, and you’re both the better for it.