A Living Death

A Living Death

When I was a child, I spent most of my time waiting to grow up and be independent. I wished my childhood away. Blessed with the opportunity to attend college away from home, I could not believe or fully comprehend my good fortune. Then something unexpected happened during my first visit home from college. I experienced a sense of detachment from the rest of my family. I did not belong there in the same way I did or like my siblings who were still living there. They saw me differently and perhaps I acted differently. I was independent. It was what I had always wanted but when it happened I was sad. In that moment I recognized the end of something big and my heart was struck by the loss of it. Life flooded me with classes, studying, new friends, a boyfriend and the excitement of college life. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Engaged before graduation, I was neck deep in wedding planning, job hunting and moving to a new city before I ever left college. I loved school but it was time for my college days to be done. I was running in the direction of adulthood and married life. Wedding PhotoThe life I knew in school was over and the person I was as a student was gone. There was deep sadness with that realization but the busyness of preparing for my new life did not allow me to think about it but for a moment. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

As the wedding approached, I practiced signing my new name. I struggled with taking my fiancé’s last name. It was not that I was terribly attached to the name I was given at birth but I did not want to erase it either. It was culturally what I was expected to do. Every other married woman I knew changed her name. I understood that I would be someone new after the wedding even without a name change. People I met as a married person would never know me as an individual. I would from that time forward be defined by another person, by another family, without much evidence of who I was previously. I practiced and practiced writing my new name until it began to look familiar. When I was handed the marriage certificate I signed it with a trembling hand. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

A few years later, pregnant with my first child and on bed rest with preterm labor, any evidence of my youth was shattered. There was a transforming pressure in the realization that I was completely responsible for another human being. Every decision I made would directly support or threaten my unborn child. I prayed for us both to survive. I prayed for the pain to subside. I prayed for the pregnancy to come to a swift and positive end. Every moment of every day for more than 6 weeks I spent trying to stay pregnant, manage pain and cope with the life threatening implications of a situation I could not control. On February 21, 1990 at 2:32AM my daughter burst into the world a month early, yellow and limp. My body was torn apart. Immediately after birth, a nurse rushed our newborn to the ICU.   My Megan as a newborn 022492husband worried about leaving me alone but sprinted behind the racing nurse after I made him promise to not allow our daughter out of his sight. Several days later, a tiny child was placed in my weakened arms and I was wheeled to the door of the hospital. There was no time to rest or heal. There was a child who needed me, depended on me for survival. I needed to devote all my strength and energy to being a mother. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Standing in the parking lot of a popular daycare center, I wrapped my colic baby in my arms attempting to picture myself entrusting her to the caregivers on the other side of the glass door in front of me. The thought of it caused me physical pain. I reminded myself that every mother I knew went back to work a few weeks after giving birth. I spent time and money earning a degree so I could have a career. It was my dream. Many people fought and sacrificed for me to have the opportunity to go to school. How could I let them down? How could I let myself down? In that parking lot clinging tightly to my child I made a choice that changed everything. I decided that I wanted more than anything in the world to take care of my child full time. I did not accept the title “stay-at-home mom” easily but there was nothing in this world I desired more definitively. The person I thought myself to be was redefined in that moment. The trajectory of my life shifted in a direction I never before considered. I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Life continued at fever pitch bringing with it love, struggle, fun, loss, self-discovery, self-doubt, health issues, another challenging pregnancy and a second child. I often teased about earning an honorary medical degree with the hours I spent in doctor’s offices, addressing all of our health challenges. While other mom’s complained of scattered toys or the toilet paper roll unfurled around the house, my heart soared with gratitude for the normal play of a healthy child. Some days lasted forever it seemed but the years sped by. Sleepless nights spent feeding babies were replaced with sleepless nights waiting for teenagers to arrive home. There were concerts and games to attend, leotards and football uniforms to wash, holidays to celebrate, birthday parties to plan, homework to complete and college applications to submit. Suddenly it seemed my young adult children did not require my assistance as they once did. My role as mother morphed into trusted adviser and observer. I was transformed from one person into someone new without so much as a breath between. Version 2I never looked back. I did not have time to look back.

Today both my children are college graduates and working in other states. I cannot help but laugh when I think about it. It seems they are each living the dream I once held for myself. I have plenty of time to ponder such notions now. What might have been? What actually happened? It is as if I died and now my life is flashing before my eyes. While reflecting on my life, I now see I have died this sort of living death many times before. At the end of each stage of life a part of me had to give way in order for me to continue living. The difference this time is that another task or responsibility is not bearing down upon me. Life seems oddly suspended and pregnant with choices or nothingness depending on the day. Instead of hurrying to the next thing, I am left to rest, to wonder about the future. While I rest I pray that I am purposeful and intentional with my choices about the person I am becoming. There is now time to look back, gather all that life has taught me and set that knowledge into action as I begin yet another new life.

Dear God,  Thank you for this time of rest, reflection and rebuilding. Please help me to remember with gratitude all the beauty and blessings I have received in this lifetime as well as the challenges. Help me to see struggle and loss as preparation for becoming the person I will be in the next phase of life. Teach me to recognize when others are experiencing times of transition from one life to another so I can show them compassion.

Thank you for another chance at new life here on earth. This unhurried time is allowing me to learn from my past and see the potential life holds for me still. You continue to provide examples of life, death and new life each day. Help me to lean on those examples to embrace and appreciate what is happening now and what is yet to come.

Love, Jean

John 11:25,26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?

Mark 1: 29 – 31 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On Being Mortal

Reader’s Poem: Being Mortal

Book Cover--Being Mortal--Atul GawandeDeath is not failure.
Death is normal.

Sooner or later
independence will become
impossible.

Medicine has transformed
life into a long,
slow fade.

The trouble is
we expect more from life
than survival.

When life’s fragility is primed,
goals and motives
shift completely.

True freedom
is being the authors
of our lives.

Help people have
the fullest possible lives
right now.

Butterfly--Fundy Bay--Canada--photo by Julie McCartyFace mortality together
and preserve the fibers
of meaningful life.

Courage is strength
in the face of fear
and hope.

Enable well-being
—the reasons we wish
to be alive.

________________________________________
Atul Gawande. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters Most in the End. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014. Reader’s poem by Samuel Rahberg.

After I finish a good read and before I tuck it away on the shelf, I like to spend some time synthesizing what was most important to me. I use the author’s own words, varied only slightly, and follow the themes that speak most strongly to me at this time. The reader’s poem above remains a summary and serves only as my own interpretation, so I take responsibility for any deviation from the author’s original intent. Even so, may it be a helpful reflection for others and an encouragement to read a fine book in its entirety.

 

Sam Rahberg is the Director of the Benedictine Center , spiritual director, and writer who offers ministerial support to both lay and ordained Christian ministers.  Sam has experience in parish education and administration and holds a master’s degree in theology from Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. Visit Sam at www.samuelrahberg.com .

 

 

Perseverance

By Pastor Brandon Newton

Over 8,500 runners completed the Twin Cities Marathon this past weekend. I am in awe of their perseverance. I much prefer shorter runs and anything farther than five kilometers has my body gasping for air and my mind giving up. On October 11th, my sister will run the Chicago marathon.

My sister is an inspiration. She recently took up the challenge to run the marathon and is, by no means, a distance runner. I say this lovingly, remembering that the last marathon she ran was around ten years ago. However, she set a goal to run and has worked hard in training. I will also mention that in addition to her rigorous training she works far more hours a week than she gets credit for and dashes her two active sons to activities. I’m proud of her beyond words and wish I could be there to see her cross the finish line.

The marathon my sister ran around ten years ago. From L-R: Kelly Kohlhaas (family friend), Stacia Newton-Drover (my sister), me, and Chase Drover (Stacia's husband)

The marathon my sister ran around ten years ago. From L-R: Kelly Kohlhaas (family friend), Stacia Newton-Drover (my sister), me, and Chase Drover (Stacia’s husband)

Since I can’t be there to cheer her on, here is a poem about perseverance that I believe might apply to whatever race you are running in your own life:

 

“Don’t Quit”  

 

When things go wrong as they
Sometimes will;
When the road you’re trudging
Seems all uphill;
When funds are low and debts are high
And you want to smile but you have to sigh;
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must,
But don’t you quit.
Life is strange with its twists and turns,
As every one of us
Sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about when
They might have won
Had they stuck it out.
Don’t give up though the
Pace seems slow.
You may succeed with another blow.
Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the cloud of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far.
So stick to the fight when
You’re hardest hit.
It’s when things seem worst
You must not quit.

                           (Author unknown)

 

Pastor Brandon Newton is executive pastor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minnesota.  

Recharging Our Batteries

Today’s reflection is written by Pastor Paul:  

The glory of God is a human being fully alive! — St. Irenaeus

Dear Friends,

snow covered pathAs I write this letter, I’m looking out the window at the snow drifting down and glancing at the outdoor thermometer which tells me we’re a long way from getting up to zero.  I wonder about my car battery, which has shown unsettling signs of not taking a charge when the weather turns frigid.  Will my battery fail just when I need it the most? What can I do to keep it charged?

My mind turns back to a talk I have often given at pre-marriage meetings about the Four Batteries.   With my retirement coming up this year, I often think about strategies for keeping them strong and fully charged.

1.  My mountain bike accident last August has been a powerful reminder of how quickly the physical battery can be discharged and how long the recharge can take.  Five months later my energy is only beginning to return, and I’m happy to welcome it back.  All of us are in pretty good contact with how our physical battery is doing.  We know when we’re in pain, when we’re exhausted or hungry, and we know when we’re feeling full of energy and delight.  Now that I have completed my course of physical therapy, I’ve decided to get a personal trainer to help me develop my depleted strength.

2. The meter on our emotional battery is harder to read.  We often aren’t entirely sure just what our emotional state is or what to do about it.  That’s why we need to attend to our emotional state, discern what re-charges us and commit to a strategy which will keep our emotional battery maximally charged.  I’m committing to cross-country skiing every possible day and to praying every possible instant. Both recharge my emotions and help me better face the emotional challenges every day brings.

3.  Our intellectual battery can go deader than a car battery without our knowing it.  I’m afraid the “Everything I need to know I learned in kindergarten” slogan applies to many people who have stopped thinking, questioning and learning.  (Don’t go to a doctor who has that poster on the wall.)  Remember the dental association’s slogan “Ignore your teeth, and they will go away”?  Ignore your intellectual life, and your brain will go to sleep.  I’m committed to reading new books, having vigorous discussions with friends about things that matter and learning more about God.  Commitment to being a Christian means a commitment to life-long learning about our faith.

4.  It is particularly hard to get a good read on the charge of our spiritual battery.  We can easily lose our connection with God and with the beauty of his amazing creation.  Our vision can tunnel, and our hope can freeze up.  St. Irenaeus, the great second-century theologian, could express the essence of Christianity with this pithy adage: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!” To be spiritually charged up is to have a powerful personal connection with God, to be kindled by the beauty of the world, to be powerfully engaged in Christian community, to be focused on being part of God’s great work in the world and to be consumed by love.  I know that two projects I’m involved in give powerful boosts to my spiritual battery – the Radio Furaha project in Iringa and the “Bread Rising: Working Together to End Hunger by 2030 Campaign.”

Sea Lion--Clarita--Dreamstime Stock PhotosWe are all different, but we all have physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual batteries that need regular re-charging.  May God grant us insight, discernment, determination and faith as we seek to give glory to God by being fully alive.

Pastor Paul

Jake Stole My Blanket

Almost a year ago I joined a small women-only gym in Rosemount. After a long bout of illness I wanted to see what my body could achieve again. Inactivity over time made me feel like the filling in a Twinkie; soft and mushy, trapped in a spongy shell unable to move freely. Dizziness and joint pain caused me to distrust both my physical and mental body. What was once taken for granted now challenged me.

Three times a week, I committed to a weight training and cardio regiment. Jake, my personal trainer, pushed my physical limits more each day causing me weeks of muscle soreness and fatigue. Had I not prepaid for the 6-week boot camp style class, I would have have quit. Jake’s stories and lessons, jokes and dancing kept me distracted as I worked out. Friendships were formed with other women; each with their own comeback story.   As the 6th week approached, my sense of accomplishment was palpable. My new workout buddies and I agreed. There was no way we could leave this place, each other, or Jake.

As the months passed I gained strength. I quietly worked, sweated and listened to stories shared. One morning as I struggled IMG_0751with  bicep pulls, Jake stood to my right. He pointed to a small bulge in my wrist. “Look how strong you are Jean.” Unsure how to respond, I said nothing but found great satisfaction in watching that tiny band in my wrist pulse and twist as I worked.

The only one in my group working out one a snowy winter morning, Jake handed me a medicine ball and a mat. “Do a plank balancing on this ball with your hands.” The circuit that morning was 90 seconds. I held on. My body trembled then shook. I wanted to stay up, to hold straight in my plank. “Breath Jean!” I gasped, blew out of pursed lips and closed my eyes. “Yes! Go someplace else! You can do this!” Kneeling next to my mat Jake cheered me on slamming his fist on the floor counting down the time left. A recorded woman’s voice announced the end. Rolling off the ball I collapsed on my belly, red-faced and shaking. “I did it Jake.” He nodded as if he knew I would all along. Leaving that morning, we fist bumped our good-bye. “You believed in me more than I believed in myself. Thanks Jake.”

More weeks passed. While pulling down enough weight to lift me off my seat, Jake whispered firmly, privately in my ear, “You are not sick anymore, Jean. You are strong and well! But you are never going to be able to move forward unless you can see that for yourself.” My silent eyes locked on his. His words pierced a target in the center of my forehead penetrating my brain. It felt like he ripped a warm, protective blanket off of me on a frozen winter morning. I suddenly saw the person I used to be did not exist any longer. The wellness I worked so hard to achieve had arrived. Chilled to the bone, seeing myself in a new light, I could not speak. Somehow, Jake had whispered directly into my soul.

People speak of experiencing God in a prayer, a song, a child’s first cry, a loved one’s last breathe, wind rustling leaves or the call of dove. I now listen for God’s guidance in less likely places; in the tired eyes of a grocery store clerk, in the frustration of rush hour traffic, in the pain of a headache, the scrape of my shovel on a snow covered driveway, the bulging of a growing muscle in my arm and the encouraging words of my personal trainer.IMG_0746 What can I learn from this person, this experience that can guide me on my current path or to a brand new one? What might God be trying to teach me?

I believe I received an amazing message in that otherwise ordinary moment. I could no longer hide behind the blanket of illness, weakness or pain. It was time to stand up, step out into the world again. I was given another chance to be well and participate fully in this beautiful world. It was time to acknowledge and embrace this God given gift with the gratitude and enthusiasm it deserve. I woke up in that moment suddenly knowing my work is not finished yet. God, it seems, has something more planned for me!

1 Samuel 3:10 NLT

And the Lord came and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

Dear God,

I am humbled in the knowledge that you care about me enough to reach out, to guide and teach in such personal ways. As I continue to listen, learn and grow in faith, help me to recognize your voice in both the usual and unexpected places. Speak to me God! I am listening! Love, Jean

Jake Del Pino II is the Head Trainer at Get In Shape for Women in Rosemount, MN, Co-owner of Snap Fitness in Red Wing, MN, and Founder/Owner of Lamb II Lion Fitness – Faith based fitness for churches and corporations in the South Metro.