Poem – healing in darkness

Consider Noah and Jonah and Jesus.
At one point, each was separated
from the rest of the world.
Through their time away
hidden they were able
to heal and bring salvation.

Also Joseph,
he was in prison for many years
but that put him in the right place
to be able to rescue the entire Jewish people
from certain extinction.

There is something for us
about these stories of people
retreating from the world
in order to save the world.
They are enclosed
in quiet dark places
they are like seeds
waiting for the right time
for bringing new life.

Remember when you are in
those dark times.
You are not being buried.
You’re being planted.

Everything starts in darkness.
It is not an end.
It is a transition
time to change
a time of stilling yourself
for something new to come.
Go into those times mindfully
and with rejoicing.

The sign of Jonah

Then some of the Jewish leaders including the scribes and Pharisees said to him “Teacher, show us a sign.”

But he said “An evil generation demands a sign, but only the sign of the prophet Jonah will be given. In the same way that Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights, the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth for the same amount of time. In the same way that Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, the Son of Man will be a sign to this generation. The men of Nineveh will stand up and condemn this generation at the Day of Judgment, because they repented when Jonah spoke to them, and something even greater than Jonah is here right now! The Queen of Sheba, the Queen of the south, will also rise up and condemn this generation at the Day of Judgment, because she traveled all the way from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and something even greater than Solomon is here right now!

MT 12:38-42, LK 11:29-32

The Now of Job

Job is an amazing character in the Bible. He was wealthy beyond imagining.

Job 1:1-3
There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil. 2 There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. 3 He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-asses, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. (RSV)

He was righteous, even offering extra sacrifices for his children just in case they made a transgression unintentionally. They would all spend days together having feasts at each other’s houses.

Job 1:5
5 And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. (RSV)

But then he lost it all.

Job 1:13-22
13 Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house; 14 and there came a messenger to Job, and said, “The oxen were plowing and the asses feeding beside them; 15 and the Sabe′ans fell upon them and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 16 While he was yet speaking, there came another, and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 17 While he was yet speaking, there came another, and said, “The Chalde′ans formed three companies, and made a raid upon the camels and took them, and slew the servants with the edge of the sword; and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 18 While he was yet speaking, there came another, and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house; 19 and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness, and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead; and I alone have escaped to tell you.” 20 Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong. (RSV)

It is amazing that Job doesn’t complain or freak out when he hears all of this bad news. Notice that each messenger hadn’t even quit speaking before the next one came in with even worse news.

Remember how bad news is said to come in threes? He got four. All at once. He didn’t even have time to recover from each blow before he received the next one.

Then he personally is afflicted with sores all over his body.

Job 2:9-10
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God, and die.”10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (RSV)

He praises God and accepts what is given to him. What a model for “being in the now” It reminds me of the story of Jonah. He praised God while in the belly of the whale. While in the middle of a bad situation, he praised God. He didn’t say “If you get me out of this I’ll praise you.” He didn’t know if he was even going to get out of it. In fact, just before, he thought he was going to drown from being thrown overboard during a storm. Things weren’t great, but he was alive, having been rescued in an improbable way.

Job and Jonah teach us a lot about accepting where and how we are, just as we are.

Poem – three days

Jonah was in the whale three days.
By himself.
In the dark.
He didn’t know if he’d ever get out.

Jesus was dead for three days.

His disciples thought
it was the end.

Sometimes the wait is forty years.

Sometimes longer.

Redemption isn’t immediate.
It isn’t guaranteed,
either.

Trust that whatever is happening
is meant to happen.
Trust that whatever
is going to happen
is meant to happen
too.

Art project as a distraction.

 

          So I started an art project.  Some people would call it redecoration.  It was an intentional plan to distract myself, and to give myself something that I could focus on and see progress.  I can’t fix what is going on with my parents-in-law, so I wanted something that I could fix.

          It started off as a need to fix a problem.  We had some ugly grout-tape in the bathroom.  Instead of caulk to bridge the area between the shower surround and the tub, we had this stuff that was in a long strip and it stuck to both things.  It kind of worked, until it didn’t.  It was peeling apart from the shower surround, and mold was developing.

          I was a little afraid to deal with it.  I was concerned that it meant that there was water damage behind it, and this was going to result in a really expensive remodeling project.   Water is as destructive as fire, but slower.   I kept trying to stick it back on the wall, and it kind of worked.  I asked my spouse to fix it and as usual it got put on the back burner.  And as usual, I slowly worried about it more.

          So I did what I do when I worry.  I got books.  Knowledge is power. I got every book on bathroom remodeling that my library branch had.  I decided that this was now a Project.  We’d save up our money and then we could do this right.

          Fortunately, when my spouse got around to pulling the weird tape off, there was no evidence of water damage.  There was a lot of mold, though, so I’m glad that it came down.  He put caulk in there instead.  It looks a lot better.

But by then I’d gotten the bug.  Thankfully it wasn’t an expensive project, but it could still be a Project.  We didn’t have to rip out the entire bathtub and shower and re-frame and put new tile.  That would involve hiring professionals.  There are things we can do, and that kind of stuff isn’t on the list.

          But I saw a picture while I was looking through the books.

bath1

It was beautiful Tromp l’oeil.   It is a koi’s eye-view of a pond.  I went running with it.  But I like goldfish and aquariums.  So that is what I’m doing instead. But you can’t do that to start off with.  Remember – paint the background first.

          So then there had to be a trip to Lowe’s hardware.  I went on my lunch break and picked up a few paint samples that were in the neighborhood of what I wanted.  I brought them home and gave the spouse a choice.

It isn’t really a choice.  I had already decided on what to let him look at.  So no matter what he picked, I would be happy with it.  This is straight out of working with kindergartners.  Too many choices is a sure way to stop any work from going forward.

Then came time to paint.  The room is too small for two people to work, and he doesn’t really “get” painting.  He more than makes up for it in being able to fix minor plumbing and electrical problems, so I was OK with that.  But it took three hours.

I’d forgotten that we had a dinner date with friends on Saturday night, so that meant I had to get this done on Friday to give it time to dry so we could take showers.   That meant I got started on actually painting this project around nine, because we had to have supper first and there is always the prep work to do for painting.

I decided to do this without any music.  I figured that it would disturb him.  I don’t play my music around him, nor do I sing around him.  That is something to write about for another day.

So I was stuck, painting, by myself, in a small room, for three hours, in silence. It was a new kind of hell.

Instead of getting away from my problems, I was right up in them.  Everything I was trying to not think about was right there with me in that tiny room that smelled of latex paint.

I meditated on Jonah, one of my favorite characters who teaches me how to deal with problems.   And I remembered that he was stuck in that whale for three days.  So was Jesus – he was dead for three days.  You can praise God all you want, but you are still going to have to wait until it is time for it to be over.

That helped.  I was still in a foul mood, but at least I knew there was going to be an end to it.  It reminds me of the person who had a ring made that said “This too shall pass” as a reminder for the bad times as well as the good times.

The next day I painted the leaves on the walls, because that had to be done before the fixtures could be put back.  Scott was out of the house, so I put on music and sang along.  It helped my mood a lot.  It was also good that I started with something simple like long twisty leaves.

 

bath2

The next day I painted some fish.  I didn’t think I could.  I was planning on drawing them on watercolor paper and then gluing them on, or printing some out on inkjet paper and doing the same.   I’m glad I gave painting them a try, because I surprised myself.

bath3           bath4

bath5

 

I had gone online for some reference pictures and printed them out on my printer.  The resolution wasn’t that great, but it was a good start.   I transferred the outline of the fish to the wall by holding the paper to the wall and tracing the lines Really Hard with a pencil, so it made a dent in the wall.  Ideally, I’d have used carbon paper.  I didn’t have any, and I didn’t feel like slowing down by going and getting some.  Inspiration shouldn’t be messed with.  If I slow down, the whole thing could have come to a complete stop.

The transfer of the lines worked.  I mixed up some paint in a small plastic dish and went at it.  I learned as I went.  I used a dry brush technique for the fins.  I painted seven goldfish.   I plan to paint a castle, an old-time deep sea diver, a treasure chest, and a sunken galleon too.  Later.

Today’s the third day, and I feel better.  The room looks brighter.  I’m still not finished with the fish (they need eyes) but I’m OK with that.  The problems with the parents-in-law continue, but I’ve realized that isn’t my project.  I’m sticking with the stuff that is my responsibility and leaving that to their sons.

Gift

I’m trying to see every experience as a gift, as something special. I’m trying to trust that God is in charge of everything and that everything is going as planned.

It isn’t easy.

I feel trapped in someone else’s madness right now. Some dumb decisions have been made by others and it is affecting me. It is only going to get worse. I want somebody to take over, take charge. I want somebody to rise to the occasion and be an adult. I’m not seeing it happen yet.

And then I remember how much I love the story of Jonah, praising God in the belly of the whale. While in the middle of the problem, Jonah praises God.

And I remember Jesus saying in Matthew 5:43-48
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (RSV)

I’ve come to understand this to be about everything – situations, feelings, ourselves – not just people. We are to act in a loving manner all the time.

And I remember Job saying that if he only loves God when he gives us good things, then he doesn’t really love God. His wife has just told him to curse God for all the afflictions that have happened to him.

Job 2:10
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (RSV)

OK, so what do I do about all these feelings? How do I handle them? How do I act in a loving way towards my anxiety right now?

I was talking to a friend about all of this and she told me about this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” (Being Peace)

Sometimes this feels like AA. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

If I believe that God is a loving God, and that God is in charge, I have to trust that everything that happens is part of God’s plan, and that it will all work out for the good.

The problem is trusting that.

I feel like I did when I was in a river rafting trip with a boyfriend many years ago. He was a guide, and we’d taken a raft with some friends down the Ocoee River in the off season. He knew of a spot where we could “surf” – we could ride the river, sort of stuck in this one area for a bit. Some of the water started to come into the raft. I started to get terrified and went to leap out of the boat. My boyfriend knew that would be a terrible idea – I’d get stuck under the raft in that area. Unbeknownst to him, it really would have been a terrible idea – I wasn’t a great swimmer either. All I knew was that something bad was happening and I wanted to get away. He held my shoulders down so I couldn’t leave the boat. He explained it all when we were away from that situation. He didn’t have time to explain it then.

I want to get away from this situation.
God is holding down my shoulders.
It will all make sense later.
Breathe, trust, and give thanks.

The end of suffering.

1) Acknowledge the pain.

2) If you can do something about it, do it.

3) If you can’t, then accept it by giving thanks for it.

Further on this –
1) Acknowledge the pain.
It does us no good to ignore pain. Pain is a sign that something is wrong. Ignoring pain doesn’t fix it. It prolongs it. Pain, when ignored, will often come out in very unhelpful ways. This is the source of self-abuse and addictions. Drinking, drug use, overeating, and other addictive behaviors are maladaptive techniques to deal with pain. They are a response to pain. They are a symptom. Any addiction is a repetitive, albeit misdirected, attempt to cure a problem. If you address the root cause of the problem, then the addiction will go away. Addictions just delay the cure.

Pain can be in many forms. Pain doesn’t have to be physical. Pain can result any time your needs are not being met. Grief is a form of pain. Any loss can cause pain. Not being respected, heard, or understood can cause pain.

2) If you can do something about it, do it.
Address the pain head on and see what the source of it is. Dig down to the root of it. Then dig down further. Often our first answer to “what is wrong” is just a surface answer. Keep going deeper. How do you feel? Who made you feel that way the first time? Is it the situation, or your reaction to it that is the cause of the pain?

Is there something you can add or subtract from your life to change the situation? Even if it will take a long time to get there, just getting started is good. Every step towards your goal is one step further away from your problem. Are you frustrated with your job? Look at transferring. Start taking classes. Do you feel that your needs aren’t being met? Is part of the problem that you aren’t telling people what your needs are? Is part of the problem that you don’t know yourself?

A lot of pain comes from settling for it. We are trained to be quiet with our suffering. This isn’t healthy. We are taught to say “I can’t do that” or “Nobody will listen to me”. Ignore those voices. They aren’t yours. They are the voices of a sick society that wants people to stay miserable. Get started, one foot in front of the other. Every step towards your goal is a step away from the problem. It is hard at first. It gets easier, but you have to keep doing it. Nobody is going to do this work for you.

3) If you can’t, then accept it by giving thanks for it.
Just like Jonah in the whale, giving thanks to God for your problems can be very healing. He gave thanks for God while in the middle of his problem. He didn’t say that he’d give thanks once he was released. He gave thanks right there and then. He was released just after that.

Sometimes the painful situation is temporary, but we just can’t see the end. Sometimes it is meant to slow us down long enough to see things from a different perspective. Giving thanks is what makes us human.