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“We can make it. We are going to make it!” so pressed John Lynch as he and Franka Berger struggled against insupportable odds toward freedom—both were in dire straits. Their attitude served as a leitmotif throughout Eoin Dempsey’s novel White Rose Black Forest (2018) and resonated within my practice of the 12 Steps as understood in Chronic Pain Anonymous.

The We is significant; it suggests the components of the CPA’s spiritual fellowship: solidarity, like-mindedness, willingness, honesty, and humility, in union with Higher Power’s presence. From my first phone meeting in September 2017, I’ve felt understood and supported, moving through seven hospitalizations until opting for hospice’s palliative care last November. No longer am I alone with the burden of failing lungs and other evidence of aging.

Experience of the We also occurs during daily 12-Step work with my sponsor and others suffering with chronic pain and illness. No one tires listening to symptoms and their accompanying emotional pain. No one remains stuck.

The way out requires action: can make; are going to make. Here, open-mindedness and willingness prod the overwhelmed toward a different scenario. Thanks to working Steps I, II, and III, stony attitudes begin to splinter. A bigger picture of our flawed but graced humanness emerges. We are much more than our pain or illness. Breathing becomes more normal.

And then comes it. In CPA, emotional sobriety is critical to recovering what’s left of our lives. With the rest of the 12 Steps, we relax within our limits and participate. Slips do occur but help is a phone call away; within such dialogs, Higher Power manifests. So we give thanks for another twenty-four-hour day, as did Franka and John when they made it.

 

 

It was 465 B.C.E., Cyrus the Great’s liberation of the Jews after two hundred years of captivity in Babylonia. No longer would they suffer beneath the heel of their captors. No longer would they doubt God’s saving presence in their midst. Once home in Jerusalem, they would rebuild their Temple with the help of funds and goods given by that Persian king.

This event drew the prophecy of Second Isaiah: Listen to me, House of Jacob,… you who have been carried since birth, whom I have carried since the time you were born. In your old age I shall be the same, when your hair is gray, I shall still support you…I will deliver you. (Isaiah 46:3-4)

Such words must have inspired the newly freed to recommit to their covenanted life with God. Their sloth in observing the Law had made them easy prey to the Babylonians, two hundred years before. I imagine the Jews rubbing their eyes in wonder as they began their trek home, their sacred scrolls strapped to the backs of donkeys. Indeed, the Jews still enjoyed God’s unconditional love and protection and they knew it.

My present circumstances mirror those of the Jews in captivity: diminishments in energy, in focus, in movement; temptation to despair; wimpy faith; stark loneliness; uprootedness from my identity; inability to grieve; flatness of affect; interminable dark nights; terror of the unknown.

But like the Jews, there are interludes of grace: CPA phone meetings, daily contacts with my CPA sponsor, Dr. Singh’s Grace in Dying, February’s mildness, the southern magnolia flourishing in my back yard, daily blogging, the still small voice within my psyche, my sister’s nightly phone calls, meditation, and nutritious food.

Mercifully, I live one day at time while awaiting my deliverance—I, too, will return home.

 

 

Squeamish feelings laced my email to the Pastor of the College Church, requesting a Memorial Mass following my passing. A member since 1977, my departure thirty years later had been abrupt. There was this dream:

It is Sunday, at the College Church. Soon the Mass will begin. The noise is deafening: hundreds of parishioners chatter, musicians tune their instruments, and the choir rehearses. In the vestibule with others, I sit in my little red go-car, like the Shriners drive, and wait for the entrance procession to begin. With the signal, I rev my car and follow the one in front of me down the main aisle. Suddenly, my car veers off to the right, races past the others, makes a sharp turn at the sanctuary gates, and exits down the steps onto Lindell Boulevard.

 For months prior to this dream, I had been uneasy with the Sunday liturgy; it listed toward the theatrical, pumped me with excitement, and pulled me out of why I had come in the first place. The dream’s message seemed clear: Leave. It never occurred to me to speak with the pastor. In retrospect, however, the problem was mine.

Yesterday’s visit with Father Dan, however, reversed years of festering resentment, reconnected me with decades of worship that had sustained my chronic illness and pain, recalled old friends, and restored deep peace. “It’s not that often that I meet with the terminally ill who plan their own funerals,” Father Dan said handing me the guidebook he’d brought.

He understood far more than he thought. I’m relieved and grateful.

 

 

 

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