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Turning My Mixed Feelings Over to Divine Love

My cousin Lynn's bark prayer boat, launched for my father

My cousin Lynn’s bark prayer boat, launched for my father

This is a strange birthday. Next year is one of those milestone birthdays, when I’ll put a “6” in front of the single digit, instead of “5.” But I’m not lamenting my age or the passage of time. I’m.. what?

In April I attended my friend and classmate Mimi Chiang’s memorial. In May I celebrated my beautiful cousin Lynn Fawcett Whiting’s life. Tomorrow I will join with friends to remember Jim Jennings, who illuminated my life ever since I met him in 1995 or so. This, while the horror of Orlando echoes.

Mimi, Lynn and Jim were — and are — inspirations to me. Mimi for her courage in life and on the page. Lynn, for the art and beauty of her soul. Jim, for his love and wisdom.

Beginning in 1999, when I confronted my mother’s terminal illness, Jim was the person I turned to when I experienced a crisis of faith, or simply quailed in the face of life. This blog is peppered with his advice to me. Search “my mentor Jim” and you’ll find him.

Maybe this is a good time to repost what he wrote me shortly before my father’s death in 2013. I worried about my father’s faith. I worried about my faith. I worried… I still worry… about a lot. I’m not very good about lifting those worries up. I wish I had that kind of easy faith, but I don’t.

What I have had, and do have, are messengers like Mimi, and Lynn, and Jim. People who glow with something unnameable.

  • God is with us, actually inside each of us even when we do not sense it, and remove enough of our own clutter and misgivings and pain to be fully conscious of divine love inside us.
  • God doesn’t have a dossier on each of us that reads how long we will live, how we will deteriorate, whether you get cancer or I get Alzheimers. We are spiritual beings having a human experience, and that experience is governed by the natural order which is haphazard, and evolutionary, and our individual biological destiny gene defined more than most anything else. But the soul was, is, and shall be.
  • It’s perfectly natural for us to wonder how a loving God could allow this or that, but fairness as we want it to be does not come with free will and nature.
  • I have asked for most of my life, “Why did you set it up this way God?” In my dotage I have come to accept that I will get an answer…I will see and understand only when my spirit is set free from my human experience.  Meanwhile, I have to trust, have faith in God’s unconditional love, and try to be a loving other in the world. And to be perfectly comfortable in having a fit from time to time about why it is this way — why my 34 year old father of three kids is dying of brain cancer, or my lady in the Alzheimer’s unit is so very lost. [Jim was a chaplain for hospice at this point.] Very hard to accept that we are not in control; that we have to ultimately turn it over to the embrace of the Divine.  Meanwhile we care for each other in the fullest sense we know how, offering love and our own broken heartedness with the words of the Christ  “Thy will be Done.”  You can even go so far as to say, “Well dammit, Thy will Be Done.”
  • I am sure you understand the chaplain was asking the question so he could get a sense of where your Dad is both spiritually and religiously so he can approach your Dad accordingly.  What the chaplain’s job in this team is, is to do anything he can to help your Dad have peace of heart and peace of mind. Sometimes this is expressed in religious language; often not.  Your Dad does not have to have all the answers to all the questions right now. He needs heart connection because that ultimately answers the unanswerable questions and ensures him peace of heart and peace of mind so he can release. Whether he connects in any way to a traditional notion of God, he sure does to your Mom and he wants to go and be with her.  So for him, there is a there there, and he has his heart set on arriving.  Leaving is generally harder than entering, for each of us.
  • Turn all your mixed feelings over to Divine Love.  Literally, write each one on pieces of paper; put them all into a bowl or pot.  Take a lighter and burn the scraps safely and as you do, tell the Divine to take care of this messy stuff so you can take care of your Dad and your self.  Each moment now, even the most gritty ones is precious. HUGS

Jim was always better with words than I am. … Even the most gritty moments are precious. The soul was, is, and shall be.


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Birthdays Remembered

Just now, my fingers hovered over the keyboard, not quite ready to land. If I don’t write about it, if I pretend that tomorrow is just another day, maybe it won’t be real: one year since my Dad’s last birthday.

I have a parade of Dad’s birthdays marching through my head. There was his 87th birthday when he had a speech all prepared beginning with, “Four score and seven years ago….” That was the last time I tried to faithfully match the number of candles to his age.

Five years earlier, Dad’s surgeon had emerged after an eight hour cardiac bypass operation with the good news that the procedure was a success, and the bad news that he expected this one, Dad’s third, would last only five years. When we gathered the family for his 87th, the five year timer had gone off. We faced the possibility, even the likelihood, that Dad would die within the year.

We drank a lot that night, liquid accompaniment to the many toasts, stories and recitations of Dad’s favorite poems. In the midst of it, Dad cocked his head, raised his glass and looked directly into my eyes. I think of the smile in this picture as my smile. He would purse his lips gently, the way I do when I’m about to cry, and the corners of his lips would lift. He held that pose, for one beat, two, three. That gaze remained on his face for as long as I wanted to look back. To me, it said it all.

Scan 2

Two years later, Dad moved permanently to California. The word went round before every birthday: you should come, it might be his last.

When someone’s death is predicted for nine years running, it starts to become comedic. We began spreading out family visits to provide Dad with something to look forward to. Two years in a row, I turned Dad’s birthday into a road trip, taking him to Monterey to enjoy an ocean front room and a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

As Dad gazed up at the aquarium’s 28 foot high tank, the pale blue light of the tank washed over him. He seemed to drink in the majesty of the display before him: swaying fronds of kelp, swirling sardines, cruising fish. Its beauty moved him.

Dad and me at the Monterey Aquarium 2010

By his birthday last year, his 96th, much of that joy had slipped away. His rich, brown eyes had faded, and it was harder to rise to the occasion of a party in his honor, even a small one. He was quiet, though he enjoyed his lamb, and of course there was chocolate cake. He always had room for chocolate cake.


I could not envision celebrating his next birthday with him. And I was right.

This year, there’s no Pendleton shirt wrapped and ready, no bacon-and-eggs breakfast planned, no chocolate cake in the refrigerator. For most of the world, it will be just another day. But for me, it’s the first birthday that wasn’t.

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