Hope and Joy

We are moving soon, and for the first time in six decades on the planet I will live in the city! The country mouse moves to the city–well, suburbs. I will miss my old houses and the decorating style that blended so well with them. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and was very happy to leave behind the orange shag rugs, the avocado green and harvest yellow appliances, and the Colonial Americana textiles. The house we just bought was built in the year of my birth–1963! Mid-Century modern is NOT my style, having lived through the real thing. I do admit to a bit of nostalgia for Coppertone wall ovens. I could like that again.

Moving is a big deal. There is so much work ahead, packing up and downsizing 5000 square feet into roughly half that. Compared to all of the other recent changes in my life I am reminded that it is not insurmountable. In fact, I am looking forward to it.

Although I will miss the gorgeous vistas I have been blessed to see daily, the winding Missouri River, the distant hills, and inviting woods, I am envisioning a simpler life. We are having a fence installed and I’ll work on a cottage garden, as much as my back will allow. A window over my sink will invite tranquility within as I wash up after meals. This will become the stuff of my daily vistas.

Those meals will be smaller, as I learn to cook for fewer and fewer on a daily basis. One of our sons will be moving out on his own when we pack up this old house, and another will be head to college in the fall. But I have visions of big family Sunday dinners. We will be a few houses up from one of our daughters, her husband and our one-year-old grandson. We’ll be an hour closer to my pioneer-woman daughter in the hills of Central Missouri. and still within a day’s drive of our two oldest daughters and their families. I can hope that one day they will move yet closer.

I really think that the years growing up watching The Waltons imprinted on me a desire for a large family. It is not for everyone, but I count blessings that this came true for me. We don’t travel as other friends do who have smaller families. One good friend of my late husband and mine, with whom we vacationed regularly, travels out of the country once or twice a year. Another good friend is in Kenya as I write. These travels are not possible for us now, and any envy I feel is instantaneously replaced with happiness for them and gratitude for all I do have.

Gratitude is “where it’s at.” It keeps us focused on what is real, and fills us to overflowing with hope and joy.

Preparation and Joy

I watched an interview this morning with Cardinal George Pell from Australia. Regardless of religion and stance on the awful pedophilia that exists not only in organized religion it but in too many workplaces and organizations, here is a person who was exonerated not only once, but multiple times. He was imprisoned for over a year while appeals were heard and judged in the Supreme Court. He was unanimously and finally declared innocent.

The interview delved into his emotions and how he coped with unjustified imprisonment. Of course there are people who have suffered worse, but here was an inspiring account of how he avoided anger and prayed for those who falsely accused him. If anyone is familiar with how accounts of Jesus portrayed his unjust torture, imprisonment and crucifixion, the very least one can agree on was that he was docile, did not fight back, did not act out in anger, and prayed for his accusers, torturers and executioners. Accounts of imprisoned and tortured disciples and apostles show an imitation of Jesus.

Cardinal Pell has written about his experiences. I have not read the journals but would like to. In this interview just before his natural death, he explained how and why he did not react in anger, but trusted God and prayed for not only his accusers but for all of those who have suffered from sexual abuse. He remained, it seems, as calm as he did throughout the interview. Toward the end, the interviewer verbalized his own opinion that the Cardinal’s experience seemed to parallel those of prophets in the Bible who suffered unjustly, whose experiences were portents of things to come. He implied that things are going to get worse in the future and that we can use the Cardinal’s response as an example of how to react.

Cardinal Pell, interestingly to me, did not agree with the negative view of the future. He expressed great hope despite how things might seem. This was as enlightening to me as was his forgiving response to imprisonment and unjust suffering. We do live in a time where many are losing hope and predicting awful times ahead. Perhaps in some ways they may be proven correct, but I agree that there is always hope.

This does not mean that we ignore the things we see as signs of what may come. We should indeed prepare as we see fit. From this interview I see that the greatest preparation is within us. The most incredible things that I gain from my faith in terms of how to live my life, are perspective, and a philosophy of living in love and hope. These things increase the love of others, and of prayer for them despite evil. With preparation there is then peace, and it leads to joy.

Reframing and Renaming

A strategy for dealing with a difficult event or unhealthy thought process is to examine it from different angles or from an outside-yourself perspective. Some call this the “Multiple Perspective Advantage.” Reframing and renaming the stressor can help one to deal with it in a more healthy manner. One vlogger who was undergoing chemotherapy renamed the agent often referred to as “The Red Devil” to something that sounded more therapeutic to her: “Liquid Sunshine.” Having done things like these, I can say that they do help.

Grief is a tough animal. It is one that in my opinion, does not completely go away. It may disappear for a while only to reappear when least expected. Perhaps more positively, it is something experienced, worked on, then packaged and placed in a special room of our minds. We can take it out at another time to be experienced a little differently based on what is happening in life. We work on it, repackage and store it once again. Perhaps at some point it has been worked on enough not to re-emerge, but it remains a part of us. In the case of the loss of a loved one, I feel that the grief only fades over time, enough for us to go on. It is not truly healed until we are reunited once again after death.

Grief also occurs with painful conditions, with losses of identity, of physical prowess, of abilities and of changes in our bodies. I was talking with my cousin Susan, a trained Spiritual Director. She listened quietly as I sadly told her about my inability to ride horses anymore. There is truly nothing like riding a horse. Thoroughbreds are unique with their long-stridden walk, excited energy and incredibly fast gallops. Dressage work which engages a horse’s body, collects the quarters to the point where the horse can trot or canter at a standstill or in a pirouette…it’s magical. Jumping streams and ditches, galloping Hunters downhill and bounding over hedges and post-and-rail fences is exhilarating. I really cannot risk even walking on horseback anymore because one mis-step could severely damage my spinal cord. I know that I am so lucky to have had the experiences I had. But I still miss it.

Susan listened quietly. She said at first that she didn’t know what to say, not having experienced any of these things. “I’m just listening and I’m praying as you speak.” After a while she said thoughtfully, “You know, horses were so important in your life, but I never saw you ride. In my mind, though, I can see you riding a different horse. This one is taking you now to different places in your life. It’s like a spiritual horse. Different, but perhaps just as beautiful.” I loved the thought, and quite honestly it has helped me immensely. I journaled about it and strove to visualize this beautiful animal. Since she is spiritual, of course she can fly and is not bound by physical laws. I have had fun with this and it has been healing. I named her “Grace.”

I hope that you might persevere in trying different strategies. Sometimes when it seems we’ve tried everything, and we’re ready to throw in the towel, we are graced with a new and helpful perspective.


Yes, Grace you are.
I name you.
White as the brightest sun,
Limbs strong and muscled,
Mane and tail flowing
As you carry me to places
I could not otherwise go.

You help to complete me.
You are a gift
Lent by a Warrior Angel
To carry me through dark times,
Through pain and loss,
Galloping over hills and fences
To the greenest fields.

A Warrior’s Horse,
You know no fear,
Your training was the finest.
I can trust you, and God who created you
For me, for now…
Until the day you carry me through the veil
To life everlasting.

We’ll say goodbye then,
Forehead to forehead.
No tears, as there are none in heaven.
My heart will be full as you turn
To gallop back through the veil,
Back to Earth
To the next soul in need of you.

Loss into Grace

I have realized, growing older, that although we gain in years and wisdom, we also gain in losses. My oldest aunt is wonderfully alive at 95 years and is lovingly cared for by her sons, but she has had to live through the deaths of her only sister (my Mom) and all of her five brothers, even her “baby brother” who was twelve years younger than her. She lost her parents decades ago, and her beloved husband just a few years ago. Her health is pretty good, thankfully. Other elderly folk lose their physical abilities and their health earlier. These are all difficult losses which affect our view of the world and our view of self.

I watched a series of YouTube videos by Niklas Ekstedt, a famous Swedish Chef who investigated the areas of the world that have the oldest living people. These areas are called “Blue Zones.” The link on the chef’s name, above, takes you to the episode he filmed in Japan. I won’t give away all the secrets, but in my summation after watching the series, the most important factors were staying productive (giving back to society or family in some way, or staying active), and participating in a social community. The latter could be having a large family or one with strong connections, or it could be a bowling league, a church community, or a close-knit neighborhood.

I surmise that in our modern age, both the productivity and the community factors could be something formed from social connections and activity on the internet–as long as those connections and activities are positive and build one up. I do know that since I was diagnosed with cancer that social connections were increasingly forced to those on social media, email, phone-calls and snail-mail. I’m thankful for every one of them. People I haven’t seen in decades are sending care packages and messages of love and support. On the internet I’ve found a good friend through one Facebook group, and immense support from the many members of another.

I admit that when I viewed the Ekstedt videos of the physically productive men and women in their eighties and nineties, and the wrinkled centenarians sagely offering advice through sparkling eyes, I thought to myself that because of my diagnosis, I have little chance of making it that long. But I am here now, and I could be alive for a couple more decades! I am not giving up. Not one person knows how long their lives will last. Every day really can be viewed as a gift.

These are the ultimate gains, are they not? The good memories are precious. It is helpful and healthy to reframe or reimagine the way we look difficult things. It is too easy to get focused on the losses and to be dragged down. It is too easy for fear to take hold. My late husband’s Mom was increasingly ill in her final years, but despite the tragic losses in her life, she told me that she could not let herself get down, that there were still so many blessings in and throughout her life. I will strive to be more like her. It won’t be easy, I know. Grieving needs to happen, it is not something that truly ends until we have passed on. But her words are full of wisdom and grace.

Tolerance and Caring

Perhaps I ask for tolerance in an unusual post. No poetry here, no movie review with lessons on life. No pretty photographs. They’ll come again next time.

I started writing this post the day before yesterday, and then I read about the tragic shooting in Colorado Springs this week. If I did not comment on the shooting it would be like pretending it didn’t happen and that is just wrong. It makes this post longer than usual.

A 22 year old male entered an LGBTQ bar at midnight November 19th, and opened fire, killing 5 people and injuring at least 17 others. It is shocking that someone would do such a thing. Frustratingly, I find that had this male been properly dealt with on three prior occasions, he would not be walking the streets. I can’t help but wonder about his mental health diagnoses. His mother reported to the media that he had threatened her in the past with a self-made bomb, and he was previously arrested twice, one of those times for kidnapping. How could this person be free to roam?

Back in the late 1980s, many state psychiatric hospitals were closed. I’ve mentioned before that as a nursing student I spent a clinical rotation at such a hospital in Maryland. I encountered caring and skilled professionals, and patients who were well cared for, treated and housed. As the patients worked through therapy they had increased privileges. Patients with certain diagnoses who clearly could not live independently, lived in group homes on the campus. They had goals, they had jobs, they had a nurse managing medications, they attended therapy and saw a psychiatrist regularly to check their treatment and medications.

Then so much changed and where are these types of folks now? Living in government subsidized housing and having to manage their own care, or living with family not skilled to take care of them. Many of these folks that would have been well cared for in the hospitals–are now in our penal system. So, we reduced one population (state hospital patients) to “save money” and look like we were supporting their rights better, but effectively put them in unreasonable positions for self-care, reducing the possibility of the most positive health outcome, burdening families with those who were clearly not manageable by non-medical professionals, thereby reducing the safety of the public and shifting that “saved” public cost to the penal system.

That’s about as specifically politically opinionated as I’ve ever written, but you see, I have helped to try to care for this population in my years as a home health nurse. It was at times heartbreaking. I cared deeply for these clients. Many such persons now have a decreased quality of life, diminished health outcomes and roam the streets. Though no system is perfect and all should be reviewed regularly for needed reforms, in my opinion these same people were, largely, better cared for in the 1980s. In addition, the public was safer from those who were seriously mentally ill.

Before the knowledge of this mass shooting, I was writing about intolerance and what I thought was at the root of it: Fear. What I started to write is included below.

If you are like most people, you probably think you are on the tolerant side, but we need to regularly challenge ourselves. Perhaps you are proudly intolerant. I have seen such people on every side of an argument whether Republican vs. Democrat, whether supportive of certain challenged human rights today, or whether one religion or another. What is tolerance if not tolerating that someone believes differently from your core beliefs? What about caring to understand the reasons they believe differently?

I think the mistake is to think that tolerance is giving up on what you believe to be true. One can be a Democrat but their best friend is a Republican who disagrees on issues around abortion. One can be LGBTQ but dearly love their sibling who does not understand them. One can be Baptist yet attend their friend’s infant baptism. I believe the key is to work backwards in dialoguing with “why” questions to find where common ground exists and the difference of opinion occurs. The Democrat and Republican friends in the example above agree that it is important to support citizens’ rights. The siblings agree that they grew up close, love each other and want the best for each other. The Baptist and the infant baptism friends agree that Jesus was God incarnate and gave up his life to save all people.

We can be nice and exhibit understanding. None of us is perfect. I caught myself saying something that I didn’t really mean the other day. It was a disparaging remark that I immediately retracted, apologized, and corrected. It is important to watch our speech and hold ourselves accountable to a respectful standard. I thought to myself, “Why did that come out?” Now, I won’t say what it was, but don’t worry, it was nothing that would get me fired from a job or blacklisted; it was enough that shamed me. So, why?

Many of us are used to growing up a certain way and thinking that it was all good then. We might forget that while it may have been good for us, there were populations of folks for whom it was awful. I do believe that fear plays a great part. Fear that the world will “get worse,” or change, or be uncomfortable. Fear that our children and grandchildren will suffer from the changes. Fear of our own rights being limited. Fear of judgement from God. Perhaps according to the latter, one feels that it is okay to be rude and confrontational because, well, they are saving that person’s soul.

Again, questions are a good way to broach these topics and seek understanding of the other person’s opinions. In the latter example, without asking the person if they even believe in God then no matter how much you quote chapter and verse it may make no difference in the argument. In fact, the person may be further alienated. Instead, try to exhibit caring and interest in that person’s story and beliefs and journey, then that relationship may be strengthened, leading to a better understanding of each other, and reasonable discussions.

When I made the comment I took back, I realized that it was from a level of discomfort with the world as it is. Fear. Often, fear leads to anger. Now we’re back to the awful shooting, and tying these posts together, today and the one I started two days ago. The shooter was probably angry and feeling hateful about the people or certain persons in the LGBTQ bar. I feel strongly that based on his reported history, if he didn’t have guns he’d have used pipe bombs, a truck, knives, whatever he could.

There is absolutely no excuse for his behavior. I am horrified, and watching the news I saw an anchorperson about to cry and the reporter on the scene with a face almost shaking in stoic reserve as she said that the crime will be investigated as a hate crime and the perpetrator will be tried and dealt with as he should be. I can only imagine the reactions of the parents, families and friends of the victims.

While we are challenged to trust our judicial system, are we challenged not to hate in response? It is certainly understandable to feel great anger. I’m shocked and angry with this shooter. Do I hate him? No. He’s a product of a flawed system, one that has not protected its citizens. He will be dealt with now, but he should have been far earlier. The system failed those victims in so many ways. What happened was wrong to the point of diabolical. Tolerance must include waiting for things to get better. Working constructively toward that in whatever ways we can will help. Praying for change will help.

Tolerance is coexisting with difference. It is also emotional continence. Incontinence in the medical world is the inability to hold the bladder or sometimes the bowels. I think the parallel is actually profound. Too often in public and on social media there is a literal spew of emotional incontinence. I think we are called to be better than that.

Tolerance is, referring again to a medical definition, the ability to withstand increasing levels of a medication in one’s system. Increasing levels? I wonder if there is a parallel to what people feel about the world changing. Once upon a time the older generation couldn’t tolerate Elvis Presley’s hips and dancing, and there was once a Hays production code in films. Now we have unbelievable displays in media such that our great grandparents would be incredibly shocked if they witnessed it.

Tolerance is the example of Jesus hanging out with sinners. He heard their stories, he showed compassion. He was from a lower-class town but he tolerated the snobs and the elite, as well. He spoke the truth. Yes, he did chase away the corrupted people out of the temple who were looking for profits and self-gain, who extorted others in a holy place. He said “Woe…” to those who took advantage of and injured others. But he loved them all. Can we challenge ourselves to love the souls of those we have differences with?

We need to tolerate these changing times, the unrest. A day at a time hope for and work toward a better world. Seek understanding. Seek to be a nice person who cares about others. We can challenge ourselves to love souls despite differences. We may not have the perfect world we want now, but there sure is a better chance of it if we can talk through disagreements, seek common ground, explore each others’ beliefs and concerns–and exhibit true tolerance and caring.

Tears, Held

I recently came across a poem I wrote years ago. I cannot remember if I included it in my "younger Mom" blog, theabbeyfarm@blogspot.com.

Many of us are caretakers of others. Edith Stein was the German Jewish philosopher who became Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a nun who died in the Holocaust, who wrote beautifully about spiritual motherhood. Caretaking and nurturing is a spiritual vocation regardless of gender. I’ve said before that caretaking for one who is suffering from medical issues is extremely stressful. We choose to care because we love. It is a form of self-sacrifice, which is the greatest of all gifts. The incongruity of pain and joy existing at the same time is worthy to ponder. There is truth in it.

Tears, held.
The reservoir is tremendous,
Her banks home to many,
Her waters life-giving
And re-creational.

Resolve reinforced,
Cracks patched in the dam.
Laboring unheard,
She moans as trickles of water break through
And belie her humanity.

The force intensifies,
Floodgates open-
She wails!
But no one hears her amidst the rushing waters,
Amidst their outcries of changing tides.

Yet without such release
She would shatter irreparably,
Causing devastation to all.
She knows that responsibility-
It has become her.

The floodgates close once again,
The weight of the water returns on the dam.
And the work resumes, ever silent.
All Cheer!
The waters are contained.

She is her work;
Love, with the greatest purpose-
There is deep joy in this, even in labor.
Tears, held.

When to Stop

In my last post I wrote about a field hockey-like attitude to getting things done. In reality, continuing on like that ensures that exhaustion will set in eventually. For those of us who pride ourselves on productivity, it is so very hard to sit still. I’ll go up to rest in my room and after 25 minutes I am reorganizing my closet. But sometimes I do hit the proverbial brick wall.

It happened a couple days ago, and I realized that to a certain extent, I probably developed auto-immune conditions and cancer because I never slowed down. One good and very young friend asked me about a decade ago, “What are you chasing?” I shirked it off, as I was chasing nothing but dreams and a good family life. But over time I saw that he was right–in doing too much I was avoiding something. And not only that, I was not living in the moment. Life was rushing by.

When our identity is so wrapped up in a specific concept, it is worth pondering. Earlier in my life it was important to be very nice. In my twenties I realized that I had co-dependent tendencies. I had to learn that while a default smile is fine, it is not my duty to ensure others’ happiness. I became so sensitive to it that I sacrificed my own peace for that imagined responsibility. It wasn’t an either/or issue. I enjoyed being a nice person; but I went too far.

A friend of mine was a driven runner. When he sustained an injury, depression set in. He later told me that the depression had always been under the surface. While exercise was a very good thing for it, he overcompensated and became compulsive. His body got hooked on the “runner’s high.” He avoided working on the issues around his depression until that injury stopped him.

There is a balance to be sought in most aspects of life. A balance in work and recreation, a balance in exercise and food. The Bible advocates for moderation (Philippians 4: 4-8).

Is there any area in your life in which you need to ponder moderation? Are you running from anything? Don’t wait until you are injured or ill to work on important issues and to develop your inner strength.

Field Hockey Days

Back at Hereford High School in Maryland, back in the day, I played softball and field hockey. I played other sports with friends, but these were my two “letter” sports.

Though softball was the sport I played best from a young age, in field hockey I recall the incredible, heart pounding, pulmonary exploding sprints. I played both defense and offence but mainly defense. I was pretty good, and I was aggressive without being mean…yet with a last name of Greene, I was nicknamed the Mean Greene Machine by my coach; Mean Greene for short.

In one game, I was hit hard in the forehead by an opponent’s stick and, starstruck for a second, I waved everyone off to return to play. That is, until I saw the horrified looks of the players watching the blood suddenly pour profusely into my eyes and down my face. I had to be pulled and bandaged. I was out for the game.

Most games went smoothly. We had a good record. The memories coming back to me most in these days of my cancer journey are the ones where I was sprinting up and down the field, to the point I knew I’d drop. I couldn’t keep going, I thought many times to myself. And then — the ball rushed right up to me in a pass, or alongside me by chance, and I felt the afterburners kick on, connecting with the ball, dribbling or flicking or driving it, following it until it was in play elsewhere. Where the energy, the oxygen came from, I do not know. But it was an incredible feeling.

I’m not feeling incredible at all these days, but when called on to do just one more thing, when my body is crying in pain, when nauseated, when chemo-brained…if it is truly important, I follow it like those hockey balls of old. It simply must be done.

Perhaps I should ignore some balls. I feel I am passing so many to my husband and kids. Sometimes the ball has only my name on it and there is no choice. I think God gives me strength in these instances and I rest later.

In fact, we had a nice weekend at a lake and I’ll close with a photo. Restoration is important for each and every one of us. It looks different to each person, but we must find the code to what works best for us. Prayer helps. I had much down time for prayer and relaxation and I was indeed restored to fight the third round of chemo this week.

Patience Revisited

My first children’s book, Wendel the Wind Turbine should be available soon. I am awaiting final proofs. I can imagine that like so many things since the pandemic, the process is running slower and with fewer hands. Once again, it is time to reinforce the process of patience in my life.

I became aware of my impatience as a young adult. I was excited about the future, my career as a Registered Nurse, all of the interests I pursued, traveling, getting married and starting a family. I would hear often that one should ideally live in the moment, but the future held so much in store that in the moment I needed to think and plan! I realize now that while thinking ahead and planning are very important, they are not what is meant by “living in the moment.”

Social media memes abound which emphasize that while people are snapping away selfies and photos and recording events on smartphones, they are missing out on actually participating in the moment itself. Decades and centuries ago, people would have marveled at such technology, but could it be that without it all, they participated more fully in the moments of their lives?

Yesterday before dusk my son and I had a nice drive together to accomplish an errand. He drove and we chatted. I instructed him in that loving, motherly-way of how to reduce speed more gradually when approaching red lights and cars braking ahead. Oh, he was patient with me!

Upon arriving home, we witnessed the most incredible evening sky. Oranges and pinks and lavender bounced down from a vast, low ceiling of clouds hovering just over our home. I did say it was too bad we couldn’t take a photo, and he fumbled with groceries and managed to get out his smartphone. I went inside immediately because that is what I do with groceries. But by the time I walked to the kitchen at the back of the house the carnival lights had dimmed to a dull purple. I thought it would last. I wish I’d stayed on the porch a bit longer, basking in the colors as long as they shone. The photo hastily taken did not match the spectacle. The light just could not be captured.

What has this to do with patience? I did nothing wrong in my auto-pilot of putting bags down in the kitchen, and yet a second or two more of enjoying the light would have been lovely. I will ponder this along with my efforts to live better in the moment. There is too much unrest in the world. By resting in the moment, experiencing what is good and beautiful as fully as we can, we become better versions of ourselves, with profound effects on those around us.

It takes patience to seek the beauty of the moment, it takes slowing down. When effective, the spirit, mind and body are calmed, and we experience peace and gratitude. Patience is indeed a fruit of the spirit.

Developing it in ourselves bears much needed fruit in the world.

Memento Mori, Memento Vivere

I grew up in a rural town where everyone knew my name.

I was the-go-to babysitter, Suzy Greene.

Not long before I began babysitting; cool trench coat, eh?

A most-favorite Mom became a good friend through my twenties and early-thirties. Joanne was 41 when diagnosed with colon cancer, her boys by then in their early teens. I took my new baby girl, all pink and white in her carrying car-seat the last time I visited Joanne. There are no other words— Joanne was radiant. She was 42 and, being nearly 30 years ago, it was before regular screenings were routine, treatments were not as advanced, and it was caught late.

Glowing Joanne told me she had never been happier. She had found joy in the moment, in living.

I miss her to this day, but she was right. The moment is “where it’s at,” and there is beauty in it!

One of my sons turned 19 last week and my husband made an incredible dinner. It was the first time I did not bake my son’s cake, but oh, that Pepperidge Farm Coconut cake tasted heavenly. His best friend was visiting and his girlfriend was on Facetime through the dinner and singing of “Happy Birthday.”

It was the happiest moment I can think of in years. Our priest Fr. Arek visited earlier and my son took communion with me. It was a great day!

I’ll share the brilliant writing of a newfound friend of mine. Hers is not my journey, but it hints closely. It’s about as much self-disclosure as I’m up for, and indirect, at that. It is full of raw feeling, yet embedded with wisdom.

Enjoy today! In order to experience joy, to fully live in the moment, we must first contemplate that at some point in future, we all die. Memento Mori, Memento Vivere!

Carpe Diem!