The Mere Exception

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We should always endeavour to wonder at the permanent thing, not at the mere exception. We should be startled by the sun, and not by the eclipse. We should wonder less at the earthquake, and wonder more about the earth.
~ G.K. Chesterton

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As a physician, I’m trained to notice the exceptions – the human body equivalent of
an eclipse or an earthquake,
a wildfire or drought,
a hurricane or flood,
or a simple pothole.

Ordinarily I’m not particularly attentive to everything that is going well with the human body, instead concentrating on what is aberrant, out of control or could be made better.

This is unfortunate; there is much beauty and amazing design to behold in every person I meet, especially those with chronic illness who feel nothing is as it should be and feel despair and frustration at how their mind or body is aging, failing and faltering.

To counter this tendency to just find what’s wrong and needs fixing, I’ve learned over the years to talk out loud as I do physical assessments:
you have no concerning skin lesions,
your eardrums look just as they should,
your eyes react normally,
your tonsils look fine,
your thyroid feels smooth,
your lymph nodes are tiny,
your lungs are clear,
your heart sounds are perfect,
your belly exam is reassuring,
your reflexes are symmetrical,
your emotional response to this stress and your tears are completely understandable.

I also write messages meant to reassure:
your labs are in a typical range
or are getting better
or at least maintaining,
your xray shows no concerns,
or isn’t getting worse,
those medication side effects are to be expected and could go away.

I acknowledge what is working well before attempting to intervene in what is not.

I’m not sure how much difference it makes to my patient.
But it makes a difference to me to wonder first at who this whole patient is before I focus in on what is broken and what is causing such dis-ease.

I just might be astonished.

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Turn Aside and Look: Worlds Forming in My Heart

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All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent 
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

camelliared

The first day of spring is a traditional celebration of the rebirth of nature’s seasonal rhythms, and God’s inner renewal of our hearts.

I know some new spring mornings are pitch black with blustering winds and rain, looking and feeling like the bleakest of October mornings about to plunge into the death spiral of deep autumn and winter all over again.

No self-respecting God would birth Himself into something like this: a dawn as dark as night.

But this God would.

He labors in our darkest of hearts for good reason.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him in the light, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts.  Though we are called to celebrate the renewal of springtime, it is just so much talk until we accept the change of being transformed ourselves.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us.   The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, especially inside our broken hearts now healing.

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To Leave Nothing Concealed

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In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.
~Brennan Manning from Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

 

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Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received good care. As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away. But after someone has carefully tended to our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others….We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole being. That is healing.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread for the Journey

 

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rhodieice

There are unconcealed and transparent wounds all around me today.  Our yard is frozen in time with glaze ice entrapping newly budded twigs alongside glass-like showcases of old dead weeds.  Some forty foot trees are bent over in half, their tops brushing the ground, burdened with such a heavy load.  During the northeast wind last night we heard crack after crack as branches gave way, unable to sustain in such conditions.

This morning, in the illumination of day light,  it looks like a tornado hit the yard — broken branches and wounded trees everywhere. The wind continues and the temperatures stay sub-freezing.  Winter is not done messing with us yet.

It is conditions like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, firestorms and silver thaws that remind us how little control we have over our environment and how much control it has over us. Being unable to walk anywhere outdoors that isn’t coated with ice is a humbling, helpless feeling. Yet I’m grateful for the reminder of our helplessness and woundedness. We dwell in this often hostile world and try to steward it, but we adapt to it, not the world adapting to us. We cannot stop the frozen rain from falling, but must wait patiently for the southerly winds to blow.

In fact, the warming and healing will come. Soon will I listen out our back door to the south, and hear the frozen trees in our woods knocking their branches together in a noisy cacophony as the south wind warms the ice, causing chunks to drop from the branches, clattering and clacking their way to the ground.

…from stony frozen silence of the wounded to animated noisemakers with a steady puff of warm wind.
…from bleeding to bandaged thanks to the warmth of family, a friend, a neighbor.

At times when I’m iced over –
rigid in my opinions, frozen in emotion, silent and cocooned –
the approach of a warm touch, an empathetic word, or heartfelt outreach breaks me free.

Perhaps I remain frostbitten around the edges, but I am whole again, grateful for the healing of the warm wind.

It is well worth the wait.

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See You Soon Enough

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Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.
 
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.
 
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.
 
Seducer, healer, deity, or thief,
I will see you soon enough–
in the shadow of the rainfall,
 
in the brief violet darkening a sunset —
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore
 
and the harsh falcon its flightless young.
~Dana Gioia “The Prayer” (written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)
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When we think of those who wait for us on the other side,
and who we will wait for when it comes our time,
I know there is One who watches over all these reunions,
knowing the moment when our fractured hearts
heal whole once again.
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A Strong Enough Bridge

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The bridge of grace will bear your weight…
~Charles Spurgeon

 

All creatures are doing their best
to help God in His birth
of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.
He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent
for a while,

worlds are forming
in my heart.    
~Meister Eckhart from “Expands His Being”

 

What God would birth Himself into something as dark as this world?
Into this place of meanness, tribal conflicts and hatred?

This God would.

He labors in our dark hearts for good reason, becoming a bridge strong enough to bear us into the light and heal the cracks and fissures within.  We are unformed and unready to meet Him, clinging as we do to our dark ways and thoughts, afraid to walk the plank as our weight of sin is so heavy, our need so great.

We are silenced as He prepares us, as He prepares Himself for birth within us. The labor pains are His, not ours;  we become awed witnesses to His first and last breath when He makes all things, including us, new again, bearing us up, no matter how heavy the burden we bring to Him.

The world is reborn — even where dark reigned before, even where it is bleakest, even where we were sure we would break the bridge we tread. The broken heart is healed and sealed by grace for which no weight is too great.

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Moss Balm

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Most lie low, flourishing with damp,
harvesting sunlight, no commotion, moss
mouse-silent, even through wind and hail,
stoic through motors roaring fumes,
through fat-clawed bears grubbing.

They can soothe the knife-edges of stones
with frothy leaf by leaf of gray-green life,
and burned-ground mosses cover destruction,
charred stumps, trees felled and blackened.
Cosmopolitan mosses likewise salve
sidewalk cracks, crumbling walls.

They root in thin alpine air, on sedentary
sand dunes, cling to cliff seeps beneath
spilling springs. For rest, they make mats
on streamside banks, for pleasure produce silky
tufts, wavy brooms of themselves in woodlands
for beauty, red roof moss for whim, elf
cap, hair cap, sphagnum for nurturing.

No fossil record of note, no bone
history, so lenient they possess only
those memories remembered.

I believe they could comfort the world
with their ministries. That is my hope,
even though this world be a jagged rock,
even though this rock be an icy berg of blue
or a mirage of summer misunderstood
(moss balm for misunderstanding),
even though this world be blind and awry
and adrift, scattering souls like spores
through the deep of a starlit sea.
~Pattiann Rogers from “The Moss Method”

 

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The moss I gather
through the camera lens:
a microcosm forest
of sprouts and undergrowth,
delicate branches and blossoms.
An environ all its own
on an old stump, a roof of shingles,
the north side of an ancient rock.

Words I write
are like doormats of moss,
lying thick as a carpet across the page,
piled one upon another,
some more beautiful,
some so plain as not to be noticed,
some with just the right curve and form
to make a difference,
cushioning my fall
with a gentle grace.

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A Healing Triangle

(a reblog of my story written ten years ago published in Country Magazine August/September 2007 and selected for use by the Educational Testing Service for standardized tests, like the SAT for Reading Comprehension)

Settling into the straw, I am grateful for this quiet moment after a 12 hour workday followed by all the requisite personal conversations that help mop up the spills and splatters of every day life. My family verbally unloads their day like so much stored up laundry needing to be washed and rinsed with the spin cycle completed before tomorrow dawns. I move from child to child to child to husband to grandmother, hoping to help each one clean, dry, fold and sort everything in their pile. Not to be outdone, I pile up a little dirty laundry of my own as I complain about my day.

By that time I’m on “spent” cycle myself.  I retreat to the barn where communication is less demanding and requires more than just my ears and vocal cords.   Complaints are meaningless here. In this place a new foal and his vigilant mama watch my every move.

This colt is intrigued by my intrusion into his 12′ x 24′ world. His mother is annoyed. He comes over to sniff my foot and his mother swiftly moves him away with a quick swing of her hips, daunting me with the closeness of her heels. Her first instinct insists she separate me from him and bar my access. My mandate is to woo her over. I could bribe her with food, but, no,  that is too easy.

A curry comb is best. If nothing else will work, a good scratching always does. Standing up, I start peeling sheets of no longer needed winter hair off her neck,  her sides, her flank and hindquarter.  She relaxes in response to my efforts,  giving her baby a body rub with her muzzle, wiggling her lips all up and down from his back to his tummy. He is delighted with this spontaneous mommy massage and leans into her, moving around so his hind end is under her mouth and his front end is facing me. Then he starts giving his own version of a massage too, wiggling his muzzle over my coat sleeve and wondrously closing this little therapeutic triangle.

Here we are, a tight little knot of givers/receivers with horse hair flying in a cloud about us. One weary human, one protective mama mare and one day-old foal, who is learning so young how to contribute to the well being of others. It is an incredible gift of trust they bestow on me like a blessing.  I realize this horse family is helping me sort my own laundry in the same way I had helped with my human family’s load.

Too often in life we find ourselves in painful triangles, passing our kicks and bites down the line to each other rather than providing needed relief and respite. We find ourselves unable to wrench free from continuing to deliver the hurts we’ve just received.  What strength it takes to respond with kindness when the kick has just landed on our backside. How chastened we feel when a kindness is directed at us, as undeserving as we are after having bitten someone hard.

Instead of biting, try massaging.  Instead of kicking, try tickling. Instead of fear, try acceptance.  Instead of annoyance, try patience. Instead of piling up so much laundry of your own, try washing, folding and sorting what is given to you by others, handing it back all ready for the next day.

If you just settle into the straw and wait, amazing things can happen.

Tonyasleep1

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