Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Spiritual Formation

Without a script

Appalled
My eyes retrace the
Tortuous path from
There to here

No magic formula
No prewritten script
No sense of how this
Will play out

With every page
My eyes tear up
Full of anguish
And the pain of
Reality writ large

Planning notes plus
Letters of disbelief
And anger magnify
the stakes on all sides

Win-win is not guaranteed
In this upside-down world
In which eldest daughter
Persists to the bitter end
Not for money or a break-through
But for her own sanity
And adult identity

During the last several days I reviewed my 1993 planning file for a  once in a lifetime meeting with my parents. I chose the eve of my 50th birthday. At the time, I was a professor at the seminary, depressed, and unable to relate as an adult to my parents. My father was a pastor, my mother was a church musician, and we four daughters were the preachers’ kids. A high stakes family.

My depression had become unmanageable. I needed professional help. One of my pastors, a woman, recommended several psychotherapists. I was terrified when I made my first enquiry. In my family, we never sought out “worldly” help for anything that smelled like psychology. Church and the Bible were all we needed.

Still, I took deep breaths, made my first phone call, and began seeing a psychotherapist twice a week. At my intake interview I never mentioned my difficult relationship with my father. Nonetheless, the woman interviewing me suggested I consider a meeting with my father. I was horrified.

Working with my therapist, I began from scratch. Not immediately, but after my first few years of therapy. This would be my meeting, structured and led by me. It wasn’t about ensuring a successful end or pleasing my parents. I lived in Pennsylvania; my parents lived in Georgia. My job was to initiate, plan, and produce an agenda for a meeting in Georgia. No dress rehearsal or second chance.

But first I had to clarify my boundaries. This changed everything, even before I began working on a meeting in Georgia. More about boundaries in a later post.

Thanks for stopping by. Praying for clarity, wisdom and courage in these troubled days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2021
Photo found at unsplash.com

What females do not deserve

We don’t need fancy degrees
Or positions of so-called power
To agree on one thing:

In today’s downhill avalanche
And dismissive coverup of truth
About women and girls of any age
Soul-searching is quickly dismissed
In favor of shameful, angry blaming
Of women who dare speak
Their own minds or
Live their own lives
Despite the cost

Females of any age do not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced.

Nearly 28 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I said to my father: “I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced by you.” I wish I could say that making this statement fixed everything for me as a woman. It did not.

Instead, as an adult professional, I still had to live with sometimes brazen attempts to shame, humiliate or silence me. For example,

  • Disgruntled students who didn’t approve of my gender or my approach to teaching and learning sometimes filed written complaints with my dean or the president of the seminary.
  • In my work with and in the seminary dean’s office, my value was sometimes measured by my willingness to go along.
  • My questions weren’t always welcome, especially regarding university decisions that impacted the seminary.

Bottom line: Most of my paying jobs involved a significant degree of holding back, keeping my mouth shut and my emotions under wrap. Sadly, the same was sometimes true in churches I attended, especially regarding issues of concern to women and children.

My decision to meet with my parents in 1993 was costly for our entire family. Would I do it again? Yes. My life today would not be what it is without this tough family work. In some ways, it became my fulltime job, the underpinning of my professional and personal life. As I’m able, I’ll be posting about this from time to time, drawing on written notes I made years ago, and correspondence with some family members.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some of my life with you. Next Friday I’ll have tests on my feet and legs. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what can and cannot be done to alleviate the pain. Peripheral neuropathy stinks!

Thanks for stopping by,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2021
Quotation found at thewei.com

Dancing with Reality

Taking stock from
The moment I put feet
On the ground
I wonder what this
Day will bring though
I already know the
News won’t be
What I expected

I always thought
A life of healthy choices
Would save me from
The ignominy of so-called
Failure or decrepitude
Despite external indicators
And internal mysteries
To the contrary

This morning I looked into
The mirror of today
Wondering how and
Where and when and why
Things fell out for me
In places I never dreamed
Of meeting on a cold or
Hot day in this short journey

Sinking into a chair I heave
Sighs of relief knowing that
Whatever the next checkup
Brings it won’t destroy
What already wants to
Dance without missing a beat
Or falling to the floor
In sheer exhaustion

I’m still learning what it means to live with peripheral neuropathy in my feet and legs. Each day offers multiple challenges. Which orthopedic shoes will I wear today? What can I do to keep the pain down? (Would you believe walk more?!) In three weeks I’ll have tests to determine how much damage has already been done.

In the meantime, I’m grateful for informative internet sites that aren’t trying to sell a product, a service, or a magic wand solution to a complex health issue. Here’s a reliable link to the National Institute of Health: Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet.

Thanks for stopping by, and a belated happy Fall (here in the USA), or Spring (in Australia, for example). In case you’re wondering, the photo at the top is there because I like it. A bit of fall foliage at Longwood Gardens in October 2019.

Elouise

Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, October 2019

I Happened To Be Standing | Mary Oliver

I haven’t been able to get Mary Oliver’s poem about prayer out of my mind. My comments follow.

I Happened To Be Standing

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

A Thousand Mornings, by Mary Oliver, pp 3-4
First published in the USA by Penguin Press, 2012
© 2012 by NW Orchard LLC

Dear Mary,

I happened to be sitting yesterday in the small waiting room of a physician’s office I didn’t want to visit. Well…I didn’t have an appointment with the doctor himself, but with one of his very talented assistants, both women of course. But see, I’m already off track.

While I sat for what turned into a longer than expected wait, I pulled out your small and wonderful book of poems, A Thousand Mornings.

I had at least a thousand prayers in me as I waited. Most were in the petition mode, given the nature of this first visit to a specialist I never thought I would meet. Now look at that…I’m off track yet again.

I didn’t read your poem once. I read it many times. It exposed my angst, fear, and resistance in that moment to turning my attention outward and upward, with or without a song.

It  was good I had to wait longer than I liked. I needed every second to find my way back to that small wren singing its little heart out—by way of your beautiful poem.

Gratefully,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 September 2021
Photo of Carolina Wren found at unsplash.com

Food from above

My eyes land on mama squirrel
Alone on our stone wall
Now transformed into a low table
Of aging sunflower platters
Bursting with food from above —
A banquet waiting for guests

One by one she tackles
Her task with a vengeance
No pausing to enjoy the morning
Sunshine or the gorgeous
Blue sky above, she focuses
Intently on food for her babies

Only one small break for a
Quick drink from the bird bath
And she’s back at it ferociously
Determined to carry home
More than enough for the
Next generation’s deep hunger

No, she wasn’t particularly beautiful. Her body hair bore marks of nest stress, and she was clearly in a hurry to collect as much food as possible for her little ones.

For at least five minutes I watched through my binoculars before she took off. Then I teared up thinking about how much our Creator cares for me and for you.

No, we won’t necessarily find food lying around waiting for us to take it home for ourselves or our families. On the other hand, sometimes the food we need is at hand, if only we have eyes to see or hear, and courage to accept what is right in front of us. In plain view, if not always beautiful.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 September 2021
photo found at projectnoah.org

Our 9/11/1965 Wedding Anniversary

Saturday, 9/11/2021, is our 56th wedding anniversary. Tomorrow we’re taking off for Longwood Gardens to celebrate. Most of the news will be focused on what happened 20 years ago, and the way our nation has changed since then.

So what about 56 years of marriage? When D and I married in 1965, we inherited challenges we didn’t see coming. For my part, I thought all my problems, if I had any, would magically fade away. Instead, it took years to recognize how handicapped I was on our wedding day. Here’s a look at some of what it took for me to address habits and assumptions I brought into our marriage.

  • Admitting I needed help with depression, and connecting with trustworthy people such as Al-Anon friends and my psychotherapist, beginning in my mid to late 40s
  • Telling D things I didn’t want to talk about because I felt embarrassment, shame or humiliation
  • Listening to D without jumping in to have my say before he finishes what he has to say
  • Overcoming my fear of being female in a male-dominated world–without making D the enemy
  • Talking about painful mistakes and starting over with small steps, one at a time
  • Learning to accept and live with health issues I didn’t see coming
  • Letting D sometimes do things I’ve usually done for myself, but don’t now have energy to accomplish
  • Accepting less than perfection in housecleaning and keeping to a schedule
  • Taking time to get away from our house via walks in the neighborhood, visits to Longwood Gardens, church as we’re able, and back yard conversations with neighbors
  • Spending time together each evening with Smudge snoozing on our laps

Today my bottom line is still the same as ever: Marriage takes hard work and willingness to die. Not physical death, but dying to my dreams for us, my way of seeing D’s world, my brilliant ideas….and finding there’s hope in creatively rethinking together our daily or long-term challenges. Especially now, 20 years after the 9/11 attack, and just 2 years into Covid nightmares, weather-related upheavals, and a breakdown of goodwill.

Thanks for your visit today! Each moment of today is a precious opportunity to reach out to those we love.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2021
Photo of two lovely couples taken 11 September 1965 in the church basement following our double wedding ceremony in Savannah, Georgia. Sister #2 is on the left with her husband (now deceased).

I go down to the shore | Mary Oliver

Vernon River and Marshland, Georgia, USA

This short poem by Mary Oliver has been haunting me for over a week. My comments follow.

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings, p. 1
© 2012 by NW Orchard, LLC
First published by Penguin Press 2012

Compact. To the point. No nonsense. Nothing but truth.

That’s how I want to be. Not just in my writing, but in my ability to ‘hear’ what the sea and the sky, trees and birds, clouds and thunder are saying with their busy, if not always lovely work.

The last few months have offered several opportunities to say with Mary, “Oh, I am miserable.” Or better, “Growing older is much more daunting than I dreamed it would be.” Right now I’m inundated with forms to fill out for an appointment with a new doctor next week.

It would be nice to have a shore close by, with the sea “rolling in or moving out.” Or even the Vernon River of my childhood with its 24-hour cycle of ebb and flow.

On the other hand, every morning when I go down to our kitchen I’m greeted by birds, squirrels, chipmunks, flowering shrubs, trees, clouds, wind, rain or sunshine — all with work to do. Whether I feel like working or not. Whether I’m happy or not. Whether the sun is shining or not.

Thanks for stopping by today. And dare I say, in my lovely seashore voice, of course: “Excuse me, I have work to do.”

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 September 2021
Photo of the Vernon River and Marshland found at ogeecheeriverkeeper.org

What makes your heart sing?

On the edge of sanity
my heart skips a beat
uncertain whether to
laugh or cry or fade out
of sight without so much
as a farewell or a hug

Looking around I wonder
why I’m still here after
a lifetime of trying to prove
I’m not a failure or a witch
wanting to poison anyone
intent on taking me down

I no longer believe old lies
about the meaning of life
and who gets to decide
who or what is worthwhile
as too many of us lurch along
drunk with our own goodness

All my life I’ve held tightly to this mantra: “Whatever you do, Elouise, do it well and do it with all your heart, mind and body.”

Rarely did anyone ask me what I wanted to do, what I most enjoyed about life, or what dreams I might have for myself. To attend to what I loved was often seen as selfish.

Instead, the mantra was always about responsibility, showing up, and persevering until the job was done. It seemed sensible, sane, and part of what I could offer, even after retirement.

This past week, in conversation with a longtime friend, I finally got it straight. At this age, I am NOT responsible for most, if not all the things (files and academic records) I thought I needed to hang onto. It’s time to let them go, with thanks to shredders.

Besides life with D and my volunteer work, I love playing the piano, writing, reading, watching birds in the back yard, and looking through old cards, notes and pictures from long ago.

Praying for this tired old world, and opportunities to reach out as I’m able. Plus commitment to things I love. They aren’t distractions from the real work. They’re the main agenda.

What makes your heart sing? Thanks for stopping by!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2021
Tufted Titmouse photo found at thebirdnature.com

The Funeral

Sitting near the back row
Like a spectator at a show
I didn’t want to see just now
I look on wondering
How soon my short time
On this weary earth be over

The atmosphere is charged
With memories and the beauty
Of one man’s life well lived
As the world slowly fell apart
At its seams spilling the life
We’re called to nurture

I wonder what today’s generation
Feels as stalwart towers of
Strength and kindness crumble
Under the indignities of old age
And aching desires for more than
This world can possibly offer

What we have done we may never
Know with this exception that
Life as we thought it would be
has often become a race for fame
and glory if even for one minute
on an electronic device or poster

The distance from this life to the next
Is less than a heartbeat or breath away
With or without fanfare or our
Determined attempts to impact
This world saturated with lonely
Children and teens and aging adults

The most telling marks are made
By everyday giants who know how to
Listen and love and wait patiently
For vines to ripen and grapes to fall
Into the hands and hearts of lonely
Human beings looking for a friend

Thoughts after attending today’s funeral service for one of our church friends. Born in 1934, Harold knew how to listen, wait, and keep showing up to do whatever needed to be done. Always without fanfare.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 August 2021
Photo of table grapes found at growingproduce.com

On being this old woman

When all is said and done
Who are we
really?

Today I struggled with
my humanity and
my pride

Being this old woman is
A fulltime job
These days

Not what I would wish
on my best friends
or worst enemies

Aching feet and heart
arrhythmias remind
me daily of my age

Yesterday I was a tired
fed-up old lady intent on
getting through

Today I’m still a tired
old lady whose external
glories are fading

And yet the beauty of a
sunset and the song of a
resident wren

To say nothing of that
spectacular rainbow
hugging the earth

make me feel young and
beautiful if only for
a dying moment

Rollercoaster days. Up one day, down the next—with a slowly growing predominance of down days.

This morning I had a check-up for my heart’s irregular rhythms. A young woman with way more expertise than I downloaded and analyzed data stored in Lucy Pacemaker for the last two (Covid) years. Bottom line: my heart is now beating irregularly almost 50% of each day and night. Not good.

This, plus other nagging realities, makes me eager to do what I can while I can. Though life is incredibly complex and unpredictable, it’s also beautiful. If only for a few passing minutes.

I pray you’re finding your way each day, making the most of small opportunities to affirm and support others like and unlike you. Always with one eye and ear alert for unexpected rainbows or the song of a Carolina wren.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 August 2021
Photo found at dewbow.co.uk

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