Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Relationships

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

Whatever lies ahead

Walking toward me this morning,
the fortyish adult woman seemed
unhappy and despondent,
clutching her light jacket
and looking away

Just across the street,
grade school children shouted
in frenzies of laughter, competition
and the need to be seen and heard

How does it happen so quickly —
This fierce need to be part of the gang?

And how is it that some of us
were held back by heavy rules
and unnumbered regulations?

I’ve rarely felt so lost as I do today
during this unruly period between
diagnosis and unpleasant tests
coming toward me down a road
I never thought I would travel

Yes, I have health issues on my mind. I’m also thinking about my writing. The physical impact on my body is taking a toll. I’ll be relieved when the next set of tests has been completed.

For years, I’ve had a storyline in my head: Eldest daughter of a strict pastor/father gets married and finally has a life of her own. Rules for Good Girls go out the window. Free at last, she flies away and finds out she is a real human being.

I wish. It’s wonderful to celebrate the moment I spoke truth to my father. It was the eve of my 50th birthday. I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced. What was taken from me in my childhood and youth is gone forever.

Until now, I’ve hesitated to write about what it was like to study, teach, and serve as dean in academic and seminary settings. Nor have I written much about my life as a member of Christian churches.

Something tells me this is an opportunity to be welcomed. Right now I’m not so sure. Yet I know it’s time.

Thanks for listening,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021 in the Longwood Meadow Garden

A lament for 9/11/2001 and today

I wrote the lament below for an open seminary forum held one month after the 9/11/2001 attack. Today, 20 years later, the lament rings painfully true.

We haven’t had more unexpected attacks on skyscrapers or the Pentagon. Instead, we’ve had a home-grown physical attack on Congress; home-grown political attacks masquerading as MAGA; routine home-grown attacks on people of color, immigrants, and women; unprecedented fires, floods, drought and tornadoes; and daily fallout from protracted global warfare and upheaval.

Back to 2001. I was one of several faculty members asked to open the forum. I’m speaking in our seminary chapel. A large wooden crucifix is on the wall behind me. Hence my reference below to Christ’s death being in the room.

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I’m not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

“What is your only comfort in life and death?

“My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

Praying for ways to maintain lifegiving connections with those we love and those we too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 September 2021
Quote from the Heidelberg Catechism found at etsy.com

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).

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness | Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was born on 10 September 1935 and died on 17 January 2019. Though today’s world isn’t the world she knew, I hear this poem speaking truth about today’s realities. My comments follow.

Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

Published 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (p. 49)
Copyright 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
First published in A Thousand Mornings, 2012

I can’t read this poem without thinking about today’s world. We aren’t simply on the cusp of late fall and winter weather. We’re witnessing with our eyes and hearts the end of an era. The title of the poem is heavy with innuendo.

Mary looks at the changing of seasons and points to the goodness of what doesn’t always seem good enough or lovable enough. Who loves to see flowers wilting, or dry old leaves falling to the ground? Or the warm light of day giving way to the icy darkness of each night?

Instead of mourning the passing of warm weather and beautiful fall days, Mary points to what it means to love this world. All of it. No matter what we think about changing seasons, or about the lovability of family, friends, strangers, or even ourselves.

What’s true of nature reminds me of human relationships. Like flower petals falling to the ground, we, too, move from one season, to the next. No one said this would be easy. Nor do we have any idea what beautiful surprises may be waiting just around the corner. Especially in the midst of unfathomable loss and anguish.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2021
Photo by Sven Brogren found at fineartamerica.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

Facing an end-of-life avalanche

For friends and strangers
Or any human being
Facing an end-of-life avalanche –
One step at a time
Seems far too small and
Way too late

The uneven beauty of years
Rises from ashes to haunt
And perplex mind and soul
Searching for nothing more
Than rest from this accumulation
Of daily toil interrupted by
Reminders of the past
With its strange stew
Of brilliance and horror

Sorting through outdated files
I follow my cautious steps
Through mine fields and
Unexpected mountain tops
That fail to convey the full
Truth of any moment
Heavy with the perplexities
Of life and friendship as well as
Camouflaged frenemies
Waiting in the wings for
My demise or my glory

How mixed up we all are
On this planet of painful turmoil
And disappointments stirred
Into a pot of sometimes rancid
Stew or on that rare occasion
A table set with the finest
Wine known to human beings
Huddled in our offices hoping
For a visit from glory without
Death and without regret

For friends and strangers
Or any human being
Facing an end-of-life avalanche –
One step at a time
Seems far too small and
Way too late

A few weeks ago D and I began tackling the most difficult sorting-out project of our lives. It’s one thing to move into a house and get things in order.

Now, however, we’re immersed in divesting ourselves of collections of various kinds. We’ve stored them away fairly neatly for nearly 40 years. Think of academic files, picture files, books, CDs, and items from parents and other family members no longer with us. What I don’t understand is why, though we’ve already given away thousands of books, it feels as though we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Then there are academic files going back to college, seminary, university, teaching and administration years. I’m getting better at letting things go. Still, I can’t help feeling sad, especially when I come across notes from friends with whom I once studied or worked.

Thanks for stopping by!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 August 2021
Image found at journeytowardsimple.com

I’ve told you so much already, revisited

This post from December 2017 popped up yesterday. It’s as true today as it was back then. Not just about me, but about citizens, immigrants and strangers of all ages who know what it’s like to be on the other end of abusive sexual behavior.

I’ve told you so much already
And still it isn’t enough
To assuage the pain
Or grieve the sister and brother-losses
Of this cruel world

When did it begin and where
Will it end?

We haven’t even begun
You and I
To face the depths and height and reach
Of just one sorrow multiplied
Into a thousand permutations
Now dismissed as though
None of it meant a thing

I don’t have to dig up
The bones
Or display the misshapen ligaments
Of my body-soul
They’re on display daily
Don’t you see them?

Or are you lost
In your denial-desire for just
One more touch
One more self-righteous smirk
One more body-soul
To humiliate and throw
On the trash heap
Of been there done that

I don’t even know where
To begin
Or where this will end
It doesn’t feel safe
Or bode well
Given the contours
Of confessional history
That by sleight of hand
Turn the aggrieved
Into the aggressor
Dangerous and deceptive
Not to be believed
Just in it for publicity
Or attention or some other
Self-serving dream

We know not what we do
Was never so true
As it is today and tomorrow

I’ve told you so much already
And still it isn’t enough…..

My dear Friends,
This is where I’ve been in the last weeks and months. Fiercely angry about the cost being exacted from victims of sexual violence. Especially those who dare name it and describe it as experienced by them, and as it has played out for them over the years.

We must invite–not simply ‘allow’–victims’ personal and collective grief, shame, horror and anger to be heard. And felt. As often as necessary, before it’s too late. Our personal and collective humanity is at stake.

As for me, it’s time to step up and speak out yet again. This time not on my behalf, but standing with sisters and brothers I don’t know, may never meet, may not like personally, but identify with to such a degree that remaining silent or ‘moving on’ is not an option.

What does this look like for my blogging? The poem above is one example, though I know I can’t survive living in this hellish place every day. So I’m thinking about the coming year, and how I might begin taking apart pieces I can manage. From time to time. Nothing scholarly or scientific. Just the ravings of an articulate, educated woman fed up with the self-serving nonsense spewed out by those who want this to go away so we can get back to business as usual.

Thank you for visiting, reading, and listening with all your heart.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 December 2017, reposted 3 August 2021
Image found at stock.adobe.com

Summer 2021 Update for My Friends

Dear Friends,

I’m taking several days off from regular posting. Weariness has caught up with me, and I’m grateful to be seeing my integrative doctor tomorrow. Nothing horrible, though the nagging reality of diminishing energy is no fun. Especially in this Summer’s heat.

Yesterday D and I spent time visiting with a neighbor and one of his friends. We sat outside on the patio next to his lovely garden and had a lively conversation. It made me realize once again how fragile life is, and how much each connection and communication matters.

As for the work I need to do, it’s almost all in my office, crying out for attention. I’ve already gone through quite a bit, sometimes tearing up as I read old notes from family members, students, colleagues and friends. A few days ago I uncovered yet another neatly organized box of letters and photos. I’m astonished at how much I’ve kept and almost forgotten.

So now it’s down to what I’ll keep, what I’ll get rid of, and what our children and grandchildren might want to see or have.

From another perspective, it’s down to how many times I’m going to pause to rejoice, lament, or read. Though I don’t tend to cling to the past, it seems I’ve let it cling to me. Perhaps because I knew I wouldn’t adequately appreciate it until now.

On a lighter note, we’re watching a brave patch of sunflowers growing in our back yard. Remnants left behind from the large bird feeder we put out this past winter. Yesterday I saw the first bits of yellow petals beginning to unfold. It looks like we might have 7 flowers in all, thanks to the kindness of winter birds dropping sunflower seeds (among other things) in the snow! According to the chart above and their current height, I think they’re Giant Singles (about 5 feet high).

Cheers and prayers for all of us as we make our way through this rapidly changing world.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 July 2021
Photo found at thegardeningcook.com

Chart found at pinterest.com

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