No Greater Love: A Mother’s Reflection on Good Friday

 

Holy Mother Mary with Child Jesus 18th century, by Unknown. Public Domain


Growing up Baptist I never identified very closely with Mary, but I was never really given the opportunity. Mary didn’t receive much credit within our religious community outside her role in the Christmas story; a great disservice, I think. It was after I left that denomination and had a child of my own that I found an emotional connection with her. There seems to be something innate to the female gender that takes great comfort in the shared experience of other women. Several events helped me better understand what might have been something of her experience as a mother.

In Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ there is a scene in which Jesus as a young boy is playing in the street outside his Nazareth home. His mother is watching him from a doorway. He stumbles and trips. He scrapes his knee. He is crying. As tears stream down his beautiful, little face from his big, brown eyes you see the concern on hers and her immediate urge and response to rush to him and scoop him up and comfort her curly-headed child whom she adores. She loves him, as any mother would. As every mother should. And because she loves him she wants to take away his pain and suffering. He is her child – her first child – and he is precious to her. And right there in the theater, I sobbed – heaving inhales and exhales. Because…I love my children like that.

When our first child was born I had a transformative epiphany about the depth of God’s love for us. I am sure I’m not the first parent to experience this, nor will I be the last. But in the emotional turmoil of my raging hormones, utter exhaustion, and rapturous joy in the days following his birth I was frequently overcome to the point of tears (and often sobs) about how amazing this tiny, pink, squirming, helpless creature was that had been gifted to us. I loved him so much, so deeply, so instantly. I would do anything to protect him. I would die for him. How could this be that I loved this child whom I hardly knew this much? And then it hit me. If I can love this child this much in all of my flawed humanness, how much more does God love each of us? It was a powerful realization.

My initial prenatal visit with my doctor was the day after 9-11. As we approached our first Easter as new parents, our son was barely one and our country entered a war. The reality of having a son deeply impacted me. Since then, countless parents have sent their children into harm’s way, while untold others have grieved a terrible loss. In spite of all my hopes and dreams in anticipation for his future, I know that I have but a brief window of time with my bright eyed, curly-headed child. He will only be small for a short time. In lightning quick years he will be required to register with the selective service; he could be compelled or called to fight for a cause, and we could lose him. I don’t think a parent’s love has changed much in the last two thousand years. On Good Friday I imagine Mary must have been grief-stricken.

Having children has opened my eyes to an entirely new kind of love, to some of God’s mysterious love for us. Today, let us remember the mothers of sons who were sent to die for a cause. Let us remember them. What they gave. What they lost. What it cost. What it bought. Who it saved. Why we pray. And how it changed their lives and ours.

Copyright 2013 © Christina Caine. All rights reserved

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No greater love has a man than this than to lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:13 

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Click here to hear a modern version of Bono and Pavarotti singing Ave Maria.



Coming Out for Marriage Equality

Some historic civil rights activities have been taking place recently in the United States Supreme Court. Perhaps you’ve noticed. A lot of notable people have recently come out in support of marriage equality, having, like so many others, evolved on the issue. Yet, there seems to be a last bastion of hangers-on to the idea that there is something equal, yet different, between a marriage and a civil union. Having some thoughts on that, I felt the need to speak up.

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It seems self-evident that our friends who held a wedding in a church or a temple or a synagogue or a mosque and our friends who went down to the courthouse both got married, and, when we talk about them, we refer to both of them as being married.

We can play games of semantics, splitting hairs between civil unions and marriage, since this seems to make some people feel better. But no one says, feels, or thinks

“My sister got civil unioned last week.

Let’s have cake!”

I’ve been married twice to the same man, once in front of a judge and once in front of a minister. As far as I can tell, there’s no difference.

On some level, we know that these are merely words. In our hearts we know that there exists no barrier that a deep abiding love cannot bridge and that includes gender.

If this is the last tiny thread that’s holding your top button on on this issue…

Please… Let it go.

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Copyright 2013. © Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

Post Script: The author would like to go on the record as coming out as an LGBQT ally. She looks forward to the day when her grandchildren will interview her about her involvement in and what she remembers of the Gay Rights Movement in the early twenty-first century so that they can write a report on an historic event. She hopes she will be as honest then as she is being now and tell them what she has always known in her heart to be true: Our purpose in life is to love and be loved. That’s why we’re here.

Note: The Equal Sign is the logo of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC); normally the logo is composed of a maize equal sign in a field of blue. During the week of Supreme Court testimony in the cases of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, the HRC encouraged supporters to wear and display the color red in solidarity with their cause – the cause for human equality “…with Liberty and Justice for all.”



Dolly and Gravity

Photo Copyright 2013

Photo Copyright 2013

 

In case you’re wondering, I’m the one on the left.

And, yes, that’s who you think it is on the right.

I was eighteen.

She was not.

This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime dreamed about moments.

There are a few things I tend to keep to myself. My once ga-ga level admiration of Dolly Parton is one of them.

From her, I learned two meaningful things (as the fashion sense was short-lived):

1. Dream big

2. The art of the quip

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Last summer a friend tried to convince me of the merits of a comfy bra. “Honey,” I said, “if it hasn’t any underwire, I might as well let ‘em drag on the ground.”

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I met her at just the right time. If I hadn’t, there’s so much I would have never tried.

Sometimes the seemingly impossible is possible.

Gravity or otherwise.

 

Copyright 2013. © Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

Click here to hear Dolly sing: Jesus and Gravity.

 



The Fat French Farmer

We had bacon for breakfast.

This used to be a rare treat.

Like once-a-year rare.

But we decided we really liked bacon, and it would be reasonable to enjoy it in less modest moderation.

A long time ago, in the midst of recognizing and admitting our participation in the American Rat Race, my husband and I developed a theory that we came to affectionately call the “Three Fs” or “The Fat French Farmer.”

Our train of thought went something like this: Who is happier? Those of us who avoid bacon, alcohol, cheese and carbs in an attempt to achieve perfect health and fitness, who worry about…everything from avoiding illness and physical limitation to attaining and achieving and acquiring things we can’t take with us when, one day – despite our best efforts – we die. Or, the French farmer who gets up early, puts his hands in the dirt, eats a fat-laden breakfast, works in the sun all day, smokes, and indulges in the pleasures of wine, food, love and close friends, who doesn’t care about his cholesterol or his BMI or even know to be worried about them. And, like the American in the hampster wheel, one day, he too dies.

Who lived?

And who avoided dying?

We forget about the Three Fs too often and run on the wheel too much.

Once in awhile – especially on days we have bacon – we make a new commitment to embrace our theory of the Three Fs, to be the Fat French Farmer who enjoys hard work, delicious food, ample wine, sunkissed skin, generosity of spirit, and the love of those with whom he surrounds himself.

This is living.

Copyright 2013. © Christina Caine. All rights reserved.



Subversive Grace

 

These are the Islamic prayer beads (Misbaha or Tasbih or Sibha) my United Church of Christ minister gave me to hold as a way of getting through my grandmother’s funeral. She knew it would be both comforting and subversive.

I LOVE that she gets me.

You see, this wasn’t just my grandmother’s funeral. This was my grandmother’s Fundamentalist funeral. Presided over by a minister who is a graduate of a famous Fundamentalist university in Greenville, South Carolina. Attended by my father’s eight siblings and their families and their family’s families but not by my father, because of a disagreement about the care of my ailing grandmother.

But I was going.

Because it was the right thing to do. For me.

Despite my misgivings and the flashbacks from my Fundamentalist upbringing, the prickly family relations and the chance for an altar call at the end of the service, I was going.

I chose to have my panic attack well in advance of the day.

This is where “pastoral care” came in.

We have multiple clergy at our church. I like them all. They each have their strengths. On matters of a personal nature, I prefer the one who baptized our children. She rocks. I consider her a friend. And she is doing something I would love to do: She’s getting her doctoral degree from an interfaith program where she studies alongside rabbis and imams. How great is that? And last year she met Desmond Tutu.

I so want her job.

When I went to see her, she did her shepherding in the best way she could: she listened, she reflected what she heard, she acknowledged the difficulty and the fear and she gave me permission not to go. And when she knew that I would go anyway for the sake of the only two people that mattered in this story she said, “I have something for you.”

She had just flown back from a conference in Texas where she made some lovely acquaintances and upon her leaving one of the women handed her these prayer beads and told her to take them. She wanted her to have them. A gift. And, now, she was passing them on to me to use for as long as I needed.

This brought me peace.

Into the storm I would carry a secret.

And I did.

And I survived.

And I managed not to pull the minister aside to talk to him about his bad theology at the graveside. Instead…I noticed.

I noticed that my child’s note to his great-grandmother was welcomed into the casket. That someone else had brought a clutch of field flowers and placed them in her hands. That she wore the brooch I’d seen her wear so many times before that said “Mother,” and, despite the length of her days being only a few shy of one hundred, she was what she had always been to me…and I touched her hand.

And I noticed that family is messy, and, yet, there is still love.

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My grandmother lived in the country and was poor all her life. She attended a small country church with simple country people. She loved to rock the babies in the nursery, write poetry, notice songbirds and enjoyed the visits she received from the Amish women in her community. She had been without my grandfather for over twenty-eight years, and, despite their arranged marriage, she had grown to love him. She was one of ten siblings; three of whom are still living. She was raised by a stepmother when her own mother died while she was yet an infant, and she slept in my bed following her cataract surgery when I was a young teen. Seeing her in her pajamas during her stay with us was the only time I ever saw her wear pants. She never learned to drive. During one of her many pregnancies she burned her arm and, clutching it to her abdomen at the time of her injury, later gave birth to a child with a noticeable birth mark. No one could convince her she had not marked her baby.

My friend Phil, a Presbyterian minister, once said, “We always ask why those we love are taken too soon. We rarely ask why some live so long.”

She deserved a better life than the one she had.

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People in the country pull over to the side of the road to let a funeral procession pass by. They wait. Sometimes for awhile. And the men, difficult to miss wearing their bright orange vests in the barren late autumn fields, stop their pursuit of whatever they are hunting to take off their hats and lower their eyes to the ground.

Postscript: As I left our minister’s office that day with the beads in hand and a lighter heart in my chest she said, “You know, when this is all over, this might make a really great story for your blog.”

She was right.

This is dedicated to the Rev. Deborah Lindsay.

Copyright 2013. © Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

 



Satan Didn’t Win

President Obama, Source: public domain

Satan didn’t win, though I know some of you may hear a different assessment of the U.S. Presidential election this weekend from your friends, family members and even, perhaps, your clergy, rabbis and religious leaders. Ah, holiday gatherings in an election year – so much with the tense awkwardness.

In case anyone is still wondering, here is what happened in the election. Or as my friend Janine Dunmyre points out: “They keep talking about the amazing coalition of Women, Gays, African Americans, Asians, and Latinos who swept Obama into re-election. I’d like to thank a group of people that are not being mentioned at all: Super Cool Straight White Guys. Thank you, Super Cool Straight White Guys, for joining us. You know who you are.”

Yet…
I have heard from many in the conservative media that Obama won the “slut vote.” (Rush Limbaugh)
The 47% just want free stuff. (Mitt Romney)
A wise and respected man like Colin Powell voted for the President because they are both black. (John Sununu)
People are losing their freedom. (all over the internet)
And we better stock up on guns and ammo. (Glenn Beck)

These statements are not based in reality. And you know what that means. Carl Jung embedded it in this bit of wisdom, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

What is happening is what Darwin said happens: The survival of a species is not as dependent upon the survival of the fittest so much as it is on the ability of a species to successfully adapt to a changing environment.

In the face of Citizens United and an unprecedented expenditure of money in this campaign - the Bourgeoisie lost. That’s a win for the individual and for all of us. As evidenced by the Sunday morning talk shows, this reality isn’t sinking in. It appears we need to have “the talk” in more ways than one. Let’s get down to the cold, hard truth.

Gay people are real. They have always existed. They fall in love just like straight people do. And there is no legitimate reason to deny them equal rights, even though some people with particular religious views don’t like that idea.

Big surprise.
They didn’t like that idea when women wanted to vote.
They didn’t like that idea when slaves wanted to be free.
They didn’t like that idea when Jim Crow was being challenged.
They didn’t like it when the Voting Rights Act and the ERA and Equal Pay laws were enacted either.

Why? Because it challenges their deeply cherished notions of who should be in control and who is “better than.”

And women have sex. Shocking, I know. The kind we have with men makes us concerned about pregnancy. Now, some people apparently see preventing unwanted pregnancy as being slutty. Others call that being a responsible human being and exercising our self-determination.

This election wasn’t about free gifts. This was and is about a segment of the population that refuses to see other people as equals – Women, Blacks, Latinos, Homosexuals, The Poor, other Religions – and treat us as equals. We are not too dim to see that. The people who voted for the President are not so dull as to not be able to see that.

The GOP is asking: What can we do to be more appealing to women, young people and Latinos?

Here’s a clue: Stop trying to control us, limit our opportunity and pay us less. Be for things we care about: fair pay; better healthcare coverage; healthy food, safe air and drinking water; civil rights; affordable, quality education; decent jobs. Stop sending our children to war. Stop talking about rape like it’s similar to getting a flat tire. Stop protecting child abusers and sexual predators in our churches and schools.
Stop.

Stop being that guy at the water cooler who tells “that kind” of joke. Stop believing that all poor people are lazy and arrived at their situation through a character flaw or poor decision-making or lack of effort. Stop believing that poverty or an unplanned pregnancy or war will never happen to you. Stop worrying that marriage equality will somehow destroy America and families as we know it when 50% of heterosexual marriages already end in divorce and quickie marriages and annulments are easy, cheap and legal. The consequences of national protected civil rights to allow Gays to marry means that Gays get to marry and has zero bearing on your rights or your marriage. You’re not better than they are. Get over it. Stop believing that people of other national origins who come to this country through the desert on foot and by trucks rather than wading through red tape are trying to steal something from you. What happened to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to be free?” How did that turn into give me your doctors, your engineers, your astrophysicists? What’s a poor Guatemalan farmer supposed to do?

And, apparently, the President is black. That’s cool, not a cause to sound the alarm. If that registers a modicum of concern for you – you might be a racist. Get. Over. It. A black man is president. And it’s about damn time. And if the GOP keeps this crazy stuff up, we can pretty much guarantee the next President will be a woman. And not the one from Alaska who did an interview in front of turkeys being slaughtered. (Situational awareness is a mighty fine thing.)

In short, what the GOP can do to be more appealing is in the same way writer and blogger John Shore summarizes the Golden Rule – “don’t be a d**k.”

In this dystopian age, which isn’t found between the pages of a novel, where Citizens United is the law of the land and corporations are people, where CEOs threaten workers with firing and ministers threaten parishioners with hell if they vote for the wrong candidate, where the conventional wisdom of super packs and political operatives is that he who spends the most money wins, in an era of an alternate universe created by the propaganda machines of “news” organizations where facts have been replaced with opinion….

the people remembered they still held the most powerful thing in the world – - – the ability to think for themselves.
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Copyright 2012 ©. Christiana Caine. All rights reserved.


Truth and Consequences

                 I’m two and half years into writing a book. It was supposed to take one. Best laid plans and all that. It’s been difficult because I’m telling the truth. Sometimes the truth is difficult because of how bad it is. Sometimes the truth is difficult because of how good it is. Either way, it’s vulnerable.

I had hoped to finish in time to enter it into a well-respected non-fiction contest with a deadline of November first, but that’s not looking too promising.

“Life,” as John Lennon said, “is what happens on your way to making other plans.”

I’ve been doing my other full time job while trying to make this book thing happen: Mothering. Holy Mothering! It’s time consuming and challenging in ways no one ever tells you. And they want to eat. Every. Single. Day. Self-absorbed food addicts.

And I have to have a few close people read it before I can show it to outside book people because in it I talk about them. Like my best friend – she’s in it. And then she recently said, “You know you shouldn’t put me on a pedestal.” To which I replied, “Too late.” Like I would ever have a best friend whom I didn’t think was awesome in nearly every way (and like I don’t know she’s not perfect. But that’s just between you and me. I would never tell her that). So, now I have to worry not only about all the truthful things I wrote about difficult people whom I don’t want to see it, I have to worry about all the truthful things I wrote about wonderful people whom I do want to see it. I didn’t realize this would be this hard nor this tricky in this way.

Then there’s the life part that keeps getting in the way, that ends up changing the story line or adding to it. People who come, and people who went…who weren’t supposed to, and how that changes everything. Or at least serves as an unwanted distraction. And, yet, that distraction is all there is of them.

Life. Is it really getting in the way? Or is it just part of the deal?

I keep thinking I’m trying to write a book while doing this life thing. But, really, I’m doing this life thing while trying to write a book.

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Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

Click here to hear John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy.



What Matters and Registering to Vote

SDS, 1929 – 2012

We visited my eighty-five year old grandmother yesterday. She lives in an integrated, multicultural, working class town in the Midwest that refuses to die.

We lost Grandpa in January. The side table by her recliner has become a shrine, home to his award pins and belt buckles from a lifetime of service to Davey Tree, handsome photos of him as a younger man, the rose left on his pillow by the mortuary the night they came to the house to take his body.

In all of my time in the medical field I’m still processing that my grandfather was the first person I ever had to pronounce.

She’s good. Really. She dreams of him. This makes it feel as if he’s not quite so far away. She talks to him. She shares her day, as she did for the sixty-seven years of their marriage. Yet, I know she feels alone. They had a rhythm. A pattern. One: director of family life and house. The other: author of his domain. It was a symbiotic relationship, one she says was built on trust.

Living in the same town for scores of years and never knowing a stranger affords one a rich life, diverse with friends. 

As his health began to fail and they were seen out less and less in their usual haunts – mom and pop restaurants, diners, and family owned places that have been there for years – word got around that Dwight was dying. In the six weeks that he was in the rehabilitation center following his final surgery he enjoyed over one hundred twenty visitors. Grandma received cards and notes from check out clerks at local markets and waitresses and staff from favorite restaurants. They tear up now when she comes in. “I loved that man” a Turkish manager at their favorite eatery recently told her.

She loved him. They never quarreled, she said (though I might have to verify that claim with their daughters). They’d just be silent if they were mad at each other, she recalled.

We saw a teal, white-topped Cadillac on our way out to lunch.

“That looks like our Caddy!”

“It does doesn’t it. Was that the one that was owned by Betty White?” (Not the Betty White, but a Betty White.)

“No, that was the Lincoln. The Caddy I bought with my Avon money and in my own name. One of the men on my route said when he saw it, ‘Maybe I need to start selling Avon.’”

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She registered to vote for the first time in her life a few weeks ago. Her son-in-law, my uncle, a retired UAW member, collected all of the paperwork for her. She said she watched the convention speeches on both sides and really enjoyed them. She especially loved hearing the President’s wife speak. “You can tell they really love each other,” she said.

Out of respect, I didn’t ask her for whom she planned to vote.

She volunteered, “There were two things that Romney said that really troubled me.” She held up an index finger, looking far bonier than I ever recall. ”First: He said he’d end Planned Parenthood. And two: He said to students trying to figure out how to pay for college that instead of taking out loans they should borrow money from their parents. I heard one student say, ‘If our parents had any money we wouldn’t need to take out loans.’”

My grandmother is the second of five children whose coal miner father died before she was a teen, whose widowed mother raised them through the Depression by taking in laundry and mending and who grew used to eating lard sandwiches at school. If it weren’t for food commodities (food stamps today), snaring rabbits in the yard, a family garden, the kindness of family and strangers and the grace of God – they wouldn’t have survived. She married my grandfather when he was sixteen and she was eighteen – not because they had to – and was very proud of having earned her GED. My grandfather escaped the draft for WWII because he was too young. The youngest of four, his mother died when he was a young child, and it would not be an over-exageration to say that he mostly raised himself. He lied about his age to get a job with Davey Tree where he worked his way up over forty-seven years from crew member to a regional supervisor. He took down a thirty foot pine in his grandson’s yard just weeks before he died.

My conservative Christian grandmother is voting for the first time in her life in this election for Barack Obama because she’s one of the 47% who knows that the President understands her life story and that life is more complicated than a balance sheet and an ideological worldview.

I’m very proud of her.

Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

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Click here to hear Willie Nelson sing Good Times.
My grandfather loved Willie. I miss him.



How Forgiveness is Like Acceptance: A Yom Kippur Reflection

"Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur" 1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb

Note: This is a guest post by my very talented and gifted writer friend, Janine Dunmyre. She has graciously given me permission to publish her beautiful work here.

I didn’t expect it to happen. I have low expections these days when it comes to anything Eva. I took the kids to Little Minyan for Kol Nidre. Bought them some new clothes and shoes. Warned Eva. Since that’s usually her stomping grounds. Although Scarlett asked her once, “Is is ok if Mama takes us to services at Little Minyan sometimes too?” Like I said, I went with low expectations.

Everyone recognized my kids so I was forced to introduce myself: Their Other Mom. Jessica, the sort of rabbi, who was once my friend but defriended me on FB and was the “spiritual leader” of Eva and Amy’s wedding, she gave me a half hearted wave. Then services began. Luckily I remembered to medicate Zeke because he stayed beside me the whole time, and I really needed that. We discovered little pieces of paper (for notes?) in the pew in front of us, and he spent the entire time doing origami. I showed him how to make a frog. Eva and Amy appeared about five minutes after everything got started. They sat behind me where Georgia and Scarlett had already established themselves, having made sure with me that they could escape if they got bored. When Stella saw them, she left me to go curl up in her ema’s lap.

I have to admit: I am petty. I decided right before services (and even made a point to TELL God) that even though I know I should pray for the ability to forgive Amy, forget it, I’m never forgiving her. Especially if she never acknowledges she did anything wrong to me. And Eva refuses to forgive me. And now I can’t forgive her for not forgiving me, and, yes, it’s an endless circle of rat poison. (Anne Lamott says: Not forgiving someone is like eating the rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.) That was my state of mind pre-Kol Nidre. Nope. No Way. Hardened Heart. Not Gonna Do It.


Struggling Against Reality

Impossible Objects. Made by Derrick Coetzee in Adobe Illustrator. Public Domain.

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My youngest has a hate – hate relationship with the laws of physics. He has since he was a toddler, trying with great effort to do things that are impossible and getting terribly frustrated when the impossible doesn’t work out. Like the times he has tried diligently to stack spheres, attempted to attach opposite poles of magnets and endeavored to put objects larger than possible into tiny spaces. I explain that it just won’t work no matter how hard he tries, and each time he replies, “But I want it to work.”

The trouble is we grown ups are not so different. There are a great many things we want to work… in the worst possible way.

I read somewhere where a wise person with an agent and a book deal had written: “The source of all human unhappiness is wanting things to be not as they are.

Truer words…

I don’t want my children to experience pain. They do.
I don’t want my son to have to struggle in school. He does.
I don’t want people in my life whom I love to die. They have and they will.
I wish some events in my life never happened. They did.
I wish people behaved and thought differently. They don’t.

In ways large and small, we struggle against reality in vain.

What to do?

Learning to accept what is, is some seriously tough work. For some, understanding what we have control over and what we do not takes a lifetime of learning. Letting go of trying to control those parts we can’t, often takes just as long. I’ve heard our minister, Richard Wing, speak enough now that some of his more popular and useful phrases are coming round again, like: We have an up to us privilege of choosing not what happens to us in this life but how we react to it.” Or from Gordon Livingston in Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: “… by placing responsibility outside ourselves we miss out on the healing knowledge that what happens to us is not nearly as important as the attitude we adopt in response to it.” *

Happiness often eludes us, not because it is impossible, but because we have built so many barriers to it. By not being able to accept what is. By trying to stack spheres.

Livingston continues: “Coming to terms with [what is] is inevitably a process of forgiveness, of letting go, the simplest and most difficult of all human endeavors. It is simultaneously an act of will and of surrender. And it often seems impossible until the moment you do it.” *

Indeed.

Copyright © 2012. Christina Caine. All rights reserved.

*Livingston, Gordon. Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart. Marlowe & Company. 2004.