Responding to Life’s Transformative Challenges

by cari

There are events in our lives that change the course of it. We come to intersections and make choices, with small and large consequences.  Some events are profoundly persuasive, and, we still have to take action, make choices. I always think of my version of process theology when, in my role as hospice chaplain, I am listening to patients review their life stories. I especially think of it when I commune with friends, like Louise, and we marvel at how two small-town Ohio girls who grew up in the 40’s and 50’s, met in a California seminary, and ended up in the Pacific Northwest and Mexico, because of choices we made at the intersections of Life. I’m certainly no expert at Alfred North Whitehead’s process theology, but I will always remember my experience in chaplain residency when my CPE supervisor simplified this complex theology. Rather than envisioning a deity (call it Fate, The Universe, God, or Higher Power) who controls our lives and pulls strings like a puppeteer or dictator, imagine that The Universe presents opportunities, choices, to persuade us toward our ultimate destiny, our calling, the next step toward completion of our Life’s journey to wholeness. Oh, there is persistence in this process. Sometimes the same or similar opportunity occurs repetitively because we just didn’t get it the first time. Many of us have had that feeling of deja vu when a new event comes to us in a different form. Many of us make the same choice. No worries. Another opportunity will come.


Such an opportunity came to me with the birth of my first grandchild. It brought me to whereP1020331 I am today–the anniversary of her death, a transformative event in my life. I continue to be in awe of and gratitude for the life of my granddaughter, Christine. Nineteen years ago, I held her in my arms, watched her take her last breath, and felt her spirit leaving her body. Her difficult entrance into this world, less than four years before, had already begun to transform me, to provide the swampland of crises and chaos for me to reflect about my life, values, and choices, but her death made clear to me that my life would never be the same. I knew this intuitively in my bones and in the depths of my soul, with no logic, legal strategy or business plan for what would happen next. A practicing attorney, with a reputation for taking no prisoners, I was the one now surrendering to the process that was changing my life, slowly, incrementally, often with high anxiety, not then knowing that because of Christine, I would eventually become a hospice chaplain and spiritual counselor.



Nearly two decades later, I often sit in my small apartment 3,000 miles away from where my granddaughter died and is buried. I reflect as I gaze at a picture of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, one of the few keepsakes my mother chose to place in her efficiency apartment when she was forced to leave her 3-story house overflowing with all manner of accumulations from 60 years of living there.  Christina Olson, the subject of Wyeth’s painting, was paralyzed; she could not walk. She is depicted dragging herself across the ground to pick flowers from her garden. Some people comment on the sadness and despair they see; I prefer to see it as beautiful and hopeful. Christina seems perfect in her imperfection. About a month before her death, my granddaughter, Christine, who was born with imperfections I learned to accept, used a walker device to drag her tiny  body, the size of a 9-month old, and march in her “graduation” at the Easter Seals care center she attended. I like to think it was her way of picking flowers from the garden of the life she created. I miss Christine. She didn’t have the opportunity to make a lot of choices, but despite her limitations, she lived her short life fully with confidence and healthy feistiness. Through Christina’s World, I meditate and communicate with both her and my mother who synchronistically made the choice at an intersection in her life to keep this one painting she loved and wanted me to have.


Today, July 12th, also the birthday of Andrew Wyeth, I celebrate the life of Christine. I feel honored to have been a witness to and a recipient of what she gave so seamlessly to others, embodied in a small but powerful package of wisdom, beauty and wholeness. And, abundant love.






1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Louise Landeta
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 15:10:48

    You have put down the story of your personal suffering and shown us how it transformed your life’s direction into new and still unfolding pathways. You are an inspiration.


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