Lucille Sider is sharing the spiritual resiliency she describes in ‘Light Shines in the Darkness’

ALREADY IN 2021, FLOODING has devastated countless families nationwide, including major disasters in the first eight months of this year in Tennessee, Hawaii, Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, Arizona, North Carolina, New York and Massachusetts.

Share These Stories of Resilience, Now

Then, Please Meet the Author in September

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider already has inspired readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is debuting a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma, every week in neighborhoods everywhere. This weekly series of columns will run through September, when Lucille is organizing an online opportunity to gather readers for a virtual conversation. This first column in the series—which she calls simply The Perfect House—focuses on Lucille’s own experience with the trauma of flood waters. Please, share this column with friends via email or social media (or print out a copy to share using the convenient “print” button at the end of the story). Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s nationwide online conversation with readers in September 2021, please email Lucille at [email protected]

August 30, 2021, update: The second part in Lucille’s series appears in our WeAreCaregivers section of ReadTheSpirit magazine. It’s titled, All Manner of Things Shall Be Well—and, at the end of it, this second column also includes a full PDF handbill you can download with details of Lucille’s September Zoom series in a format that is suitable for sharing with friends.

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The Perfect House

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist

Sometimes—not too often but on occasion when I meet a person or  see that perfect dress—I know in my gut that it is right. Not wrong but right.

When this happens there is no going back, no agonizing about the choice. There is just the sweetest peace that flows through my body and soul.

Such was the case when I first saw the house on Old Vestal Road in Binghamton, New York, in 2010. I had lived in another part of Binghamton for five years by then. I had established myself with nearby family and with a lovely church including a small group of female friends that met every Wednesday to play cards.

As I began looking for a new home, the house on Old Vestal was only the second one I visited.  The first one a real estate agent showed me was chopped up into several small rooms. There was no natural flow. I could not get out of it too soon. But that second house on 1929 Old Vestal Road was perfect. It took only 10 minutes to know it—to feel deep within my heart and soul that this was the house for me.

It had lots of windows and that means lots of light. Light for my soul that sometimes suffers from the darkness of depression. Depression always deprives one of inner light.

The house was essentially square with windows everywhere. The living room closet even had its own window! The floorplan was open—and you just naturally flowed from room to room—especially from the dining room and living room and out to the deck.

The deck was half again the size of the house and it opened onto a huge back yard. That meant space for flower beds.  I already saw in my mind’s eye: daffodils, tulips, pansies, petunias and many more.

I put in a bid for the house immediately and within a week the deal was signed and sealed. I moved in the second week of September, 2010. That first year in the house was pure joy. It took some paint, some help from a handyman, a few visits from my brother and his wife from Canada. But nothing was serious. The bathroom needed a do-over but that could easily wait until I had some extra money.

And then came September 11, 2011, a Wednesday evening—one year after I had moved in.

I was driving home from church, barely able to see because rain was pouring onto my car. When I turned into my driveway a policeman appeared and bellowed out to me.

“You must leave immediately. The Susquehanna River (just a block from my house) is overflowing. You can go to the college gymnasium. You must take your pet if you have one.”

I had a cat named PJ. So I raced into my house, grabbed some clothes and my precious PJ.

Before I left, I called my friend Anita and she told me to come to her house. Anita is frightened of cats but she insisted I bring PJ. For three days Anita and I hovered around her TV, learning about the damage along the Susquehanna River in both New York and Pennsylvania. With my house being just one block from the river, it was clearly in harm’s way.

On the following Saturday afternoon we were summoned to the high school to learn whether or not we could return to our homes. Three hefty, loud-voiced men spoke. One was from FEMA and said the flood was due to climate change and cement roads and sidewalks. The other two explained that all houses had been inspected and for many, the foundations had been damaged. If the damage was that extensive, then we would find an orange zero with a slash painted on the house. If however, there was an orange K, the foundation was not damaged and we could enter for a brief time. We were to get clothes and other necessities for the week.

Two neighbors and I anxiously headed toward our neighborhood—and discovered that none of us had a damaged foundation. The orange K painted on our houses became a symbol of hope and strength that we carried in our hearts for the following eight months during which our houses were rebuilt.

Of course I was in constant contact with my family and on the second week-end after the flood they poured in to help. My son and his wife from Washington DC. My younger brother and his wife from Ontario, Canada. My older brother and his wife from Philadelphia. In addition, friends from church just seemed to show up and know what to do. James noted that my beautiful, rounded, wood front door was beginning to warp. He said he could add a gold-colored metal plate to the bottom to prevent further warping. That gold plate was beautiful!

A friend Bonnie brought bleach and paper towels. It turned out that the nearby sewage plant had been destroyed, thus the water that was pouring into our homes was sewer water. To keep it from entering our bodies we wore masks and gloves. But masks and gloves were at a premium because everyone needed them. I was fortunate because my brother from Canada had brought a box of 50 masks. In Walmart I saw a woman crying because she had no masks. I gladly gave her 10 of mine.

Two weeks after the flood, my brother and his wife from Canada offered to come once a month for a full week and work with me on the house. While I had insurance, they saved me thousands of dollars—precisely, they saved me $37,000!

What that meant was that I had the money to rebuild. Walls and floors had to be replaced. Everything in the basement had to be replaced: washer, dryer, furnace, hot-water heater, electrical wiring. But most of all, I had the money to totally redo my kitchen.

What fun going to Lowe’s with my sister-in-law to shop for cupboards, sink, refrigerator, stove, dishwasher and on and on. We joked that we went to Lowe’s every day—and sometimes twice a day.

After Christmas however, I started to obsess.

I found myself fearing that the flood would come again. Fearing that I would lose my new precious appliances. I had chosen stainless steel and they were beautiful!

Every time it snowed I would imagine it was raining and my precious basement was filling up with water. For over a month I was obsessed. I talked my therapist about it and I prayed fervently about it.

Then, on February 3, my heartache lifted. Out of my soul came a poem. It was about grasping both things and people. It was about offering all I have or all that I am, to God.

Since that time, I have sometimes lost myself in fear. Fear of losing things, fear of losing people and on and on. But each time  this occurs I recite the poem and the burdens are lifted.

This is the poem. May it be a source of comfort for you, as well. I call it simply:

Bless My House

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To delight in my house
To cherish each stone
To love its precious wood
To swing in its trees
But not grasp them.

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To know deep within
The flood may come again,
The call may come again
To evacuate, to take my pet
And leave all else behind.

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To own my house
But not let it own me.
To love my house
But hold it loosely.

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To hold lightly
Any place or person,
Any thought or feeling.

Oh Lord,
Please give me the grace
To open my heart
To your abounding love
And abiding rest
And Be Free!

And Lord,
Please Bless My House

 

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Care to Read More?

GET THE BOOKLight Shines in the Darknessvia Amazon or other online retailers.

Then, if you are interested in taking part in Lucille Sider’s nationwide online conversation with readers in September 2021, please email Lucille at [email protected]

 

From Lucille Sider, author of ‘Light Shines in the Darkness’—Forgiving My Father

EDITOR’S NOTE—The Lenten season that leads to Easter is a call to spiritual reflection for millions of Christians around the world. As Benjamin Pratt writes in our first Holy Week story, some of the questions we ask are: What are we yearning for? Dreaming for? Hoping for in our lives, our families, our communities and our world? Much like the Jewish call during the High Holy Days, Holy Week calls Christians to reflect on our relationships with God and with other people. This moving column about forgiveness by author Lucille Sider relates to the larger story she tells in her book, Light Shines in the Darkness.

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Contributing Columnist

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

When I was 15, I visited my sister Ruth and her husband Edmond in Ontario, Canada. It was the 1960s, they were about to have their first child and I visited to help them paint and prepare a perfect room for the baby.

What a happy time!

That is, until the night I was awakened in bed, startled to see Edmond standing over me. He began touching my breasts and declaring his love for me—all while Ruth was sleeping soundly downstairs. In an instant, I swung my arms to fight him off. As I fought harder, he left the room. What a horrifying experience! He did not enter my room again, but I could not sleep.

As the next day dawned, I did not confront him about the attack. How could I? I couldn’t fathom how to respond to what had happened at a time when Ruth was happy about all that was happening in their family. I was paralyzed and afraid.

Even though I did not confront Edmond, I hated him. I feared him. A second night was coming. Again, I could not sleep. Would he return?

What could I do to keep him away since there was no door to the room—just a curtain? But I found some straight pins in the room and I fastened the curtain to the wood.  Of course, I knew that he could break through this, but I hoped that at least this might deter him, even a little bit.  He did not return that night but the trauma continued to build within me.

The following afternoon, my father came to pick me up. He admired the baby’s bedroom, then took me home. As soon as we arrived, I insisted that I talk with him and my mother. They sat opposite me at the kitchen table as I sobbed my way through the details. In my heart, I knew they would help. But instead, my mother sat silent, stricken. My father uttered a short prayer which I barely remember hearing.

I expected them to defend me, but they were silent.

I felt totally abandoned.

They never said another word to me about it. They did nothing. I was left alone to carry this secret for 33 years.

For decades after that interaction, I was painfully aware that I still held tremendous anger toward my father. Sometimes, it took the form of despising him. Other times, it took the form of disobeying him. Once I even cut my hair short—much shorter than was expected by women in our denomination. For decades, I harbored anger toward him.

Why didn’t I confront him? He was an adult; I was a child. That horrible day around the kitchen table, he had made his reaction crystal clear in such a hurtful way that I dared not risk a second injury. And, unlike today, there were no models for me of women publicly talking about such abuse. I could see no way to respond further to him. The trauma festered. My anger and hatred simmered silently.

Eventually, in 2002, my father died. (And my mother had passed six years earlier, in 1997.) We had never found a way to address this deep wound.

While I held onto this anger for decades, it did not prevent me from succeeding in other ways in life. I enjoyed a career as both a clinical psychologist and clergywoman. My faith was strong, and I developed powerful spiritual practices, like meditation. It took over 50 years, but meditation was what allowed me to forgive my father.

It happened just after I turned 68, 54 years after the abuse. I moved into an apartment in the south side of Chicago, in the same building where my dear friend Frank lived. I had known Frank for many years. We lived near each other in our 30s and meditated together weekly with one other friend. Even after that period in our lives, we still would gather for meditation occasionally. But beginning in our late 60s, we began to meditate twice a day.

We started each meditation by saying and enacting “The Lord’s Prayer” as Frank interpreted it from Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. In the traditional line about forgiveness, the Bible tells us to “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But from the Aramaic, Frank translated it to something we could truly see: “Loosen the knots that form within and between us, freeing us to forgive.” This made the Lord’s Prayer an “alive” prayer, full of powerful imagery—not at all static the way the traditional rendition can become.

Frank then enhanced this “aliveness” by embodying each line with physical postures. At one point, Frank suggested we use a prayerful posture that is common throughout many of the world’s religious traditions, although most Americans may not have seen it except in a Catholic or Episcopal ordination service. And, some clergy encourage this posture on Good Friday to mimic Jesus’ form on the cross. They call it “lying prostrate.” In this particular form of prostration, a person lies face down on the floor—the ultimate form of prayerful surrender.

Frank suggested we use this posture during the line about forgiveness. I remember the first time I did this—spreading out on the floor face down, arms out, in the shape of a cross. How deeply this embodied the prayer’s petition. With our arms straight out, there could be no “knots.” Being in the shape of a cross, we were powerfully reminded of Jesus on the cross. And as he suffered there, Jesus offered forgiveness for those who had crucified him—something that later on was understood to be forgiveness for all of us for all time.

After two years of saying and enacting this prayer, I had a profound experience of forgiveness toward my father. It was not a strong lightning bolt that shocked me to my core. It was not a burst of remorse that brought me to my knees. In that moment, I simply realized that there was no heaviness in my heart in regards to my father. There were no knots. The heavy, angry heart that I carried for 57 years was simply gone.

It took commitment on my part.

I learned that forgiveness doesn’t always come quickly, or immediately, when someone has been hurt so badly. But by committing to saying this prayer of forgiveness, I gave myself the time I needed to let it truly sink in. Without this meditation and time, I don’t think I would have ever forgiven him.

And, so, this year as we enter Holy Week, I invite you to consider this spiritual discipline to help ease those knots that may be tying you to a troubling past. Remember: For me, it took time. Lots and lots of time.

But you may at least want to start right now. This is a season of new beginnings.

From Lucille Sider: ‘You are not alone.’

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Letters to America

From LUCILLE SIDER
Author of ‘Light Shines in the Darkness’

Dear Friends,

You are not alone.

In four words, that is my message today—and it is such an important truth for all of us to accept and embrace.

A lot of people I know are truly struggling. For the first time in their lives, they wake up with depression—mild though it may be for many people. We’ve been living with this pandemic for a long time already and we have many, many months to go. We’re realizing that we will never return to life as we have known it—and that is very frightening.

Living in the pandemic is truly exhausting, because we have to continually make decisions about how we should respond.
Dare we meet a friend for lunch?
Must we sit outside even though the weather may not cooperate with our plans?
What about the children we have not seen—for months now? We missed their birthday parties and we just want to take them out for ice-cream as we have always done.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

And our beloved seniors are so vulnerable whether in their own homes or in a retirement home. We notice that some are quite depressed and we’re trying to do our part in reaching out to them.

We find ourselves struggling with depression as well. We just feel exhausted even though we are not doing much. We’re trying to do our exercises or walk faithfully but we get no pleasure out of it. We’re reading but are having trouble focusing. We’re sick of watching TV.

And oh—we miss the chance to worship with our congregations. We miss that so much! We miss singing. We miss passing the peace and touching base with all those dear folks. Many of us miss communion—going forward and receiving the bread and wine. We long for “coffee hour,” the time to catch up with friends and to reach out to newcomers or chat with the children who are all growing like perfect little weeds.

Our pastors have brilliantly devised ways to keep us all in touch. We’re so grateful, but we are tired of all the distance and limitations. Zoom, which seemed so magical at first, is so limiting.

And there is one more very serious concern I have and that is about sexual abuse. You may have heard that during this time of isolation in our homes sexual abuse is increasing. Victims are often stuck in their homes with abusers. They do not have the usual outside contacts to report the abuse. They seldom see teachers, doctors or clergy.

Dear friends, if you know of a situation where sexual abuse is occurring—please reach out. You can contact a clergyperson, a teacher, social worker, doctor or trusted neighbor. Or you can contact RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network). RAINN ) RAINN works with 1,000 sexual assault providers across the nation. Their number is 800-656-HOPE.

You can reach out to me, if you would like me to make a Zoom appearance to talk with your small group or circle of friends about the wisdom I’ve tried to share in my book Light Shines in the Darkness. I am available as we have said before in this online magazine. Just email [email protected]

I wrote this letter today to remind all of you: Wherever you are and whatever you are facing—there is HOPE.

You are not alone.

Blessings to you.
Lucille