Tag Archives: francine phillips

Holidays x One: Passover/Easter


Passover and Easter have evolved into odd civic holidays that celebrate the rites of Spring, fertility, rebirth, seeds spouting, lambs being born (and eaten), eggs being decorated (and eaten), chicks and bunnies soft and squeaking in baskets, or their chocolate equivalents smearing across tiny faces. Why odd?

Well even though at Christmas the birth of Christ and arrival of Santa Claus have no connection, there’s the giving of a gift that affords it some type of universal credence. But the Easter Bunny has no connection whatsoever to slavery, deliverance, death and resurrection.

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish slaves from captivity in Egypt. The story is rich with plagues, a secret prince (Moses), murder and miracles, the parting of the Red Sea, the visit of the first-born sons by the angel of death. The key ingredient at the Seder table is unleavened bread representing their hurried departure.
Easter commemorates the betrayal of Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, his trials, crucifixion, death, burial. Then his resurrection. The key ingredient is the wine and bread representing the spilt blood and pierced flesh of Christ. No chocolate bunnies in sight.

Digging deeper, both celebrations invite us to remember what is gone and to wait for deliverance.

Remembering can be hard for the person who is alone. I lived for years with a busy houseful of children, step-children, “adopted” children and friends of children. It was expansive and fun within those four walls. The phone rang constantly, events, meals, cars coming and going, birthdays, graduations, new jobs, lost jobs. I used to tell them, “If you have a crisis you have about three weeks to milk it because by then another will come along.”

Remembering and re-living that season of my life is a struggle. I look at pictures and sigh. I wonder how all those folks are doing, grown with their own homes, their own families, work and accomplishments. It’s weird to go all day without a phone call, not to be making a costume, a decoration, a huge dinner or even a dessert. I sometimes look up their Facebook pages even if I’m not a friend, just to see their smiles.

Maybe a better way is to remember with joy and be grateful for having that time of life at all. One that many would have given anything to have had. Think back to your favorite Easter memories–was it hiding eggs as a child – or finding them? Was it brand new patent leather shoes at any age? Spring break in college? Surrounding a church pulpit with dozens of lilies? Cutting off a piece of crusty, salty lamb fat and popping it in your mouth with a juicy sliver of meat?

Waiting for change is an even greater challenge, even if it’s not deliverance from bondage or rising from the dead. The change we think will never get here. The check that’s in the mail. The escrow taking forever to close. The vacation that we’ve been putting off year after year. The retirement that we keep pushing back.

Often it’s the waiting that brings about more change than the actual receiving of what you are waiting to happen. Waiting strengthens us, even when it’s hard. But sometimes what comes after is just plain miraculous.

That’s worth remembering.

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Catching Fire Eclipses Twilight


Never is it more crystal clear that Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games movies, is the anti-Bella Swan, made famous in the Twilight series, than The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Bella is brave in her own way, of course, as a clumsy girl stumbling into one bad decision after another trying to save the man she loves – she thinks she loves. The Twilight movies spend time and money to stretch normal – to make Vampires and Werewolves really just like you and me. In fact, we all have a dark side, right? And Bella, even when she finally has strength, uses it to fight for her daughter and the right to allow good and evil to co-exist. And, aptly, even that turned out to be a bloodless fight that takes place in the mind.

Katniss takes responsibility for herself from the moment she volunteers to take on the fight against evil. There is no subtext of tolerance here. Evil in these movies wears false eyelashes, loves its indulgences and murders for play and manipulation. It’s an embodiment of the seven deadly sins – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. The fight is not for balance. The fight is to the death.

One of Catching Fire’s most devastating moments comes when Katniss understands that winning was a lie, promises of life-long protection were more lies and the lies will never end.

“You are going to be on this train for the rest of your life,” explains the blowsy, boozy coach, Haymitch.

Katniss has to develop her own strength — get dirty, bloody and hungry. She has to be defiant and risk everything. Only when it’s Game Over does the idea of strategy find a foothold in Katniss’s passionate battle against wrong.

“Remember who the real enemy is,” we are reminded. And it’s not inside us. It’s real and it wants to devour us.

The movie itself is spectacular – far more than the first. Everything is intense and not just true to the book, but visually carving the book’s intentions into your psyche and you carry it with you.

When you leave the theatre, the glitter of the mall, the spectacle of Christmas and the pretense of Santa Claus might be an affront. Especially if you know that the real meaning of Christmas celebrates a defiant carpenter born in a stable, wielding a whip and headed toward death to overcome evil once and for all.

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Gravity. There are two meanings to this word.

One is the scientific description of the earth’s property that holds all things to itself. The   pull that keeps us grounded. That allows the planets to move around the sun; the    universe to exist in the void. It’s the mysterious substance that makes life possible.

The other meaning of the word in English is the gravity of our fragile hold on life. We  humans are not in control. Not even close. The gravity of our situation is clear. We are  constantly on the brink of extinction and capable of destroying ourselves, individually  and as a species. We are capable of destroying our planet and some say we are halfway  there. More importantly, the planet is capable of destroying us and some say we are  more than halfway there. The long-term chances of survival are grave. And that brings up  a third related meaning. Our final destination is the grave.

Or is it?

Gravity is not an action movie in the usual sense. Sure, the special effects are amazing and lots of situations are life-threatening, but there’s no bad guy. No evil force. The threat is the randomness of the universe. Impersonal, uncontrollable events that happen for no particular reason. You can’t exactly “boo” the universe, and there is no winning against it, so it’s not power or weapons that save the day.

Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone spends the first third of the film overcome by panic. She’s hyperventilating, can’t save herself, can’t stop spinning. George Cloony’s experienced astronaut Matt Kowalski is the voice constantly saying, “Be not afraid. You’re wasting oxygen.” Or, don’t let fear of death waste your life. His graceful acceptance of death shows the way for the terrified Dr. Stone.

The crux of the transformation of Dr. Stone is revealed in her self-dialogue. “We’re all going to die, we all know that. But I’m going to die today.” Her angst centers on the fact that no one will pray for her, or miss her – that her life has been meaningless. Then she says something like, “I can’t even pray for my own soul because no one ever taught me how. No one ever taught me.” With that little comment, director Alfonso Cuaron takes the blame off the individual and makes the case for community and the need for those of us who are alive on this planet take responsibility for one another. We have to teach each other to pray.

So in the movie a little miracle happens. Life after death makes an appearance. And when the fear of death is removed, panic is diffused and it turns out that there is a savior. There is more out there than we know. There is something beyond the grave. In fact, because of the savior, there actually is no death. God conquered death for us by the resurrection of Jesus from his grave and his ascension from earth.


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Things I Wish I Had Told My Husband

Mike Journal1

We were busy, you see. A blended family. Even though we had dated for almost two years, dating while turning 40 was mostly made up of running through life, loading laundry, driving kids to sports, being team mom and coach. Our dates involved hot dogs and corn nuts in the bleachers. A fancy date included peanut butter cups for dessert. Our arguments (pre-email) consisted of faxes at midnight.

When Mike became my husband it amped up the distance between us, weirdly, since we now lived together, had a mortgage and added a new baby. Yes, seven kids. It was hard to have each other’s backs through that, which we managed to do. But we didn’t have much face time. Time to talk.  The marriage was function-based. It could have been more. But he never knew.

The things I wish I had told Mike are not the sloppy and sentimental Hallmark hindsight sighs. I wish I had told him more about me. About the real me.  I wish I had told him, for instance, that I dreamed of reading out loud to each other once in a while. I loved books and wanted to share my favorite passages and then actually see what he thought of them. Especially passages that I wrote. Somehow he never read any of my nine books. He never knew.

Or, I wish I had let him know that it was very, very important to me to decorate the Christmas tree and wrap presents together. We learned quickly that he valued getting the tree, I valued trimming the tree. So decade after decade I spent holiday nights putting on lovely ornaments by myself in tears while he was out in the garage with the boys, fulfilled once the tree had plopped into the stand and didn’t topple over. But I didn’t want to be seen as needy.  In the same way, I bought gifts carefully and thoughtfully and sequestered them away all year.  He saw them but never offered to help wrap. So when the tree was surrounded with gifts wrapped and ready, he would run out on Christmas Eve and buy his gifts for everyone. I hated that. He never knew.

I hardly ever talked about my failures so he put me on a pedestal. I didn’t really want him to know that I’d flipped off a car that cut me off, hung up on telemarketers with snarky comments, or gossiped about the too-sexy woman at work. I was the godly one, you see, with appearances to keep up. So I hid my real self from my husband so many times. He never knew.

As a result, in 18 years we never had that cycle of confession, repentance, forgiveness that could have made our relationship so much deeper, so much more authentic. I never was fully convinced that he loved ME.  I was afraid to be my ugly, real self. Kind of like we do with God so many times. As if he doesn’t know.

And now I see that it all could have been much richer, much freer. We could have become completely and truly one if I had dropped my defenses just a little more. Instead, a sudden brain disease created a relationship where my functionality became a matter of life and death. He had the mental capacity of a pre-teen and vulnerability would kill him. And by then I was even more afraid of him dying than I had been of him living to know the real me.

After he died, though, I found a journal.  In the sprawling print of a child, he recorded his thoughts when I was going through pneumonia. One entry said:

“When I get up I am going to ask God to make tomorrow a great day for Fran. She was coughing all afternoon and getting well is taking her a long time. Today was a good day because, most important, I took care of Fran. It made me feel loved. That may not seem normal but it is with me. God is with us. Tears are coming down in joy. Good night and bless you all!  – Mike.”

All that time, it turned out taking care of me would have made him feel loved.

I never knew.

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Who is Jesus?

Away in a manger

No crib for a bed,

The little Lord Jesus

Lay down his sweet head.

The stars in the sky

Look down where he lay;

The little Lord Jesus

Asleep on the hay.

             It’s not quite that simple.

First there is the conviction that there is such a thing as meaning and purpose, so that rules out nihilism. Then there is the idea of a primary force that created everything, so that rules out atheism. And if you accept that a force created everything, you have to accept that the force is smarter and more powerful than you, so you can’t define it on your own terms, and that rules out we-are-all-one-with-god or we-are-god nonsense. Once you admit that you can’t define God you are pretty much left with exploring what God has to say about himself, and that gives you the scriptures, which puts agnosticism to rest. Once you study scripture, which is, basically, the history of God’s dealings with humans, you have to accept a linear universe, and that rules out all the “isms,” re-incarnation, and karma. And once you accept a linear universe with a beginning and an end, you figure out that you are on the timeline for a reason and maybe you should find out what it is. So, to find out the reason, you might as well ask. Once you ask, God starts telling you to look at Jesus, because he became the incarnation of God and overcame death to teach us who we are, which puts pretty much everything else to rest. And once you see Jesus, you see your failings and how much you fall short, which makes you want to be saved from your ridiculous striving to be “good.”  And once you ask Jesus to be saved, you are.

It’s that simple.

But knowing who God is, what the world is, who Jesus is and who you are and how it all fits together takes the rest of your life. And let me give you a hint. He’s not asleep on the hay.

From The Truth Swing by Francine Phillips (copyright 20013)

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The Annoying Laugh

Book Review

Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis

Terry Lindvall, Ph. D.

Thomas Nelson, 1996

Terry Lindvall’s Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis is a brilliant title. What? The serious doctrinarian, the weighty theologian, delving into the realms of grief, repentance, conversion and evil, for goodness’ sake, has a funny side? I wish I had written it.

No, I really wish I had written it. Lindvall’s writing stumbles all over itself and the title puts the bar way higher than the reality can ever reach.  And there is nothing funny about that.

You kind of know you’re in trouble when he writes in the acknowledgements, “This book owes itself to the merry band of friends, colleagues and guides who contributed generously to my seeing and thinking and to my learning and laughter.”  Who writes like that? Oh, that’s right. C. S. Lewis does. Lindvall’s continuous slipping into the “voice” of Lewis is like hearing a soft chuckle turn into a series of snorts and gasps.  Not really laughter. Not really good writing.

“Flippancy is the laughter that keeps one out of the kingdom of God. For those who would feast on tainted laughter, and not be satisfied with daily bread, it is the sad, cotton-candy taste of death. Flippancy does not nourish, but devours and even cannibalizes others and eventually the self. And yet at the table of this earthly life, when one is hungry for a laugh, it appears the tastiest and most tempting dessert and the easiest to make.” (p. 431)

I’ve read nearly all of Lewis’ works – several times. There was a touch of this malady in Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy as he describes his correspondence with Lewis.  There was even a touch of this voice plagiarism in the recent Surprised by Oxford by Barbara Weber. Lindvall’s insistence of adding homilies in the voice of Lewis are a huge distraction. And not funny.

The book does a good job of presenting material from the Lewis catalogue into various types of humor, such as “Humor of the Self,” “Joy and Suffering,” “Laughter as Thanksgiving,” “Humor and Humility,” “the Fun in Nature,” and the “Sword of Satire.” Within these various chapters are examples from a range of works and then a discussion of the use of humor by others close to Lewis, heavy on G.K. Chesterton.  There are extensive examples of what is NOT funny – examples of laughter mixed with pain, laughter mixed with longing, even laughter mixed with sarcasm or meanness.

The book is a serious, scholarly tomb. It has thorough information packaged in a way so Lindvall gets to indulge his Lewis-like, advice from a great-uncle using archaic language – type commentary. Getting past that annoyance, it’s a good summary to counteract the characterization of Lewis as a heavy-handed, serious doctrinarian.  But the audience for this book, those who have read and enjoyed Lewis’ works, already know that.

That’s the joke.

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Healthcare Reform Wish list

Thank the good God above that Congress took its first poke at the screwed up healthcare, health insurance, health delivery system here. I know that it’s a compromised, beat up, doesn’t go far enough and basically inexplicable bill. But it passed. And I know that a lot of committed and dedicated public servants spent many hours talking it through and making it happen and I am very grateful.  I don’t think anybody is quite sure what this reform will do, but here’s a part of my wish list for change:

Doctor visits: Does it bother anyone else that doctors don’t examine patients anymore?  I haven’t had a doctor touch me in years. I went last week, finally, because of burning pain in my neck and shoulders for four weeks. Of course, I saw a PA instead of a doctor because I wanted to come at 8:30 a.m. She said it was muscle spasms without even feeling it. When I suggested an MRI, she tried to talk me out of it.

“What if it’s something else,” I ask.

“Like what?” she challenged me.

For a week I’ve been rotating hot and cold compresses every 20 minutes (well, until Friday when my heating gel exploded in the microwave). This morning I feel a lump behind my left ear that feels like it’s on fire and seems to be the origin of the pain. I requested another appointment.

Shared records:  This is going to make my life so much easier. My husband has a brain disease that results in seizures. He is a patient at the VA attached to UCSD, which has the best neurology program in the country. But when he has a seizure he has to be taken to the nearest hospital – a community branch of the Sharp system. In the last year he has been hospitalized 11 times – some at each hospital. They don’t share records – test results, doctor’s notes. He has had 26 MRIs in 6 years and 10 spinal taps – all with the exact same results. I tried to refuse MRI number 25 and when I bought the medical records (ALWAYS buy the records, folks) he had written that I tried to refuse and was “risking death.”

But I won the last one.

“Why do you want to do this procedure, Dr. Foo?”

“To confirm the diagnosis,” said Dr. Foo.

“But will it help the patient in any way?”


Use your imagination to figure out my nickname for Dr. Foo.

Patient Grabbing: I became aware of this when I had to deal with the dueling hospitals. First of all, Sharp Hospital refused to transfer him to the VA. They refused to consult with the VA.  The ER doctor whined at me, “I called and no one called back.” This was at 1 a.m. and I’ve navigated the VA phone system enough to know he probably didn’t leave a message or didn’t say his name clearly and certainly didn’t leave a return phone number. Or give a shit.

They want the money.

After about three days, a neurologist came to see me.

“What you need is a primary neurologist where you live, because he’s going to keep having seizures and keep coming here,” he said. “I practice nearby.”

“But what do you know about his disease?”

“That doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what is causing the seizures. All that matters is that he keeps having them and we keep treating them.”


This month he seized on March 4 and when they wanted to discharge him he couldn’t talk or dress himself so we tried something new. We got him transferred to a convalescent facility for a few days until his brain could catch up. It seemed very nice. They had physical therapy, and lots of personnel. They had birds and flowers and a fountain.

After three days he seemed back to normal and I was getting ready to take him home when the case manager called me.

“We think we can do more for Michael. He can stay for 20 days under Medicare. We’d like to take him further along and think we can.”

“Why don’t I take him home on Wednesday?”

“But he can stay until Friday.”

We all met and Mike and I agreed to try this because he often is unsteady. They said he could actually use the gym whenever he wanted as long as a staff person was in the room. I brought more clothes, showed him how to find Solitaire on the computer in the Activities room.

Frankly, I could use the break.

Discharge day came and Mike went around to everyone to say goodbye. He makes friends everywhere he goes. As we were walking out, we passed the gym.

“Did you like the gym?”

“Oh, they stopped my therapy three days ago. Said I had had enough.”

I’ve had enough, too.

So I have high hopes for healthcare reform. The system is sick, confused and bloated. No one has touched it in years.

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