Angels Among Us ~~ Karen

Probably one of my greatest fears growing up was being rejected and judged as inferior. That fear was front and center for me in 1999. I had been searching for twenty-two years for the reason behind my children’s puzzling behavior and had given up all hope of ever knowing its cause. As most parents do, I blamed myself. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to experience a miracle that would reveal the origin of their behavior.

Professionally, I offered Imago Relationship Therapy and relationship coaching as an outreach ministry of a local church. Because of my embarrassment about my children’s behavior and my fear of how members of the congregation would react if they knew, I didn’t talk about my children at church. I kept secrets.

“No one at church knew much about my personal life. They knew I had adult children but didn’t ask about them, and I offered nothing about their circumstances.” ~excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

To my horror, my secret became known in a very public way. I prepared myself for the judgment against me that I was sure would follow. I served on the Christian Nurture Committee, and the next time they met, I braced myself for their disapproval. I was so very wrong. They gave me nothing but compassion. From that I learned that I was projecting my judgment of myself onto them … and many others … something I probably still do far too often today.

I had lunch yesterday with Karen, one of those committee members who has remained a friend all these years later. She has most definitely been an angel in my life.

Karen

“We’ll pray for you. We’ll add your names to our prayer group.”

 

“‘And I have a friend with a prayer group at her church. I’ll get you on her list, too,’ Karen chuckled. ‘In fact, we’ll see to it that every prayer group in town puts you and your daughter on their list. We’ll cover all the bases.’ She gave me a reassuring hug.” ~excerpts from A Long Awakening to Grace

Karen is an extraordinary woman who is an angel in many lives. She makes a difference in her family and in our community, utilizing her many skills as a volunteer. A retired teacher, she currently tutors at the literacy center. She told me over lunch about helping a man learn to read the Bible so he could do that in church, helping a woman learn to read children’s books to her grandchildren, and a woman learn to read so she can upgrade her work skills. That’s just the kind of woman Karen is.

Karen exudes enthusiasm for life and one of her favorite activities is having dinner with friends. She became so engrossed in reading my memoir, in order to finish, she turned down a dinner invitation. As soon as she turned the last page, she called me. “I just had to talk with you.”

She told me about her rejected dinner invitation. “Now you know, I never turn down a dinner invitation,” she chuckled. She went on to share how moving she found my story and how she felt for me with all I went through with my children. We made a date for lunch.

Over lunch yesterday, I enjoyed catching up with what is going on in Karen’s life and hearing about people from that congregation who I rarely see anymore. They are still very special to me. Karen wanted to know about how my daughter is doing and about my life these days.

After lunch, she had to rush off to take a neighbor woman in her 90s to the doctor. Like I said, that’s just who Karen is. As we prepared to leave, we made a pledge not to wait so long to schedule another lunch. I am so blessed.

Devotion

Many readers of my memoir have been telling me what an amazing woman I am because of the way I maintained my sanity while dealing with insurmountable obstacles. I almost responded to one of them, “I’ve worked hard at it.” And then I stopped myself. I had recently been given another way of looking at my journey. I have poet, Bob Kamm, to thank for that.

Even though I am retired as an Imago Relationship Therapist, I continue to be enriched by this amazing community of people who are devoted to changing the world one relationship at a time. Check them out here. Bob  Kamm is Imago’s resident poet.

Bob Kamm

Bob shared with the Imago community a poem he had written and his reason for writing it. He said that the words “work” and “commitment” were losing their validity for him when applied to love.  “I took a fair amount of time to dig into this to try to express what I felt on the deepest level.” And then he shared his poem, “Devotion.”

You can hear Bob recite “Devotion” here between positions 8:52 and 15:07.

Bob’s poem touched me and  caused me to look more deeply into how I have internalized cultural messages about working hard in every one of life’s realms in order to receive good things…how the encouragement to be good little girls and boys plays out in our adult life, becoming our “Dominant Noun and Verb.”

I could see the truth of that for me as a Type A personality and why I responded to my friend as I had. Through Bob’s poem, I found a different way of looking at the actions guiding my life … a deeper element than “work” guiding me.

While Bob acknowledges that “work can be a great good,” it doesn’t speak to what calls to him when he enters the realm of LOVE, which he refers to as the “Ultimate Noun and Verb of Life.” When it comes to LOVE, he finds the words “devotion” and “vow” calling to him.

Through reading Bob’s poem, I came to a deeper appreciation for the word devotion as well as for devotion as a spiritual path. And I realized that the reason the readers of A Long Awakening to Grace can refer to me as amazing is because of my devotion.

From the age of ten, watching my extended family, scarred by the shadow of alcoholism, struggle to relate lovingly to each other and often failing, I knew there had to be “a better way” of loving.

“During my unconscious years, quality meant the better way to be family, an ideal that had fascinated me since I was ten years old. Under my fascination was a yearning to experience love, the greatest of spiritual gifts. Because I was not awake to the spiritual significance of my longing and love didn’t come in wrappings I recognized, I distorted it throughout a good part of my life.

I pondered love’s rough edges in childhood and searched for love’s balm in every relationship. I studied love intellectually and entered experiential training programs to learn about it empirically. Love’s expression encompassed my calling and ministry as a family and couple’s therapist.” ~except from A Long Awakening to Grace

 

 

I didn’t consciously make a “vow” to grow in my capacity to extend love. I experienced myself as being called to a path I could not avoid…like a mandate from The Divine. I worked hard, and I did grow in my ability to be loving in some very difficult circumstances. But because hard work didn’t provide the fruit for my labors I longed for, I would not have stayed the course. I would not have awakened to Divine Love and Grace. Thankfully, I was devoted to the inward call of my soul.

If you appreciate words flowing with wisdom as I do, you can check out Bob’s poetry and musings about life here. Gazing is just one of Bob’s books of poetry. He is an amazing man, and I’ll bet that has something to do with his devotion…to Love and to Living Life on a profoundly deep level.

Angels Among Us ~~ Miss George

Miss George appears first in our lives in 1982 and in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, on page 93. She accompanies us on our journey for a year and through page 95.

She was the best teacher my son ever had. And that is significant because in all the schools he attended, most of the teacher’s only expressed frustration or worse with him. School was traumatic for Doug and for our family.

These excerpts from my memoir will give you a sense of Miss George’s quality as a human being and a teacher.

“…when it came time for my first parent-teacher conference, I braced myself. I suffered pounding tension headaches every time I entered a school building, even if just to watch one of my children perform in a program.” 

When I called Kettering City Schools three years ago to find her, I was told that I was not the only parent who had called looking for her. Miss George was an outstanding teacher loved by many parents and students.

This next excerpt from my memoir will show why I love her.

“She said, ‘Doug’s making good progress in his studies. He’s pleasant and cooperative in the classroom.’

I burst into tears. 

Miss George leaned toward me, a puzzled look on her face. 

… ‘This is the first time I’ve heard anything good about my son from a teacher in years.'”

 

The kindness she extended to our family will always be appreciated.

“After our conference, Miss George sent home ‘Happy News Telegrams’ and lengthy notes about improvement in Doug’s behavior and work. She often wrote, ‘I’m very pleased with him, and you should be, too.'”

Unfortunately, because of a serious health condition, after twenty-three years of teaching, Miss George had to give up the job she loved. Teaching defined her life and was the purpose for which she lived. Now she struggles with living day to day. But that has not dampened her spirit and attitude.

Saturday, I had lunch with her to gift her with a copy of my book.

Miss George

When I told her she was in the book, her eyes brightened and she asked, “Can you show me where?” I opened the book to page 93 and she read those two pages where she appears.

She was so excited and kept thanking me. In truth, she is the one who deserved my gratitude. She was an angel and a bright spot in our life. And when we are going through a rough time, we need such angels.

Saturday I could see that I was a bright spot in her difficult life. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to repay her in some small way for the enormous gift of grace she extended to us so long ago.

Angels Among Us ~~ Julie

In my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, I write about angels who appeared in my life. Some were there to teach me lessons. Some were there to give support during rough times. And some were there to show me that despite what I thought about myself, I was worthy of being loved. If you look back and reflect on your life, I’m sure you will be able to identify angels who attended to you in some way.

This is the first of a series I will be blogging about to feature those who contributed in some way to my awakening to grace … who appear in my story as an angel. Wherever possible, I look forward to re-connecting with every one of them in person.

Julie first appears in my life in 1999, during my awakening to grace, and in my memoir on page 240 in the chapter titled, “Summoning Courage.” She is there through page 259 in the chapter, “Fire Walk.” She was the nurse who showed up to give support during a rough time. And she went above and beyond. On two of those days, she stayed two and a half hours beyond her twelve-hour shift to minister to us. I was grateful she was a compassionate human being as well as a skilled nurse.

Julie & Linda

A few years ago I reconnected with Julie at the Neon Theater where her talented son was unveiling his film, “For Francis.” I hadn’t seen her for about fourteen years and wasn’t sure I would recognize her. But a relative of hers helped me find her and it was great to see her again and to let her know that I was following up on her suggestion.

In 1999, on the second occasion Julie stayed beyond her twelve-hour shift, she came to see how we were doing. While listening to my daughter tell a portion of our story, Julie looked at me and repeated three times, “You need to write a book about this.”

I’m not sure what went through my mind at the time, but this was not the first time someone had suggested I write a book. Compliments were scarce in my family growing up, but both my father and my brother told me on different occasions that I was a good writer and should write a book. I had no idea at that time what I would write about.

When I was in seminary, my professors praised my concise writing and the depth of my thinking. One of my academic papers was published in two University of Dayton journals. The one that thrilled me the most was, “Explorations: Journal for Adventurous Thinking.” I loved being thought of as an adventurous thinker. These experiences showed me that I had the capacity to write a book, but I still wasn’t sure what the topic would be.

I must have tucked Julie’s suggestion in the back of my mind because ten years after she made that suggestion, I took my first faltering steps in writing the story of my life. It was clear to me by that time that I had a story to tell.

Julie

Now, eighteen years after Julie’s suggestion, A Long Awakening to Grace has been published and launched out into the world. I recently had brunch with Julie to show her the culmination of her suggestion and to thank her for planting that seed.

Julie went home afterwards and read the book that day from start to finish. The next morning I received an e-mail from her that meant a lot to me.

I couldn’t put it down. I was mesmerized. Wow! I hope I can be that courageous a woman who can tackle obstacles with such grace in life. You, Linda, are a force! ~Julie Beck

In addition, her comment about my writing was music to my ears. She said that my words transported her right back into the hospital setting where she entered our lives. That is just what every writer wants to hear!

Julie and her husband have been going through their own rough time with health challenges. If my book gives her even a smidgen of the support she gave to us eighteen years ago, then I have fulfilled an important purpose for publishing and sharing my story.

Thank you, Julie, for being an angel in 1999 and for the suggestion you made about my writing a book. Writing my memoir gave me a whole new perspective on my life, helped me make sense of it, and was transforming. I am grateful to see that reading it made a difference to you. It is my hope that my journey will help and inspire all who read it.

Validation: “You make sense to me”

I believe that most of us long to be heard and understood.

Before I retired as an Imago Therapist, a major part of my work with couples involved helping them hear and understand each other. Imago Therapists teach couples a listening skill designed to promote understanding at a deep level, suspending a common need to be right until the other person makes sense to us even when we disagree with them. The partner receiving validation visibly relaxes. I experienced it as holy and sacred work.

I received validation for my experience as a mother from two books I purchased at the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation conference in September. Not surprisingly, they were written by mothers of children with this puzzling multi-systemic neuromuscular disease that often goes undiagnosed for decades … twenty-two years in my experience.  

Marian Shannon Miller Lord

Shannon Lord died in 2013, the same year she first validated my experience. On page 277 of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, I write about the decades of shame and guilt lifting from my shoulders as I listened to her validating 2011 presentation on the MDF website.

As one of the founders of MDF, her dying wish was to have her memoir published. An editor cousin and her husband fulfilled her desire and Larry brought Family Roots: A Mother’s Search for Meaning to the conference this year.

Larry Lord and Linda

Shannon was already an important person in my life. It is partly because of her encouragement to share our stories that I published my memoir. Reading her’s, I felt validated over and over. We shared many of the same feelings about our experience, we coped in similar ways, we asked many of the same questions and struggled with many of the same issues. We both searched for meaning in the midst of a disease that has robbed us of so much that others take for granted. I relaxed.

At the conference, I met Ann Woodbury. She printed her manuscript, Living with DM1: my family’s story, and made it available to conference participants. She is still in the publishing process. You may contact Ann on her Facebook page for more information.

Ann was part of a panel describing the experience of central nervous system symptoms in her husband and four children. From her description, I knew we had some things in common. After reading her manuscript, I again experienced validation for my experience as a mother. I relaxed.

Ann and I have messaged each other on Facebook and she commented, after reading my memoir, how similar our spiritual quests have been. I had noticed that, too, and found it interesting because our religious backgrounds are very different. Even though Shannon, Ann, and I come from very different backgrounds and are very different in many ways, we share a common bond.

Because I am not in a partnership committed to practicing Imago’s deep listening skill, I value every experience of validation wherever I find it … even in books. Most often I find this deep connection when I read memoirs. Guess that is why I love them so much.

Being validated reminds me of the magic of Imago and why I choose to become an Imago Relationship Therapist. It is exhilarating when someone important to you takes the time to make sense of your experience even when they may not agree. As Harville Hendrix, the originator of Imago theory and practice, points out on page 136 of his book Getting the Love You Want … “a whole world opens up to you.”

 

Deciding to Change

This post was originally written on September 4. It is a bit dated. I’m late in posting it because when I returned from my trip to the MDF conference in San Francisco (September 7-10), my experience there was more pressing. Then I had computer problems and my September 11 post was finally able to be delivered on October 9. I hope to be back on track now. Thank you for bearing with me.

The television program commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death on August 31, “Diana, In Her Words,” portrayed Diana maturing before our eyes. At first shy and reticent, she peered through her eyelashes as she held her head down, a close-lipped smile spreading across her face.

Later, with her shoulders back and her head held high, her eyes glistened as she flashed broad smiles.

During her interview for the program which was used this year to commemorate her death, Diana reflected on the moment she decided to change. Instead of succumbing to the self-defeating behavior issuing forth from her fear and jealousy, she resolved to focus outward on the downtrodden, making advocacy for them her life’s work.

She decided to align her efforts with a purpose larger than herself.

 I remember the moment I decided to change.

“… I felt ripped apart, like a fraud living a double life. I hated the incongruity …. It needed addressing, and I felt ready to face the challenge. I felt ready to make a change. And a big change was what was called for.”  ~excerpts from A Long Awakening to Grace.

 

“Unnerved at first, I felt as though I had been dropped into an alien world.” Page 125 of A Long Awakening to Grace

“It is in facing your conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that you grow up. You will remain largely unconscious as a human being until issues come into your life that you cannot fix or control and something challenges you at your present level of development, forcing you to expand and deepen. It is in the struggle with your shadow self, with failure, or with wounding, that we break into higher levels of consciousness.” ~Richard Rohr

Almost thirty-three and a half years later, I am eternally grateful that I made that decision, took the steps to change, and stayed with it when the going got rough. I would not trade where I am today for where I was in April 1983. I learned that in that so-called “alien world,” I received the life-giving nurturance I needed to blossom and thrive.

As I listened to Diana reflect on her life and as I reflect on my own, I wonder ~~

What in your life do you need to change … or have you found the need to change in the past?

What step is the still, small voice of wisdom within encouraging you to take … or did encourage you to take in the past?

If you have decided to make a change, in what ways are you wiser today than you were when you took those first faltering steps? 

What change could you currently pursue that would lead you to higher levels of consciousness?

Exploring questions like these are the kinds of conversations that fuel my enthusiasm for life.

Strength in Weakness

“…for when I am weak, then I am strong.” ~II Cor. 10b

Due to website problems preventing subscribers from receiving posts, this is a re-post of my September 11 post.

The most important instruction given to those writing a memoir is to be honest about our shortcomings and to be generous in describing others so as not to demonize them. That is why we are encouraged to wait until the stings of life no longer throb intensely before we embark on writing a memoir for publication … keeping our eye on writing a story that serves a larger purpose and can be useful to others. It is a process.

In my process, for years I poured out my agony in my prayer journals, writing about shame-filled events that I have always had difficulty talking about. Finally, I reached the point where I was ready to embark on seriously writing a memoir.

Writing my story in a way that might be beneficial to others forced me to dig deeper and discover the treasure hidden in my pain. As a result, I emerged with a whole new and transformed perspective on my life and the people in my life.

Still, shame and fear of judgment prevented me from giving voice to some of my most painful experiences. Now that my memoir has been published, I worried about how to handle book signings. What parts of my book would I be comfortable sharing verbally with others.

Knowing that writing honestly opened me to criticism, I have kept Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, on the book shelf above my computer as inspiration to keep moving forward. And because my book is now published and it is time to share my story with the world, I have kept Deborah Winegarten‘s wise counsel before me.

A special sister writer, Deborah focuses on the greater purpose her books serve ~~ giving her opportunities to connect with others and be present to them in their need.

And so, this past weekend I took my books to the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation (MDF) conference in San Francisco. And by the way, Deborah joined me at her own expense to give me support and sell my books so I could connect with other conference attendees. She walks her talk and has fun no matter what she is doing. A great role model for me.

Deb Winegarten selling A Long Awakening to Grace

The first morning before heading to my author table, I sat on the edge of my bed and set my intention … to be present to the needs of others as I connected with them and to be mindful of my larger purpose in writing this book.

Myotonic Dystrophy (DM) is a multi-faceted disease with numerous physical, behavioral, and psychological components. Because the physical is easier to address, researchers have put their energy there. However, the behavioral and psychological cause the most concern and produce the most emotional pain for those carrying the disease and their caregivers. I have shared a wish with other members of the community that researchers give more attention to this aspect of the disease.

My opportunity to share my concern came during this Friday morning session: “Bringing the Patient Voice to Central Nervous System Targeting Drug Development.” James Valentine moderated while five patients and caregivers shared their experience. Then the floor was opened to hear from conference participants. I raised my hand immediately because the panel had not addressed the concern that is central in my family’s experience of this disease.

After a couple of other people shared, Mr. Valentine handed the microphone to me. I pointed out that the panel had not addressed anti-social behaviors ~~ the behaviors that my son had exhibited. I pointed out that I shared a concern with one of the founders of MDF that researchers address these behaviors. Then Mr. Valentine said, “Would you be specific about the behaviors your son exhibited.”

I gulped. And then I reminded myself of my intention set that morning to focus on the larger purpose of my memoir and my attendance at this conference. I hoped research would prevent other families from going through what we went through.

My hands began to shake. I looked at Mr. Valentine and told him that it is still very difficult for me to talk about. And then, in that ballroom full of nearly three hundred people, I gave voice to the behavior that had caused our family the most shame and pain. I shared how I had handled this behavior, noting that others may judge me for that, but it was what I had to do to preserve myself. Mr. Valentine thanked me and said the information I gave is needed.

“Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.” ~Brene Brown

Immediately, other conference participants approached me at the table where I sat tearful and still shaking to give me hugs and thank me. Later, in the restroom, a new member of the board wrapped her arms around me and said, “You are the bravest of a roomful of brave people.” Another woman noted how I had shared with courage and grace. For the rest of the conference, I received hugs and expressions of gratitude. I was told there are many in the room who could relate to what I had shared.”

One of my new DM friends asked me, “Are you glad you shared?”

I replied, “Sharing that was life-changing! I got a monkey off my back.” I am aware that judgment and criticism may still come, but in the warm embrace of my DM sisters and brothers who know, the shame demon I’ve carried for far to long dissapated like the warmth of the sun burning off fog.

If you read my memoir, you will know how big that was for me. It is a huge piece of being faithful to the person I was created to be … to fulfilling my purpose for this sojourn on earth. I hear the God of my understanding, my True Self within, proclaiming, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;” ~Jeremiah 1:5a