Angels Among Us ~~ Rachel

Yesterday I did a favor for Rachel. She recently moved, is still feeling overwhelmed with organizing her new space, and I’m pretty good at organizing. It is the least I could do for this angel … a small repayment for her kindness to me during difficult times in my life.

Rachel

Rachel first appears in my memoir on page 176 in the chapter titled, “Daunted.” It was 1989 and I had just left my marriage of almost twenty-three years. It was moving day and Rachel noticed my daughter and me working hard all day carrying stuff into my new home. We were exhausted, and I had neglected to make plans for dinner.

“As we carted in another load, Rachel came by to welcome us to the neighborhood. She invited us to dinner at her house. … A single parent with two teenage daughters, Rachel lived two doors down. Her invitation felt like a good omen. I hoped a friendlier neighborhood with girls near her age living close would make my daughter more comfortable moving in with me.”

Then she appears ten years later on page 259 in the chapter titled, “Fire Walk.”  Rachel is more extroverted and fun-loving than I am, but our friendship survived my move away from the neighborhood where we first met.

I was even more exhausted and rattled in 1999 than I had been on moving day in 1989. I was in the midst of a crisis with my daughter. She needed appropriate clothes to wear to a funeral and I didn’t have the time or energy to take her shopping.

“Rachel appeared with a bag full of clothes she and her daughters no longer wore. In the bag was a nice dress and shoes for my daughter to wear to the funeral.” 

When Rachel arrived at my home with these clothes, she saw the state I was in. I had so much to do and couldn’t even think straight to get started. Rachel helped keep me focused for the tasks at hand and helped me accomplish them.

Rachel sees a need and jumps in to help. She is known for helping many others. When reminded of her generosity, she is surprised because she has forgotten all about it. That’s just the kind of friend she is.

Yesterday morning as we worked on organizing her kitchen, our conversation deepened as we both reflected on what I wrote in A Long Awakening to Grace. She is not the first friend to note, after reading all that I went through with my children, that they didn’t feel they had been there for me … had not been a good friend.

That has nothing to do with their friendship. When something came out in the open, friends responded, including Rachel. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to write this “Angels Among Us” series. My friends couldn’t know the extent of what I was dealing with because I mostly kept it to myself. When I needed to talk about my family struggles, I saved that for my support group meetings.

When I was with my friends, I wanted to enter fully into our social activities. I wanted and needed a break from family matters. So many friends, including Rachel, are now learning the details. What is meaningful to me is that my story seems to touch some of their own tender places and they now feel free to share with me. Our eyes moistened as Rachel and I bared our souls in her kitchen. And then we did what good friends do, we gave each other a big hug.

Thank you, Rachel, for being an angel in my life … in days long past and currently as well.

Another Welcome Gift of Grace

In my last blog post, I wrote: “For many years as an adult, I hid. I cut myself off from old friends who would have wanted to know what was going on. I didn’t want to tell them.”

When our family moved from Middletown to Kettering, OH in the early 80s, we left behind a whole group of tight-knit church friends. I didn’t include in my memoir the story of the house church some of us founded, a most meaningful experience for us. But that is another story for another time.

This week, I reconnected with one significant friend from my past, LaVerne, my daughter’s first piano teacher. LaVerne, her husband Dick, and their three children Dale, Bruce, and Sandra were active members of The Church of the Continuing Creation, our house church.

After her husband died, LaVerne moved to Houston, TX, to be near her daughter. My memoir brought us back together.

LaVerne

LaVerne and I have been friends on Facebook for awhile, but we hadn’t talked in several years except for a visit I made to her shortly before she moved to Houston. I was still in the process of writing A Long Awakening to Grace. I trusted LaVerne to give me honest feedback about how she experienced me in my relationship with my then husband. She had many opportunities to observe us in the 70s. I wanted to be as candid as possible about my part in our relationship not working.

But because some of what I experienced with my children was still too painful to talk about, I didn’t share much with her about that part of the story. She learned about it through reading my memoir.

It was important to me that someone significant to me from my past know my truth. In fact, a Facebook message I received from another member of the house church when my memoir was first published brought me to tears. Karen was a teenager in the house church and her mother, Wapella, was one of my dearest friends. Unfortunately, Wapella died before my memoir was published. Karen said:

“Linda, I read your book this weekend and was very moved. I smiled at the memories of people from our past and shed a few tears during certain passages. Thank you for sharing your insight and pain.”

When I knew LaVerne, also one of my closest friends, wanted to read my book, I asked her to give me honest feedback after she finished reading.  And thankfully she called me Sunday evening instead of sending a text. We talked for two hours.

“Through memoir people get to know us, the inner details they never knew. Glad you rekindled your relationship!” Linda Joy Myers, founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers and one of my teachers.

Not only did LaVerne not know the inner details of my life, she knew little of the outer details. She seemed to hardly know how to respond. She just kept saying “Wow!” She also told me that she talked with her children about reading my book, telling them, “I lost touch with Linda a long time ago and her life just kept getting worse.” She wondered how I am “still standing.”

As Linda Joy, author of two memoirs, Don’t Call Me Mother and Song of the Plains, and several books on writing memoir, knows … it is the inner details that most interest friends.

Most of the conversation with LaVerne centered around the deep, inner details of our lives. She didn’t seem to recognize her musical talents as gifts that are every bit as spiritual as my contemplative writing and involvement in groups that delve deep into soul. But by the end of our conversation, she seemed pleased to appreciate that fact at a deeper level.

LaVerne is an extrovert with a great sense of humor. She finds people fascinating and loves to interact, often initiating contact through humor. People enjoy and trust her almost immediately. That is a gift I wish I had. While I find people as intriguing as she does, I have a much more difficult time initiating conversation.

And, now that, in LaVerne’s words,  “…we broke the barrier we’ll talk often to check up on each other.” Before we ended the call, we reaffirmed our friendship and love for each other. What a blessing. Another gift of grace that has come as a result of publishing A Long Awakening to Grace. I am once more filled with gratitude.

 

Unexpected and Continuing Gifts of Grace

People often ask memoirists why we write the story of our life.  Writing is for me a spiritual practice — an exploration of the deepest terrain of my soul. I felt compelled to write my story. In the beginning stages, I couldn’t have told you why.

In my studies on the art of writing memoir, I learned of the importance of writing honestly about our shortcomings … of not glossing over our flaws and failings. I was determined to be as honest as possible. That meant facing head on a fear I had lived with from a young age … the fear that there was something wrong with me that made me unlikable and unlovable. You may remember that I kept Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, in the book cubby above my writing desk.

At the end of eight years of writing A Long Awakening to Grace, I received a whole new perspective … my life finally made sense. The writing proved to be healing and transforming … an unexpected and welcome gift of grace.

Publishing what I wrote was another matter. I needed to let go of a coping mechanism I had used since childhood to avoid criticism … being quiet and invisible.

For many years as an adult, I hid. I cut myself off from old friends who would have wanted to know what was going on. I didn’t want to tell them.

Except for my twelve-step support system where it was safe to be open and vulnerable, I lived a double life. I avoided people and activities where I might need to reveal my life beyond the superficial. In my professional associations, I didn’t talk about the nitty gritty details of my personal life, even with colleagues I trusted.

Publishing my memoir was a big deal. In exposing my flaws and shortcomings to my readers, I risked the possibility of actualizing my childhood fear of being judged unlikable and unlovable. My editors even prepared me for such a possibility.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” ~Brene Brown

 

The truth of Brene Brown‘s words revealed itself in these comments from readers:

“…it took courage to be so open and vulnerable.”

“…your honesty and vulnerability shown through … You are a true hero in my eyes.”

“Your willingness to be vulnerable and open about your challenges and struggles and self-criticism leave me in awe.”

If there are readers out there judging me, they are keeping quiet. If and when judgment comes, these voices will override them:

“You memories have given me hope I can survive the past two devastating years.”

“…your sharing has given me strength and courage. …your brave vulnerability has been healing for me and I am extremely grateful.”

“Your story confronted me and gave me hope.”

“Your book will bless many people.”

 

More words of wisdom from Brene Brown:

“Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world around us a little braver.” Brene Brown

And then last week, an awareness began to float to the surface of my consciousness. I’ve put it all out there … my worst stuff … for the world to see. I no longer need to hide. I’m truly free … another unexpected and welcome gift of grace.

Angels Among Us ~~ Phyllis

“A tall stately woman in her late fifties, Phyllis’s presence made an impression. Soft white curls framed her face. Her dark, deep-set eyes regarded others intently as she listened to discover the values that guided their life choices. When she was delighted, a huge smile lit up her face. When troubled, her thick eyebrows furrowed and her generous lips tightened. I hoped she wouldn’t find any reason to furrow her brows or tighten her lips while observing our group.” ~excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

I wish I could reconnect with Phyllis and insert her picture here holding my memoir, but Phyllis died in October of 2004, thirteen years before the publication of A Long Awakening to Grace and five years before I became serious about writing my story in something more public than my journals.

Phyllis was an extraordinary woman. For over fifty years, she dedicated her life to ministry and being an active volunteer in the community. She served several churches as their director of Christian education. She and her soulmate and husband, Norbert,  pioneered mission work in Kentucky’s mountains and Middletown’s inner city.

St. Paul’s United Church of Christ Middletown, Ohio

In the early 70s, Phyllis began serving as the Director of Christian Education for the church in which I was an active member. She asked to observe a group I facilitated in my home. Fortunately for me, she didn’t furrow her brow. In fact, when I turned around after ushering the last group member out the door, a huge smile lit her face. Her words thrilled me.

“Wow, I’m surprised at the depth of sharing tonight. The group went very well. I’m impressed with the strength of your leadership. You have gifts as a small-group leader.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

Phyllis saw something in me that needed to be nurtured. A few weeks later, she suggested I pursue a career in the church. Alice, the parish worker from my home church, was the first person to make such a proposal. Alice made her’s as I prepared for my 1960 high school graduation.

For many reasons, I didn’t heed Alice’s advice. With Phyllis’s urging, I decided to at least explore the possibility. But it took a third prompting for me to get serious about it. That one came in response to a letter I sent to Ruby, the Director of Christian Education preceding Phyllis, seeking her advice. At first I thought Ruby’s counsel outlandish. Because I already had a bachelors in education and four-years teaching experience, she recommended I pursue a master of divinity degree in seminary.

I resisted. I just couldn’t fathom my being “holy” enough to associate with the “saints” I would surely find in seminary. But when others didn’t seem to think it was crazy, I decided to explore further.

I enrolled in Dayton, Ohio’s United Theological Seminary for their fall quarter, 1975. Phyllis gave me a butterfly pin with a card that read, “Now you can fly.”

After sharing with my classmates in the first course I took about the pin Phyllis gave me, they dubbed me, “Emerging Butterfly.”

“That’s a perfect name for you,” my classmates enthused. The butterfly became my favorite symbol for resurrection and transformation — and after graduation, the symbol for my retreat ministry titled Emergings.” excerpt from A Long Awakening to Grace

I still had a lot of growing and changing to do after I entered  and graduated from seminary. Phyllis didn’t get to witness it all. However, I will always be grateful for the role she played in smoothing out some of my rough edges and believing more in me than I was able to believe in myself.

Phyllis definitely served as a significant angel in my life and I regret not spending more time with her toward the end of her life to thank her for the important role she played in my life. Let that be a lesson to you. If there is someone who has been pivotal in your life, let them know before it is too late.

I did eventually learn to fly, as my awakening to grace testifies. I will always be grateful to Phyllis for her part in giving me wings. I like to think she would approve of my flight path.

Ranting

This is the first time in my memory that I have used this forum to rant. I think the gray-haired among us will relate. Lately, I’ve been tearing my hair out over technology. I do fairly well for someone my age, but I have my limits.

When my computer works well, I’m grateful to be able to interact with a world beyond my neighborhood, city, and country. When it isn’t working, I invariably can’t understand why and don’t know what to do to fix it. Sometime in September, the Jetpack plug-in just disappeared from my website. That meant my subscribers were not receiving my blog posts. And I didn’t know it until after I had posted twice, one being a very significant post. I also received feedback from another writer about my website. It needs an update. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Because I have no whiz-kid grandchildren, I have to “fork-over-dollars.” And in that realm, I also have my limits.

The months of September and October 2017 have been filled with anxiety and frustration as I’ve attended to several time-consuming matters, some of which involved an outlay of dollars:

  • updating my will and trust,
  • dealing with the Jetpack and other website issues (update still not resolved),
  • getting leaks to Nicole’s new tub and around the old tub in my bathroom fixed

Others were designed to save me money as the prices of everything are increasing in 2018:

  • finding the lowest gas and electric carriers
  • finding the best, most affordable health insurance supplement

Correcting the mistake made in my 2016 taxes involved both an outlay and a savings:

  • finding an affordable tax preparer and
  • receiving the refund I was owed

And that doesn’t take into account the hours spent dealing with the Equifax breech and collecting the documents the Job Center needed to determine if Nicole will still be eligible for medicaid help.

And then, of course, there is life:

  • grocery shopping
  • cooking
  • cleaning (to pay for Nicole’s tub, we let our house cleaner go)
  • doctor appointments

All that interfered with what I really wanted to do:

  • promote my memoir
  • prepare my home for Jacqui’s return from Taiwan so she could  move in

What frays my nerves and pushes me close to the edge of insanity is:

  • automated answering systems

It is next to impossible to get a human being anymore. And what should take minutes, takes hours. It is unbelievable what all is involved in getting instructions or the answer to a simple question. I even found an article about it here and here and here.

Twice this week, I was put in a queue and promised a call back. I’m still waiting.

Monday, we cut the cord with cable TV. Upgrading our internet was a breeze. Changing phone carriers and learning to use our new streaming device was not.

Thank God for Jacqui. She is far advanced beyond Nicole and me in her understanding of technology. And she is willing to help. Nicole and I have made progress in understanding how to use Apple TV and Hulu and we still have a ways to go. I’m happy with the dollars we are saving.

An awareness I didn’t expect, after witnessing Jacqui’s very different manner, was noticing how contracted and defended I have become. I approach armed and ready … alert in every interaction to being taken advantage of and cheated out of my hard-earned money. Of course, the customer service representatives are not to blame. They don’t make the policies. They are just trying to make a living. And they bear the brunt of our increased stress. And that isn’t good for any of us.

I firmly believe that the rampant greed and contentious climate in our culture today contributes to our stress. Clearly I’m not alone as the articles I referenced above prove. Whew!! However, watching Jacqui joke with customer service representatives and extend kindness to them brought me up short.

Being tense, anxious, defended, and contracted are not ways I want to be.

So, I am increasing my motivation by embarrassing myself here and revealing one of the worst parts of me. My plan for change is:

  • determine what I want and need before the call or encounter
  • breathe deeply
  • set my intention to be kind to the rep and to my body
  • and to assertively ask for what I want and need.

These are skills I have possessed for a very long time. I plan to start being intentional about using them again.