Strength in Weakness

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

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 difficulty 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

Celebrations

It was a long day. My Michigan friends, Tom and Sarah, were visiting. Sarah and I grew up together in New Bremen, got married about the same time, and were pregnant at the same time in 1968. Their daughter, Connie, is two weeks younger than my son, Doug. While our children grew up, we visited each other twice a year, alternating between Ohio and Michigan. It had been two years since we had seen each other. The picture below shows Tom and Sarah with Connie, her husband and daughters.

Don, Carolyn, Sarah, Megan, Tom, and Connie

Nicole had an appointment with her OSU neurologist Tuesday afternoon, August 15, so I scheduled an appointment with a Columbus attorney in the morning. I no longer like driving the interstate and wanted to double up on these appointments. Sarah accompanied us to these appointments.

I had been referred to Matthew Gibson because he specializes in estate planning when there is a disabled child involved. Sarah sat in on the meeting and took copious notes for me. Nicole and I really liked him, but it was a stressful meeting. I had made an outrageous request of a friend to handle Nicole’s finances after I’m gone. We called her so she could ask the attorney questions. I hate having to ask friends to assume this responsibility and am grateful for their willingness.

Sarah, Nicole, and I had a lovely lunch after seeing the attorney and then headed for our OSU appointment. Unfortunately, we missed a turn and got lost and never made it. And so we switched gears from frustration at having to reschedule with OSU to excitement about what awaited us at home.

The proof for A Long Awakening for Grace was slated to arrive that day. My friend, Diana, wanted to be present when I opened it. We called Tom to make sure it had been delivered and then called Diana to alert her to our impending arrival home.

Jim & Diana

Diana and her husband, Jim, came with sparkling juice and wine glasses to toast the occasion. After the drum roll, I opened the package.

The big moment

My daughter cried. When I asked if she could share with me about her tears, she said, “I was just thinking about all we went through.” Then she joined in the celebration. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate her support.

Nicole

I’m so aware that in the midst of the chaos that surrounds us these days, we have much to celebrate. I am determined to notice and honor the emergence of joy and love wherever I find it. When we look, we find that it abounds. This day I celebrated with friends … the satisfaction of a job well done. Yesterday Nicole and I celebrated the wonder of the Universe, watching the eclipse from our front yard, chuckling at my space kitty’s interest as we watched the eclipse on Nova that evening.

Kiko

And as I write this, the second proof is due to arrive. Later, Nicole’s new visiting physician will arrive. We will celebrate again, in the midst of the ordinariness and extraordinariness of life.

Making Outrageous Requests

My SCN sister writers and I have been learning how to make Outrageous Requests. Our teacher, Debra Winegarten, is a master at it. She says the important thing is to ask. We never know what response we will get … “Yes,” “No,” or a counter offer. I’ve been practicing.

Outrageous Request #1:

Last February during my daughter’s appointment, I asked Dr. Kissel, “Do you have time to read anything besides medical-related literature?”

John T. Kissel, M.D.
Chair, Dept. of Neurology
Director, Division of Neuromuscular Medicine
OSU Wexner Medical Center

He said he did.

“Okay, then I’m going to make an outrageous request.” I pulled a packet from my bag and handed it to him. “Would you read my memoir?”

His eyes widened. The packet was huge because my approximately 80,000 words were double spaced and printed on one side of 8 1/2 by 11 paper.

Then I said, “If you like it, I’d be honored if you would give me a blurb for my back cover.”

“How soon do you have to have it?” he asked.

I didn’t know. I was still in the final stages of working with my developmental editor, and my manuscript hadn’t yet been copyedited. I hadn’t submitted it to that prestigious hybrid publisher for vetting.

Fast forward to July 2017. During my mad dash toward publishing with April’s assistance, I contacted him and said, “If you are willing to give me a blurb, now would be the time.” He actually sent me two and below is the one I chose:

“One of my physician colleagues, when asked how he dealt with ‘such depressing neuromuscular diseases,’ replied, ‘I have the greatest job in the world because I get to work with heroes every day.’ This remarkable memoir chronicles one such hero’s quest to find an answer to a genetic riddle that had severely impacted her family for decades. The story is moving, meaningful, and inspiring and reading it has made me a better doctor. It is a tremendous resource for other families in similar situations.”  ~John T. Kissel, M.D.

We couldn’t fit all that on the back cover, so we edited to capture the essence of what he wrote. I think he will approve.

“This remarkable memoir is moving, meaningful, and inspiring. Reading it has made me a better doctor. It is a tremendous resource for families dealing with genetic riddles.” ~John T. Kissel, M.D.

What a gem of a doctor, Dr. Kissel is. I’m so grateful he is in my daughter’s and my life. The first time we saw him, he asked me how I was doing. He is the first doctor ever to do that. I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally we have a doctor who gets it.

Outrageous Request #2:

With time being of the essence, I didn’t think I had time for my original plan for my memoir’s cover. So I started looking for an alternative.

That artist/photographer from Paris I featured in my June 30 post had a project that fascinated me, Mimesis. I was drawn to one of Janiak’s images and thought it would be a good choice for the cover.

I imagined that, even if Jeb gave me permission, it would be way out of my price range. But I wouldn’t know unless I made an OR. And so I did. He didn’t respond immediately, but when he did, he was willing for me to use the image, at a fair price I thought. But because he is busy working on another project, he didn’t have time to draw up a contract. I didn’t feel comfortable not having a contract, but was proud of myself for asking. And I got a better response than I anticipated.

Outrageous Request #3:

It is also important to have another writer in your genre give you a blurb. One of my Story Circle Network sister writers is an award-winning memoirist from whom I have learned a lot. My memoir is better and deeper because of what Susan J. Tweit has shared in our group about the process of writing memoir.

Susan J. Tweit

When I read Susan’s memoir, Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey, I experienced her as a deeply spiritual woman. I knew she would understand the spiritual aspect of my journey.

I knew what all Susan had on her plate. I would have to make a HUGE OR. I gathered my courage and on July 16, I sent her an e-mail request.

It is customary to give another author at least three months to read and respond. Only if your writing and story are good enough, something an author would feel okay about putting their name to, do you get the requested blurb.

Susan had to think about it and see if she could work the reading into her already packed schedule. When I heard from her, she let me know there was no guarantee she would be able to give me a blurb, but she wanted to be supportive. She gave me a time frame and said if I didn’t need it until then, she thought she could get the book read.

I gave her five more days and told her I would be disappointed if she didn’t like my memoir, but would still admire her and would deal with it. I didn’t want her to feel obligated or pressured in anyway. I wanted her honest assessment. And so I waited.

She finished one of her writing assignments early and was able to work reading my memoir into her schedule. She didn’t need the extra five days. She saw my book as written in a way that will be helpful and inspiring to others. I was thrilled, as you can imagine, with her affirmation:

“A Long Awakening to Grace shows the transformative power of an open heart and questing spirit. Faith buoys Linda Marshall through decades of family pain and tragedy caused by a mysterious genetic condition. Over the course of this inspiring journey, love opens the way for profound healing.” ~Susan J. Tweit

Pure Gift … I didn’t even have to ask:

And then April, author of five novels and self-publishing champion and my mentor par excellence, generously gave me a blurb for inside the book. She captures another part of the story:

“Linda’s memoir is more than just a retelling of her life story. This work of nonfiction functions on so many levels. In addition to being a brilliantly insightful spiritual exploration and narrative about a rare genetic disorder, it’s the quintessential story of the American woman born in the 1940s, growing up in the 1950s, and dealing with stifling gender roles imposed on American women of that era.”

As you can see, I am richly blessed … and these past few weeks I’ve been experiencing showers of blessings. Please celebrate with me. I am so grateful.

Showered with Blessings II

I couldn’t sleep the morning of my 75th birthday, so I came to my desk and opened my e-mail. There was a message from “the Debster” as she is affectionately known in the Story Circle Network‘s Works-in-Progress writer’s group. My second publishing angel had appeared and blessed me with the best birthday gift possible.

The Debster

Debra Winegarten is a force to be reckoned with. The women in our online writing group are constantly amazed at her energy and all she accomplishes. She’s an author, publisher, college professor, master marketer, public speaker, extraordinary friend, and lover of life. And she has taken a special liking to me after we tied for third place in an SCN Lifewriting contest. We have become heart sisters.

Deb is an extrovert and a favorite activity of hers is going to book and speaking events, not just to promote her books, but to meet and touch people’s lives. She recently told us a poignant story where she profoundly touched the life of a woman who had just lost her husband in an auto accident. Even after the event, she went out of her way to meet a need this woman had expressed. She sees this as her purpose and her books are just the venue that puts her in people’s lives. I love that about her.

Now, I’m an introvert, and I don’t find putting myself out into the world easy. Deb knows that. When she learned I was going to San Francisco to the Myotonic Foundation conference, she went into action.

When I opened my e-mail the morning of July 15, Deb’s message said, “I found a ticket from Austin to San Francisco for $300. Can I room with you? I’ll sell your books while you schmooze with people at the conference. And I can be your Facebook paparazzi.”

I was stunned. It is hard for me to fathom her willingness to take time out of her busy schedule to support me, not to mention spending $300. It wasn’t easy for me to accept her generosity. But I’m living into a new part of myself these days, and I gratefully accepted. I am thrilled to receive Deb’s support. The conference will be even more meaningful because we will be sharing the experience together. Because of her example, I’m looking forward to seeing how other’s will touch my life and how I might be able to touch theirs.

And there is more to come. My blessings abound. Stay tuned.

 

Showered with Blessings I

It all began in late April when my manuscript was vetted by a prestigious hybrid press. I received the contract but just couldn’t sign it. It would have wiped out my savings and more. And my manuscript wouldn’t be published until August 2018.

I shared my dilemma with local writer, Jude Walsh. She suggested I join the Dayton Area Writers for dinner that Saturday evening, June 24. April Wilson, another local writer and champion for self-publishing would be there, and I could meet her.

I remembered the time of the meeting incorrectly and arrived one and a half hours late. Only three writers were there. Several regulars had other commitments that night. Holly and Jude were leaving about the time I arrived. April stayed while I ate dinner, and we talked. It was fortuitous that I arrived late, because this conversation would likely not have happened had I been on time.

April proceeded to sing the praises of self-publishing and tell me about her success as a romance author. I was impressed.

Then she asked me about my project. I told her about my memoir, the contract sitting on my desk, and my difficulty in signing it. When she heard how much money it would cost me to publish with this company, she sang even more praises for self-publishing.

Then she offered to help me self-publish my book. She says she loves to mentor authors. And she was willing to do everything that needed to be done to get my memoir out into the world without charge.

I was stunned and asked her, “Why would you do that?”

She said, “Because you’re a nice person, and I like doing it.”

Then I told April about the conference I was attending where a major part of my target audience would be. She wanted to know when that conference was being held? When I told her September 7-10, she said, “Then we need to have your book done by then so you can take it with you.”

My eyes bugged out. “Is that possible?”

“It’s very possible,” she replied.

And we went to work. And I learned how amazing April is! I’m a perfectionist and wanted to make sure my memoir was as professionally published as if that prestigious publisher had done it. She has gone above and beyond to make that happen.

Tonight we have a date to send the finished product off for printing. I am in awe. My hard work over the past four years and a lifetime is coming to fruition.

And this was only the beginning of my shower of blessings. There’s more to come. April is only the first Angel to appear. Stay tuned.

 

Remembering: Our Foundational Moments

On Wednesday, July 5, while my friends Kathryn and Sharon visited, another seminary friend, Pam, came for lunch. I wish I could convey in words the energy created in my home as we visited with each other. It was palpable and filled me with gratitude for these women and for the opportunities we have experienced in our lives.

Sharon (from Pittsburgh), Linda (from Dayton OH), Pam (from Austin), Kathryn (from Wichita)

I met Sharon and Kathryn in 1975 when we all began our sojourn with United Theological Seminary here in Dayton, Ohio. They graduated in 1978, a year before I did. Pam came to United later and had never met Sharon. Because Kathryn stayed in the area for a couple of years and I worked at the seminary for six years following my graduation, we had both met Pam.

So we began our visit by sharing how our lives had unfolded during the past thirty-nine years. And then we began to reminisce about our experiences at United — foundational moments for each of us.

Chapters 7 and 9 of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace*, recount how I was encouraged to enroll in United and some of my experiences while I was there.

Sharon, Kathryn, Pam, and I were among the first wave of women attending seminary in large numbers and we brought our curious minds and passionate hearts to our studies and the relationships we formed. We found our professors excited about the depth and breadth of the thinking of women students as well as our enthusiasm for our studies. Because women being called to ministry was a boundary breaking experience, we came with fresh perspectives.

We were unaware at the time how refreshing our presence proved to be for the faculty. One professor in particular had a reputation for being tough. But we didn’t experience him that way. He just loved quality work and expressed gratitude for women students giving it to him. He rewarded our efforts generously.

“Whoever believes in the good in people, draws forth the good in people.”  ~Jean Paul

All of us experienced being mentored and encouraged by faculty members to pursue the paths we were drawn to follow after graduation. The four of us looked back with awe at our professor’s generosity. We are all grateful to have attended United during this pivotal time in her history … a time when the faculty created a curriculum and an environment that drew out the best in those of us hungering to experience and live in alignment with the heart of Christianity.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  ~Luke 10:27

 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  ~John 15:12

*A Long Awakening to Grace is slated for publication the end of August 2017.

The Kindness of Strangers

My tale begins at Dayton International Airport on July 4. My friends Sharon and Kathryn came for a visit. Sharon drove in from Pittsburgh and arrived in time to accompany me to the airport to pick up Kathryn, who flew in from Wichita.

Sharon and I were in a small area of the airport as we waited for Kathryn to arrive. After Kathryn collected her bag, I reached to dislodge my car keys from the carabiner hanging on my purse. Oh no, my car keys were there but my mailbox key was gone. We looked around but didn’t see it. I had not only lost my mailbox key, I had lost the key chain, a gift from my friend Ani.

I lost sleep that night worrying about it. The next morning I called the airport and talked with Ashley. She checked and didn’t find my key in lost and found. I called Gem City key shop. The gentleman who answered recommended I ask the mail carrier to open my door. Then I could dislodge the lock with a little lever and bring it in, saving me a lot of money.

I put a note on the mailbox for the mail carrier and he brought my mail to my door. However, he couldn’t open my door. He did, however, open the bank of boxes from the back to allow me to reach in for the lever. No lever. He and I could find no way to dislodge the lock. So, the mail carrier said he would continue delivering the mail to my door until I let him know I’d handled the situation.

I made my peace with having to dispatch a locksmith and pay whatever it would cost. But I wouldn’t handle that until after Kathryn and Sharon departed. We kept our plans for Thursday, visiting the Freedom Center Underground Railroad in Cincinnati.

When we arrived home after dinner and our Cincinnati trip, I had a message from Ashley at the airport. A key matching my description had been found.

I returned Ashley’s call the next morning and made a trip to the airport to fetch my key. I asked Ashley how she knew who to call. In my initial call, I had not given her my name or phone number.

She remembered I had called in the morning and searched her caller ID, hoping she was calling the right person.

Because of the kindness of strangers, I wouldn’t have needed to lose sleep over this event.

  • A perfect stranger found my key and turned it in at the airport information desk.
  • The gentleman at Gem City tried to save me money.
  • My mail carrier went out of his way to deliver the mail to my house.
  • Ashley from the airport searched her caller ID to find my number.

In a world gone mad with vitriol, these kind strangers renew my faith in humankind. And I learned my lesson. Yesterday I finally got around to having extra keys made. 🙂

You Make Sense to Me — A Priceless Gift

Oprah Winfrey often says that what she learned in her twenty-five years as a talk-show host is that people want the same thing — we want to be heard and understood … we want to know that we make sense to someone.

In my past life (1993-2012), one of the many professional hats I wore was as an Imago Relationship Therapist. Imago Therapists teach couples a listening skill that goes beyond active listening (repeating what you hear the other saying) to seeing the world through the other person’s eyes and telling them how they make sense given their life experience, and then walking in their shoes by telling them what you imagine they must be feeling as a result. None of this requires agreeing with how they see the world or having their feelings. It just asks us to suspend our own judgments and experiences to be in the world of the other.

And it is not easy as our polarized world attests.

For couples in troubled relationships, using that process skillfully can transform their relationship. Often, the assistance of a compassionate therapist is needed to help get and stay on track.

During the time I was an active member of the Imago community, one of the highlights I enjoyed was attending the annual conference, visiting another area of our country, and re-connecting with colleagues who had become friends.

One year, probably before 9/11, our conference was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I decided to stay an extra day, rented a car, and planned a trip to the Acoma Pueblo Sky City, located on top of a mesa about sixty miles west of Albuquerque. A colleague from Houston, Texas, Damian Duplechain, heard about my plans and asked if he could join me. I didn’t know Damian at the time, but welcomed his company.

Damian and I had a lot of time to get to know each other that day. We found we had some experiences in common beyond being Imago Relationship Therapists. We each had addiction in our family backgrounds and found twelve-step spirituality, The Spirituality of Imperfection, to be a healing force in our lives. After this trip, we went back home and had little contact after that beyond a few e-mails.

In 2009, I developed lymphoma. I was diagnosed on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, was sent directly to the urban hub of the hospital, and talked into staying the weekend. If I had to do it over, I would not have stayed the weekend, but that is another story. The word went out to the Imago community about my situation and colleagues from around the world began praying for me.

That weekend, I received a phone call from Damian. What a shock. He wanted me to know about M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He told me about a friend who had traveled a distance to be treated there. He said that if I wasn’t happy with the treatment I was getting in Dayton, OH, to give him a call and he would make all the arrangements for me to come to Houston for treatment. I doubt that you can imagine how touched I was by that. It told me even more about what an extraordinarily caring person Damian is. And it told me how fortunate I was to have so many wonderful friends extending love to me. Despite his generous offer, I didn’t find it necessary to seek treatment outside Dayton. I have been in remission since December 2009.

Eventually, I stopped participating in Imago conferences, opting to attend workshops and gatherings with my Imago friends in the Detroit, MI area. At one point, I contacted Damian about sending him a referral. But other than that, we had little contact for several years until Monday of this week.

Unbeknownst to me, Damian has been following my blog and has made a few comments. Since I didn’t receive them, I didn’t respond. He thought that was strange, checked my webpage, didn’t find his comments, and wondered if it was a cyber gremlin at work or if he had offended me in some way. He sent me an e-mail and stated that if he had offended me, he wanted to offer his deepest apology and state his willingness to hear my hurt.

I was floored. I doubt you can imagine how deeply touched I was. I find it a rare experience to have someone care that much about my feelings that they would send me an e-mail to inquire if I had been hurt and express a willingness to listen, if needed. I couldn’t have received a better gift.

My daughter who lives with me has a condition that blunts her emotions. She gets very uncomfortable when I express mine. So at home, I mostly keep them to myself. I often go for long stretches of time with no one inquiring about or listening to my feelings. And I am a feeler … on the Myer’s Briggs Personality Type Indicator, I am an

INFJ.

I have a rich inner life full of feelings, and I experience myself as most cared about when someone is interested in hearing me express them. To me, my feelings are the best, most authentic, part of me. Sometimes they get in the way, but they get out of the way faster when I can talk about them with some one who cares and understands … someone who is willing to stretch to see how they make sense to me.

As a single person living with someone not attuned to feelings, I often write about them in my blog. It is an exercise in vulnerability, and often after posting I wonder if I should have pressed that “publish key.” That uneasy feeling stays with me … until I get a comment.

Comments are important to me and I appreciate every one. They help me know if I am on the right track … if I make sense … if I say something of value for someone else. Sometimes they help me clarify my thoughts on a topic. I want my blog to be more than a self-centered exercise.

After assuring Damian that I didn’t get his comments, my curiosity was piqued. Actually, I found his comment in the spam folder. But I’m glad I didn’t find it until after writing this post. You will  see why in a moment. I wondered, “What could he have said that might have offended me?” I wrote and asked him. Here is his response:

“My comments could be summed up as: You are a wise woman who makes total sense to me, and I appreciate your blog and you because they are both wonderful gifts to me and to the world.  Keep up the great work.”

WOW!! I think I’ll keep writing. 🙂

On NOT Being “Humor Challenged” … Seriously

“…the Spirit prays for us with groans too deep for words.” ~Romans 8:26b

If the Spirit prays with groans too deep for words, then I’m okay with my moans and groans about writing on the topic of “happiness.” Writing is for me a spiritual practice … writing letters to the Divine in my journal is a prayer practice for me.

I often moan and groan until an opening occurs and what is too deep for words emerges … wisdom flows from my pen as though from the still, small voice within. The Divine doesn’t always speak to me this way, but I have experienced these transcendent moments enough to trust that my moans and groans are leading me to a deeper place of awareness. Being in league with the Spirit isn’t a bad place to be.

And so, while I moaned and groaned about writing on the topic of “happiness” for my writing group, I trusted something deeper would emerge. And it has and continues. Here’s the latest!

Growing up, my family dubbed me the weird, serious one. They reveled in joke telling and laughing uproariously. I didn’t get some of their jokes, didn’t find some of them funny, and couldn’t join in their merry-making.

I inevitably forgot or messed up the punch line of most jokes I attempted to tell. My family happily reinforced my thinking about myself as “humor challenged.” That presented a dilemma

If you have been following my blog posts on happiness, you have probably guessed that my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is not a tale of “happily every after.”

“Be kind to your readers. Color your darker moments with humor to lighten the heaviness of your story,” those of us writing memoirs are taught.

As you might imagine, that unsettled me. How could a “humor challenged” woman prone to melancholy make her less than “happily ever after” story funny?

“Comedy comes from pain.” ~Kevin Hart

According to Forbes, Kevin Hart, was the highest paid comedian on the planet last year. That makes him pretty popular. And he makes people laugh by making fun of himself and finding humor in painful situations in his life … like his fear of the dark and absurd reactions to his mother’s death.

I’m no Kevin Hart, but fortunately for me, I have good friends and many of them find me funny … not for the jokes I tell … I gave up on jokes a long time ago. They find my  comments about the absurdities of life and my wry comments, usually made at my own expense, funny. Sometimes they even laugh uproariously.

If you have ever experienced that side of me, just know that is a sign that I feel really safe with you.

And fortunately for me, I had a good editor. After reading my manuscript, she would not accept my perception that I am “humor challenged.” Hmmm. Had she noticed something in my writing that would at least give my readers a chuckle.

Hey, I’ll take a chuckle anytime.

But, since satire had never automatically flowed from my fingers before, the tongue-in-cheek humor that emerged as I wrote about “happiness” filled me with happiness. 🙂 I noted it as the presence of the Transcendent.

Then, last weekend, some bonafide funny words popped out of my mouth in a phone conversation with a friend I hadn’t talked with for awhile. She was excited to hear that I have finished writing my memoir and that it will be published in 2018. I told her:

“My memoir is in three parts:

The first part is: ‘I’m a mess.’

The second part is: ‘I’m getting my act together.’

The third part is: ‘I think I’m getting the hang of this now.'”

We both chuckled. Later she sent me an e-mail.

“It was so delightful to talk with you this afternoon.  I can hardly wait until your book is published!  Please keep me in that loop so I can get an early copy.”

You, too, could be “in that loop.” All I need is your e-mail and permission to add you to my list. You could send me a message on my contact page. Or, if you haven’t already, you could sign up to receive notifications through my blog. Just saying.

I never cease to be amazed and in awe at the way Spirit works in my life. Today I’m grateful to know that I am seriously not “humor challenged.” My editor confronted me several times with this truth. She will be happy that I finally get it. Groan! Forgive me. Sometimes I can be a slow learner. 😉

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I moaned and groaned with the other women in my Cincinnati Writer’s Group as we came to our gathering to share what we wrote about “Happiness.” Today, I am quite happy that we chose to write and share on this topic because it has led to an important awakening in my life.

After contemplating Gary’s profound piece on Transcendent Happiness, I realized that my moans and groans related to my 1950s-60s socialization.

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

The promise of “happily ever after” portrayed in co-dependent ballads that I loved as an idealistic, naive young woman: (think Johnny Mathis’s “Voice of Romance” … Misty, Chances Are, The Twelfth of Never) and musicians who made my heart be-bop (think Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Tommy Sands) tripped me up.

“Happily Ever After”

I actually believed that “happily ever after” was how life was supposed to work. Somehow I missed that it is a MYTH! I missed the mark.

When my life didn’t work according to my expectations, I wrestled to make sense of it.

At first, I made myself the problem. “What’s wrong with me?” I tried to whip myself into shape with a long list of self-sabotaging messages. More “Missing the Mark.” 

When I learned about misogyny and sexism, contributing to women’s low self-worth, I reasoned that life was unfair. True, but knowing that didn’t help me hit the mark.

Eventually I found a more productive route. Focusing on “What am I doing wrong?” produced a lot of fruit. There was indeed a lot I was doing wrong. I made a concerted effort to clean up my act.

The tongue-in-cheek perspective in the next paragraph that appeared in my original treatise on “Happiness” makes me happy because it flowed from my fingers automatically … a sure sign of the Transcendent engaging me. 

Not everyone in my life liked my journey from “dysfunctional” to “more functional.” I can’t say from “dysfunctional” to “functional” because I’m not functionally perfect, though a very dysfunctional part of me wishes I were.

Pay Dirt

 

“The whole idea in life is growth. I mean you stop growing, you stop asking questions, you lose your curiosity. That’s not a life you want to live.” ~Goldie Hawn

Gary’s writing on Transcendent Happiness made me curious about my moans and groans. That opened my eyes to how off-center and out-of-balance my 50s-60s mindset throws me … how much I still carry that longing within me for “happily ever after” and how far from the real treasures in life that obsession takes me. Knowing how I miss the mark when it comes to the topic of happiness, I think I can let go of “happily ever after” once and for all. What a relief.

The Comparison Trap:

“Aggregate happiness has not risen in countries where incomes and educational levels have risen. There is much evidence that people compare their income with other people and, if others become richer, they feel less happy at any given level of income.” ~World Happiness Report

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

“When I compare myself or my life with others, that is a sure sign that I have moved too far away from engaging or allowing myself to be engaged by the Transcendent.” ~Linda A. Marshall

I think my friend, Pat, who described her true happiness as having a sense of peace even when things around her are not going well is on to something significant. She attributes her peace to her relationship with God and the Holy Spirit working through her…what I believe Gary was saying in different words.

For me, I much prefer to focus on The Pursuit of Meaning. That leads me to be right on the mark … growing in consciousness.

Thank you, Gary, for opening my eyes a wee bit wider and my heart to the true treasures in life: my blessings as well as the strength, resilience, and wisdom that can flow from adversity when I am open to receiving it. That is “happiness” I can embrace.

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