Surrounded by Angels

 

Back Row: Rosie, Teresa, Mary Lou, Carol, Joy, Ruth
Seated: Betts, Gloria, Meribeth
On the floor: Gay

A group of women who call themselves “The Angels” have been meeting every Monday morning for somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty years. This picture shows the group who met this week. A few had to miss this special gathering as we celebrated what Teresa has meant to us. She is moving to Michigan and we won’t be seeing her as regularly.

Ruth convenes us as she rings her Tibetan Meditation Tingsha Cymbal Bell. Sometimes bringing us to our opening meditation is a little like herding cats. Next we share gratitude’s around the circle, followed by a spirited discussion and a reading from Toby, an Angel who lives in Alabama. In closing, we hold hands and pray for others we know and those in the world we don’t know. We also include any woman who is or has ever been a part of “The Angels.” Once an Angel, always an Angel.

I joined The Angels almost four years ago, about half way through the process of writing my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. They took an immediate interest in my project and wanted regular reports about my progress. Toward the end, they became impatient. I often heard, “When are you going to get that thing published. I can’t wait to read it.”

The day came when I was actually ready to distribute the books to them. In my excitement about finally reaching this goal, I forgot to take a picture. So this week, I asked them to bring their copies for a group picture. I wanted to share with all of you these women who consistently cheered me on while I wrote and who continue to be generous with their praise.

I often hear, “You wrote a wonderful book” followed by what they loved about it … and best of all … what they love about me now that they have read about the shortcomings I had to overcome in order to triumph over the adversity in my life.

It is because of the support of these women and that of many others that I’ve had the courage to publish and ask others to read my memoir.  They believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself and continue to celebrate every milestone with me.

I am filled with gratitude and joy for the presence of all the angels in my life. And today I lift up my thanks for this particular group of angels. You bless me in so many ways.

On Being Relational

David Letterman

“I’m here tonight because of hundreds, probably thousands of people who helped me.” ~Dave Letterman upon receiving the Mark Twain Prize for Humor.

When I heard Dave Letterman acknowledge that he was successful because a lot of people helped him get there, my admiration for him expanded. Not that I disliked him before. I’m just an “early-to-bed” kind of person and miss all the late night shows.

His words demonstrated to me that he is a “relational” guy. He named some of the people who helped him and acknowledged the talents of several who he believes deserves the Mark Twain Prize every bit as much if not more than he does. I liked that.

In the 1990’s I trained with Harville Hendrix. He and the woman to whom he is married, Helen LaKelly Hunt, co-developed Imago Relationship Therapy. I retired in 2012, but still value this community of therapists and their partners who devote their lives to improving their own relationships and helping others do the same.

Recently one of my friends and colleagues, Ani, told me that Harville no longer likes the word psychology because of its orientation toward individuality.  I agree with him because, in my opinion, we’ve gone too far with the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that is pulling our culture apart.

Click here for an interview with a linguist that gives the interesting origin of that phrase which started as an insult and has morphed into an admirable quality and cultural demand that is not serving us well.

Harville has coined a new word that I think is much needed in our times. His word is “RELATIONOLOGY.”

Harville Hendrix

It seems to me and many people whom I respect that our culture is based on an illusion of separation. No matter how it looks, we are not separate. We are one. And much of the loneliness and angst we experience in life comes from the emotional distance that results when we act out of a belief that we are separate.

Think about what means the most to those facing terminal illness and death…their loved ones…be that family or close friends who are like family. Trophies, awards, accolades, and material wealth mean little if we aren’t surrounded by those we love. Somehow, when our life is going well, we often forget what matters most.

I am receiving a lot of positive responses to my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. Some of them are beyond my wildest imaginings. I am being referred to as an amazing woman. Those are words I never expected to hear and I enjoy hearing them and am grateful to receive them.

However, I am keenly aware that whatever writing and publishing success I am experiencing…whatever growth has turned me into an amazing woman…I must attribute to Divine guidance and the many people who came into my life during my journey to grace as “God with skin on.” I call them angels.

My blog series, “Angels Among Us,” is to acknowledge those people. I have indeed been blessed. I have a lot of material to continue writing this series for a good long while.

Once I’ve acknowledged all the folks mentioned in my memoir, I have more angels to write about … those who taught me to write well, those who helped me revise my manuscript, those who gave me advance praise and blurbs, those who helped me with the task of publishing, those who helped design the cover, those who are currently mentoring me with marketing (something I am attempting to do from a relational paradigm) and those who are writing wonderful reviews. The list goes on and on. I am so blessed.

It is clear to me that A Long Awakening to Grace is not all my doing.

And so, I ask you, as you read about my angels, to reflect on your own. We all have them. If we look up from our cell phones and social media long enough, we might more easily recognize them. And I think we could all benefit from paying more attention … for taking time to appreciate who matters most in our lives.

Please join me in giving a hearty hip, hip, hooray for this new word in our vocabulary … a word with the potential for drawing our culture back to our spiritual roots. We are all one … interconnected … created to be relational beings. We have so much to learn about and so much to benefit from embracing …

RELATIONOLOGY

Have a Happy Thanksgiving with those who matter most to you.

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.

 

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.

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.

Spicing Up My Life

For the past four or five years, while I’ve been focused on writing my memoir, I would have rather been writing than cooking. I’m not alone. Eighty-eight authors, including my friend and Story Circle Network sister, Judy Alter, contributed to a cookbook called We’d Rather Be Writing. I can relate. Judy loves to cook, garden, and entertain … has written a cookbook, contributed to another, and has a third noodling around in her brain. She inspires me to write about food today.

Since my daughter moved in with me a little over a year ago and I became her full-time caregiver, I’ve been doing a lot more cooking. And I’ve been stuck in a rut. But, because A Long Awakening to Grace is slated for publication the end of August, I’ve been looking to becoming more adventurous in my meal preparation and to entertaining friends again.

For the past year or so, once a month, my friends, Diana, Prema, and I, with coupons in hand, stop at Penzys Spices on our way to our Integral Study Group in Cincinnati. It is an exciting part of our day.

We love Penzys!! Their spices are the freshest and most aromatic. We usually sweep in, grab a basket, and make our rounds of the store gathering the spices on our list, sniffing as we go. Sometimes we just have to try that new aroma on display. What’s more, their service is superb. The clerks seem always delighted to see us and often put a little gift in our bag.

On our last visit, I was gifted with this bumper sticker. Now, you have to know … I’m not a bumper sticker kind of person. I don’t like being labeled because I’m always growing and changing and what fits me one day may not fit me the next. But because I’m working on changing my relationship with cooking and entertaining, adding more tasty recipe’s to my routine, contemplating sharing them with people I love, I am embracing this bumper sticker.

As I prepared to serve lunch to my seminary friends, Kathryn, Sharon, and Pam recently, I searched for new salad recipes on the two food blogs to which I subscribe … Once Upon a Chef and Cookie and Kate. I love my friends and wanted to cook tasty food for them using the rich flavors of Penzys spices.

I found a great Greek Lentil Salad on Cookie and Kate’s site.

While I think they enjoyed the salad, Kathryn had previously placed an order for some her favorites from among my tried and true. She loves my omelets and the oatmeal recipe I received from my friend Karen Nelson years ago.

So, when the two ethnic restaurants we tried on July 4 after Kathryn’s plane landed were closed, I said, “Let’s do omelets.” I put Penzys’ Tarragon in the egg batter and then fill the omelet with veggies and a little cheese. This time I used asparagus, cauliflower, mushrooms, onion, and summer squash. Yum!

For the oatmeal, I use steel cut oats, add it to boiling water and then simmer for ten minutes. At that point I add cinnamon, black strap molasses, goji berries, and crystalized ginger and simmer for ten more minutes. Then I pour the hot oatmeal over dried fruit, usually raisins and dried cherries. I make enough to last for several breakfasts. After warming it in the microwave, I top it off with ground flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and a dollop of coconut yogurt. Very filling.

My writer friend, Judy, is encouraging me to entertain again, so I am trying out some recipes on my daughter before inviting friends in. Because I find ethnic recipes more flavorful and interesting, I recently prepared a delicious Grilled Moroccan Chicken recipe from Once Upon a Chef. We loved it.

Thanks for the inspiration to entertain, Judy. Once this memoir is out in the world, I plan to begin extending invitations. The thought of friends gathering around my table again brings a smile to my face.

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 Blessings of Friendship

Many years ago, I received a compliment from Anne Wilson Schaef, author of many books and someone with whom I trained in Living in Process, a spiritual way of life. After observing me during a weekend workshop, she called me over and said, “You do friend well.” I have never forgotten that and I try as best I can to live up to that. Of course, I sometimes fail, but I do my best to make amends and change my behavior. Because I have so little family, my friends are very important to me.

Last Friday I was treated to a delightful day with a significant friend I met while I worked at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. Pam coordinated the Harriet L. Miller Women’s Center while she was a student. After she graduated, she went on to Union Theological Seminary in NYC to earn her Ph.D. in Christian ethics and then to teach at California Lutheran University. She has written three books:

  • She Hath Done What She Could: A History of Women’s Participation in the Church of the Brethren
  • Women Don’t Count: The Challenge of Women’s Poverty to Christian Ethics
  • Globalization at What Price?: Economic Change and Daily Life

While all of this is impressive, that is not what I value the most about Pam. She is a down-to-earth friend for whom I have a lot of respect. Visiting with her is a delight. We hadn’t seen each other for many years (our memories are different about the length of time). I found her on Facebook a few months ago and we reconnected on-line. That’s what I love about the internet, helping us find friends with whom we have lost touch.

Yes, Pam and I did talk about our concerns for the future of our country and the world, how we see what is going on, our fears as well as where we find hope. But for me, those were not my most meaningful exchanges with her.

I feel safe with Pam and believe she feels safe with me as well, because our from-the-heart conversations inevitably go deep. On this visit, we shared our experiences of aging, the losses we are mourning and how we deal with loss, travels and experiences that have enriched our lives (my life was enriched visiting Pam in NYC while she was working on her Ph.D.), the ways in which life for us personally hasn’t turned out as we imagined and how we’re dealing with that, the ways we are managing retirement and life as it is, and what we are looking forward to at this time in our lives.

Pam & Linda at Cox Arboretum

We started our day with an early walk at Cox Arboretum, hoping to miss the heat of the day. A man noticed our taking pictures of each other, approached, and asked if we’d like him to take a picture of us together. After taking this picture, he said, “Remember, Jesus loves you.” We smiled, gave each other a knowing look, and affirmed, “Yes, we know that.”

After returning to my home, washing off the sweat and changing clothes, I gave Pam several choices for lunch. Because she had never eaten at a Bolivian restaurant, she chose Nelly’s.

I was thrilled when the waiter sat us in a secluded corner. We had a lot of catching up to do. Before long, their house specialty, Nelly’s slow-cooked Charcoal Rotisserie Chicken, arrived. Nelly’s has a reputation for serving the best chicken in Dayton and it doesn’t disappoint. Pam said it was the best she has ever eaten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I knew when we scheduled this day, it would be over way too soon. These are precious moments for me. I’m blessed to count Pam as a friend and ever so grateful we are planning future re-connections.