Noticing

 

On Monday I had an opportunity to notice how I am being affected physically and mentally by the threats to the protections put in place after the 2008 financial crisis and to the Affordable Care Act. I can’t afford to lose what I lost in 2008. My daughter can’t afford to have another healthcare crisis if she is no longer covered by health insurance.

As a responsible person, a major focus in recent weeks has been consulting with financial and estate planning experts to once again make sure everything is in order. With my daughter’s changed circumstances … moving in with me and no longer being able to work and live independently … changes need to be made. As a single woman, I find it difficult to make these important decisions alone.

 

Spiritually, I know my daughter and I will be fine no matter what the future holds. I have experienced miraculous gifts of grace in the past, but as my memoir attests, my awakening tends to be long. And, it seems, I have been caught up in fear and dread again. I’ve been afraid to tap into my savings, including investing the money I’ve saved to publish my memoir. We might need it to deal with an emergency in the future.

During lunch with a friend on Monday, something had shifted. She is serving as a caregiver for her mother and is in a similar situation as I. She is single and needs to make decisions related to her mother in the same way I need to make decisions related to my daughter. She needed a listening ear. She said our conversation was very helpful.

And our conversation was helpful to me, too. It gave me an opportunity to notice a difference in myself. It was as though the light had burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I felt totally present to her, a contrast to my experience of myself in recent weeks.

My stomach has been tied in knots, I’ve lost sleep, and most noticeable to me, I’ve had difficulty with holding information in my mind and with word retrieval. But while listening and responding to my friend, I held onto what she shared and words I felt proud to utter and she found helpful flowed easily from my mouth.

And what could this difference be attributed to?

“But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear  not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” ~Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 10:30-31

Over the weekend, I received a gift of grace. Just a reminder that I am really not alone and that I never know who will show up and offer just what I need at just the right moment. I felt as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And what a difference it makes in the way I move through life … in the way I was able to respond to  my friend.

I can let go of all the fear and dread because my daughter and I are being cared for and carried by a power greater than our own.

Thank you, Universe, I needed that reminder. As You know, I learn best through experience.

🙂

 

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.

Transcendent Happiness

As we gathered, the female’s in my writing group groaned about our topic of “Happiness.” Our lone gentleman just smiled.

Gary, one of the deepest and most reflective men I have ever met, noted that on July 4, 1776, our Declaration of Independence named the pursuit of happiness as our inalienable right.

And then on April 10, 2017, 240 years later, Gary received this from Sounds True, “Your experiences matter. And how experiences change your brain profoundly affects your happiness.”

Sounds True was advertising a Rick Hanson masterclass. Hanson has written many books including Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence and offers several masterclasses through Sounds True.

Hanson is a psychologist with a special interest in neuroscience’s research about our brain’s neuroplasticity and how we can rewire our brain to get our emotions back in balance. He says that happiness is far more than a positive feeling that comes and goes. It is a skill that you can develop. Bridging neuropsychology with the great contemplative traditions, Dr. Hanson helps people learn to let go of negative experiences to make space for positive thoughts and feelings.

When Gary received this advertisement about Hanson’s masterclass, he asked himself, “Am I happy? Do I need to take this class?”

He began to write his reflections on these questions and after three drafts, felt happy with his result.

Personally, I think “I felt happy with the result” is an understatement.

Gary realized that he is and always has been a happy person. He hadn’t known that in quite the same way and that led him to ask, “What is the source of my happiness?”

His answer was profound. “I am happiest when I am ‘Engaging the Transcendent.” He went on to share the various forms in which he engages the transcendent.

You can read what he wrote here.

How would you answer Gary’s question: “What is the source of my happiness?”
In what ways do you “engage the transcendent?”

 

Our Sage Sister Revolution

My Sage Sister book study group met yesterday. We dug into Chapter One in our newest selection, From Age-ing to Sage-ing: A Revolutionary Approach to Growing Older.

At this time in our life, late 60s to early 80s, this book encourages us to view elderhood as an opportunity to reconnect with the sacred dimension of life:

  • find a sense of “enoughness” from within
  • connect with our inmost essence and cultivate the calmness and self-knowledge that breeds wisdom
  • transcend “doing” in favor of “being” and a clarity of consciousness that comes from spiritual growth
  • cultivate the quietness and inwardness from which mystical experience is possible
  • pursue our own paths to fulfillment … following our own inner promptings and intuitive leads.

An example was given of a seventy-four-year-old women pursuing a Ph.D. in conflict resolution to sharpen her skills as a mediator. Our conversation was energized by her view that “elders have a special responsibility to infuse public life with higher values that stress cross-cultural understanding, social justice, and world peace.” Growing into her full stature, this woman plans to speak out more often and from her inner authority.

We shared around the circle how we struggle to transcend “doing” in favor of “being.” Letting go of our all too familiar “doing” mode, we are seeking balance by going within to discern how we are being called to infuse public life with higher values … how we are to speak out from our own inner authority.

Cindi shared a recent experience of interacting with college students at an event focusing on protecting the environment. The only white-haired person in a small focus group, she was shocked to find these students unconcerned about climate change. She has no idea the effect she had on these students, but she took the opportunity to ask them probing questions, hoping to stimulate their critical thinking on this issue so vital to her and her husband.

Cindi also shared about her passion for healthy eating. She made an offer to her local food bank to work one on one with those they serve to teach recipients how to prepare unfamiliar fresh vegetables.

Sue, our youngest member and a retired teacher, shared her passion for working with young people to increase their understanding and empathy for people who are different and the spiritual community in which she participates that focuses on raising the consciousness of humankind. She is currently substitute teaching, but her greatest joy is nurturing her grandson’s development and awareness of the differences that enrich his world.

Jasmine, our oldest member, and her husband are the parents of nine children. One is gay and another is lesbian. Her love for them was undiminished when they came out to her. She shared her concern about the hatred that is directed at LGBTQ people and how she tries to dissipate animosity by openly sharing about her love for her extraordinary children. Jasmine spends a lot of time in prayer and knits prayer shawls which she donates to local hospitals and nursing homes.

Cathy has a passion for social justice especially as it relates to underprivileged and marginalized folks. She, too, has been active in donating to our local food pantry and educating others to the food insecurity that exists in our region of the country. Dayton is in the top ten of the hungriest cities in the country. Cathy has also been active in helping immigrants get settled living in this new and strange country and city.

I shared my concern that responsibility is often omitted when we talk about freedom … responsibility infusing freedom with a higher value. I have recently awakened to my responsibility in our current political environment. I asked to be appointed as a precinct captain, something I am capable of doing, assuming a larger role in my community than I ever imagined. This action speaks to my concern for our government to be in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” I am educating myself about actions I can take to free our government from the undermining effects of big money and using my writing and speaking skills to call our government officials to engage in responsible prophetic action.

We Sage Sisters will meet again next month to give each other support on our continuing journey of conscious aging. I am so grateful to have these outstanding women accompanying me on the journey of becoming a conscious elder.

 

A Disturbing Awakening

Awakenings often begin with a disturbance in the midst of ordinary circumstances. I have found that if I stay with the disturbance long enough and follow its threads in my life, a profound awakening is in the offing. Recently, I experienced this unexpected phenomena.

On a Saturday afternoon in January, I joined three of my cousins (Chuck, Cathy, & Mike) and Cathy’s husband (Gary) for a visit with their mother (my Aunt Evelyn), in her assisted living facility. We formed a circle in a lounge area for our visit.

Mike, Cathy, & Chuck behind Aunt Evelyn

A volunteer at the facility approached us. She seemed to know my aunt and cousins. She shared the progress she was making on her cancer journey. Then she suddenly launched into a political rant.

I found what she said offensive.

I looked down and played with the zipper on my coat.

Mike attempted to engage her in conversation, but she was on a roll and was not really interested in dialogue or in hearing another point of view.

I continued to play with my zipper.

I felt jarred by her intrusion into our pleasant visit. On the hour’s drive back home I wrestled with myself. Despite my discomfort with what she said, I said nothing. I could have launched into a rant of my own. I have some strong political opinions, but I said nothing.

That evening my daughter and I watched a movie that had been recommended by my friend, Ani. Gentleman’s Agreement is a 1947 movie starring Gregory Peck.

Gregory Peck portrays an investigative reporter who has been assigned to write a series on anti-Semitism. He struggles with how to approach the subject. Then one day he has an idea. He’s new in town and no one knows him, so he decides to pretend he is Jewish. Instead of basing his series on research and interviews, he would be able to write from experience. Even though his best friend from High School is Jewish, he is shocked by some of his experiences.

In the meantime, he falls in love with a woman. She is from an upper middle-class family and shares his hatred of anti-Semitism. But in her tight-knit community of family and friends, they have a “gentleman’s agreement” not to speak up about the discrimination, prejudice, and hostility they witness. I squirmed as my eyes were suddenly opened to something about myself that has bothered me for years.

From 1990 until my retirement in 2007 I worked as a chemical dependency family therapist for Turning Point, Miami Valley Hospital’s treatment center. I am guessing that the event that bothered me happened sometime around the turn of the century in 2000. The African-American member of our staff decided to do a survey of our African-American clients to see  how they felt about the way they were treated by the white staff.

At that time, we had five or six African-American clients. When our coworker gave us the results, the only thing I remember from that survey was that they dubbed me “Miss Nicey-Nice.” I took that to be a derogatory term and it bothered me for years because one of those clients was special to me. In my private practice as a couple’s therapist, I had worked with him and his wife. I loved them and agonized with them about the difficulty he had letting go of his addiction.

So, for at least sixteen years, I carried that with me. What did they find objectionable about my being “nice.” With my father’s shining example, (see my December 3 post), I thought treating others with respect and compassion was a good thing.

But as I listened to Gregory Peck and his love interest argue about her reluctance to speak up to her family and friends, my eyes popped open.

That must be why they called me “Miss Nicey-Nice.” I’m too nice to speak up in the face of injustice. Just like today. I stayed silent during this woman’s diatribe, despite how offensive it was to me.

I didn’t like what I saw about myself.

Being “nice” isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes it is not enough.

I need to change.

To be continued.

 

 

Scales Falling from My Eyes

After the 50th reunion with my former Port Clinton students, I went back to my motel room, looked at myself in the mirror, and said, “Linda, I think you need to start looking at yourself differently.”

I arrived a little late for the reunion because I couldn’t find the Yacht Club. When I walked in, the class was gathered at the far side of the room for a group picture. I walked behind the photographer looking for Yvonne, the student who called me on June 29 (See June 29-30 posts). She spotted me, jumped up from her seat, and ran to give me a hug, exclaiming “My goodness you’re tall,” just as she had done when she walked into my shorthand class in 1964. She escorted me to my seat next to her husband before scurrying back for the picture.

yvonne

Miss Marshall and Yvonne on her tip toes. She refuses to call me Linda.

She reminded me why I had such an influence in her life. She came into my class a week late and was having difficulty catching up and grasping this strange shorthand language. She tried to drop out after receiving an “F” the first six weeks. I allowed other girls to do that but said to her, “You will get it. Just don’t give up.” Then, after receiving an “F” the second six weeks, she spoke to me again about dropping out. This time I looked at her with “very caring eyes” and said, “Yvonne, I have faith in you. You will get it. Don’t give up.” The next six weeks the light bulb went off and she got it, receiving an “A” every grading period from then on.

Yvonne also told me how strict I was while teaching typing (See July 1 post) and how disappointed she was that I only taught at Port Clinton for one year. The teacher who followed me was too lenient. She credits me with preparing her for the outside world. During her 39-year career, she used her skills at the U.S. Department of Interior and the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station. Every time she wanted a promotion and had to perform well on typing and shorthand tests to receive it, she said to herself, “Okay, Miss Marshall, you have faith in me so let’s get this done.” I had instilled in her the faith that if she wanted it badly enough, she could do it. And she did.

I am grateful I said what I said, but her career success says more about her than it does about me. Still, I am pleased that as a young woman of twenty-two, I had the presence to give her the support she needed.

Other students attending the reunion were also eager to tell me how they had used their typing and shorthand skills in their careers.

Joyce worked for three judges throughout her career.

Linda and Joyce

Linda and Joyce

Linda sidled up to me asking, “Do you remember me?”

Linda and Linda

Linda and Linda

In truth, I remember very little of my time in Port Clinton 52 years ago and in my usual fashion, what I remember reflects negatively on me as their teacher. Linda told me a delightful story that challenges these damaging memories.

She said it was unlike her, but when she came into my shorthand class, she found something funny. She sat in the back and created a disturbance with her giggles. “And there you were, a young teacher. (I’m only six years older than these students) I could tell you were frustrated, but you didn’t say anything for three weeks. I thought I should apologize to you.” She used one of her hands to make a slicing motion across her other hand adding, “Then one day you cut me in half. I was so embarrassed.”

I have no memory of this. I do remember having some difficulty in my student teaching keeping order in the classroom. I am a soft-spoken introvert, after all. But I must have learned. Still I have difficulty visualizing myself saying something that embarrassed her so much, and she wouldn’t tell me what I said.

But I’m glad I said whatever I said because Linda went on to say, “I got serious after that and I want you to know I did you proud. I worked for the State Department in Washington, D.C. for three years and walked by the White House on the way to work everyday.”

Sharon won this award and then said she wasn’t fast and accurate enough to use shorthand in her administrative assistant position. She thinks she tried to draw the characters so they would be perfect versus write them. Oh, Sharon, how well I know that “perfectionist trap.” At the reunion, she was having a lot of fun with and quite skilled with a camera.

award

Linda and Sharon

Linda and Sharon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My last connection was the most remarkable because it really had nothing to do with what I did as a teacher but with who I was being as a person.

Linda and Judy

Linda and Judy

Judy and her husband approached me toward the end of the evening. She said, “I didn’t take any classes from you. I was in your homeroom. I thought you were beautiful and I wanted to grow up to be just like you.”

She wrote next to her senior picture in the commemorative booklet provided for the event,  “Thank you  for being such an awesome role model for us.”

While she wrote, her husband said, “Yes, she talked to me about you and told me how she wanted to grow up to be like you.”

I said, “This is blowing my mind.”

In 1978, fourteen years after I taught at Port Clinton, I had a conversation with Harold Platz, the professor who led my core group while I was a student at United Theological Seminary. I loved and respected Harold, one of the pivotal influences in my life. I think I was seeking his wisdom, sharing with him my puzzlement about how someone had reacted to what I said during a core group session. He looked at me with gentle caring eyes and said, “I don’t think you realize the effect you have on others.”

I didn’t know what to say. He was so very right. That was 38 years ago.

Throughout my life, I have often heard, “You are so hard on yourself.” Even when I have been in the process of making a concerted effort to be gentler with myself, I would hear this. Often I was puzzled because being hard on myself felt normal. When someone liked me, I was puzzled about what there was to like. I could not and still have difficulty seeing who I truly am. Today, I know where this comes from. I am sensitive and when a sensitive child receives a lot of criticism, they internalize it. That is what I did.

Through the years, many friends and mentors who have loved and believed in me have tried to help me see myself more realistically as they see me. I’m a slower learner than Yvonne. Sometimes I’d catch a glimpse of how they saw me, but thick scales of conditioning cover my eyes.

Miraculously, on September 17, when I returned to my motel room after attending this reunion, I looked in the mirror and realized as never before that it is time to see myself differently. A chunk of scales fell from my eyes and I caught another, even clearer, glimpse of my true self.

Yvonne, Joyce, Linda, Sharon, and Judy served as agents of a Divine Presence who clearly wants my sight restored. I am still amazed that Yvonne searched for me until she found me 52 years later. Those are extraordinary lengths…not just for Yvonne…but for the Spirit working through her to finally open my eyes. I think the least I can do is begin to cooperate with the process of having my sight fully restored. My therapist has given me an assignment to further that process. What a priceless gift of grace. I am in awe and eternally grateful.

“So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored.” Acts 9:17-18a NRSV

Bearing My Cross

Monarch

Those of you who know me well know that my favorite symbol of new life and transformation is the butterfly. I was named Emerging Butterfly when I was in seminary. After graduation, the butterfly became the symbol for my retreat and small group ministry, Emergings. That symbol and name followed me as my ministry itself emerged and evolved to include counseling and coaching. It is the symbol I utilize in my memoir, for this website, and for this blog.

In league with early Christians who shared my aversion for using a gruesome form of execution as a symbol for their faith, I have been reluctant to wear a cross. Despite the cross being associated with them, early Christians didn’t use it extensively until the fourth century. I am in the seventh decade of my life, and relate more closely to those catacomb Christians who were uncomfortable with this symbol.

cross necklas

However, as I pondered the twist my life has taken as my daughter’s illness has turned her life and mine upside down, I found these foreign and unsettling words emerging in my consciousness, “This is the cross I bear.” Sensing Spirit calling forth some new awareness within me, I turned to my Bible and revisited a passage in Luke.

“Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” ~Luke 14:27

Is being my daughter’s caregiver my cross to bear? Am I being Jesus disciple in the way I bear it? I pondered these questions as the weeks progressed…moving through harsh judgments as I always do before loving kindness emerges.

Garden of Gethsemane

Agony in the Garden by Andrea Mantegna, 1431

I revisited Jesus facing his cross in the Garden of Gethsemane. In my Harper Study Bible, Matthew’s heading for this portion of his Gospel (Matthew 26:36-46) is “Jesus agony.” He describes Jesus as troubled and depicts him saying to the disciples who accompanied him, “My soul is very sorrowful.”

Something inside me relaxed. I have permission to be sorrowful, something that has been found to be persistent for parents of children with chronic health conditions…something that has been strong and visceral within me these past few months while my daughter’s healthcare crisis signaled the progression of her disease. Sorrow has been especially intense since she moved in with me where it stares me in the face daily.

Three times Matthew and Mark depict Jesus praying that he not have to bear his cross…praying for his life to be spared.

Again, something inside me relaxed. While I don’t face the unspeakable horror he faced, I have wished away the effects of my child disease…wished I didn’t have to be a caregiver, something that doesn’t come naturally to me…wished I could return to the joy-filled life I had recently created for myself.

For the years my daughter lived independently, we both denied the reality of her disease, hoping our lives would be spared the life-sucking symptoms so many others with this disease and their caregivers experience. This was not to be.

Then Jesus prayed, “Not my will but thine be done.” Finding a way to relax into those words has been a bit more difficult. Moving beyond the retributive images often attributed to the Divine has required years of pondering the way my experience of suffering evolves.

Compassionate God

In my process, I have come to experience the Divine as coming to me with compassion and empathy, crying with me, giving space for my suffering, suffering with me. Only after I have plumbed sufferings depths with Divine Love as my faithful companion does my spirit open. In some mysterious way that can only be attributed to Divine grace, my eyes open to behold a miracle of resurrection, transformation, and new life. A gift I might not appreciate or even notice, if not for the suffering, presents itself. Only then can I relax into and embrace a more mature experience of “Not my will but thine be done.”

When Jesus entered Gethsemane, he asked Peter, James, and John, three of his disciples, to remain there and watch with him. Three times during that hour of gut-wrenching prayer, he found them sleeping.

closed eyes

I thought about the suffering these three men experienced after Jesus’ violent death. They must have known they had let him down. And now they ran in fear for their own lives. And yet, his transforming spirit remained with them in their suffering and fear until they were able to muster the strength to fulfill their calling as his disciples. These three fisherman had no idea what they were signing up for when they enthusiastically left their old life behind to follow him.

I relaxed as I contemplated how none of us really know what we are signing up for in this life…how weak our willing spirits often are. When my children were born, I wanted to be a “good mother.” I carried idealized images and cultural conditioning about what that was and was not. I had no idea what I was signing up for and despite my willing spirit, I often let them and myself down and sometimes wanted to run for my life.

But today I am here doing what doesn’t come naturally. My railings against the cross I bear are dissipating and so I seem to be entering the “Not my will but Thine be done” part of the process. Even though I am sometimes weary of the call to evolve and want to shout “Enough already,” I experience myself beginning to surrender.

surrendering

Today I accepted an invitation to have lunch with an established group of women who are new to me. They were curious about my life and respectfully sought me out. That gave me an opportunity to give them a thumbnail sketch of the outline of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. They thanked me for sharing and were enthusiastic about wanting to read my book. They were compassionate in their acknowledgement of my suffering.

The woman sitting across the table from me then shared that she found my story inspiring.

Something inside me relaxed.

She went on to tell me about her life. Sharing honestly about my own suffering made it possible for her to share hers. She has an amazing story and has thought about writing her memoir.  She wondered if she was too old and asked my age. She is only one year older than I. I assured her, memoirs only get better as we gain in wisdom. I told her how writing about my life had helped me make sense of it.

Her eyes brightened, she sat up straight, and said, “You have inspired me to get serious about writing my story.”

I felt relaxed as I left that restaurant today and in awe at the outcome of the invitation I almost didn’t accept. Instead of giving in to the weakness of my willing spirit, I listened to the still, small voice of wisdom inside that told me to go. I mustered the strength to show up with my eyes wide open.

eyes open II

These women eased my suffering with their compassionate presence. And it seemed no accident that I sat across from the woman who needed just the inspiration I was able to provide. This, to me, is the gift and the miracle of “Thy will be done.”

My cross seems a little more bearable today.

A Second Chance

“Seems to me that every memoir is about the wisdom we’ve gathered in the part of life we’re writing about.” ~Susan Tweit

I have learned much about the writing of memoir from my friend, Susan Tweit. She is generous in sharing the wisdom she has gained in writing several published memoirs as well as the wisdom she has garnered in the writing and revising of her yet-to-be-published memoir, Bless the Birds.

SCN Conference

Click picture for link to Susan’s website

The purpose of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, is what Susan calls “Soul Work.” Not all memoirs serve this purpose. But for those of us who approach our writing as “soul work,” we must go deep within. We must reflect on the good, the bad, the sublime, and the ugly about ourselves and our lives.

“In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited–sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair–for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings–that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it–are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.” ~Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro

Click picture for link to Dani’s website

I think my editor’s comments about my manuscript are a reflection of the purpose of my writing:

“Your manuscript is more intelligently written, more thoughtful, and more reflective than many memoirs I have read.” ~Judy Plazyk (my editor)

Those who have known me for years often confront me with, “You are so hard on yourself.” And that is true. I have a vicious voice in my head that I’ve needed to tame. I think that is why Michael Singer’s book, The Untethered Soul, is one of my favorites.

The Untethered Soul

Click picture for link to Michael Singer’s website

He points out that nothing is more important to personal growth than realizing that we are not the voice of our mind…we are the one who hears and observes that voice chattering away. Being able to distinguish my “true self/soul” from the abusive voice chattering in my head has been foundational for my “soul work” and for the writing of my memoir.

In the  writing of my memoir, as I turned the “powers of observation” on myself, I found myself wanting in extending love to my children. As I pointed out in my May 12th blog post, “Atonement,” my relationship with my daughter continues to heal.

In the weeks following May 12 life intervened:

  • two hospitalizations;
  • two stints in rehab;
  • moving in with me;
  • realizing she can no longer manage the steps in her apartment;
  • realizing she may not be able to work again;
  • dealing with the financial impact of that;
  • adjusting to her being on oxygen 24/7;
  • adjusting to her living with me;
  • cleaning out her apartment;
  • deciding what needs to be thrown away,
  • what she can bring to my home and what needs to be put in storage;
  • finding a storage unit;
  • finding financial resources and appropriate housing for her;
  • and on and on.

STRESS!! As one of my local writing friends noted in a blog post of her own, “We are not at our best when we are under stress.”

In these almost three months during the aftermath of my daughter’s surgery, I have been caught in the “incoherent immediacy of the moment.” When it became clear she needed to move in with me, I felt overwhelmed, resentful, and burdened. The voice in my head berated me while I grieved for the loss of solitude in my home sanctuary.

And my “soul,” observing the clutter of painful feelings and depressive thoughts, sent me deeper down to a quieter place of pondering. My soul asked my resistant self, “What is your growth edge in this circumstance?” The treasure I found is the “opportunity” my daughter’s living with me gives. I am being given a second chance to extend love to her, up close and personal, in ways the immature self of my past was unable.

I take on the challenge, knowing I still possess limitations. And grateful for the wisdom of Richard Rohr who writes in his daily meditations about the The Spirituality of Imperfection, the spiritual path introduced to me in 1984 that continues to save me from my perfectionist tendencies.

Richard-Rohr_home-view

Click picture for link to his Daily Meditations

Spirituality of Imperfection

Click picture for link

“Letting your naked self be known by God is always to recognize your need for mercy and your own utter inadequacy and littleness. You realize that even the best things you’ve done have often been for mixed and selfish motives, not really for love.” ~Richard Rohr

 

Rummaging Around in the Darkness

When I was a teenager and for many years thereafter, I had a recurring dream. I was moving into an old house. Whoever lived there before me had left a lot of stuff behind, especially in the attic. I rummaged through what was left to see if there was anything I could use. I found the process enjoyable.

Attic

These past few weeks as I’ve adjusted to my daughter’s moving in with me, I’ve been experiencing a roller coaster of emotions. On Monday of this week, I felt a sudden burst of energy and cleaned my house. It had become cluttered with so much of her stuff that I didn’t yet have a place for. Decluttering and organizing are activities I enjoy and my spirit was bright as order and beauty re-emerged.

Then on Tuesday, I was in the doldrums again. It looked like depression–I didn’t want to get out of bed, I had no energy, I went through the motions. My daughter and I kept the appointment with the independent living facility that is a possible future home for her. The appointment went well but I could tell I wasn’t up to par. The application lacked information needed. I am usually quite thorough about paperwork, even though I detest filling out forms by hand. I was not at my best.

Face in Dark

Wednesday I attended a meeting where a spiritual teacher outlined eight characteristics of what he calls “our soul’s bill of rights.” He spoke about being stuck and finding a path to return to flow. I don’t have his exact words here because inside I was full of negativity (darkness), figured I was stuck, and was quietly resisting moving out of that “stuck” place.

My writing partner was in the group and in the restroom, during the break, she commented on how what the spiritual teacher was talking about was my story…the one I have been writing about in my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace. I jerked my head backward as though hit by a tsunami and exclaimed, “Yea, but I’m stuck again.”

ocean wave

Even though I said that I was stuck, it didn’t feel quite right and I continued to ponder that the rest of the day.

“But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~Luke 2:19

Mary pondering

Then yesterday morning (Thursday) I had an epiphany. While my resistance looks and feels like depression, while it seems like a lack of trust in “everything being in Divine right order,” and while it appears to be a lack of gratitude for my many blessings, it is actually the Spirit working in my life. When I resist platitudes and disingenuous gratitude and ponder instead, I am actually trusting my process of spiritual growth. If I rummage around in the clutter and darkness (stuck places?) long enough, I’ll find useful treasure…a message meant just for me for the growth that is being called forth in that particular circumstance and moment in time. Rummaging and pondering is actually me trusting my process.

cosmos

With that revelation, I was back in the flow. The blocks to my writing dissolved. The message I need at this time in these circumstances moved into the light of my awareness.  And that will be the subject of my next blog post.

As it turns out, my recurring dream was a metaphor for the way the Spirit works in my life. I am in awe.

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