Deciding to Change

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

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

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

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

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

 I remember the moment I decided to change.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strength in Weakness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deb Winegarten selling A Long Awakening to Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Step Forward

In my July 2016 post titled A Second Chance, I reflected upon my daughter’s inability to continue working and need to move in with me following her surgery. I wrote, “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.

It is a bit of a miracle how well we have adjusted. My friends who watched me struggle in the early months are amazed at how my relationship with Nicole has evolved. I’m kind of amazed myself.

During my five months of struggle to accept our new reality, I realized that my relationship with my daughter was more important than keeping my home perfect. I intentionally let go of having my sanctuary in perfect order. That is something the immature me from my past could not have accepted.

To my delight, my daughter has worked to respect my need for order and beauty in my living environment. She is neater than she used to be and has voluntarily assumed responsibilities without my even having to ask. That has meant a great deal to me.

Then, about a month ago, she approached me and said, “Mom, if I could afford one of those walk-in tubs, would you let me get one?”

 

I knew she couldn’t afford it, but told her to go ahead and explore it. I thought her realizing that for herself was better than my nixing her request, something my immature self would have done.

And so she made a date with a salesperson to come talk with us. As I listened to his explanation of the benefits, my perspective started to shift. I thought this might work well for me, too.

As long as Nicole lives with me, I don’t have the option of moving into an assisted living facility. I’m not ready for that yet, but foresee the day when it might be a welcome option. The salesperson spoke about home healthcare aids having an easier time bathing frail, elderly people. That would address one of the issues I might face as I grow older.

The salesperson went outside and left us alone to make a decision. Nicole asked me, “What are you thinking, Mom?”

Later, as I reflected on our conversation, I realized that our relationship  had shifted from a hierarchical mother-daughter one to a more equal partnership.

I told her what I realized about how the tub could benefit me as well. Then I addressed the issue of finances. “This is how much money you have to put toward it. This is how much I could put toward it. The rest we would have to finance. That means we would need to reduce our monthly expenses.”

Her immediate response astounded me. “I’ll give up watching the Hallmark Channel.” That is a major form of entertainment for her. I suggested we visit some friends who have cut the cord with cable and explore alternative ways of watching our favorite programs. She agreed and we are in the process of taking this step.

I told her we could make a game of saving money.

I mentioned that she spends a lot of her grocery money on snacks, that they are expensive, and they aren’t good for her anyway. She is definitely her mother’s daughter. She loves potato chips as much as I did before a stent being placed in my heart in 2005 convinced me they were a luxury I could no longer afford. Nicole has not eaten a potato chip since we made this decision. Another huge decision for her.

The hardest thing for me to give up was having the house cleaned once a month. We decided to do it ourselves and we did a pretty good job working on it together. That is truly a miracle in itself. Still, I hope we will be able to add that back in after our other cost-cutting endeavors.

Nicole’s tub was installed last week. Here she is showing it off to Jacqui, who is living with us for awhile., having just returned to the States after a year in Taiwan. (And Jacqui hasn’t turned gray. She was being silly and wearing a wig.)

That tub is definitely evidence that my relationship with Nicole has entered a new phase. We have both shown evidence of maturing in our ability to demonstrate our love for each other. I am eternally grateful for this step forward on both our parts.

P.S.: I treated her to a bag of potato chips this week. I thought she had denied herself long enough. 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Voice Inside

August 31, we observed the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. My daughter and I watched a couple of the many television programs commemorating her life. I found myself paying close attention to “Diana: Her Own Words” based on the interviews she gave for Andrew Morton’s book, Diana: Her True Story.

“Everyone who wills can hear their inner voice. It is within everyone.” ~Mahatma Ghandi 

What struck me most as I listened to Diana reflect on her life was the number of times she referred to “the voice inside.” Throughout, her inner voice of wisdom spoke to her powerfully and humbly. Despite all the hoopla that surrounded her, she noticed and observed the wisdom that lived within her. She did not always heed the wisdom revealing the truth aligned with her soul.

I suppose I took note of this part of Diana’s story because I could relate. I, too, did not always heed the guidance coming from my inner voice of wisdom. I paid more attention to outside influences than to nudges from my soul. It is in that juncture that true suffering is born. It is part of what contributed to my awakening to grace being so long.

“I took note of this unmistakable warning–the first time I had received such an unambiguous message from the still, small voice of wisdom within. The next day I tried to give expression … I was unable to advocate for myself. Sadly, I possessed little relationship with my depths, my inner voice of wisdom. … I didn’t know myself or the importance of choosing a path in alignment with my soul.” ~excerpts from A Long Awakening to Grace

Just as Diana did, I tried to make the best of the wrong turns I had taken in my life. I discovered that if I kept my heart open and trusting, I would learn valuable lessons along the way.

  • All is not lost when we take a wrong turn.
  • There are treasures to be found in our suffering and in our search for the meaning of our life.
  • In silence and stillness, and sometimes in our dreams, we are more likely to hear our inner voice of wisdom.
  • Contemplative writing often results in wisdom flowing from our pen. (We can experience wisdom flowing from any form of meditation or artistic expression.)
  • In nature, if we pay attention, Divine wisdom and guidance often emerges.

“If you have a deep desire to move forward, a way is being prepared for you.” ~Bryant McGill

It was speculated that Diana was looking for a new way to move forward in her life when she died at thirty-six. And while we will never know the extent of the life lessons she learned in her short life, it was clear to me as I watched this program that she had already learned a few valuable lessons. Perhaps the intensity of her experience forced her to learn more quickly. I have no doubt that if she had lived, she would have grown in her ability to trust her “voice inside.”

Fortunately for me, I had many more years to learn to listen to the still small voice of wisdom within me … to glean the treasures from my life experience…treasures I share in

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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

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