Angels Among Us ~~ Alice

Friends who have read my memoir and especially those who have accompanied me on my journey the past eight years of bringing my book into the world have been remarking about how just the right person has come along at every juncture in my life to take me to the next level. That, too, has amazed me. If I ever doubted that the Universe has my back, writing and publishing my memoir has dispelled any lingering uncertainty.

Shirley, the Angel in my November 24 post, and Alice, the Angel I am featuring today, were people from the church who extended love to me at times in my life when I needed to know that I am Divinely loved, that I am a person of worth, and that I am capable of much more than I realize. The Universe had plans for me I couldn’t even begin to imagine.

I’ll bet if you think about it, you can point to a person or persons from your childhood or youth who changed the trajectory of your life. That one person for me is Alice.

Alice

Alice moved to my hometown when I was about twelve to serve as the parish worker in our church. She appears in two places in my memoir because her influence in my early life was great.

Because she was new in town and didn’t know many people, she welcomed frequent visits from my friend Saundra and me. We always had fun at Alice’s apartment. My most precious memories, however, are the times when I was alone with Alice. I carried the following secret in my  heart related to Alice. When she read A Long Awakening to Grace, she was shocked to learn about it.

“I remember most how Alice made me feel. When we spent time alone, she treated me as someone important to her. She listened as though interested in what I thought and how I felt. She didn’t seem to consider it ‘weird’ talking about serious topics. She gave me the individual attention I received from no one else. I felt ‘at home’ with Alice and wished she could adopt me so I could live with her.” ~Page 27 of A Long Awakening to Grace

And then, when my high school graduation was nearing, Alice changed my life’s path. She asked me what I planned to do after graduation and recommended I go to college. I didn’t think I was smart enough, no one at home or school had suggested it, so I hadn’t given it any thought. I am forever grateful for her suggestion. And I’m grateful I was wise enough to follow it. Going to college opened opportunities that I would otherwise not have had … including meeting people who could take me to my next level of my development.

It took fifteen years and a second recommendation for me to heed her next suggestion. Alice was the first person to suggest I consider a career in the church.

“‘You should think about being a parish worker like me.’ … I tucked Alice’s recommendation in the back of my mind …” Page 11 of A Long Awakening to Grace

Alice’s suggestion led me to Bowling Green State University and a major in Business Education. I didn’t know myself well back then and chose a major that wasn’t a good fit for me. I took a circuitous path through United Theological Seminary, Living in Process and Imago Relationship Therapy trainings that revealed a counseling ministry as a better fit.

And now, after publishing my memoir to such high praise from readers, I wonder what life might have been like had I pursued creative writing. Even though I was selected by the faculty to be the editor of our high school newspaper, that was a possibility that never occurred to me. I knew no one and had never heard of anyone who had followed such a path.

It is not too late, however. What lights up my life these days is increasing my learning about the craft of writing. Despite my eighteen-year-old attitude that I wasn’t smart, thanks to Alice, I have emerged at seventy-five into a life-long learner. It is what makes my life meaningful.

“Conscious aging is about having meaningful goals for our elderhood that spring from our authentic selves and using the power of intention and inner work to make our vision a reality. It is about having the courage to aim high in an unconscious world.” ~Ron Pevny in Conscious Living, Conscious Aging: Embrace & Savor Your Next Chapter.

On Being Relational

David Letterman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harville Hendrix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RELATIONOLOGY

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

Unexpected and Continuing Gifts of Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your story confronted me and gave me hope.”

“Your book will bless many people.”

 

More words of wisdom from Brene Brown:

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

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

Ranting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then, of course, there is life:

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

All that interfered with what I really wanted to do:

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

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

  • automated answering systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Spicing Up My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On NOT Being “Humor Challenged” … Seriously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Comedy comes from pain.” ~Kevin Hart

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

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

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

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

Hey, I’ll take a chuckle anytime.

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

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

“My memoir is in three parts:

The first part is: ‘I’m a mess.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happiness: How I Missed the Mark

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

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

Missing the Mark (sin in the original languages):

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

“Happily Ever After”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pay Dirt

 

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

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

The Comparison Trap:

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

 

The same can be said for “happiness.”

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

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

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

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

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