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?”

 

To be continued …

In my last post, A Disturbing Awakening, I noted that “Miss Nicey-Nice” needed to change and ended with … to be continued. Here is my continuation.

Part of the change I see myself needing to make involves letting go of my complacency. I have rarely been politically active and have only campaigned for one presidential candidate in my lifetime. In fact, I have been disgusted with politics.

This is me at a rally inviting our congressman, Mike Turner, to hold a town hall meeting. We have a number of concerns we’d like to talk with him about. I can understand why he might not want to meet with us. I watched a video of a South Carolina town hall where the constituents screamed, yelled, and boo’d. I have also seen videos of town halls where constituents asked intelligent questions and would not allow the politician to avoid answering or skirt the issue. That is the kind of town hall I would like to attend.

My sign reads “See our ANGER. Hear our FEAR.” I chose the wording after watching the South Carolina rally. I believe that under the loud expressions of anger lay a lot of fear. I know that is true for me.

I think it is interesting that in the picture, I am walking next to a person with a sign reading “Save our Democracy.” I didn’t know how important democracy was to me and how much fear the threat of losing it engendered. I actually had physical symptoms similar to those I experienced after 9/11.

In the face of the threat to our democracy, I have taken several steps. Perhaps I will share more about that another time. For today’s post, I will share one of my experiences at the “Searching for Mike Turner Rally.”

Toward the end of the rally, I walked over to read a sign with a lengthy message. Molly introduced herself. I made a new friend.

Admiring Molly’s necklace, I learned that she is a glass artist who left corporate America to follow her dream. She has her own art glass studio. You can click on this link to visit her website. I told her I admired her courage in following her dream.

For her sign, Molly had taken the time to write part of a quote from Majida Mourad, a Lebanese-American from Toledo, who shared her wisdom on an American Task Force for Lebanon website. Click the ATFL link for the full quote.

Molly’s sign read: “One of the things that happens to a lot of people in Washington is that they lose touch with their roots. They stop going home. They pretend that they were always big successes and they become a different person. Don’t let that be you.”

The rally was coming to a close and many people were departing. My friend, Jim, and I had signed up to be two of the people who would go into Congressman Turner’s office to express our concerns. We were permitted to go in two-by-two and Jim and I were way down on the list. Our parking meter was running out of time. I told Jim it was okay with me if we left. I said, “Our registering our concerns to his staff probably won’t make that much difference anyway.”

Molly intervened. She was diplomatic as she referred to me as “an older woman.” I chuckled because that is exactly what I am, and I am not insulted by that label anymore. Especially when a young person is acknowledging the important role of elders in our community. After all, I belong to a Sage Sisters group where we support each other in being conscious elders.

Molly told me that young people are supposed to be angry and aren’t paid much attention to. But when people with gray hair are concerned enough to speak, people listen.”

So, I turned to Jim and said, “Okay, let’s stay.” His wife, Diana, could take care of the parking meter, if needed.

So, this gray-haired elder waited and took a turn talking with Congressman Turner’s staffer about my concerns. I told him that I’d like to hear Congressman Turner speak to what safeguards our system has to protect our democracy and how he is utilizing those. I noted that Turner serves on several congressional committees that deal with these issues.

I also had an opportunity to share my personal experience being the mother of a daughter with a progressive neuromuscular disease who would have had no healthcare during her crisis in the spring if not for the Affordable Care Act and medicaid expansion. Jim and I acknowledged that ACA isn’t perfect and needs revising. I emphasized the problems insurance companies posed while I worked in the healthcare field, denying much needed services to my chemical dependency clients. I pointed out how our whole nation is now alarmed by the heroin problem and stymied about how to handle mental health issues.

I returned home from that rally feeling grateful to have made a new friend who reminded me to stretch into my role as an elder. Because of this young woman I embraced that what I have to say does matter and does make a difference. I won’t soon forget that as I continue pursuing the “change” I need to make.

I was “nice” to the very young staffer in Congressman Turner’s office and showed him respect. Reminding myself that “nice” isn’t bad, just not always enough, I also expressed my passion. I shared my experience and my words of wisdom.

I wish Mike Turner would listen to Majida Maurad’s words of wisdom and come home to his constituents…to his roots. He won’t have far to go to listen to her.

She happens to be his wife.

 

Influences: My Father’s Shining Example

Robert E. Marshall 1918-2009

Robert E. Marshall
1918-2009

In 1951, when I was nine and my brother eight, our parents sold our house in Sidney, Ohio, auctioned off most of our belongings, and moved to Tarpon Springs, Florida. Leaving our numerous playmates and beloved neighbors was not easy. I remember the morning we left, sitting in the backseat of the car with my stomach in knots, holding back tears as we said our goodbyes to John, Celeste, and Annie Voress, neighbors who were like family. I had no idea when we embarked on this one-year odyssey that it would have such a profound influence on me.

Dad dropped out of high school after his junior year. Sugar in his urine shattered his dream of joining the air force at the beginning of World War II and becoming an airplane mechanic. Never abandoning his fascination with flight and eventually the space program, he actualized his passion by focusing on car mechanics.

dads-gas-station

When we moved to Florida, Dad purchased a gasoline station. Because of the long hours involved, it became a family business. In order to spend time with Dad, Mom often worked there. Self-service was not yet a reality. Many a customer’s mouth dropped open when Mom approached their car to pump their gas. After school, my brother and I hung out at the station. I mostly remember causing trouble, but I’m sure we were given chores. I observed with keen interest this new environment, learning a great deal about the culture of The South, and being influenced by my father’s behavior and attitude.

The previous owner of the station attempted to teach my northern father how Jim Crow worked in The South. Jim Crow laws replaced earlier “black codes” which were designed to restrict and deny civil rights and liberties to African Americans. In 1951, they were part of the state constitution of Florida and mandated the segregation of public schools, public places, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and drinking fountains. The previous owner showed Dad how to cheat “negro” customers, though he used a derogatory term when referring to them. He didn’t need to tell Dad about the rules regarding the use of the one bathroom and one drinking fountain. “Whites Only” signs were prominently posted.

As soon as Dad took possession, those signs came down. I don’t know who influenced my father, but Dad always had a soft spot in his heart for the underdog. He treated his black customers with the respect they deserved. We developed a large black clientele.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7

When these customers needed work done on their cars but couldn’t afford to pay for it, Dad gave them odd jobs to do around the station in exchange. One day, a black gentleman approached my dad asking for a loan. Even though Dad wasn’t growing rich as a business owner, he loaned the man the money. I was there the next afternoon when this man, probably in his late 50s or early 60s, returned the money. “I didn’t need it after all,” he told my dad. Later, I overheard my parents speaking of the irony around the way blacks are viewed in relation to whites … comparing the integrity this black man displayed with the lack of character demonstrated by a white male employee who stole from us.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, I began listening to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration written by New York Times Best Selling and Pulitzer Prize winning author, Isabel Wilkerson. Tuesday, I learned some shocking information about Florida I’m fairly certain my parents didn’t know … some facts that I’m sure the man who asked for a loan did.

Florida was one of the first states to secede from the Union in the months leading up to the Civil War and was one of the first in the South to institute a formal caste system designed to restrict black people after the war. Because Florida was shut off at that time from the rest of the world by its cypress woods and turpentine camps, it instituted its own laws and constitution, allowing this state to commit among the most heinous acts of terrorism perpetrated anywhere. Violence had become such an accepted way of life that a 1950 special investigation, just one year before we moved there, found that there had been so many mob executions in one county in the 1930s, there weren’t any negroes left to go to trial. In this culture, no negro man could have grown up without the fear of being lynched. That would have included the courageous man who asked dad for a loan.

I doubt when Dad removed the “Whites Only” signs and when he treated his black customers with fairness, he knew he was breaking the law, laws that continued in force until 1965. I’m sure he didn’t view this as an act of civil disobedience, even though that is what it was. I like to think his behavior wouldn’t have changed if he had known. It is the aspect of my father for which I carry the most pride.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6

I didn’t know until this week the enormity of the action my father took when he removed those signs. To him, he was only showing respect for another human being. To me, he showed compassion for the struggle of those relegated to the ranks of so-called “losers.”

Dad demonstrated that same soft spot in his heart after we moved back to Ohio. At that time, New Bremen had about 1500 residents. Sometime during the next eight years before I graduated high school and moved away, black people were employed by the alfalfa mill on the edge of town. They lived in run down houses near the mill. I don’t remember seeing them in town except for one high school student two to three years older than I, a beautiful young woman who had the courage to attend one of the weekly dances held for teenagers at the hall above the hotel. I admired the farmer boy who asked her to dance.

I don’t think it was her family, but a fire destroyed the home of one mill family who bore the same last name as ours. Dad went around town collecting food, clothing, and household items for them. Someone asked him why he was doing that. He said, “They’re my cousins.”

“You are the salt of the earth;” Matthew 5:13a

001-2

2008

During the 2008 presidential election, Dad was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama. After the election, his health deteriorated rapidly as he grieved the loss of my mother who died early in the morning following Thanksgiving Day. He said he wanted to live to see how Obama fared in office. Sadly, he died on January 3, seventeen days before the inauguration. I have sometimes been grateful he didn’t live to witness the bigotry and obstructionism foisted upon our first black president. It probably wouldn’t have surprised him, but it would have only added to his grief.

In recent weeks I have been contemplating what influences people to be who and how they are. After twenty-six years as a political prisoner, Nelson Mandela transcended his anger and embraced forgiveness while his compatriots continued to harbor revenge? I read a story this week about a Muslim man who was shot in the face by a white supremacist after 9/11. His faith led him to forgiveness to the point he tried to save his assailant from death row and give his life to educating people about the transformative power of mercy and forgiveness. His actions changed the white supremacist’s attitude from hatred, which he had learned from his step-father, to admiration for this Muslim man and his parents who he realized were extraordinarily good people. These and other stories have caused me to reflect upon how influences in all our lives can be seen in our behavior for good or for ill.

I will never know the influences on my dad. Dad wasn’t a religious man, but in his interactions with those less fortunate than he, I see him doing his best to live “the way of love.”

“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” I Corinthians 13:13

What I do know is that it is Dad who influences me to use my talents in the service of deeper spiritual values like respect, compassion, justice, forgiveness, authenticity, beauty. It is Dad who influenced me to write about Leymah Gbowee, Nelson Mandela, Victor Frankl, and Elizabeth Lesser, people who embody these values. It is Dad who influences me to continue to seek and lift up voices of wisdom, inspiration, and hope who bring light and enlightenment to our dark and murky world.

Thank you, Dad.

I have never been more grateful for your shining example.

1942

1942

1991

1991

1945


1945

Who has been a shining example in your life?

 What values have you adopted because of their example?

How have they influenced your behavior today?

In what way is your behavior contributing to “the way of love?”

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

Being True to Me

After I posted my last blog entry, “Bearing My Cross,” Cindi, my friend and one of my biggest cheerleaders, called. She, too, is serving as a caregiver for a family member. She overflowed with enthusiasm for what I had written. She said, “You write at a level of depth that is so real. Most people don’t want to go there.”

I said, “I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

skim-surface

Since then I have been pondering her words and the force behind my response.

I grew up with disapproval for being “so serious.” As a result, I found it safer to write about sorrow and anguish than to talk about it. My writing became a spiritual practice. Throughout my life, I’ve written letters to the Divine in my journal, pouring out my struggles until some deeper wisdom flowed from my pen.

writing-in-journal

Being a witness to this deeper wisdom emerging from somewhere deep inside continues to awe me. It is what helps me grow spiritually and not just survive the vicissitudes of life. That is the spirit I bring to my blog posts and my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace.

I experience this sharing of my struggle with personal foibles in my process of growing spiritually as a calling. Still, every time I reveal what is “real” for me, I risk receiving the same censure I received as a young person.

“Most people don’t want to go there.” 

I struggled with the truth of Cindi’s words in the light of the reality in today’s publishing industry. Authors are expected to do 98 per cent of the marketing for our writing. Like most writers, I am an introvert who hates the whole idea of selling myself and my work. Yet, every writers’ workshop is replete with tips for “finding your tribe,” those readers who resonate with your writing. Some people make a living advising writers on how to successfully find readers. I wondered if I needed to change myself in order to appeal to a wider audience. But …

“I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

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

Then, last evening, I watched a recording of Oprah’s interview with Glennon Doyle Melton on Super Soul Sunday. And I received just the glorious validation I needed that finally inspired me to get this blog post beyond the pondering stage into writing. Glennon validated what I had already concluded: What is most important is being true to who I am. This is how I came into the world. This is who I am meant to be.

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton

love-warrior200nyt

Glennon is new to me and I have not read her memoir, “Love Warrior” or her “very popular blog, Momastery. But these words in her interview with Oprah resonated deeply with me:

“I no longer think I am broken. I think I am a deeply feeling person in a messy world.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Pain is like a travelling professor. The smartest people I know are the ones who say, ‘Come in and don’t leave until you’ve taught me everything I need to know.'”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Suffering is when we try to skip over the pain and get to the resurrection before the crucifixion…trying to rise before we fall.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon recounted several stories of disapproval she has received for her “truth telling.” Revealing what is “real” is risky. I am grateful to have found this kindred spirit and to witness her success. There are people out there who thrive in the presence of authentic revelation.

I remind myself that despite our flaws and sometimes because of them, we can be powerful channels of the Divine. I relax in this awareness because I find nothing more gratifying than hearing that someone, like Cindi, has found my writing to be validating and inspiring in all its realness…to know that what I have written has made a difference to someone. That makes the journey worthwhile.

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.

Healing the World

holding the world

As the world around me swirled (I awoke with vertigo this morning), I began listening to Chapter 2 of Krista Tippett’s new book, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. I had barely begun listening when words of wisdom about the mystery and art of my own life circumstances emerged. 

“We are all healers of the world. It isn’t about healing the world by making a huge difference. It is about healing the world that is around us. That is where our power is. How would I live if I were exactly what is needed to heal the world?” ~Rachel Naomi Remen

Remen’s words remind me how important extending “conscious love” to my daughter is—the treasured “opportunity” that awakened within me while rummaging through the darkness that emerged when it became clear she would be living with me full-time for an extending period of time.

Remen’s wisdom, learned from her Hasidic Jewish grandfather, places this “opportunity” into a larger context. I am exercising my power to change the world.

My True Self, the higher part of me who already knows how to love, watches. I move through my days extending love in quiet ways no one around us would notice. The difference I make is not huge, but, in the week since I’ve been “consciously loving,” I do see a difference for my daughter…and for me.

I will continue keeping Remen’s question before me: “Am I living as though I am exactly what is needed to heal the world?”

The question Elizabeth Alexander asks at the end of her poem below touched my soul:

“And are we not of interest to each other?” ~ Elizabeth Alexander

Ars Poetica #100: I Believe by Elizabeth Alexander

Poetry is what you find

in the dirt in the corner,

 

overhear on the bus, God

in the details, the only way

 

to get from here to there.

Poetry (an now my voice is rising)

 

is not all love, love, love

and I’m sorry the dog died.

 

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)

is the human voice,

 

And are we not of interest to each other?

And Fr. Killian McDonnell’s reminder in his poem below bestowed levity:

Perfection, Perfection by Killian McDonnell

(“I will walk the way of perfection.” Psalm 101:2)

I have had it with perfection.

I have packed my bags,

I am out of here.

Gone.

 

As certain as rain

will make you wet,

perfection will do you

in.

 

It droppeth not as dew

upon the summer grass

to give liberty and green

joy.

 

Perfection straineth out

the quality of mercy,

withers rapture at is

birth.

 

Before the battle is half begun,

cold probity thinks

it can’t be won, concedes the

war.

 

I’ve handed in my notice,

given back my keys,

signed my severance check, I

quit.

 

Hints I could have taken:

Even the perfect chiseled form of

Michelangelo’s radiant David

squints,

 

The Venus de Milo

has no arms,

the Liberty Bell is

cracked.

Such a rich way to begin my day. Thank you, Krista and Company!!

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

 

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