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

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

You Make Sense to Me — A Priceless Gift

Oprah Winfrey often says that what she learned in her twenty-five years as a talk-show host is that people want the same thing — we want to be heard and understood … we want to know that we make sense to someone.

In my past life (1993-2012), one of the many professional hats I wore was as an Imago Relationship Therapist. Imago Therapists teach couples a listening skill that goes beyond active listening (repeating what you hear the other saying) to seeing the world through the other person’s eyes and telling them how they make sense given their life experience, and then walking in their shoes by telling them what you imagine they must be feeling as a result. None of this requires agreeing with how they see the world or having their feelings. It just asks us to suspend our own judgments and experiences to be in the world of the other.

And it is not easy as our polarized world attests.

For couples in troubled relationships, using that process skillfully can transform their relationship. Often, the assistance of a compassionate therapist is needed to help get and stay on track.

During the time I was an active member of the Imago community, one of the highlights I enjoyed was attending the annual conference, visiting another area of our country, and re-connecting with colleagues who had become friends.

One year, probably before 9/11, our conference was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I decided to stay an extra day, rented a car, and planned a trip to the Acoma Pueblo Sky City, located on top of a mesa about sixty miles west of Albuquerque. A colleague from Houston, Texas, Damian Duplechain, heard about my plans and asked if he could join me. I didn’t know Damian at the time, but welcomed his company.

Damian and I had a lot of time to get to know each other that day. We found we had some experiences in common beyond being Imago Relationship Therapists. We each had addiction in our family backgrounds and found twelve-step spirituality, The Spirituality of Imperfection, to be a healing force in our lives. After this trip, we went back home and had little contact after that beyond a few e-mails.

In 2009, I developed lymphoma. I was diagnosed on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, was sent directly to the urban hub of the hospital, and talked into staying the weekend. If I had to do it over, I would not have stayed the weekend, but that is another story. The word went out to the Imago community about my situation and colleagues from around the world began praying for me.

That weekend, I received a phone call from Damian. What a shock. He wanted me to know about M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He told me about a friend who had traveled a distance to be treated there. He said that if I wasn’t happy with the treatment I was getting in Dayton, OH, to give him a call and he would make all the arrangements for me to come to Houston for treatment. I doubt that you can imagine how touched I was by that. It told me even more about what an extraordinarily caring person Damian is. And it told me how fortunate I was to have so many wonderful friends extending love to me. Despite his generous offer, I didn’t find it necessary to seek treatment outside Dayton. I have been in remission since December 2009.

Eventually, I stopped participating in Imago conferences, opting to attend workshops and gatherings with my Imago friends in the Detroit, MI area. At one point, I contacted Damian about sending him a referral. But other than that, we had little contact for several years until Monday of this week.

Unbeknownst to me, Damian has been following my blog and has made a few comments. Since I didn’t receive them, I didn’t respond. He thought that was strange, checked my webpage, didn’t find his comments, and wondered if it was a cyber gremlin at work or if he had offended me in some way. He sent me an e-mail and stated that if he had offended me, he wanted to offer his deepest apology and state his willingness to hear my hurt.

I was floored. I doubt you can imagine how deeply touched I was. I find it a rare experience to have someone care that much about my feelings that they would send me an e-mail to inquire if I had been hurt and express a willingness to listen, if needed. I couldn’t have received a better gift.

My daughter who lives with me has a condition that blunts her emotions. She gets very uncomfortable when I express mine. So at home, I mostly keep them to myself. I often go for long stretches of time with no one inquiring about or listening to my feelings. And I am a feeler … on the Myer’s Briggs Personality Type Indicator, I am an

INFJ.

I have a rich inner life full of feelings, and I experience myself as most cared about when someone is interested in hearing me express them. To me, my feelings are the best, most authentic, part of me. Sometimes they get in the way, but they get out of the way faster when I can talk about them with some one who cares and understands … someone who is willing to stretch to see how they make sense to me.

As a single person living with someone not attuned to feelings, I often write about them in my blog. It is an exercise in vulnerability, and often after posting I wonder if I should have pressed that “publish key.” That uneasy feeling stays with me … until I get a comment.

Comments are important to me and I appreciate every one. They help me know if I am on the right track … if I make sense … if I say something of value for someone else. Sometimes they help me clarify my thoughts on a topic. I want my blog to be more than a self-centered exercise.

After assuring Damian that I didn’t get his comments, my curiosity was piqued. Actually, I found his comment in the spam folder. But I’m glad I didn’t find it until after writing this post. You will  see why in a moment. I wondered, “What could he have said that might have offended me?” I wrote and asked him. Here is his response:

“My comments could be summed up as: You are a wise woman who makes total sense to me, and I appreciate your blog and you because they are both wonderful gifts to me and to the world.  Keep up the great work.”

WOW!! I think I’ll keep writing. 🙂

Female Happiness

My Cincinnati Writer’s Group is made up of five women and one man. All of us are, well shall I say, striving to be wise elders. I found it interesting that when we gathered, all of us women were groaning about our topic “Happiness.” None of us found it easy to write about. What troubled me was what seemed to me our “giggles and rolling eyes of shame.”

Our one lone gentleman just smiled.

Isabelle in front row wearing pink top has moved to PA. Current group from left to right starting in back row: Jenny, Kate, Lynn, Jeanne, Linda, and Gary.

This is the fourth in my series on “happiness” and what follows are some of the things I found in my research which may account for our female discomfort and possibly ameliorate shame:

When asked “Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” by World Happiness Report researchers, those citing high levels of satisfaction attributed it to “having a partner and a family life.” These are crucial factors in Western countries because of the decreased importance we give to the extended family.

Living alone was cited as a potent source of misery as was compromised health.

  • Four of the five women in our group do not have a partner. Three live alone.
  • Two of us singles are caregivers — one for an aging parent and the other has a disabled adult child living with her.
  • The partnered woman just returned from a disappointing visit to her children and grandchildren. Their busy lifestyles meant that she spent a lot of time alone. Even when they were together, her family members’ noses were often in their electronics.
  • Three of us singles have recently experienced a significant death of either a parent or a sibling.
  • One of us singles is currently experiencing some health challenges requiring a change in lifestyle, adding to her stress.

Two of us female singles are still in the workforce. Happiness research reveals that for adults, income is a more important contributor to happiness than education. People in well-paid roles are happier.

My research further revealed some interesting facts about the gender pay gap, a significant source of inequality for women. The American Association of University Women, a leader on the issue since 1894, reports that the gap has narrowed considerably in the last one hundred years. They attribute the narrowing since 1960 (when I graduated high school) largely to women’s progress in education and workforce participation and to men’s wages rising at a slower rate.

The gap is, however, still sizable, is worse for our sisters of color, and doesn’t seem likely to go away soon. In 2015, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent. At the rate of change between 1960 and 2015, women are expected to reach pay equity with men in 2059.

But that slow progress has stalled in recent years. If change continues at the slower rate seen since 2001, women will not reach pay equity with men until 2152. No one living today will be alive to see it.

The World Happiness Researchers compared 2005-2011 with 2012-2015 and found that happiness inequality has increased significantly. And people living in societies where there is less inequality of happiness are happier. If I am reading their findings correctly, it seems that the issue of income inequality so prevalent in our country and across the world is a significant factor contributing to inequality of well-being.

Needless to say, the gender pay gap and income inequality in general have lifelong financial consequences. While we in our group don’t dwell on it, none of us single women experience financial security. We have all been creative in juggling our wants and needs with our purse strings.

My conclusion: The women in my writing group and women in general have nothing to be ashamed about regarding discomfort with the topic of “Happiness.” My admiration for the resilience of all women has only increased with my exploration and reflections on the topic.

Do you have a different reading about the World Happiness Report’s findings on “inequality of well-being?” If so, would you be willing to share it?
Have you ever experienced shame or being chastised for not exhibiting the requisite amount of “happiness?” If so, how did you feel and how did you handle it?
How have the findings of the World Happiness Report and AAUW researchers affected you?

 

Merriam-Webster Happiness

The question at the end of my last post: What words come to mind when you hear the word “happiness?”

Pat wrote: Peace

According to Merriam-Webster, happiness is the state of being happy.  Don’t you just love definitions like that?!?

Happy is followed by a very long enumeration of synonyms:

  • cheerful, cheery, merry
  • joyful, jovial, jolly, jocular, joyous, jubilant, overjoyed
  • thrilled, elated, exhilarated, ecstatic, euphoric, exultant
  • buoyant, radiant, rapturous
  • gleeful, delighted, blissful, blithe, beatific, sunny
  • pleased, satisfied, contented, gratified
  • carefree, untroubled, lighthearted

Interesting that “peace” is not among them.

A happy person is described as being in good spirits … in a good mood.

Happy people are:

  • smiling, beaming, grinning,
  • in seventh heaven, on cloud nine, walking on air,
  • jumping for joy, tickled pink, happy as a clam,
  • over the moon, on top of the world.

It was Merriam-Webster’s description of “happy” that influenced me as I contemplated writing my essay on “happiness” for my writing group.

It is a rare occasion for any of Merriam-Webster’s words to describe me. I am an introvert and we are notorious for our discomfort in jubilant, jumping for joy crowds. A quiet evening at home holds more attraction than a room full of merry, exhilarated party-goers.

My “awkwardness” insecurity rose to the surface. Where do so serious-natured introverts fit into the “central mandate of the American character” to pursue happiness by doing the “Next Big Thing?”

How to write about “happiness?” I mulled that over for a couple of weeks, and then I was saved. A television program featured a segment on the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Aha! I had a way into the topic! Much less threatening to write about a country’s happiness than about my own or lack thereof. And my research project began.


What feelings are generated in you when you read Merriam-Webster’s list of synonyms for “happy?”

How would you approach writing about the topic of “happiness?”

Carol suggested highlighting the unexpected benefits pointed out by Shawn Achor, happiness researcher and author. Now there’s a guy who pursues happiness!

Not a bad idea, Carol. Why didn’t I think of that? Must have been that “awkwardness” brain fog. 

 

My Irish Roots Revealed

After my fabulous weekend in mid-September, I began reading Sharon O’Brien’s memoir, The Family Silver. To my surprise, she shed light on my Irish relative’s puzzling behavior. 

the-family-silver

Click on book for link to Goodreads

On page 34, O’Brien writes: “I come from a people for whom abrupt and often unexplained severings of contact were the way to deal with conflict, hurt, loss, and separation. The Irish are great talkers and storytellers, but they prefer silence to speech when it comes to the realm of emotions. Simply cutting off a family member by not speaking or writing is a common pattern in Irish and Irish American families. Sometimes the black sheep may live only a few blocks away, and yet the silence may endure not just for weeks, but for months or years or decades.

“The Irish-born writer Frank McCourt attributes this form of punishment to the importance talk and conversation hold in Irish society. To shun someone, placing her in a circle of silence, is to cut her off from the family’s and the culture’s lifeblood. It is the cruelest thing you can do.”

~ ~ ~

Knowing about that Irish cultural pattern explained so many things about the Brady clan.

Celebrating my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

The Brady clan: Me, Dad, Aunt Mary Ann, Mom, Aunt Vicki, Aunt Earline, Uncle Wayne, and my brother, Phil celebrating Mom & Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

Everyone in this picture is now deceased except for Aunt Vicki, Uncle Wayne, and me.

As a deeply-feeling child, when I witnessed silence and shunning among my mother and her siblings, it created a longing in me for a happy, harmonious family. My wish seemed always out of reach. As I grew older, they directed this behavior toward me.

At first, I took it personally. I couldn’t understand what it was about me that was so bad as to warrant this withdrawal of love. As I matured emotionally and studied family dynamics, even though the withdrawal hurt, I came to know that it wasn’t all about me. Still, I had difficulty letting go of the feeling I had done something wrong or I was bad and wrong. I had no idea until reading O’Brien’s memoir that silence and shunning are part of an Irish cultural pattern.

O’Brien helped me understand why negative feedback is easier for me to handle than silence. It explains why I needed for Alice to give me honest feedback about her thoughts and feelings about my blog posts (see September 28 post).

~ ~ ~

For as long as I can remember, my brother and I idolized Uncle Wayne.

Below is my earliest picture of us with him and our grandmother. I was about three and Uncle Wayne about twelve.

Grandma Brady, Uncle Wayne, Linda, and my brother, Phil.

I turned ten when my parents, brother, and I moved to New Bremen, Ohio, my mother’s hometown. Uncle Wayne was nineteen and often had dinner at our house, especially when Mom fixed apple dumplings…one of his favorites. I developed a crush on him. When he married Aunt Rosie, they asked me to serve as their junior bridesmaid. That’s me on the right in blue. My brother and I spent a lot of time visiting our newly-wed uncle and aunt in the apartment they rented in the upstairs of a big, old house.

wayne-rosie-wedding

~ ~ ~

Now I understand my ambivalent feelings.

amy-scheer

My childhood friend, Amy, called me a few weeks ago to tell me it was time for a visit. She had seen my Aunt Rosie and noticed she has lost a lot of weight and looked frail. Aunt Rosie indicated that Uncle Wayne wasn’t doing well either and is usually grumpy.

I am always the one who reaches out to them. Since my immediate family members save my daughter are all gone, I wish we were closer. Their only contact with me is a Christmas card. I don’t think they are shunning me. But I can’t help but wonder whether the distance the Brady’s maintain with each other is part of this cultural pattern. While I wouldn’t avoid a visit, especially with the two of them in declining health, I noticed my ambivalent feelings. O’Brien’s memoir helped me make sense of them. With every contact, I risk silent disapproval and shunning–an even worse kind of distance.

Amy and I made plans for me to visit the weekend of September 16-17. I called to let Uncle Wayne know I was coming to town and made arrangements for a visit on Saturday morning. He told me that since he turned 80 three years ago, his health problems have increased. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years and wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turned out to be one of my most meaningful visits.

When he hobbled to open the front door to let Amy and me in, I was shocked by how much he has aged.

uncle-wayne

Even though he seems much frailer in his body, his mind is as sharp as ever. I was pleased to notice a softening.

I spared him the discomfort he seems to experience when I tell him I love him, but I did reach out to greet him with a hug. In the past, he stiffened. This time he relaxed into my arms. Soon we were in a spirited discussion. He expressed admiration for strong women, a softening of attitudes toward women that are common for men of his age.

None of the Brady’s like to talk about their painful growing up years, so I no longer ask. I did risk telling him about my interest in genealogy and the research I’ve done. I even asked if he would be willing to let me swab his cheek so I can get a read out of our DNA ancestry–to see if there is something more there than Irish and German. He agreed! Then, he expressed interest in seeing my research.

Best of all, he asked if I was finished writing my book. I didn’t think he even remembered I was writing one.

That he remembered and asked touched me deeply.

Then he accepted a departing hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed genuinely pleased that I did. He also seemed happy about my returning soon to collect his DNA sample and share my genealogy research.

Uncle Wayne is my only remaining uncle, my mother’s youngest sibling. To share these significant moments with him before he is gone means more to me than I have words to express.

~ ~ ~

After our visit, I started out on the next leg of my trip with a heart filled with gratitude for the meaningful connections I had made with Amy, Alice, Uncle Wayne, and Aunt Rosie.

That was only the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous weekend from beginning to end. I’ll tell you about the mind-blowing experience I had in Port Clinton in my next blog post.

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.

The Wisdom of the Body

“The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves. Like a sponge filled with water, anywhere the flesh is pressed, wrung, even touched lightly, a memory may flow out in a stream. ~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

For much of my early life, I neglected my body, largely unaware of the wisdom it carried. In the mid-80’s, I participated in Anne Wilson Schaef’s Living-in-Process training program. It was in her training that I began to appreciate the memories our bodies carry and the message that emerges when its wisdom is released. My first powerful body memory emerged after a massage. I was stunned and in awe of the process and the healing message my body spoke. On another occasion, my favorite during my six years in the Living Process network, my body gave me a sense of my cleanliness as a newborn before the wounds of life scarred me.

During the past few weeks as my daughter has moved in with me and my life has revolved around being a full-time caregiver, I’ve had a couple of body experiences that have piqued my interest. Without being fully aware that I was searching for my body’s wisdom, I followed the trail of my roller coaster of emotions.

Roller Coaster

The first experience came after my former student called to tell me the influence I had on her life. Before her call, I was contemplating the need to be on an anti-depressant. I had no energy or interest in things that had filled my life with meaning and purpose. After her call, I literally experienced the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I wrote and spoke about it as being the best anti-depressant ever and considered her call a Divine gift.

 “After all, the body, like God, moves in mysterious ways.” ~Thrity Umrigar

spiral galaxy

But in the couple of weeks since her call, gradually, without my being aware, the energy began draining from my body again. On Tuesday I walked around the house in a stupor, unable to write or accomplish any of the many household tasks needing attention. I was grateful for leftovers so I wouldn’t have to cook. Even watering my plants, something I have enjoyed, seemed like drudgery. Every time it rained, I thanked “Mother Nature” for doing this job for me. Impatience and weariness with life seeped into every fiber of my being. Sleep seemed my only escape.

On Wednesday, despite my lethargy, I continued the footwork to find housing, financial assistance, and case management services for my daughter. I dipped even lower when promising options failed to bear fruit. I told myself that I needed to reengage in previous activities I had enjoyed. I developed a self-care plan but couldn’t get myself out of the house. “I’ll start tomorrow.”

Then, Thursday morning, after some mix-ups preventing the home healthcare social worker from connecting with us had been resolved, she finally paid us a visit. This woman had worked in the case management arena in the past and seemed to know the ropes. She corrected misinformation given to  me the day before, had an application with her to get the ball rolling, explained the slowness of the process, validated the footwork I’d already done, encouraged me to fill out applications for several housing options for the disabled, and to schedule an appointment to tour one of them as soon as possible.

pressure cooker

The pressure cooker building inside me began to release steam. I was unaware of the weight I carried until I couldn’t control the tears springing forth at the end of our appointment. With her concrete actions, validation, and empathy…even though it will take months to accomplish the next steps…I once again had hope.

And once again, I noticed the energy of aliveness returning to my body. I made that call as soon as she left and scheduled an appointment for next Tuesday for my daughter and me to tour the facility. And I attended to one activity on my self-care plan.

“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.”   ~Dorothy Day

I wondered about that second energy drain. Did something specific trigger it? Gradually the pieces began to fall into place.

I had been hurt by my daughter’s disinterest in something important to me, her passivity in engaging in conversation about it. I pondered why I was holding onto this hurt. As I sorted through papers about the characteristics of myotonic muscular dystrophy, organizing them for my daughter’s file, I read again about the aspect of the disease that I’ve had the most difficulty dealing with…the executive function deficits.

  • The apathy that leaves me as the initiator and puts me in the position of being the “bad guy.”
  • The avoidant personality that leaves my daughter with no friends…her preference for imaginary relationships with celebrity personalities to relating to a real person…leaving me as her sole support and subjects me to the worst kind of loneliness…living with someone who is not really present.
  • The lack of expression (weakening facial muscles) that appears, in the words  of one pamphlet, “as though they don’t care.”

There it was. Once more I was living with someone who “appears not to care.” I had done that for at least a third of my life, probably two thirds. My body carries the memories of the emotional trauma that saps my energy.

“Muscle has memory: The body knows things the mind will not admit.” ~Louise Doughty

I promised myself twenty-seven years ago that I would never do that again. But here I am once more. While I fulfill this responsibility to my daughter, my body would not let me neglect its wisdom. It dragged me down and niggled at me until I found the source of the burden I carried…the trauma of twenty-three to forty-seven years of emotional neglect.

Now that I know, now that my body has brought me to consciousness, I am living with “what is” with more ease. I still don’t like it, but I can better comfort and take care of myself during this difficult time. For my body’s wisdom, I am genuinely grateful.

female body yoga

Missing the Mark

In the original languages (Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek), the word “sin” means “missing the mark.” In my last post written almost two months ago, I spoke of setting an intention to extend loving kindness to my daughter as she faced her health crisis. She moved into my home on June 16, almost two weeks ago. During these two weeks, especially the first week, I missed the mark. I was not at my best. This hospitalization has turned my daughter’s life upside down and, by extension, my life as well.

Her surgery was postponed for two days and she was in ICU a total of nine days before being sent to rehab. While she was in ICU, she experienced ICU psychosis. After the fact, they told us it is common. Wish they would have forewarned me. Seeing her in full-blown paranoia, convinced they were trying to kill her and if I didn’t help her get out of there, I was in league with them was scary. It is hard enough dealing with her myotonic muscular dystrophy. I feared I would be dealing with mental illness as well.

Then after ten days in rehab, she developed pneumonia and was hospitalized for another week before being sent back to rehab where they hoped to wean her off oxygen. They did not succeed and on June 16 she moved in with me. The week before her discharge, exhaustion turned me into a zombie. I couldn’t think straight, I took long naps even though I had slept soundly the night before. I dragged myself day after day doing the next right thing.

I was apprehensive about her coming to live with me. My home is my sanctuary, where I recharge myself with solitude, silence, order, and beauty. She does not share my values and her disease prevents her from maintaining the aesthetics I require. She has lived with me as an adult before, and it didn’t work well for either of us.

window

In addition, I was nervous because I am not a nurse or a trained caregiver.  I felt overwhelmed as people descended on my home with oxygen tanks, compressors, concentrators, and the bi-pap machine she will need to use while sleeping for the rest of her life. They explained how to use it all, but I couldn’t take it all in. They gave us manuals and said we could call if needed. We needed and, thankfully, they were very accommodating.

oxygen tank
BPAP-466x350

In the midst of all this, I was faced with the task of moving her out of her apartment. Cell phone pictures helped her make decisions about what to keep and what to give away or discard. I don’t know how she managed the steps for these ten years while her disease progressed and her muscles weakened. It was all I could do to navigate up and down those steps carrying out trash and stuff to my home for her to sort through. One day I could barely carry a heavy trash bag up a flight of stairs and down another as I made my way to the dumpster. When I got there, the dumpster was filled to the brim with branches from the yard work being done. The side door was blocked. I took a step back and heaved that bag with all my might and it went flying into the top of the dumpster. I marveled at my muscle strength. Not bad for an old broad.

My daughter’s first week in my home was an adjustment for both of us. In the midst of all the anxiety, it took every ounce of energy I possessed to deal with all the changes. I grieved the loss of my privacy in the sanctuary of my lovely new home, the loss of my solitude and silence.

I disappointed myself more than once as irritation and frustration crushed my intention to extend the loving kindness she deserves. I couldn’t summon the energy for my spiritual practice. Maintaining serenity and equanimity in the face of this stress escaped me. I was sorely missing the mark. The vicious voice in my head lashed me with the discrepancy between the kind of person I aspire to be and the kind of person I was actually being. In this state, my whole life looked like a sham.

As I sat in my meditation room this morning, the best part of me (my true self within who witnesses my thoughts and actions and knows that is not who I really am) took stock of the way I’m handling this very difficult situation. Even though this week has been much better, I wondered if I needed an anti-depressant to help me deal more effectively. And then the telephone rang and I received a gift from the Universe. I recognized it immediately as a gift of grace.

Why Do I Write a Blog?

The Mastermind Group to which I belong met yesterday. Two of us write blogs and part of our goal is to increase our readership. At the end of our meeting, one member asked, “Why do you write a blog? What is your purpose?” She looked at me and added, “I can see that you do it to generate interest in your memoir.”

soulcircle

Image found here: https://womenwhorunwiththewolvesblog. wordpress.com/

Yes, I draw attention to my forthcoming memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace, and hope others will be interested in reading it. I experience my compulsion to write and share my story as a Divine calling–something planted in my soul. My intention in sharing my story of growing spiritually while facing overwhelming obstacles is to inspire others and contribute to the betterment of the world.

Following this leading has already led to healing between my daughter and me–the betterment and enlargement of our world. Examining and reflecting on my motivations and feelings at different stages of my life helped me to understand and accept myself at a deeper level. It brought me closer to The Divine. For all that, I am eternally grateful. As I noted in my last post, if writing my story does nothing else, it has accomplished a lot.

3372b-pencil2b262bpaper

But why do I write my blog? Writers are often asked why we write. My Mastermind Partner’s question invited me to articulate my heartfelt intention beyond promoting my memoir. I write and share my writing to continue my process of growing spiritually. Writing letters to The Divine in my journal has long been a form of prayer for me. At times, wisdom from deep within or beyond emerges from my pen, taking me a step further on my spiritual journey.

But writing in my journal is a private activity. Writing a blog exposes my messy growing process. The perfectionist in me would like to keep that to myself. But hiding only keeps me stuck and isolated. When I share and others can relate, I don’t feel so alone. Connecting with kindred spirits on the path of awakening and evolving into our highest selves is vital for remaining faithful to this call of The Divine.

http://earthsky.org/ Photo taken by CB Devgun from India

http://earthsky.org/
Photo taken by CB Devgun from India

Mary Jo, a kindred spirit from the Story Circle Network, gave me a gift in her comment to my last post, Doorway to the Divine. She said, “This is such a profound, and in my opinion, the deepest and finest level of communication one can share with another. My heart swells with joy for you and your daughter. Yours is one of the best, if not the best posting, I’ve read this year and probably beyond. To truly hear and be heard…what if we could all do that for each other.”

Mary Jo’s genuine appreciation validates that I’m on the right track. I am bolstered in my intention to continue exposing  my messy process. This diehard perfectionist might just learn to enjoy the mess. Now wouldn’t that be a miracle.

1 2