Friday, August 31, 2012

On Fear

In a short conversation with Alana Sheeren (see previous post) she asked "what's the worst that can happen." Knowing it was only a 15 minute call and I didn't have time for a laundry list of "worsts" I blurted out failure.

Yeh, I'm pretty afraid of failing even though I've had some mighty successes in my life. Weird.

Later on Alana asked me what would I say to Little ME.  As I did in my therapist's office a few months ago after an EMDR session, I imagined holding her hand and saying, "it's going to be okay."

There I am feeling so scared I'm almost paralyzed with moving ahead in my life and at the same time I'm telling my inner child everything is going to be ok. I used to be like that with my children.  For example, when traveling, I'm a worry-wort of the highest degree. I check my ticket, put my i.d. in a place where I'll find it easily, check my ticket, shuffle through my purse looking for my i.d., go to the bathroom then start the process over again. On our most recent trip Sweetie just patted his pocket and kept on reading after the third time I asked him if he had the tickets he. BUT, when I traveled with my kids, I had a noticeable (to me) air of confidence. I knew where the tickets were. I guided the children through airports like I knew where I was going. I was strong because they needed me to be.

My daughter is getting married next month. She gets a little anxious. And even though I know if I were in her shoes, I'd be wobbly in the knees and my chest would be pounding before the party began, I tell her "it's going to be okay." And I'm not blowing smoke, or just being motherly. I know it's going to be okay. Whatever happens is going to be okay.

So the question I have for myself is why don't I have those same assurances for Scaredy Cat ME? Why do I forget that my inner child is afraid of being judged, of failing, of looking stupid, of being laughed at, of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and just needs me to hold her hand? Why don't I say, "it's going to be okay" ? It doesn't seem like it's that hard of a thing to do.

So I'm driving to the post office this morning and hear a repeat of an interview with Jack Black on NPR's Fresh Air.  It was a short trip so I only heard a small part of the interview, but it's the part I needed to hear. I love it when things happen like that.

Black: Oh, it's got to be "Pippin." That was my best one. But we also did a production of a Bertolt Brecht play called "The Caucasian Chalk Circle." And I played Azdak, the kind of anarchistic judge in a land that was sort of in turmoil. That was a kind of a heavy play to do in high school. It was pretty advanced.
GROSS: Mm-hmm.
BLACK: But I had a blast, and I overcame a lot of fears. I remember I was so scared opening night, when we were supposed to do our first performance for all the parents, that I just called my teacher and said, I'm not doing the play. And he said, just come meet me at the diner. And so I met him at the diner that day. And he talked me into it, said don't worry about failing; it's going to be fine. You know, it is what it is. It's an experience. You're going to learn from it. I was like, OK. And I did it. And I was so filled with fear and adrenaline that I gave probably my best performance of my life that day.
And it's a lesson that I've carried with me - that just because I'm terrified doesn't mean that I shouldn't do it. You know, and a lot of times I'll want to turn down a role or something because I'm scared of what it is, or that I won't do it well and people will judge me. And then I have to say, eh, remember high school? You were scared of Azdak.
And I'll - more often than not - do it if I think that the fear is based in just cowardice, as opposed to something that I really shouldn't do.
The word cowardice jumped out of the radio and screamed at me to take a closer look. Merriam Webster's Student dictionary defines cowardice as "lack of courage to face danger : shameful fear."

Ah, now we're getting somewhere. Shame-filled fear. There's a difference between being afraid of something that can really hurt you and being afraid of just about everything like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. The fight or flight fear that is nature's way of making our decision for us in a dangerous situation is different from being afraid that there is a giant sweeping, look-at-this-fool spotlight on me shining its glaring light on everything I do.

Next time I'm feeling afraid, I think I will just look over my shoulder and if there is no bear coming after me, I'll grab my Little girl's hand and remind us both, "it's going to be okay." I don't know if it will work, but it's worth a try.

Wishing for you a moment of clarity.
Merry ME

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lost on the Prairie

Seems like no matter what I do/how hard I try I'm still hanging on to some old stuff that comes out in the form of grief.  My fears of the unknown and resistance to change is, for reasons I still haven't figured, is stronger than my desire for something new.  It makes me feel silly, stupid and even a bit "less than." That kind of thinking only adds fuel to the negativty fire.

Don't get me wrong, I know I've come a long way, but the road ahead still looks like Rt. 66 through Arizona and New Mexico where you don't see much except the expanse of land and sky.  Good thing I wasn't a pioneer woman trying to get somewhere in a covered wagon.  I might have been left on the side of the trail to howl at the moon with the coyotes.

Over the summer, in an attempt to rid myself of grief, I've scattered my parent's ashes, traveled the roads they traveled as a kind of goodbye gesture. I've cried and rejoiced over old memories and new discoveries. I've cut up fabric and made a quilt. I've written some stories and submitted them for publication. I've re-visited my therapist. And while I admit that I've slept more than I should, and not moved my body enough to get the juices flowing, I've made an effort to stay in touch with people (real and virtual), be creative and seek gratitude.

My latest venture is to sign up for a five week "tele-retreat" with Alana Sheeren, grief coach. When I first talked to Alana, she explained the differences between a therapist and a coach. In the simplest of terms, a therapist helps you by looking back, the coach helps you look forward. I don't deny I've still got "back" stuff piled up higher than Mt. McKinley.  And I'm sure that while I move forward, I'll have to look back at some things. What I want to be able to do is set that baggage down and move ahead without the weight on my shoulders.  Will 5 weeks re-write a life-time of "self-defeating, self-minimizing, self-deprecating" stories I've told myself? I doubt it. But I believe it will be another step in the right direction.  To use that covered wagon metaphor again (which I seem to like these days), the retreat will be like seeing a clear, cool lake after trudging through the prairie grass and dusty fields. I may not be at my final destination yet, but I'll be able to stop, rest, jump in, wash off the dirt (sadness/anger/fear), float on my back and look at the broad blue sky,  and baptize myself in the Divine One's healing/renewing elixir. And when I've had my fill, I'll sit on the banks of the lake with sisters who share my path, let the song of my soul be heard, discover beat of my own dance, and play with the child of my heart.

When the 5-weeks are over, I hope I can look East toward a life that no longer works and say a grateful goodbye.  Then I'll tie on my calico bonnet, button up my shoes (buckle up my Birkenstocks) hitch up my skirt and petticoat, climb back on the wagon and say to myself, my inner child, my silly brown dog, and my Sweetie, "come on, let's see what new adventures await us." I don't expect my Chicken Little persona to be forever gone. I'll still worry about the smoke signals rising above the mountains. Hell, I'll probably worry about the snakes and bears too.  But I'll have the tools to deal with that fear ... my knowledge my truth, and my hope. Not to mention a big, snake-whacking shovel.

It is said when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I've followed Alana's blog for a couple of years, as she wrote about the grief of losing her son Benjamin. After two nudges toward a fund raising site for a man with cancer and no insurance*, I felt obliged to donate. Through that donation I was given a free phone session with Alana. Two short conversations but I'm drawn to the soft, gentle voice of a woman who has lost in the prairie grass and found her way to the lake of recovery. Interested? Check out this video.

Today I wish for you new places to go and new eyes to see it clearly,
Merry ME

* There are a lot of good places to donate to, and fewer dollars left over at the end of the pay period to donate, but it won't hurt to go see what this is all about. Every little bit helps. http://www.indiegogo.com/johnfptak

Monday, August 27, 2012

Many Hands Make Light Work

Ed. Note: This might fall into the category of "too much information." If so, just scroll down to the middle.


My "friend" stopped visiting me rather abruptly back in 2003. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised because I'd been peri-menopausal for years. Now it seems like forever since I've had a period. But I can still remember some of those times as being a big fat, icky mess. In the big scheme of being a woman, I miss my memory more than I miss my menses.

That said, there's something so awesome about being a woman - cramps, bloating, whacked out emotions and all - it's hard not to stand in awe of the process. Certainly menstruating is not something that should hold a girl back. I think I read once that Billy Jean King won Wimbledon while she was on her period. Good golly, that was back in the day when you still had to wear those little white skirts, wasn't it?  The thing is there are countries all over the world where for reasons of hygiene, social custom, and/or religion menstruating girls are prisoners of their own bodies.

Living in my own little, no-longer-menstruating world with closets devoid of feminine hygiene products I don't think much about what happens to girls/women around the world. I was stunned into action after reading this on Facebook:
Globally, 150 million children currently enrolled in school may drop out before completing primary school – at least 100 million of these are girls.
The natural process of menstruation comes as a big problem to women and girls in many parts of the world. In order to stem the flow of monthly periods, the women and girls use anything from rags, tree leaves, old clothes, toilet paper, newspapers, cotton wool, cloths or literally anything that can do the job. Most girls from poor, rural communities do not use anything at all.
Girls who lack sanitary pads often use crude and unhygienic methods, such as inserting cotton wool to block the flow, which can migrate to their uterus. In urban slums, girls are known to collect used pads from garbage dumps, and wash them for their own use. These measures often result in serious health complications. It is common to tear blue jeans and use that fabric as a sanitary pad, but the resulting chaffing often causes extremely painful and embarrassing boils to develop.
To combat these problems, they resort to another “solution” that bears serious consequences: prostitution. Yes. You need to read that again. Some of the girls engage in prostitution/paid sex, so that they can raise the money required to buy sanitary pads, putting themselves at the risk of HIV and infection.
To state it bluntly, menstruation has become like a curse not only to the women and girls but also to society in general. Because menstruation is largely a private act, the social damage is hidden and never makes the news headlines. Also, there are cultural and social attitudes that render discussion of menstruation almost impossible.
Hygiene products are either unavailable or unaffordable to most marginalized females. Young girls are forced to skip school during the time they experience monthly periods to avoid both the cost of pads or use of cloths. UNICEF estimates that one in 10 school-age African girls either skips school during menstruation or drops out entirely because of lack of sanitation.
A girl absent from school due to menstruation for 4 days in 28 days (a month) loses 13 learning days, equivalent to 2 weeks of learning in every school term. It is estimated that within the 4 years of high school the same girl loses 156 learning days, equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning in high school.
No woman should be cursed to disempowerment by the natural act of monthly periods. The bottom line is that the natural process of menstruation should disadvantage no girl.

Overwhelmed by the size of the seemingly insurmountable problem, I had to wonder how little old ME could make a difference in the staggering number of girls going without and dropping out. Then I remembered the words of one tiny lady who made a world of difference(s), Mother Theresa, "if you can't feed a hundred, feed just one." I contacted Donna Terpstra of growth http://www.growth-ministries.org headquartered in Coopersville, MI and signed on.  As part of her "It's Our Mission. Period." ministry, Donna and her sewing partners produce and send washable, reuseable cloth pads and basic instruction to the Girls School in Kenya.  For the price of a few yards of flannel, and a few hours work,   I can do my small part in changing the life of one girl. How cool is that?

I encourage you to check out the website, and click on the "how you can help" tab at the top.  A small  donation of your time, your treasure, your talent or all three will make a big difference.  

I was bemoaning recently about my need for something to do with excess time besides sleep. I have to say, I never expected to see God in a box of Kotex, or a bolt of flannel. Then there was Donna on FaceBook. It just goes to show the Divine One likes a good game of hide and seek. Tag. You're it.

Wishing for you, a place to lend a helping hand,
Merry ME



Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Just Maybe

I'm not a very politically minded person.

Personally I think everyone in Washington should be sent home and learn to live in the real world of their constituents. Maybe if they spent longer than a 5 second photo op in soup lines, homeless shelters, day care centers, hospital waiting rooms, cancer clinics, VA hospitals, Rape Crisis centers, Abortion clinics, Suicide prevention hot lines, junior high school cafeterias, churches and synagogues, discount grocery stores, American factories, farms and foreclosed on/ blighted neighborhoods instead of their bureaucratic ivory towers the only thing that matters in this country would be change. Change for the better. Not Republican change or Democrat change, red or blue state change. Change that would re-kindle the American can-do-spirit for longer than Gabby Douglas' balance beam routine. Maybe if insurance and pharmaceutical executives stayed home and tried to care for their moms and dads by walking the labyrinth of regulations like Joe Plumber or Mary Mom do every day, they'd have new ideas about how to manage health care.  Maybe if wealthy moms and poor dads, and innovative teachers and creative volunteers could meet on grammar school playgrounds and learned how to "play well with others" our schools could become places of learning again, and kids could dwell in the possibility of future dreams and desires. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

Like cream rising to the top, I believe caring qualified leaders not afraid to tackle hard problems would find a way to fix some of the problems we have in this country.  All that said, I don't consider myself political. I don't work at polling stations. I don't carry placards. I don't make irritating phone calls that interrupt dinner time conversations. I turn off nasty, mean spirited political ads by finger pointing truth twisters.  Instead I rage in the confines of my own home against stupid, S.T.U.P.I.D. blunderbusses like Todd Akin and MGen David Pittard.

But there are others who are not afraid to get involved. To speak out. To be honest and forthcoming. If you follow my friend, Terri St. Cloud's blog, you've probably already been to the links she listed. For no other reason, except I bow down in honor to their bravery, I also link you to their blogs. Won't you take a minute to read them. Maybe you'll be spurred on to get political. Or maybe,  you'll just kneel down and say a prayer for these ladies and for our country.

Carry It Forward

and

Remembering Ryan 

I may not be very politically minded, but I sure do  know how to work up a good rant.
Merry ME

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Nostalgia

Dictionary.com deinfes nostalgia as "a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life"

For the last few weeks, I've been feeling nostalgic for those months before my father passed away. I know, it's crazy. Still my mind seems to wander back there when I least expect it. Sometimes it feels like a sucker punch, other times, a simple remembrance, not sad or painful, of something that I connect with Dad.

Today it started with a post on my friend Wholly Jeanne's blog and this picture:
Picture by Wholly Jeanne, http://thebarefootheart.com/
A tin box. That's all it took to be transported to a former time in my life.

It reminded me of the green file box, probably pilfered from the Navy 50 years ago (does that make it an antique or evidence in a court of law?) that sat among the other geegaws on my father's desk. The box was a holdover, actually, from my mother's very organized Christmas habits. It housed the names and addresses of the people she sent cards to every year.


Back in the day when postage was affordable and people sent cards to old friends that weren't seen very often as well as church members and neighbors, the box was full of 3 x 5 index cards, each printed   in my mom's legible style. Also in the box were the torn off return address labels from cards received the previous year. If someone moved Mom crossed off old addresses and neatly added a new one. There was room on the front of the card for several addresses. Most of their retired Navy friends had settled in one spot they had called home for decades.  Mom's wandering children and grandchildren were the ones that kept messing up her orderly cards.

By the time I moved back home,  Mother's brain damage had robbed her of this holiday chore along with most others that required reading or writing. Dad took it over and added his own organizational style. It was a toss-up which would have been easier to read, mom's aphasia-zapped lettering or Dad's handwriting that even Navajo code talkers would have had trouble deciphering. Dad took over buying the cards ( usually a snow covered house with a wreath on the door or mailbox, Old Glory waving from the flagpole in the yard, and a redbird sitting on a picket fence.) addressing them, writing notes to friends, including checks for his children, and posting them. The process began in September when he ordered the cards from the NRA. As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey became soup, Dad would spend the time between breakfast, crossword puzzle and lunch working on the cards. The green box sat open and empty. Its once indexed addresses, lay in a jumble near Dad's Cross pen and toothpicks. Last year's address labels were on the floor close to, but not in, the trash can. As he completed each card, Dad would add the current year's date to the blue-lined card as a way of keeping track.

Near the end, the number of cards dwindled along with Dad's energy level.  Dad passed away a month after Christmas. The cards had all been mailed, but the half-used box and thank you gift from the NRA - a bullet shaped flashlight- remained where he left them.  It took a few weeks before I could muster the energy courage to go through the contents of his desk, which was actually Mom's sewing table with the wings opened up, placed next to a 5 foot plastic table, placed next to his computer table, placed next to the table that held his TV. It went around the corner in a way that only a civil engineer could figure out. Straightening out the electrical cords and figuring out which plug went with which piece of office equipment could have used a schematic.  Long past were all those afternoons when I sat by Dad's bed listening to the sound of his breathing and yearned to clean up the messy desktop (you'd laugh if you could see my desk. Let's just say this pig doesn't stray far from the sty.) In a strange turn of grief-filled events, with Dad gone, the mess didn't bother me. Perhaps the desk was just a metaphor for the parts of our relationship that still needed to be tended to.

If I close my eyes I can conjure up a vision of the area that had become my father's sanctuary in his last year. Many seldom used items on the desk were treasures from a by-gone era. The brass stamp holder, the Naval Academy clock that no longer worked even though we'd taken it to the repair shop several times, the family tree frame containing grade school pictures of his daughters, the bullets he had the wisdom to remove from the gun he kept locked in his closet, his wedding ring hanging from a gold chain, his pen knife, envelopes, wadded up tissues, checkbooks, a half-used roll of Rolaids, mints that were no longer minty and the green tin box.

Eventually I made my way to the desk. I tossed most of its contents with wild abandon. Some things I put aside as keepsakes. I can remember holding the file box in my hands and wondering, toss or keep. Turns out I tossed the addresses but kept the box. I found it today at the bottom of a drawer covered with stuff my children will one day have to decide whether to toss or keep.  As I look at it and hold it, I find there is no emotion attached to it. It's a box, right?  Yet the sight of Jeanne's box hooked the memory of it and pulled it to the forefront of my brain.

While speaking with a grief coach last week I had a light bulb moment. Memories, she said, are not just stored in our heads or our hearts. They remain in our bones, our muscles. It often occurs, she told me, that after a chiropractic adjustment, people will have an emotional meltdown because stored energy/memory had been released. I think that must be why we can be transported back to a different time and place when we hear a song from our high school days or smell an old lover's cologne. Like a green tin box filled with blank index cards, memories are tucked away waiting to return with us to another time and place.



I saw God today, in the unlikliest of places - a green tin box filled with memories.
Where do you store your memories?
Merry ME


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Books That Shaped My Life

I love listening to NPR when I'm driving around town. I like Talk of the Nation (if it's not too politically oriented) and Fresh Air during the week. And really like whatever the show is on Saturday afternoons where people read their stories. There is an inherent problem with listening while running errands because I often only get the beginning or end of a story. If I'm really hooked I've been known to sit in a parking lot or the garage until it's finished. Another problem is wanting to take notes while driving - not advisable. I have to rely on my memory until I get to a stopping place and dig a pen from the bottom of my purse and a receipt or old napkin to write on. Relying on my memory is not the best way to get key pieces of information down on paper.

So yesterday  on Talk of the Nation there was a discussion about an exhibit currently at the Library of Congress called the Books That Shaped America. The goal of the exhibit is to "spark a national conversation on books and their importance in Americans' lives, and indeed, in shaping our nation." When I got home I printed out the list to see what was it and how many I'd read.  Out of 91 books, I've read a grand total of 15. Personally I think I should get credit for watching the movie, if I watched it more than once, like Gone With the Wind, for example, or To Kill a Mockingbird. (Should I be embarrassed to admit I've never read To Kill A Mockingbird?"  I was kind of surprised to see books like The Cat in the Hat, or Goodnight Moon, or The Joy of Cooking on the list.  But I think I can agree that each of them must have played a role in the lives of people who read them over and over again.  There are several on the list I should order from the library and make up my mind to read before my eyes give out. At three sentences or paragraphs a night, I won't ever have to buy another book in my life.  I can't think of a worse scenario. Half the fun of reading is buying the book. Here's where I admit that I don't have an e-reader.

At dinner tonight Sweetie and I discussed (or tried to over some really bad karaoke singing) the books that may have shaped our own lives.  I guess I'd have to start with Nancy Drew mysteries, and those orange fabric bound biographies. To this day I love reading both mysteries and history. A history mystery is the creme de la creme.  Even though I wasn't a Girl Scout for very long, I worked my way through a good part of the Girl Scout Handbook, earning badges and sewing them on my sash.

The first classic I read was Jane Eyre. The only reason I read it is because I made the mistake of telling Miss Bates, my 8th grade English teacher/mentor that I'd done a book report on it but only read the first few chapters. What about the fire she asked? What fire? Well, even though she was no longer my teacher she made me come to her classroom at lunchtime and read the book.

I guess if a book really helped shape my life, I'd have to remember the title. I've been reading for as long as I can remember but recalling all the titles would be an exercise in futility. A good part of my list is made up of self-help books I read in the 1980's as I tried to pull myself out of depression. And I added quite a few of the books I read over and over to my children.

In no particular order, here's as much of my list as I got to tonight.

  1. The Road Less Traveled
  2. The Dance of Anger
  3. Codependent No More
  4. Mr. Tickle (Weneki told me recently she hated this book because her father was too much of a tickler)
  5. No Fighting and No Biting
  6. Are You My Mother?
  7. Green Eggs and Ham
  8. Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes
  9. Sweet Pickles Series
  10. This Blessed Mess (It's good to know that chaos breeds creativity)
  11. Plain and Simple (Discovered by a series of coincidences from a poster in my therapist's office)
  12. Three Cups of Tea (Moved me to the core)
  13. Kitchen Table Wisdom 
  14. Running to the Mountain (Began my membership in the Jon Katz fan club)
  15. The Diary of Anne Frank (I read this after seeing the Amsterdam house where the Franks hid out.)
  16. Faithful Travelers (A father/daughter tale that made me yearn for closeness)
  17. The Secret Life of Eva Hathaway (Makes me laugh and cry every time I read it.)
  18. Making Loss Matter (Perhaps the first book on loss I read after my mother died)
  19. If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What am I Doing in the Pits (Someone told me once I write like Erma Bombeck. No greater compliment)
  20. Soul Food (A church cookbook I collected and edited)
  21. Where the Sidewalk Ends
  22. Mothering Mother (Led me to a great writer, mentor, friend and champion of writer's everywhere)
  23. Saying Goodbye to the people, places and things in our lives (an anthology which contains my first published story)
  24. Crossing the Creek (A hospice handbook I've probably read 20 times)
  25. The Slippery Year  (A book I just happened upon but soon fell for the style of writing)
  26. The Pig of Happiness (This book makes me laugh every time I read it)
  27. Passages in Caregiving (Made a big impact on me a few months before my father passed away)
  28. The Homecoming (Helped me to seriously look at inner child issues)
  29. The Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions (Got me through some hard times)
  30. Stone Soup (From Capt. Kangaroo to today, this is one of my favorite stories)
  31. Old Turtle (Beautiful watercolors)
  32. The Last Straw (A Christmas story I turned into a short play)
  33. Christmas in the Trenches (Love the idea that for a few hours WWI stopped and Christmas was shared in No Man's Land)
  34. Bird by Bird (I've started this book several times. Maybe one day I'll finish it and be a better writer for having done so.)
  35. Nine Spoons (A true story of Hanukkah that took place in a concentration camp - powerful reading)
  36. Badger's Parting Gifts (A kid's book. A beautiful way to honor one's passing)
  37. Simple Abundance (A year full of abundance)
  38. A Year by the Sea (Led me to my own retreat by the sea, which led me to Bella, which led me to Terri St. Cloud)
  39. Undaunted Courage (Still not sure how Lewis and Clarke ever managed that trip)
  40. Traveling Mercies
  41. Thirst (The first book of poetry I ever read)
  42. The Book of Common Prayer
  43. Lou Boldt, Alex Delaware and Elvis Cole mysteries
I thought it was weird that the LOC list has 91 books - not an even number like 90 or 100. But you could probably say that about 43. I suspect I'll be thinking of books as I try to go to sleep tonight.
What about you? What books helped to shape your life?

Wishing for you a good book and a comfortable place to read it.
Merry ME

P.S. Sorry for this longish post.

P.S.S. * If you're interested in the complete LOC list here's the web site: http://myloc.gov/exhibitions/books-that-shaped-america/pages/default.aspx

http://www.npr.org/2012/08/14/158771705/-books-that-shaped-america

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Grace

I attended a luncheon at church today. It's theme was centered around a woman's journey of grace. One speaker spoke of her experience teaching prenatal classes to Hispanic women. Another, a hospice chaplain, talked about giving and receiving grace at the bedside of one who is dying.  Well, I don't have to tell you that I cried, those silent tears dripping down your face kind of crying, through the whole thing.  Seriously, folks, I have to get over this.

I've cried so much over the past few years, I've learned not to let them get in the way. Through the misty haze of tears, I looked at the 35 women in the room. Most I have known since coming back to Jacksonville. Others, are faces only. I don't even speak their language. But there we sat, together in a small room, over good food (delightfully prepared by grace-filled hands) sharing the experience of God's grace. We ranged in age from pre-teen to 103. We come from different places and backgrounds, yet, together as women of faith, our common blessings make us sisters.

I thought about the gifts given to the Guild of the Christ Child that will be distributed to mothers and babies none of us will ever know. A simple box filled with a few basics, and a note that shares Divine grace between the giver and the recipient. I thought about the day I was tasked by an unseen but holy spirit, to start this ministry. And I zipped through the last 6 years to the place it has come to rest today, the work of many hands. An idea whose time had come. In fact I finally met a woman from another city whose group, Busy Hands for Babies, has been making and sending all kinds of baby items to the guild for a couple of years. Grace is like a kid's game of tag. Once you're touched, you must find someone else to touch in a similar way.

Being filled with grace is similar to being in that thin place I've been writing about. The questions we were asked today are the same I posed last week about seeing God in your day. How has your life been touched by grace, and how have you graced the life of someone else? Food for thought topped off with a chocolate brownie.

A friend wrote on her blog tonight that "gratitude begets peace." I venture to add to that grace begets gratitude. "If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'thank you,' it would suffice."*

Tonight, I pray that God's grace will find you and that you will pass it on.
Merry ME

* Meister Eckhart

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hope Springs

(I started this post yesterday, then got distracted...)

I'm not sure going to the movie is fun anymore.
Packed my Sweetie up for an afternoon matinee - $5.00 right?
Wrong.  Even though we were two seniors at a 2:35 showing, since the movie (Hope Springs) just came out yesterday, you have to pay weekend prices.  And, as  we found out last time we went to a movie, weekend prices start on Friday, not Saturday.

Then, of course, we had to have some refreshments. I printed out a 50% coupon before leaving home, for a #1 special. It's a popcorn and soft drink combo but I'm not sure of the size. Fifty percent off would  put it into the somewhat reasonable price range.  Alas, the coupon wasn't good til tomorrow. What do you want to bet, popcorn and soda prices are also raised to weekend prices? So we opted for a #1 light. An old fashioned-sized bag of popcorn and a small coke, which is not to be confused with the Kid's pack small size. $8.99 a piece.

The movie was supposed to start at 2:35. Which really means the commercials and previews and demands to turn your cell phone off start around 2:40 and run til after 3. My popcorn was finished before the movie started.  With the exception of one movie that is due out in December, none of the previews bated my breath.

Had it been anybody else by Meryl Streep starring in the movie I might have moved over to the grumpy side of the emotional scale. Seriously, that woman makes me swoon. I thought she and Tommy Lee Jones made a good, mid-western, married for 31 years couple. I'm not much into physical demonstrations of displeasure, but I think if I were "Kay", I might have had to smack "Arnold" a few times in the beginning of the movie. Don't want to ruin the movie, so I'll just say I didn't feel the same way in the end.

The movie is obviously aimed at a more mature audience. Everyone in the theater was sporting gray hair. I don't know if the jokes would have seemed as funny to younger folk.  And I must say Steve Carell doesn't have to do or say anything to make me laugh. The close ups of his serious, therapist's face had me snorting in the quiet theater.

At one point when Kay told Arnold he doesn't touch her anymore, I leaned over to Sweetie and asked if he wanted to hold my hand.  He grabbed my hand and we sat throughout the rest of the show with our hands kind of twisted backwards over the armrest. That's something I love about Sweetie and me.  Whether we are holding hands, or lying in bed, he on his side with a book, and me on the other with a book, I feel the connectedness.

At the end of the day even though it was an expensive afternoon out, I'd have to say:
The movie - $15.00
The popcorn - $17.98
Holding my Sweetie's hand and laughing together - Priceless.

Wishing for you moments of connectedness with someone special,
Merry ME


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Feeling Confused

Today was another first in my post-caregiving/grief journey. Just when I think I've rounded the corner and have a long, smooth road ahead of me, I trip over a bump I didn't see.

I need a job. Not just because I need the money. I need to have something to occupy my time and mind. I need to feel useful again. I need a purpose. I signed on with care.com months ago. Filled out a profile, had a background check, applied for a few jobs and heard nothing back. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

I suppose I have to take partial responsibility for that. I have not been terribly pro-active. After my first few unanswered applications to jobs that sounded like a perfect fit, I ran out of steam.

I was surprised to get an email from a guy yesterday who needs a caregiver for his mother. She has cancer. She's in hospice. The job would not be all that different from what I did for my parents. I jumped at the opportunity. Then I slammed on the brakes. I was overcome with doubt.

Funny. On one hand, I am completely confident in my caregiving abilities. Then I get cold feet and question every one of them. As a matter of principle, I forced myself to walk through my fear and answer the man's email. Which led to today's interview.

Again, I felt trapped in a revolving door of emotions. Confident then doubtful. Self-assured then afraid. Knowing I couldn't let my emotions rule the day, I rallied and walked into the interview hoping I looked better than I felt.

I knew just about everything I needed to know when I walked in the door. The oxygen concentrator in the corner of the room, with long air tubes stretching across the rooms like life-giving tentacles. The recliner chair in front of the t.v. The table full of medications. I can't say that it was exactly deja vu. But I felt like I'd walked into a time warp. I'd been there before.  After 15 minutes of conversation I began to feel overwhelmed with sadness. As I spoke of the care I gave my father, the hospice experience, his final weeks, I had to force back the tears that I've let flow for 18 months. While I told the man all the reasons I thought I could handle the job physically, I doubted myself on a purely emotional level.

Weird, isn't it, that I can with all sincerity say, caregiving is my passion, my soul's purpose. Yet when faced with doing it again, something inside me says, "hold on there, pardner. Let's think this through a little better."

The interview was a little disjointed because of several interruptions. I had time to look (re) compose myself. I left without a clue how things went. I was one of many who applied for the job. I'm not sure how my qualifications will stack up. To be honest I think I'll be relieved if I'm not picked. I don't think I'm cut out for that kind of job just yet.  So if nothing else, I learned a little something. This is a good thing, right?

To add just a few more questions to my already confused state of mind, I stopped by a friend's house on the way home. She's 91 years old, not feeling so well, has health issues, etc. I dropped in to take her some banana bread and a prayer shawl. After a few minutes of conversation I got ready to leave and she said, "wait, I need a hug." I didn't realize it until her arms were around me, how much I needed a hug.  In her arms I felt validated. That I do have a call to serve elders. Maybe I'm just not as ready to be an end of life doula as I once thought.

Where did I see God today? In the eyes of a man who honors his mother and wants only the best for her.  In the toothless smile of a woman who doesn't get much company these days.

Merry ME

Monday, August 6, 2012

Thin Places II

Sitting in my chair at the end of the day, I asked myself yesterday's question. Where did I see God today? Since I didn't leave the house I had to check my surroundings pretty closely to see where Holy might be hiding in plain sight. Since the den looks like a fabric volcano erupted, to find God in here would be to crawl around on my hands and knees and risk being stuck by straight pins.

But I didn't need to go any further than my trusty laptop computer and bloglist. Wholly Jeanne, author of a couple blogs I follow, is working on a creative project that I find delightful and inspiring at the same time.  One day after watching her developmentally disabled sister-in-law, Nancy, draw in a notebook using a pen of her favorite color, WJ decided to transfer each drawing to fabric then embroider them with purple thread. It's a wonderful idea for a quilt. With the only problem being Nancy is nothing if not prolific and WJ may be stitching for awhile. If all the squares are put together, they might make the world's largest quilt.  Right now deciding what to do with the squares is part of the blossoming project.

As I read the words WJ wrote today, and scrolled through daily pictures of finished pieces, and watched a video of Nancy at work, I got a sense of a place beyond the veil.  First of all there is the way WJ (in her own words) "flat out loves her." There's a sweetness in the words she uses to describe taking Nancy for a ride in a convertible.  There's the way she lets others opine about various health issues Nancy might have, but doesn't let any of it scare her.  WJ totally accepts Nancy for is who she is and what she can do at the moment. No looking back. No projecting to the future.  How can you help but see Divine love in that kind of relationship?

I asked WJ if Nancy tells her anything about her drawings. If there's a way to know the story(s) behind each one. "Nancy simply draws and smiles," answered Jeanne. "Her smile is consistent, never wavering." That sounds to me like maybe Nancy might live in a "thin place." A place where she is in constant contact with the creator of the color purple.  No one will ever know the whys behind Nancy's disabilities, any more than we will know what her pictures mean to her.  Perhaps God's special gift to her - an ever present smile - is the only answer we need.

A week's worth of drawings
WJ has begun putting her finished pieces in different places to photograph them. I think it gives them yet another dimension.  When I saw this picture, I couldn't help but see the resemblance to Tibetan prayer flags hanging from Himalayan mountaintops. Prayer flags are decorated with mantras which are used to promote peace, compassion, strength and wisdom. By hanging the flags in high places their blessings can be carried on the wind to benefit all.* By sharing Nancy's art, I believe, WJ is doing the same thing - spreading blessings that will benefit all.

Today I'm grateful for a new way of looking at things that are right under my nose.

How were you blessed today?
Merry ME

Photo by Wholly Jeanne
*Wikipedia

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Thin Places




We had a visiting priest at church today. As much as I like to hear Fr. Miguel preach, it's good, I think, to open one's heart to the words of a new speaker -to hear another's interpretation of scriptures that have been homilized (is that even a word? I think I just made it up.) for years upon years. 


Today's sermon was about an area between heaven and earth that the acncient Celts refer to as "thin places." A thin place is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God.*


I've heard of thin places before. Maybe even written about them here. I've experienced a thin place as recently as a month ago when I stood on the top of Buck Bald. I did more than just take in the view. I rejoiced in it. As if I was in a holy place. I suspect each of us has encountered our own thin place. That place where we can feel the presence of the holy. Sometimes it is expected, like sitting still on a beach long enough to have the rhythm of the tides meld with the rhythm of our own hearts. Or walking on a path through a wooded area when we see before us rays of sun shining down through the leafy canopy. I believe if one quiets his/her mind enough, rids it of the sounds, smells, and sights of the world, (s)he can find a thin place most anywhere, especially if surrounded by nature's majesty.  


But what about other, not so obvious, thin places. Fr. Murphy told a story today of a mother who asks her children each night before they go to sleep, "where did you meet God today?" Their answers become a prayer. And that prayer helps them draw close to the Divine as they drift into sleep.


Sometimes I'm very aware of being in a thin place, or being in place that feels unexpectedly holy. I can still feel a slight hand print on my shoulder from the time I met Pastor Hall in the breakfast room of a Tenn. hotel. Instead of passing him by with a smile, I felt moved to sit, listen and open my heart to whatever might come. I remember rocking Baby Grace to sleep in the same chair I sit in every day. But with her tiny hand in mine, I felt a deep serenity that surely came from heaven.  I think of the grace my Sweetie says every night before dinner. Thank you God for our time together and for our future. For that moment, in that thin place, my fear of the unknown places we might be in tomorrow, or next month or next year, is replaced with Divine peace. 


Does that peace last long? Probably not as long as it should. I often yank back  the prayer request I've laid at God's feet. But that's the nature of thin places. The veil between this world and the spiritual realm is only lifted long enough to catch a glimpse of heaven. To give us a taste of the sweetness. To penetrate each of our senses long enough to make us want more. As the Olympics have shown us, to want more is to strive for more. To strive for more is to invite the holy into our everyday lives. And with the holy as our daily guide we will naturally love more. To love more is to be more joyful, genorous, compassionate, sympathetic, empathetic, understanding, patient, and kind.  To be all those things to ourselves and our fellow travelers here on this side of the veil is, I think, why God has placed so many thin places in our midst. " Every sunrise, every sunset, every rainstorm, the hills, the stones ,,, all are charged with a sort of divine presence."*


Today I'm grateful for the reminder to be ever watchful for the thin places on my path.


Where did you meet God today?
Merry ME




http://explorefaith.org/mystery/mysteryThinPlaces.html
http://www.thinplace.net/