Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lean love

Who am I? How often do you ask yourself that question? On some level, I think I am constantly seeking the answer. I don't want a reflection of who I am, I want the Truth, the naked Truth.

Today's answer isn't so very pretty. It's one of the rare days I can't shake the blues of chronic pain and one more symptom to handle. Vertigo has decided it's time to call again on top of all of my other house guests: poor sleep, stuffy nose, headache, sinus pressure, neck ache, shoulder and hip pain, tight jaw, and constipation. I have a daily regimen of supplements, netti-pot, exercise and food intolerances to handle. I am grateful that they have worked all summer. Until the hammer of stress came crashing down as it does periodically on all of us. And I kept pushing through.

That mess of annoyances is about all that I can see. My pattern is to retreat, where it takes less energy to survive until symptoms recede. But I don't think that's the healthiest route. It seems one of the patterns I need to break. Last week, I spent a good deal of time pouring over some astrology interpretations from the amazing monthly group I attend under the guidance of my spiritual friend, Char. In this space, I have been able to delve deeper into who I am, or am meant to be, and look beyond the drive-me-crazy symptoms. According to the stars (and planets and their interactions), I have been blessed with many gifts and the means to use them. I am, they say and I know myself, a late bloomer. I married later, had my kids older and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I also must follow my own path, which  includes a lot of excavation. I joyously e-mailed Char Monday that I had meticulously gone through all of the material and how happy it made me, how affirming and confirming it had been.

So what's changed in a a day or two? Nothing that I haven't already dealt with the past 16 years. Shortly after I began this post, I looked up, frustrated. I didn't want to whine or be in that self-pitying place. The large signing dangling from my studio ceiling saying "Take a Break" was the first thing that came into focus as I adjusted my eyes away from the computer screen.

I get it, I thought. I doubt the instructions could be any clearer. I quickly Googled what movies were playing and opted to forgo unproductiveness and truly take a break. I settled on the "100 Foot Journey" with Helen Mirren. I'd selected the book a year ago for book club and was thoroughly delighted and entertained ... to the point I'd forgotten it was fiction. In my rushing to the car to make the show, a van driver flagged me down, lost. I drove her to the highway, stopped home briefly and was on my way, arriving ahead of the previews. What wasn't to like: food, France and Indian culture. The scenes shot in Paris brought tears of gratitude for the trip we had as a family this summer. "God, you have been so very good to me," I said silently. I didn't add the "but why am I always struggling" as I had earlier.

One of the things I have been learning about myself by studying my natal chart is that I need to periodically treat myself and take breaks. I tend to push through and deny myself. I've been pushing ... all summer. From a wonderful vacation at the beginning (that I completely planned from scratch, which I love but can be stress-inducing), to balancing kids home and more outside work, some stinging upsets (learning I must relocate my studio and Artsy Fartsy and that I missed a major grant deadline), getting my girls off to school while my husband was out of town (I honestly don't know how single parents do it) and settling my oldest into college courses this week as part of the post secondary enrollment options program. Did I mention we have also have a new driver? 

It is just life, dished out to us all. I live it hard, forgetting to breathe and, often, to enjoy. One of my recent astrology lessons is to let life flow through me. I wonder what that looks like, exactly. Here are a few of the other lessons I am cultivating:
• To live out of abundance, confidence and trust;
• To follow my dreams and truth;
• To let go of fear;
• That boundaries are necessary, barriers are not.
• To bring the past forward;
• That my security in life rests in Spirit.
• To put power and energy into intention.
• That healing requires pruning the excess;
• To rely on my (inner) resources and that looking within gives me the most clarity;
• That's is ok to risk and create new structures to replace what isn't working any more.

I am calling all of this lean love and am thinking that I used a little of that on myself today by going to the movie instead of wallowing in my studio. Hooray for me – I AM learning.

• What's my gut reaction to stress?
• What are my go-to patterns?
• What patterns must I seek to change?
• Where do I find Spirit in the mess of life?
• What lessons about living and loving am I learning?

allowing myself
the luxury
of half
the workout

breast stroke
didn't induce

racing around
to drop my daughter
at school even
though my husband

why? I now

finding the grace
to take a few hours
off, dreaming of
France and food

sneaking in a grocery
trip, attempting
dinner, an aborted
bank stop and
getting my daughter to
her first night
class on time

when, again
my husband

why, God,
do I insist 
on killing myself?

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

God at the margins

I confess, I always put off going because I know it's not a quick drop off or visit. But Wednesday morning for some reason, Spirit let me know to go.

Ostensibly, I was dropping off donated clothes (thanks to a wonderful and thoughtful friend), but needed to speak to Jasmine. Her partner answered the door, grateful for the sporty clothing with tangling tags. "What would we do without you, Miss Cathy?" he said. "Hey, they're not from me; I'm just delivering them."

"Jasmine's awake if you want to see her." I did. He hustled off to get her an iced mocha from McDonald's, her favorite

Curled in her bed, as I often find her, her spirit brightened and lightened the more we talked. Her eyes beamed, her skin glistened, her hair shone and her once-limp arms wildly gestured. This is Jasmine's refuge I have come to learn. At the foot of her bed, at one point, I felt shivers up and down my body, signaling sacred Truth in what she was telling me.

On the surface she looks the farthest place from sacred you could imagine: a mother of five who's battled leukemia since she was 8, had plates installed in her head, was violently attacked at 15, never worked and lives on minimal assistance. She's easy to write off.

Probably the reason I didn't was because I met her kids first. The oldest is a sweetheart, gentle, well-mannered and a straight-A student. Next in line is a dashing, also smart, clone of his father packaged with some learning issues. Third down is a charmer. Next, the only girl, rightly a bit spoiled, and, lastly, the most sensitive, according to Jasmine. Beautiful, intelligent kids whom their mother loves fiercely. Their dad works hard as chief caregiver and acknowledged he has no familial role models, which caused him to leave home at 15.

The first time I met Jasmine was because her oldest was enrolled in Artsy Fartsy Saturdays, the non-profit arts exploration for at-risk local kids I founded in my neighborhood. I was getting something signed and we had our first long talk. I saw that same streak that gave me a shiver this week. As if God were speaking directly through her. She was saying her kids really needed a computer. It took me a year, but with substantial help from my faith community and neighbors, we got them one and all of the accouterments.

She reminds me of where wise theologian and writer Henri Nouwen says he found God: at the margins.

Jasmine is grieving at the death of two sisters to cancer this summer. She reached over and grabbed the lockbox she keeps by her bed, opened it with her extraordinary lanyard of multiple keys and handed me the two obituaries. "I really wanted you to be there. I sent my kids down a few times, but they couldn't get anyone to answer." How could I tell her we were enjoying Europe for two weeks?

I would have gone in a heartbeat had I been home. Feeling as if I missed an important opportunity with her, I managed to deliver news of the real reason I'd stopped by: that a plethora of generous Facebook friends was sending checks to cover another year of Internet.

"I tell you, you really are my angel," she responded. How could I be her angel, I thought, I wasn't even here when her sisters died.

"My grandma knows that you are," she confessed, then told me how psychic her almost 100-year old grandmother is. "I have those abilities, too," she said. "I am very open to things." That's when I got the chills because I recognized it as fact.

"You're not open to everything are you?" I asked. "Oh no, not to evil or dark things. Though I have sure felt some of that in this house."

"Have you ever done a blessing or cleansing?" I wondered. "Yes with oils my grandmother recommended." Clearly this women knows what she is doing.

Many people don't agree. She takes countless drugs for her illnesses, with is primarily why she keeps a locked box. "Don't want my kids getting into them," she says in a very motherly tone.

Many would discount her statement that one of her sister hasn't crossed over yet because she's guarding the very-premature granddaughter born just after her visitation, which sent the mother into very early labor. Somehow I know that she knows.

She rolls up her pants leg and exposes the neat line of a long cut on her shin. "Got another when I fell in the bathtub," Jasmine confesses. "Maybe you should't take that walk I recommended earlier for clearing your head." We both laugh. I wonder aloud if some of her meds cause muscle weakness. "No, I was just born a klutz," she says.

I am profoundly grateful that this visit she doesn't tell me how ignorant she is. Instead and, much to my delight, she delves back into her metal sanctum and produces a paper with her psychiatrist's signature. "He thinks I am ready to take care of my own financial affairs."

Throughout our hour visit, I run through all of the things that I can't do for her. It overwhelms me, an inkling of how she must feel. Then I recognize I am doing exactly as Spirit wishes. Listening to Jasmine and Spirit.

• Where have I found God in the margins?
• What have these experiences been like?
• What persons struggling inspire me?
• How am I inspired to action?
• How do I obey Spirit?

tucked into fetal

I was afraid
of disturbing her

truthful, more so that
she would disturb me

with her illnesses,
struggles and BIG
problems that
overwhelm me

I can't possibly
fix them all

then I get a

that's not my

why do I
feel I have to
play God?

all God asks
is that I listen

when I do,
I see a very bright
spirit uncurl from
her bed and she
teaches me

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Salve of Spirit

Lillian Smith Barney is an enigma to me. She was long gone by the time I entered the Barney family. Stories of my father-in-law's mother eked out over time. They weren't pretty. Like when my twin brothers-in-law were newborns. She held one of them and asked their mother, my beloved mother-in-law, "What would happen if I dropped one?" In her later years, she spent time at a mental-health institution.

That's about all I knew. When our second daughter was born and we loved the name Lily, we made sure to tell her grandmother it was just Lily, not short for Lillian.

Lillian's high school graduation

This week, we celebrated my husband's and his twin sister's birthday at her beautiful rural home. For some reason, Lillian became a subject of discussion and my sister-in-law pulled out a notebook full of pencilled poems Lillian had prolifically written about the course of her life. Cousins had recently given her the book of poems at a family reunion. She was deeply grateful because the binder she had burned in a house fire. She had no idea there was another copy. "Can you believe this is her actual handwriting?" my sister-in-law asked. The connection she felt was palpable, reminding me of the energy I experienced handling a book published in 1661 by my ancestor. [

Together, we pawed through the perfectly handwritten, barely edited stash. Wow, she wrote about everything: a sweet-16 love who went off to WWI, her only son, her grandchildren, her struggle with sanity, aging and faith. A thread of longing ran through the passages, yet I also saw hope, resilience and a deep love of family. She looked at things honestly, especially her condition, in whatever moment she was examining.

My husband's father wrote a book called "Porter Township" about his family and growing up in Wheelersburg, OH. I haven't read it in years, but pulled it back out to get some sense of Lillian Esther Smith Barney. I hadn't even  known her full name.

Lillian in 1919 at her first teaching position
Her son regarded her fondly as nurturing, resourceful and compassionate. During the Depression, she met with the county school superintendent, seeking a teaching job. She was sent 30 miles and as far away as possible while remaining in the county. Her husband, "Jake," drove her back and forth at the beginning and end of the week. Lillian and son John boarded near the country, one-room school. Her next assignment, though closer to home, was also a collection of grades, but she made the best of it. Raised Baptist, but convinced her father to allow her to marry a German Catholic, though, according to her father, his family was "fresh" from Germany, only 50 years ago and nowhere near as settled as the Smith clan. There's no mention of anything dark, except, possibly, Lillian's relationship with her father:
"I liked Grandpa Smith very much. I knew him personally and we spent many hours in each other's company ... He didn't look like the picture-book grandfather. Put a little more hair on his head and exchange the pitchfork for  a saw and you have the man in Grant Wood's American Gothic ...  I myself have heard him called mean, miserly and martinetish.
"One time when she was twelve and her mother was ill, my mother got up at five in the morning. She built the fire, prepared the breakfast for the family and got her brothers and sisters ready for school. She prepared her father's breakfast; he punished her for not putting her long stockings on properly before coming into his presence that morning.
Ends: my mother- & father-in law,  Lillian and "Jake" with infants Jim and John
My mother is gone. She is standing at her father's elbow attempting to explain her sorrow for having felt ill of him during their lifetime. He fails to hear because he is busy telling Saint Peter what a fine daughter she was and how well pleased he always was with her."
          – From Porter Township by John Smith Barney 

The epilogue chills me. Did her struggle stem from attempting to gain her father's favor? Today, there would be many non-invasive options for dealing with that. Perhaps her poetry was the one path to healing she could find herself.

Though my sister-in-law offered me the binder to take home, I felt it belongs with her, though I firmly believe we need to scan her poems. I want to spend more time with them; much more. She had so much to say.

When my Lily overheard the conversation about Lillian remarking on the possibility of dropping one  of the newborns, she said, "But don't you ever think about doing things like that?" "Sure, but you don't say it out loud," quipped her sister.

I believe Lillian examined everything out loud, even her darkest thoughts.

Loneliness Vs. Solitude

I have learned to live
with loneliness.
To cast away the doubts
and fears
of being insufficient to
In one’s own heart must
true contentment live.
Yet oft, so oft, we
feel the need of those
whom we have known
and loved in other days.
We yearn to see another’s
face which we
have loved and lost
somewhere upon the way.
To touch the hand once
held in fond caress;
to hear the voice that
is no longer heard.
For this there is no
They cannot come.
In memory only can
we have them still.
This we accept in time.
Take what we can
of pleasure in remembering.
This loneliness does
shed its harsher mood.
This loneliness does
change to solitude.
– Lillian Esther Smith Barney

• Who is your example of living out loud?
• How has that person influenced you?
• How can family, even generations back, touch us now?
• Who would you like to have known? Why?
• What legacy will you leave?

Though the treads are thin,
they still touch me,
calling me to know
this woman who struggled

yet was courageous enough
to examine her life

I wonder what conclusion
she reached

Her words show resilience,
grace and a strong sense
of Spirit as she poured
out and over her life

Spirit, the salve
for the painful parts

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