Friday, July 15, 2016

Humble encounters: what privilege do I really own?

No justice.
No peace.
No racist police.

That chant, spoken en masse at a Chicago Black Lives Matter protest and march, keeps reverberating in my head and heart. It stirred me as lines and lines of blacks, whites, young, old, middle-aged, parents pushing strollers, workers carrying briefcases and placards paraded past me on a Loop street corner, bookended by police on bicycles. The whites who’d duct-taped their mouths were powerful metaphors. Walking with my teenagers to meet my husband for an early dinner, I’d encountered the group. I desperately wanted to throw in with them, even for the half block to the restaurant. I didn’t.

After dinner, we strayed to Millennium Park, where the march coincidentally led. My youngest and I worked our way closer and joined hands with the protesters. We widened our circle and embrace to include newcomers. This wasn’t about race, it was about justice. As a white person with privilege I have not earned, I wanted to BE with my suffering brothers and sisters, to share their pain and plight. To listen and understand with my heart. God had called me to this place.

I had just spent the weekend at the most inclusive, beautiful wedding with a rainbow of guests, learning that, if transitioning from female to male, your maternal grandfather is you best reference for “how furry” you’re likely to become. And that a committed couple – no matter their sexual identity or preference – can love more profoundly than you’ve ever witnessed at a wedding. I was inspired at the open atmosphere and the courage of people being who they truly are. God smiled that day.

Approached on the subway by a gentleman trying to get his life on track after prison, I handed him $10. “Mom,” one daughter said, “didn’t you mean to give him a one?” I hadn’t. He asked for a quarter and God said to give him more.

The morning we were leaving, we met Dash, a four-year-old probably on the Autism spectrum, at breakfast. He’d wandered outside while his father paid. I had waved to him in the window. He asked if we were strangers. After exchanging names, said we weren’t and invited us to his house. He wanted to know if he could have a turn sitting under the umbrella-ed table. I moved over and his father joined me. While my husband and Dash’s father engaged in shop talk, I searched my wallet for change, tossing coins on the ground to confine Dash’s treasure quest to where his father could see him. Later, my husband said the father expressed gratitude that his son was manageable. They were having breakfast before Dash’s therapeutic school began. God was teaching the value of looking deeper at people and circumstance.

We were accompanied by several sight-impaired young adults and their aids on our last ride into the city. Later, my oldest spied them at the French Market having coffee. They were out for an adventure many of us take for granted. God was tossing me a pun: look at the world with your heart, not your eyes.

The entire trip was riddled with humble encounters signaling that, indeed, the last are first. What privilege do I really own? God’ grace and guidance.

• How have I been humbled?
• When has God spoken to me through an encounter with another?
• When have I followed God’s nudge?
• When haven’t I?
• Where do I experience God’s richness in my life?

the ribbon
in my heart

reaching out
as if God's

tapping those
the world views
as less

telling me
they are

so much

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Friday, December 4, 2015

Life without Spirit IS crazy

For three months I was crazy busy, so I gave up my blog. Temporarily, I told myself. For the following three months I’ve been, well, crazy. Without it and the chance to process life.

Something tells me that exposing my vulnerability has a resonance with others. Plus, six months of looking for exterior validation has just about done me in.

I jumped this ship for a university marketing job The first month was heaven. Then I partnered with a nice, smart guy with little marketing background, but a Ph.d in process. We reported to an IT guy, also congenial, but very busy, hands off and reliant on my partner. So I busied myself writing and not shaping the marketing plan as I had been told. Along the way, I learned that the last three marketing directors had been fired. My perspective changed.

I am proud of the work I did accomplish, especially connecting with students from a high-needs high school. In fact, one of the young men continues to check in with me. He has so much promise and we bonded over the drive home from the end-of-camp celebration. His parents, immigrants from Somalia, were busy working. The fact that I knew his neighborhood, where I used to live, surprised him. He moved here not speaking a word of English. He’s since absorbed so much, blossoming in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum at Hughes High School. He’s a year between my daughters, so I have been coaching him on what to expect senior year. He texted me on Thanksgiving and I wrote back that his friendship had been a gift.

I also drafted content for a special-education website, wrapping it with the personal story of an amazing young woman who lives with autism. I serendipitously ran into her mother at a family function and asked how her children were doing. Julia was at UC on a non-degree track. I knew she must be in one of the program I had been writing about. She agreed to tell me her story, which really personalized the web copy, and touched my heart.

And I made a wonderful new friend, a talented young graphic designer from China. Toward the end of my tenure, instead of working through lunch, we found a shady bank of tables near the library and shared our lives over food; typically a salad for me and some wonderfully spicy Chinese leftovers for her. She has expanded my worldview, for which my life is richer. I am still struck with one conversation about the effect of China’s one-child rule. Fei-Fei says her generation feels abandoned because they had no siblings. She infused her frustration over tedious immigration regulations and snafus with candor, charm and humor. I learned what it’s like to be here as an outsider, grateful for the opportunity and working hard. She has little sympathy for illegal immigrants.

The gig ended with the verbal promise of freelance work. I am still awaiting that call, though I am back to some of the amazing work I was doing at the beginning of the summer as a freelancer.

This fall, applied for a graduate writing fellowship feeling very confident in my proposal only to learn I was the alternate. That was crushing, though the program director has promised to provide feedback and lauded me for my passionate entry.

Just before Thanksgiving, I spotted a marketing job at a growing arts center that sounded perfect. I heard back almost instantly, but the salary had no business being advertised as director-level compensation. I let that one go immediately.

Out of the blue this week, I received word that a devotional entry I had sent a year ago was being published in a global collection. They asked us to promote it like crazy. I complied and trumpeted my success on Facebook. Two days later, another e-mail arrived saying they had made a mistake, I had not been included. I was livid, mostly embarrassed, because I had tooted my own horn. Now, what do I do? I asked.

Irritated, I trotted off to an advent evening of reflection with a spiritual buddy. She kindly let me unload. We do that for each other. We listened to readings of the Christmas story centered on Mary and responded to queries. They helped me see that I took some time away for practical things and I am on the next step of the journey whether or not it’s obvious to me. A few spare lines in an adapted Magnificat, song of Mary, stopped me cold as we recited them together.

You have blessed me lavishly and make me ready to respond. You shatter my little world and let me be poor before you.

You take from me all my plans and give me more than I can hope for or ask. You give me opportunities and the ability to become free and to burst through my boundaries.

How can I serve? I was forced to offer.

I took a long walk home from the gym this morning, reconnecting with Spirit. When I returned, I found a heartening response in my inbox about the devotional. I want to share this exchange:

Hi, Cathy, 
I'm so very sorry for the social media predicament my
mistake has caused you, especially after all your
trouble to help publicize the book. It was a very
human error and mea culpa completely for selecting
the wrong group in our e-newsletter system.
I am trying to look at this in a spiritual light – for myself – and the message seems to be to look inward at God and not be so tied to external affirmation. Not an easy lesson, but a necessary one nevertheless. So thank you for helping me see that.
-- Cathy
Hi, Cathy,
I really appreciate your sharing that with me. Hopefully soon it’ll be something I can write about as a grace-lesson in my own life, but for now eating humble pie is not so savory. Still it’s a good lesson in my frailty and need for grace!

Thank you, dear reader, for allowing me this journey. I feel re-centered as a result.

• What happens when I stop a regular spiritual practice?
• How do I let life get in the way of being with God?
• How do I let life dictate who I am?
• How can I return to looking within and letting Spirit tell me?
• How can I model Mary’s quiet servitude?


so busy and out
of control
in life

thinking this
is normal

back in

what centers
me, reminds

that life without
IS crazy

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Together in Spirit

The place Dan and Donne reside in my heart and how we are connected via Spirit
Soon, I will have to release another sacred friend and Quaker minister from my life and heart. The first time, seven years ago, was traumatic. Dan had been my friend, monthly sharing a cup of tea when my kids were little, stumbling over them as they grew and even writing a message (short sermon) about the time when Autumn, just potty trained, offered to sit and hold his hand while he used the bathroom. "Everything I learned about ministering, I learned from Autumn," I think he titled it.

Dan was VERY hard to let go of because he was the first person whom I could trust to talk about deep spiritual things, like the time I drove home from the Quaker Meeting and felt every red light and reflector glare at me as if evil or when I confessed I wasn't sure who Jesus was to me and he responded, "Me, either."

In the last year or so, we have gotten back in touch and it has been a joy. Over time, I learned to understand that the complete separation was necessary.

Necessary so I and my Meeting could establish rapport with a new minister, who happened to be Donne. I had been tasked with serving on a selection committee when, suddenly and separately, two people became acquainted with a recent Earlham School of Religion (Quaker) graduate serving a Unitarian congregation part-time. I met Donne on her first interview and was physically moved by Spirit to know she was the one for us. I was so convinced that, when our selection committee met in worship, I felt my heart being squeezed and knew Spirit was offering Donne as a gift. The person next to me said she had felt it as well. So clear that I stood aside, as Quakers say, and removed myself from the committee so they could continue their work. I would not change my mind. Another Friend was equally certain the search should continue. Eventually, Donne was hired.

Now, her cycle has ended. In a rare spate, I've missed three weeks of worship and touch with what is happening in my Meeting. I called Donne this afternoon, driving home from my new job. I wanted to catch her up on what was going on and suggest that, because of the new situation, I may not make all of the ministry retreat this weekend. She told me she was was tied up in a transaction and would call back.

Intuitively, I knew she was buying the RV she had mentioned months ago. She had dreamed of traveling. However, I hadn't quite made the connection that she was leaving.

We caught up earlier this evening at the retreat, which Dan was also scheduled to attend. Coincidence? Donne got a call a week ago that the simple-but-popular RV she wanted had walked onto the lot, did she want it? Yes, she'd said. If not, three others were in line behind her.

It's her time to be free. "Sounds like you've been released," I said, instantly recognizing that my ministry has been given the same message in the last week.

In her exit letter, Donne writes "... I must let go of you and ask you to let go of me. In other words, I have been your minister–a friendly one, I hope–but now someone else will be called to be your minister ... I will miss you deeply and love you always."

"Can I do this again, God? This is the second person I've counted on to discuss deep things I rarely share with others. Dan and Donne have both seen the real me and have helped me see it in myself."

Yet, I know her cycle is over and it is time for her to move on from her ministry and into the unknown just as I am. Separated, but together, we will trust Spirit to guide us. That will always unite us.

• How do I say goodbye?
• Who was the first person with whom I could have profound spiritual discussions?
• How do I value that gift?
• How have I learned to let go?
• How do I trust Spirit in my own life and in others I love?

she came in on
a whisp

arriving just
as we needed her

like Mary Poppins

as we grieved our
previous loss,

we saw she possessed
different gifts

gifts we sorely 

she had this way
of flowing in and
around like water

she was needed

showing us the way

as Spirit is showing
her now,

only in a direction
a part from us

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