Monday, November 6, 2017

Bubbles bursting with gratitude

 There have been rare times in my life when independent bubbles of family and friends collide and this past weekend was one of the best. My twin sister’s daughter was married on my husband’s sister’s and husband’s 30 acres in Clinton County. Three days of prepping, hosting the event and dis-assembling became a marriage of families, many families, as well as the happy couple: Sarah and Colin.

Uncovering the layers of relationships is complex. My immediate family was together for the first time in 10 weeks as our oldest traveled home from a busy college path and weekend job. My parents, who have grown a little slower, attended in addition to so many of my mother’s family from Iowa, mostly cousins, children of cousins and a beloved uncle. They drove the 12-hours on Friday, reveled in the ceremony and reception and turned around for home Sunday morning.

My sister from the DC-area, her husband and son made the trek. And, of course, my twin sister, Carolyn, was front and just behind center as mother of the bride. Her husband, my brother-in-law, whom I’ve known since we were 16, was at her side as he struggles with illness. He’s like a brother. His mother, who just moved to my town, attended along with her daughter and family from Michigan.

My niece Amanda, her husband, John, and one-year-old were there to support sister/sister-in-law/aunt Sarah tie the knot.

When Sarah and Colin decided to make the leap, quickly, Sarah called to ask about barn venues. They had recently become engaged and wanted a ceremony in Ohio (they live in Hawaii) while Sarah’s dad, Andy, felt well. As we talked, Sarah sheepishly asked if I thought my husband’s twin sister would remember the pact they had made when Sarah was a pre-teen attending the annual fall party and hay ride and asking Patti if she could get married here. Patti didn’t flinch then.

Or now. When I phoned her and not yet explained, she belted out: “Is Sarah getting married and does she want to do it here?” She hadn’t even known Sarah’s relationship status, yet she intuited with an automatic yes. That’s just who she and Tom, her husband, are. They hosted a wedding at their place in July and have held countless class and family reunions, a graduation, memorial service, holidays and the traditional autumn party.

Sarah had a tent with clear sides installed on the property and set the most beautiful scene, straight from Pinterest, she said. She doesn’t give herself enough credit. The geo-physicist has some creative skills. Putting on those finishing touches was such a pleasure as the bride’s family mingled with the groom’s. I met Colin’s mother, brothers, step mother and step brothers, a sister-in-law and one soon to be. If the family tree isn’t exactly straight, it was certainly filled with loving people traveling from both coasts to celebrate this marriage. One person confided they knew Sarah was “the one because Colin was so tender with her.” What a sweet and telling confession.
My heart was so full this morning in yoga as I recounted the rekindling of old relationships, the conversations, the new friendships and how the union of two loved and loving souls brought so many together. So many lose ends that would never have connected otherwise.

I am bursting with gratitude for the fullness of life and everyone in it.

Thank you, Sarah and Colin. #onemooreconway

Saturday, November 12, 2016

When all but hope feels lost

Dear Daughters (Millenniels, mothers, wives, women, Americans, men, LBTGQ friends, people of color, those who celebrate all faiths, immigrants),

I am so grateful for your beautiful young lives; you have brought me great joy. I only regret the country and mess I will leave for you.

I am typically a hopeful person, who was buoyed the last eight years with the first black president, a man of integrity, action, kindness and “the audacity to hope.”

Perhaps it was this spirit of hope that propelled me in 2012 to launch a non-profit arts ministry aimed at my neighbors, 4-6th graders living in subsidized housing. At first, I wrestled with God: Why me? I’ve never done anything like this. I am small, struggling with fibromyalgia and raising a family. What I really need is a job.

The leading had been building for several years prior. I even tested it with my faith community of Quakers. The ministry wasn’t clear yet. When my body was pounding with this calling, I had no choice. I ached for my neighbors, who had much less than I, but most especially not white skin or invisible access to education, careers and acceptance. I wanted to give these kids possibilities for their lives. To present opportunities and a safe place for them to grow, find their voices and express themselves. And you, dear daughters and beloved husband, have been there very step of the way.

An amazing neighborhood and two churches have been there to help. We did this together. During this time, I recognized that I was not defined by my disease and flourished like these kids. Together, we grew.

For the first time, three years ago, our family actually benefitted from a specific government program, the Affordable Health Care Act. The spiraling cost of our insurance, which increased 12-18 percent annually since 1991, was finally affordable and not our single, largest expense. Granted, we carried a $12,000 deductible, but it wasn’t crippling us. As artists and self-employed, very small business owners, this was huge. Since a car accident in 1998, I have not had the luxury of working full time and gaining health insurance partly at an employer’s expense. I have worked very hard to manage my pain, mostly outside of what insurance covers and at an additional expense. I have not considered disability nor eligible for unemployment. I want to and can work if I have the flexibility. Heck, I started a non-profit and learned the skill of successful grant writing, and a whole bunch more.

I am blessed to be working more in my field as a contractor, still without guarantees or benefits. The flexibility leaves me time for my non-profit and my health. Every year since the economic crash in 2008, which devastated your dad’s business, we have gained a little more. I wonder how a family of four with educated parents lived on $45,000 with $10,000 in insurance premiums just to have, not use, it. I watched our deductible balloon from $500 to $1,500, $2,500 and now $13,000.

And I was hopeful. I saw all the good in the world, including in my own community. I rolled up my sleeves and pitched in. So have you. You both have big hearts and passion for others.

As a family, this summer we traveled to the best wedding we have ever all attended. It was an LBGTQ event that welcomed all PERIOD. Swimming amid the diversity was astounding. It was like a lovely princess bride and her handsome groom feasting at the same table with every type of creature: some with pink hair, others with blue stripes, some with beautiful gowns and deep voices and average families like us. We all felt it was the ultimate blessing to be included. Come to think of it, the three weddings I have been to the past year were all LBGTQ. Until recently, one of my very dear spiritual friends felt she’d never be able to marry her love. Her ceremony was moving. Reminds me of the summer, now nine years ago, when I traipsed you off with me to the Quaker Gathering on a Pennsylvania college campus. One of you came straight from church camp and the sin box, which scared the shit out of me. The gathering corrected that. I was helping a friend facilitate a workshop on “night of the dark soul,” so was placed in a dorm room across from her. It was the LBGTQ dorm and, perhaps, your first exposure to those of a different sexual orientation. You both accepted it and the hospitality in stride. You, youngest, only remarked: “How cool, they have two moms.”

I watch with pride as you, oldest, immerse yourself in college, ready to dive in after working hard two years doing both high school and college. You are finding your creative and career groove along with your art friends for life. It was hard to leave you four hours away, but eased with your success. 

Youngest, I am grateful to still have you in the house, the only one we’ve ever lived in and paid off. Your enthusiasm and deep concern for those who struggle in the world touches me. Now, we’re working on where you attend college. We have your dream to launch.

For the first time in years – and I have worked through much anxiety about living with pain and finding a new normal -- I am fearful for our dreams. Tuesday, along with the stock market, they came crashing down (yes, they did rebound, but I haven't).

We have not walked the traditional path. We are artists and writers, called to ease the pain in the world and try to make our way peacefully, with kindness and love. We have lived without the promise of an employer, benefits and retirement. Yet, we have managed to live frugally, pay off our house and cars, owe no one anything and get one to college with well-earned and appreciated scholarships. No government grants or loans. Your father and I never had those, either. I am no longer certain we can do the same for you, youngest.

I think we are losing the world I introduced you do: one of color, diversity, creativity, civility, acceptance, kindness and love. One where you could dare to do anything with no regard for your gender.

With the election of President Barak Obama, I thought racism died. Unfortunately, it was hiding just under the surface as my black friend, Curly, said so many years ago after the 2001 Cincinnati civil unrest. Youngest, when you were an infant, I answered the call to host a conversation on race to help our city heal. I learned so much in my three years with the group that was more diverse than my town. They still meet and those lessons stick with me:
– You can only change one heart at a time;
– Diverse friendships reward both sides;
– White privilege is real;
– Most of us white don’t even know we have it;
– When we can look into the mirror and acknowledge our privilege, our compassion grows; 
– I will stand up for those treated as other.

With a new president elected on a platform of hate, revenge and white supremacy supported by the KKK, I do wonder where God is in all of this. The only positive I can muster is that we, as Americans, are being forced to look in that mirror and face our darkness. It is not an easy task or for the feint of heart. I have been forced to look at myself many times. Each time, I shed a layer separating me from God.

I am grappling to find the hope. At God’s leading and on her time, I planned to start a new spiritual-nurture group the eve after the election. When I realized, I chastised myself … until we knew the results and I understood my faith community would be hurting and in need of silence and companionship. After Sunday’s worship, one of our elder’s heeded us to go out into the world and be the best Quakers we know to be, shining our light, the path to God’s love, in the darkness.

Being together with God is the best balm. There in the corporate silence, I remember the hope. And my call to work with my middle-school neighbors this Saturday propels me to action and the respite of joy.

This is my story, my heart, my fear, my grief and, my hope. God never gives up on us, ever. She always turns our messes into something we could never imagine. I am trusting her with all my heart. Daughters, I encourage you to do the same.

Love, Mom

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

Listen to this post:

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

Listen to this post: