Friday, May 25, 2012

Working myself out of a job

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Yesterday, I attended a volunteer tea at my daughter’s elementary school. It was the last chance since she will graduate sixth grade next week. I’d been once before and skipped a few years. However, this time, I wanted to savor the last invitation.

It was a journey down memory lane: a very emotional one. I knew practically none of the mothers or kids as they were  younger than I or my daughters. Even the faces of many of the teachers have changed in the nine years we’ve part of this warm and receptive community.

So, I deposited myself in the midst of some more youthful women, including one with a toddler attached to her hip, and announced: “since I know no one, I thought I’d meet you today.” They were very gracious and we traded ages and grades of our children.

There were delicious snacks, a round of official thank-yous and then some magnificent performances by primary students, capped off with fifth-and-sixth-grade jugglers. The kids were darling and enjoyed performing. It seemed very informal and they felt no pressure. I loved the first-graders doing something called the “Tooty-Ta” song. I giggled and my heart smiled.  I had not thought about this crazy multi-verse song where kids end up with the tushies extended, knees bent in, feet and elbows out, eyes closed and tongues wagging in years. It was hilarious and reminded me of when my eighth grader would do that in pre-school.

Then, it hit. The fact that I am in such a different stage of life right now, especially with my children. They will enter junior high and high school respectively next fall and it’s a whole ‘nother ballgame from elementary. Not one I am necessarily not looking forward to. They really are becoming more of themselves and I relish these regular discoveries … sans the door slamming, pouting and eye rolls.

It’s such a far cry from when they needed constant supervision; now, sometimes, it’s hard to find them at home and with a chunk of time to chat.

I also find myself branching out into ministry and vocation because I do have a bit more time; no pudgy fingers grasping at my thighs.

Yesterday, I wasn’t contemplating the change, though, but lingering, even basking, in the joy of what has already unfolded. I am grateful for the gift of growing children.

Please remind me of that mid-summer when I am mediating teen wars.

• In what stage of life do I currently find myself?
• How has that been defined by others, including children?
• How do I define it myself?
• How have I expressed gratitude for the past?
• How am I awed by the possibility of the future?

two minutes ago,
I swear

they were
hungry and
waiting for me
to push
the swing

when they are
home, they race
to their rooms,
cell phones or
ipods to catch
up with friends
they just saw

they’ve grown
up right
before my eyes

years ago,
it seemed
like time had stopped

those middle-of-the-night
feedings took decades

days acquired the
weight of months
in the midst of diapers,
big purses and time-outs

yet, they still
require at least one
good-night hug and kiss,
shelter from the storm
and a pep talk

I am needed,
but in a new way

one more freeing
for them and me

I am slowly working
myself out of
a job

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

One heart at a time

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Active obedience: those were the words that latched onto my heart and brain from Sunday’s message during worship.

Our minister was talking about the Quaker testimony of peace and a Revolutionary-War era Quaker who, as a merchant, received a supply of muskets with bayonets attached as payment. He removed the bayonets, stored them, and sold the guns for hunting. When asked to sell them for the war effort, he deliberated and, finally, threw them into the sea. He was called to testify as to his intentions. Those presiding concluded he was truthful and only following his religious conscience. It may have been one of them who termed it active obedience.

So often, we think of obedience as passive, but I am beginning to believe it is anything but! What is passive about listening for God’s guidance, then following it? Sometimes the waiting and listening are hard and seem passive, but I believe it takes great strength. persaverance and effort to do so. From experience, I understand that years of waiting and listening are not inactive or passive though they may appear so on the surface.

My massage therapist/pastoral counselor has taught me that when his touch is lightest and it feels as if nothing it happening, plenty is very deeply. Healing occurs in my body on such a deep level that I am almost unaware … almost. This lesson has taught me patience.

Active obedience strikes me as a more pleasing term when discussing work toward peace than peace activist. Activist, to me, implies extremism and acting just to be acting. How can that be peaceful?

The message I received in worship about the Quaker peace testimony is that it begins within each one of us and this phrase, I believe, offers instruction on that process: that we must first explore the hidden and dark corners of our own hearts, opening them to the light of God, before we can go forth with any kind of peace at all. And what type of peace work can we do when we, ourselves, do not have internal peace. This is not to say we’ll live blissfully all of the time. Far from it, in my experience. There is, however, great comfort in surrendering to God’s guidance. Much more than from fighting it. That, I DO know.

This concept reminds me of a wonderful group I was involved with about ten years ago, Neighbor to Neighbor. I blogged about it awhile back (link). Its aim was to bridge racism between African-Americans and Caucasians. Boy, did I learn a lot … about invisible white privilege, how others have lived as less and, most importantly, that the work of reconciliation happens one heart at a time. That is what Frank Evans always said and I still hear his clear and strong voice echoing in my head, uttering those words in any circumstance, but, right now, about peace.

Peace happens one heart at a time. Let it begin with mine. Amen

• How do I define a testimony of peace?
• Does it feel active or passive to me?
• What role does obedience play?
• How do I know when I have surrendered to God?
• What does it seem or feel like to me?

for years,
I’ve worked so
hard at it

trying to achieve
peace in:
my mind
my body
my soul

I have tried so
many avenues

being with God,
spiritual disciplines

but the only
way for me
has been to

let God in

into my heart

show her the

hidden alcoves
old grievances

and negative junk

for God
can bring
peace within

Friday, May 18, 2012

I AM proof

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Last night was magical. I danced home knowing that this is where I belong, what I should be doing and who I am.

"I am."

Understanding I am was the theme of last night's Turtlebox Stories nurture group, our last of 16 sessions which we began in October. Yet it was also a beginning; this wonderful, rich, loyal and giving group helped initiate my new space. I could not have asked for a better gift. They waited through the fits and starts of me actually getting this space to hold our last formal gathering. While it may have broken the continuity of our weekly meetings, it was held on God's time and agenda, not ours.

And it was sweet. As sweet as you can imagine.

We opened with meditation and discussion centered on what "I am" means to each of us. Seems this concept, this name for God, speaks very deeply to our cores and on a level words can hardly convey. We easily fell into a contemplative tempo after some joyful celebration and becoming acquainted with the new surroundings. There has always been space for silence, reflection, journaling and speaking only when one feels led. This natural rhythm almost seems unnatural set against our cultural and societal pace. Knowing each other more intimately, warts and all, over five months tethers one heart to another, to each other, all bound by God. One of us will be physically leaving soon – for theology graduate school no less – the same one the other two have called home, but she will still be a part of us, of this, of Spirit in this space and with these souls.

"Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I AM among them."
                                                                                               – Matthew 18:20

We began our first discussion back in October with that Scripture and we ended knowing it at its depths, in our minds, bodies and souls.

What have you observed, learned, been transformed or challenged by in this group? Is there anything you must share?

As expected, we all took time to reflect and journal about those queries before we responded. I am not sure we even needed words; I think our hearts understood where we began, where we've traveled, where we ended and where we are heading back out into the world. But we spoke of giving form to spirit, growth and transformation, safety, deep sharing, commitment, finding ourselves and our paths.

Interesting as this all began as a grand experiment of just showing up religiously and opening ourselves.
Spirit provided the rest.

I will carry this experience, this group, these individuals, this gratitude to God in my heart as I go forward. Yes, it is bittersweet, but I have also been shown the grand possibilities for more groups like this. What if everyone had the space to be himself or herself: the person God calls us to be.

What if I could be who I AM?

• When have I felt safe to share myself deeply?
• What has facilitated that safety?
• How can I create that for myself, others?
• How is sharing in a small group grounded in Spirit different from individual prayer or congregational worship?
• Where is my heart currently calling me?

just a mom
and one with
that struggles to
get out of bed daily

of life
to live

to dare
to dream

that may be who
I was, but it
is not who

when I open
my heart
to God

all things
are possible

I am proof

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Repellant child of God

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Bullying carries a lot of weight these days; it's weighing heavily on me. More so on my youngest.

The situation is not overt, more under the radar, which makes it more difficult terrain. I keep asking myself if what she describes and I have observed firsthand is, indeed, bullying. It borders more on stalking. I am not talking violence or verbal threats, but, rather, insinuations and quiet intimidation.

Several people whom I respect and have dealt with this issue suggest I start a paper trail and talk to the teacher NOW. A couple of weeks ago, I told my daughter her options were to publicly confront the person, tell a teacher, wait the year out or talk to another child this girl is harassing, then go to the teacher. She says she has tried the first, does not want to tattle and can hardly live with this. Last week when the bully was absent, my daughter was thrilled, only to discover she just arrived late. It colored her entire day.

I have a sense that this girl is hurting ... from a divorce five grades ago that she tells my daughter she's okay with. It seems she uses the manipulation she has developed in dealing with her parents to attempt friendships. Apparently, my daughter is the one who tolerates it out of kindness and, as a result, has been paired in every class with her. My daughter is tired of the burden, but the girl won't let her put it down.

I am ready to have an informal talk with the teacher because my wonderful book club of neighborhood women helped me see that this may be a step in getting the other girl assistance and not just my daughter, relief.

I am a nurturer and I want to nurture this girl, but she's a hard one. Probably the product of a hard marriage and a harder divorce. She has no siblings and told my daughter, recently, that the second child is always an accident. She's knows my daughter is the second. I believe it really hurt my child, but I told her this girl is trying to justify that she was the wanted one.

We all desire that ... to be wanted, loved and accepted for who we are.

So how can I call her a bully? I am struggling, yet I also see my child's self esteem eroding.

I find myself at the place of WWJD even though I feel making it an acronym emblazoned on bracelets several years ago cheapened the idea. What would Jesus' response be? I understand it would come out of love.

So how can I protect my daughter out of love and still project love toward this troubled girl? I've run through the scenario of inviting her to my house and befriending her, but I know that would not be a loving gesture toward my own daughter. Perhaps I don't label her behavior, but bring it to the attention of their teacher informally and ask her to pay attention. I think this girl is asking for help.

Last week on a field trip, I watched her, how she so innocuously wormed her way into sitting right next to my daughter even though we had chosen seats far away and with our group. When a boy spilled his soda and went for napkins, she whirled right into his seat. She had been waiting for that chance. I told my daughter I wanted to sit in the shade and we moved. I knew the new neighbor had made her nervous. The girl stayed put and started annoying the other kids and boasted that's what she did best and this was a day she wanted to bother people. I asked how she used her extra energy and tried to engage her in a conversation for more creative ways to channel it. I explained that being a pest was not creative or appropriate.

I think the heart of it is this girl wants to be close to someone and tries to bore her way in. No one has taught her another way.

I feel compelled to speak up lovingly to the teacher and out of concern for both girls, not just my own. I will make this process a prayer because that's the best I can do. Please hold this child, my child and the process in prayer.

• How have I reacted to poor behavior?
• How have I been able to be prayerful about my response?
• To me, what is Jesus' primary lesson?
• When have I been prayerful in a difficult situation involving others?
• How can I view all others also as children of God -- even when they seem out of line?

her stature
real and created
makes you almost
forget she's a kid

barking, bodily
forcing her way in

wanting to be front
and center
no matter what it takes

it's almost repellant

until you remember
she is just a child

a child of God
looking for

just like me

Friday, May 11, 2012

Threshold of the brown steel door

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This pattern of so-called coincidence continues.

Last Saturday, I attended the local Catholic church's flea market looking for some items for my studio and, always, a stop at the book section. I have found some of my favorites among their spirituality boxes over the years. Pickings were slimmer this time, but no less rewarding. The first book to peer out at me was one on praying with St. Catherine of Siena.

Ohhhhhhhhh, I thought as I shuddered. She has been in my heart since last October when we visited Siena and her church. I even picked up a prayer bracelet with her image: bright red, making me feel empowered when I wear it.

Praying with St. Catherine, who shares my name, which means pure ... what could be better, more timely or appropriate right now? Not much. I love that this church is also within the quadrangle of my new school home, the Catholic school and Methodist church. I am home.
[Tad Barney photo]

I immediately took my finds to my studio across the street and incorporated them into the new space. Then I put Catherine aside for a bit. Until I built a meditation tent from bolts of purple and green fabrics. Again, something I had been unknowingly collecting for this studio. A few days later and earlier this week, I sat in the tent and started reading the book on Catherine. Besides sharing a name, our lives are not very similar though I value her deep spirituality, faithfulness to God and ability to be with the sick and dying. I don't go for self-flagellation, which was common in her era. At least not physically ... maybe mentally at times. But when I began to read about her theology, I stopped dead on the page: "to love and be loved" those were really the essence of what she believed.

For days, I have been racing through journals and blogs to find those same words I wrote not so very long ago as the essence of what I have come to know as Truth. I can't find them, but I know they came to me. Perhaps on a day I was wearing Catherine's prayer-bead bracelet. Maybe while doing the Bible study on Luke.

While searching for that entry, I came across another from last October that is so very relevant right now:

In the sauna, when I shut
my eyes, a door emerged:
dark against a blazing light
from above and beside.
A door for me to enter.

• What's the door?
• What's preventing me from entering?

The door is the next sacred step
into myself – becoming more
of myself. It's where God is
leading me. It's a step/leap
of faith. Faith in God, but,
more importantly, faith in 
myself, my gifts, my experience
and what God is asking of
me – where I'm being led.

It is the next dimension
or level.

It requires enough healing
to know the potential
that I am strong
and can walk God's path
for me.

It's an initiation deeper
into myself, my work ...
swimming into the 
current and letting it
take over.

leaving my comparisons
and judgments behind.
They drain me and keep
me from this task.

I'm to look ahead
ONLY to the
glorious wonders of
what can/will be.

just step over the
         that's all

just step over ...


And so I have. Over the threshold of the brown steel door on the first floor of Milford Main School, Room 101 and into my new studio, my new life, my new work, my new self.

• When has someone else's life resonated deeply with me?
• How has that connection strengthened my faith or prayer life?
• How is it possible I do that for others?
• How aware am I of influencing, encouraging or nurturing others in their spiritual journeys?
• What threshold have I crossed or am about to cross?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ever dream

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So, what, really, is coincidence and what is Divine intervention? I am beginning to think there is no coincidence.

As you know, I moved into my new studio last week. Thursday, to be exact. I spent the next few days settling in and getting acquainted with my new environment -- it's pretty interesting with 15 empty classrooms. I am not getting too comfortable as I expect to be moving when another space, my first choice (though I really like where I am), is vacated, cleaned up and available.

It's all very exciting and making tangible so many things that have danced in my heart and head. It is also a balance in continuing to prayerfully listen and discern before moving too quickly to fill this space and my time. Not always easy to explain when someone excitedly asks: "When will you be open?" "What, exactly, are you doing right now?" I am beginning to respond honestly: "Getting organized and prayerfully listening to God to know which piece comes next." It's a very freeing answer, but so counter-cultural.

I am attempting to keep myself out of the getting busy-just-to-be-busy mode.

Sunday, I attended weekly Quaker worship and could hardly wait to announce my joyful news. It was met with wide smiles and surprise that it had finally happened. I don't remember specifically what I babbled, but I must have said where my new studio was – not that too many people would know.

But someone did. Someone I had observed the past several weeks attending, but not had the opportunity to meet. He approached me: "We'll, now we're neighbors," he said. I did not understand until he explained he is the supervisor of the special-needs school occupying the middle section of the old school into which I just moved. Can you imagine?

What are the chances? What is the coincidence?

None and there isn't one. God has sent me instant companionship and is already at work creating community right here. Travis stopped in on Monday and we sat for a few minutes, had a cup of tea and discovered we are both interested in spiritual direction/nurture and connecting more deeply with others.

As I write this, I am getting chills because this is so over the top. I have also discovered 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the opening of this building and the section where I am located. After being closed five or so years, I think it's time to reinvigorate what was once a bustling community. And I think it is already happening. All I have really done is move in ... and listen.

My prayer is that I continue to listen.

• What seeming coincidence can I remember?
• How can I see that it was something more?
• How was God at work?
• How often do I chalk things up to something other than Spirit working?
• Why am I resistant to acknowledging these mysterious and wonderful workings?

so often I have felt
alone with my dream

as I were the only one
involved, making things
happen and in charge

then something too
unnatural occurs,
capturing my attention,

demanding that I
recognize I am such
a small, but significant
player in something

so much bigger and
grander than I could
ever dream

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Long way from the corner

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My garage studio
So, I went out to my garage studio to see what few things I could organize to take to my new studio. It was a pretty easy decision since my permanent space won't be ready for a few weeks. Just taking the basics.

I had a little picking up to do and then thought I'd sort through my pastels, box them up and pack them for the new digs. That's when it hit: the reality that I am leaving this very sacred and dear place. I got teary. My pastels have never been boxed up and taken anywhere except in small increments on vacations. Neither had I realized how much colorful dust has accumulated on my work table. I carefully folded up the paper I draw on top of that contained much of the dust and threw it away.

The room was looking emptier as I collected items to be moved into the center. I was overcome with gratitude for this 8-by-10 space that has served me so well for many years. It was been my private space to make art, meditate, do yoga, pray, dance, cry, laugh, scream, transform, grow, regress, soul search, write and just be myself. It is the ONE place I can completely relax. I owe nothing to anyone here and don't have to pretend anything. It was here I created my mad journal for railing, but also here that God has reached me. It is a place I have found myself. It has been worship and hell. The work I have done here hasn't always been pretty or pleasant.

It was my space and anyone else had to be invited in. It has served as the physical boundaries I have often lacked. I enter the purple door, close it and can become lost, answering to no one other than myself.

We all need a space like this. A room of one's own as Virginia Woolf described.

It'll still be here; I am not abandoning it completely, just making myself more public, but not entirely ... I will keep some boundaries and space for myself.

I think I'll want to take down the giant princess mask (a Target Halloween decoration many seasons ago) and bring her with me and probably some of my artwork, too. The walls are filled with paintings, frames, inspiring images, photographs, postcards and verses I wrote on myself. "Mom, you wrote on your walls," one of my daughters remarked years ago. "Yes, I did because they are mine."

I remember lovingly creating this space. First I had to clear out the detached garage, moving stored articles to another area and chalking out the space. Then I cleaned it, uncovering a beautiful old dry-goods counter (perfect height for making art) stashed in the back and topped with years of motor oil and original milk-green paint. I stripped the top, cleaned up the rest and added casters. It will never leave this room unless I build a larger door.

Before I had this studio built, I used a small hostess table from a restaurant tucked into a nook by a kitchen window. That was my studio when the girls were small. Before that, I had no place to do art until I attended a retreat in Barnesville, Ohio, at the Friends Center on spiritual formation and a redbird drew me into the woods. I sat down to draw and journal and decided then and there to send my prayer out into the universe for an art space. A very wise art coach said whatever our dream may be, we should share it and, then, it will happen.

Now I graduate to an 800-square-foot former art room in a neighborhood school. That's a long way from a desk in a corner.

• What room of my own have I had?
• What has it allowed me to do or be?
• In what physical places do I feel safest?
• How can I create such a space?
• How does this space feed my soul?

mothering and
not much more

sucked into
the needs of
beautiful young girls

not giving mine much thought

until, one day
a small redbird
called me into
his woods

called my imagination out
called my heart

to play
and I knew
I needed to play

I needed safety
to create and
my own self

I am grateful
to that little
feathered flash
of red

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Recognizing the ruby slippers

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In some reflective journaling this morning, I came up with a new equation:

Instantly, I sensed this also as TRUTH for me: pivotal, essential and wisdom pared to the core. Right now I'm just letting it sink in and experiencing a deep response outside of my brain. It's a cellular message. In my body, that's what I need to truly understand something, then it can trickle up to my brain. Doesn't work for me the other way around or, if it does, it takes years.

This message has been working its way into me for some time, but I suspect that a new healing-touch exercise I was taught and practiced this morning may have helped it manifest in an expression I can grasp.

One of my water buddies had just been to a healing-touch conference and she was anxious to connect with me and show me this effective technique for fibro and, well, anyone. It's simply a matter of reclining comfortably with feet rolling out and tapping your big-toe joints together and gently rocking your feet, legs and hips back and forth for up to five minutes. I couldn't even wait to get home to try it; I practiced in the empty sauna beginning with a minute. Instantly, I felt everything from my sacrum downward loosen.

Must've also loosened me for listening.

I began my journaling about this long waiting process of getting into my new writing, art and nurture studio. A process that began well over a year ago, but has been active since February. As I have written in Facebook posts, getting the grant money was the easy part. Going back and forth with the school, getting a clear timeframe and move-in date has been a three-month roller-coaster ride of stops and starts. These fits feed the fibro and rob my energy ... if I let it.

This morning I am recognizing that if I can trust God to let things unfold and prayerfully ask to know when to act and when to sit back and relax, I receive energy among other things.

But how counter-cultural is that? Waiting? Every fiber in this culture teaches us otherwise: to go out and get what we desire NOW. Instant gratification.

I have to remind myself of a time back in January at a retreat labyrinth when I was told I would not be asked to do any more than I would receive help with and, when I doubted, to prayerfully return to this place, this promise.

I have been too busy, e-mailing and phoning the school, insurance companies, developing, designing and writing a website and materials, planning and plotting. Almost as if I had forgotten to return when life gets ultra busy.

Prayer, really, is what helps me trust.

And, when I trust, energy is restored.

I reached this conclusion this morning after discerning that this waiting period has been a baptism, purifying and burning off all that is unnecessary and NOT me. That list included: insecurity, fear, anger, worry, regret and doubt. What's left are: drive, certainty, gratitude, awe, perseverance and creativity. Essentially, ENERGY=TRUST.

• What new equations are working in my life?
• How do I tend to receive messages?
• What helps me become receptive?
• What role does trust play in this process?
• What role does prayer play?

it's like I've had
the ruby slippers on the
whole time

and not known
their power

like I could
go home
whenever I

for that
deep, cellular

from the
Divine spot