Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Choosing the moment

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There is no perfect, best or right time in life, is there? I am slowly reaching that conclusion and tired of waiting – endlessly.

That translates into savoring what is the present. How many times have I read that in an inspirational book or heard someone wise articulate it? And I knew each time there was truth in it, but I just wasn't ready or able to truly grasp how to make it mine. How to own the present. For me, I suppose, it will be a lifelong journey.

I was buoyed yesterday when I read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about the gifts of aging: that the older one gets the happier they are.

... In 2010, researchers at Stony Brook University analyzed a telephone survey of hundreds of thousands of Americans and found that people over 50 were happier overall, with anger declining steadily from the 20s through the 70s and stress falling off a cliff in the 50s.
This may be news to people who equate being old with being sad and alone, but it fits with a body of work by Laura Carstensen, a psychologist at Stanford. She led a study that followed people ages 18 to 94 for a decade and found that they got happier and their emotions bounced around less. Such studies reveal that negative emotions such as sadness, anger and fear become less pronounced than in our drama-filled younger years.
Cornell sociologist Karl Pillemer and co-workers interviewed about 1,200 older people for the book 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. "Many people said something along these lines: "I wish I’d learned to enjoy life on a daily basis and enjoy the moment when I was in my 30s instead of my 60s,’” he says. Elderly interviewees are likely to “describe the last five or ten years as the happiest years of their lives.
Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/What-is-So-Good-About-Growing-Old.html#ixzz24qofuiFV
Right now, my life seems like the beginning of Charles Dickens' A Take of Two Cities
" It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way ... "
That sums up my personal life (I am doing work I love, my children are thriving, but I worry about the health of my parents; my mom is recovering from an intense hospital stay), describes the state of the world, could not be a more apt spin on our imminent political contest and, I assume, is probably how it always is. Life. It's never perfect, but can come close at times, and also bottom out in a very bleak way.
My task is to accept those peaks and valleys without letting them yank me too far in either direction. The Smithsonian article claims we get better at taming our emotions as we gather more experience. I also like what Eckhart Tolle says about acting as if we choose the moment, accepting it, even if we have not.
• What do I keep waiting for?
• How do I appreciate the present?
• What practices bind me to the present?
• How can a practice of gratitude help?
• What wisdom have I acquired over time?

always another hurdle,
problem or dilemma

and I let them
get me all
bent out of

what I have learned

that's just life

ups and downs

yet I can
the present

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Eight [young] ladies waiting

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The concept of white privilege haunts me. How blind am I to my own? When do I fail to see how it derails others?
It was hard not to wonder after one of the absolute BEST days of my life Saturday hanging out with an incredible rag-tag but gifted bunch of volunteers God has called together as well as joyful, eager kids awaiting us in a subsidized-housing complex in my neighborhood.

Those of us planning this Artsy Fartsy event are all white, well educated and live pretty comfortably. What we share is a love of children and making sure that those with less opportunity get some extra nurture and creativity in their lives. We are teachers and ministers.

This complex is mostly white, but more racially diverse than the surrounding community. I am the one who targeted this particular development and my group has supported that decision. I chose it because it is part of my neighborhood – one I have heard others say they wish were more removed. I know, firsthand, how creative expression is such a leveling factor. It teaches us to move inside, explore and get to know who we are without the trappings of judgment, skin color, socio-economic status or anything else. I want these children to taste what those of us who have grown up in different circumstances have often taken for granted. I want them to shine. To create. To be themselves. To make choices. To dream. To dare.

I don’t want them to feel limited because of where they live, what their parents may or may not do for a living, whether they have two parents, whether they have many extras in their lives. I want them to feel valued for who they are as fellow children of God.

I want them to know somebody else cared if even only through nine months of art exploration. I keep thinking of them, smiling as I put away the stash of Saturday’s aftermath we all unloaded, then quickly headed to my best friend’s for feasting and fellowship after the afternoon’s work.

I remember Layla, whom I first met last week as I was dropping off yard signs. She was the first to sign up and so proud of that. Also of Emijah, whose grandmother I spent an hour getting to know. This grandmother wants something better for this generation. She’s lived in the development 30 years and seen it all. We laughed when we discovered we’d been neighbors for over 20 years and hope we bump into each other Krogering. One mother we visited in her apartment because she’d just returned from jail, exhausted. Nevertheless, she was delighted to enroll her daughter.

Last week when I was explaining to a gaggle of fourth-graders what Atrsy Fartsy is, one looked to the ground and quietly said she had no way to get there. Another admitted they were afraid of the woods because a five-year-old the know had been raped and stabbed to death, though several counties away. I explained that we arranged for adults volunteers to walk them to and from the monthly sessions and their eyes lit up. That would be great, they chimed in.

I still struggle with the cultural voice [of white privilege] whispering that I should be looking for a paying job and saving for college since my kids are getting more independent. Fortunately God drowns out that whisper and I have dedicated, caring volunteers, a faith community and three grants to tell me otherwise.

And, so far, eight young ladies waiting for Atrsy Fartsy to begin in a few weeks. We’re hoping to add some boys to that mix and are open to prayers in that direction!

• Where can I see privilege in my life?
• How does that open me to those without it?
• How/where am I called to use my advantage to help others?
• Can I do that out of love and not pity, seeing the other for the child of God they are?
• How do I respond to the cultural voice?

months of effort,
prayer and help

opened with
perfect weather,
the bright sun
shining on us

as we popped
open the tent,
hung the signs

organized the
crafts and began

they crossed
the parking lot

and, with big
eyes, they
began to draw,
finger knit,
fold paper
into Yodas

and open
their hearts

God could
not have been
happier than

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fragile existence

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How do you process your own mortality, perhaps our greatest fear?

Last week, when a doctor delivered some extremely pessimistic news to me about my mother, which has not proven yet to be true, it hit me so hard that when she dies, so will a piece of me. In his arrogance and unruly bedside manner, I think he has prepped me for when the time does come. Well, as much as one can be prepared. There’s something so basic about losing your mother. I’ve been so fortunate to have mine over 50 years.

What, exactly do we lose?
• Our identity.
• The one person that has known us longest.
• The one person who has always cared for us even in times it made us crazy.
• One of the few people who truly knows us.
• Our innocence in being able to be childlike with someone.
• Our ideal of invincibility.
• A connection.
• Someone who will love us no matter what.
• The person who came before.
• The person who carried us.
• Our daughters’ grandmother.

Life becomes more important when exposed as fragile. We take it for granted less. We pay closer, more careful attention. We live more in the moment. We become more grateful.

We also get stressed, begin to grieve, get caught up in care needs, tend to the other’s spiritual needs, sometimes neglect our own, pray, storm at God, are amazed at her power and deflated by our human stamina.

It’s such a tangled web, this web of transition. Through it, however, I am realizing I am more afraid of dying than death. The suffering, to me, seems worse than the escape. I understand not all dying is filled with pain.

Then I look at my mother who, admittedly, on paper, appears sicker than she is. Her cardiologist agrees. This is the fourth or fifth hospital stay in three or four years, yet the first real time I felt her life was in danger. But, maybe I have forgotten. I have never received such grave news from a medical professional. Fortunately, he is NOT her regular cardiologist. One week exactly after his awful phone call, the nurses who shepherded me through that difficult spot were elated at the change. One even said, “We do know Who’s really at work, don’t we?”

The day before her release, a nurse assisted my mom to some physical therapy steps as she said her thighs were getting like jelly from being in bed or sitting so long. She tried to do some fancy steps and even pretended to kick me. “She’s baaaaaaaaaack,” I joked with my sister.

She’s back – for how long I have no idea, but do any of us? – and I am ever so grateful. I will try not to take her presence for granted.

• When have I been confronted with death?
• What reaction did is trigger?
• What has (or would be) such a pivotal loss been like in my life?
• What has life’s fragility taught me?
• What has facing, or contemplating, death taught me?

one day
she’s driving my
11-year-old on errands

the next,
fighting an
infection in the ICU

never losing her
verve, also not
knowing the

her seeming
buoyed her spirits,
convincing us
all of

loving power

and our

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Prayer and Dr. Nice Guy

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Prayer really works. Essentially, God is good.

This week has been hellish at best, beginning with a trip to the emergency room late last Friday and not ending today, but finally offering some positive news about my mother.

Neither she nor my dad have been through the gyrations I have. It could be because ignorance is bliss, they have more life experience, they are generally more accepting or their faith is at deep work. I’ll probably never know the answer, but I will take note and chalk this up as a lesson.

I did not manufacture my roller-coaster ride and was handling it all pretty well, in a prayerful and trusting manner, until a doctor called the hospital, dragging me from helping to feed my mother (a test she’d had required her to lay still for six hours; otherwise, she’s quite capable), dropping a bomb of negativity “because somebody has to know.” He ordered me not to tell my parents because it would crush them and they may not comprehend it.

He could not possibly have insulted me or my parents more in one terse sentence. It was a terrible weight, commanding me to lie. The kind nurse helped me escape, made an excuse for me and guided me to a private space to quickly fall apart, phone my husband and sister and say the biggest prayer ever: “Lord, I can’t do this. You have to.” And, she did. I was able to re-enter the room, pick up where I left off and even answer my mother’s inquiry about the doctor’s call (which I had not known she heard) by saying I didn’t quite get it, he’ll be around tomorrow to explain.

God, again, answered my prayer by sending in my mother’s regular cardiologist 15 minutes later. He contradicted his partner’s prognosis by saying he’s watched my mother over two years and she is not what she appears to be on paper. He’s right. I was hopeful again.

Until yesterday, when Dr. Negative explained to her they were ordering another test, then nodded to me on the way out, belching: “our conversation from the other day still stands.” “What about what Dr. Nice Guy said,” I quipped. “I have blah-blah-blah more years of experience than he does,” he grunted.

It was hard for me to sort the egotism and arrogance from the truth. I had finally come to believe he had delivered some version of the truth on the phone, but it was not the current truth.

As of 10 p.m. last night, today’s test was still unscheduled. So, I went to bed and, gratefully, slept well. I dragged myself to yoga, where I noticed some energy running through my fingers, then checked my cell. Sure enough a nurse had called to say things were progresses quickly and my mom was about to have the procedure NOW. I raced to the hospital and waited, along with my dad and their minister.

Eventually, we were taken to the consultation room where the doc delivered some pretty good news. Everything for which I had dared to hope. Maybe my prayer will be more expansive next time! Scores of others were praying as well, from family members to Facebook friends. It was a comforting connection.

She’s still got a long haul, several hurtles to manage and the news of the negative doctor may come to be. But not now. God is not finished with my mother yet.

I am trying to be compassionate to this nay-sayer, but I am so tempted next time to deflect his pronouncements and say: “I’ll take prayer and Dr. Nice Guy.”

Prayer really works. God is good.

• How have I experienced the power of prayer?
• How do I let it shape my difficult times?
• My normal times?
• When has prayer from others connected me?
• How do I express gratitude to God?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Strength of a rose[ie]

Lonely heart/pastel & paint on paper

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For days in yoga, I keep hearing a haunting song [see link below] as we’re ending practice and entering shavasana. It’s a real song the teacher spins on the dvd player.

These lines, in particular, echo deep within:
            “And it’s happening to me and you …
           … Where we’re bound nobody knows ..."

The subject is our wildness, to me, the terrain of the heart. It’s such a wonderful transition from the activity of poses to the coolness, winding down and turning inward of relaxation. And even though I have heard that song at least a dozen times, it always catches me … in knowing. It helped me remember something I wrote as a pre-teen, about the age of my youngest daughter. I penned these lines:

            “I am bound where no man goes.”

It was a somber piece about living in isolation, then I translated it as the Steppes of Siberia. I am coming to understand it was about my wrestling with growing up, keeping part of myself and letting others go.

A month ago, while deep in pastoral counseling, my shaman asked me to remember/visualize when I first felt less than. The image of a pre-teen girl in a fetal position immediately flashed in my mind. It quickly shifted from me to my youngest daughter and my heart sank. I know she is in the same place. Shunning the physical, psychological and emotional changes stirring. My heart aches for her as it does my inner pre-teen: the one lost, confused and feeling isolated.

This week in my monthly archetypal-astrology group, we discussed the drama of opposites with regard to astrological aspects, the angular relationships between the planets, and from a Jungian perspective. A handout carefully prepared by our teacher, discussed that “ego development requires that we reject even essential parts of what makes us whole; and this is what becomes the shadow … the road to wholeness is rough and bumpy … but we continually seek that which we have unconsciously discarded.”

I wonder what I discarded in that fetal position as a pre-teen and what my daughter intends to shed?

Two nights ago, I had an interesting dream; I haven’t remembered dreaming in months:

My twin sister and I are on a train. I fall asleep and awake in a car with her driving. I feel as if I have been drugged. She acts as if all is normal. We stop and I notice one of my daughters, some female cousins and nieces a half block behind us milling around another car. My sister directs me into a store, where we encounter my mother haggling with a woman about a cabin reservation. My mother insists she bought the cabin across the creek behind the store. The woman says she doesn’t even have a reservation.

When I first looked at this dream, I felt betrayed, as if my family tricked me into this journey. But when I explored it again, it seems as if this line of living women in my family is waiting to cross the creek into the cabin of the ancestral women who have come before. The ones waiting at the car are, well, waiting. My mother has tried and my sister has brought me here. I think it’s my turn, my work. I notice my other sister who has a son is absent as is my youngest. They aren’t part of this yet. I believe that my sleeping on the train is a key to how to get past the gatekeeper/shop owner, cross the creek and get us into the cabin.

To do so, I must traverse the terrain of the heart and retrieve my discarded parts. The song “Strength of a Rose” by Deva and Miten Premal describes that journey. Rose is my maiden name; Rosie is my nickname.

• How have I experienced the terrain of my heart?
• When have I felt isolated?
• What parts of myself have I discarded?
• When have I also felt connected?
• What is my current calling toward wholeness?