Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Experiencing the stopped frames

Taken from Tad Barney's collection of negatives
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I live in the world of feelings; it’s a large part of who I am and have always been. Of course, there have been periods where I ignored or was unaware of them. I am an INFJ [introvert, intuitive, feeling, judging] on the Myer-Briggs spectrum, which I discovered a long time ago, and am slowly navigating astrology and how my moon in Pisces (watery, feeling, escapist, imaginative, dreamer) challenges my sun in Capricorn (grounded, plodding, determined, calculating).

And then there have been periods – rather long ones – where my feelings rule the roost. My physical and emotional feelings often intermingle and it’s hard to sort out one from the other. Living with chronic pain tends to do that. My moon dwells there at the same time my sun admonishes me to get moving and something accomplished. As a result, I often feel so pulled that I freeze. When I am not able physically to do what I want mentally, it’s way too easy to beat myself up.

I am, however, determined to stop this pattern. Simply being aware of it is huge. Accepting who I am, where I am, is, too.

I am in a place in life where I am re-examining and re-directing. My children are growing and becoming more independent. I have some more time and I see that, in a few years, I will want my own life when they leave the nest. So, in essence, I am creating a new identity. I wish to do so with awareness, discernment, courage and love.

For close to a year, I was on an amazing, swift and joyful path. Then, I hit a brick wall physically from which I am still recovering. This time, however, I had the wits to be present to what was happening instead of letting old patterns and repeated feelings take charge. It wasn’t my brilliance that opened this view, rather, the experience of another.

A few days ago, I read the account of a friend of a friend via facebook of her journey toward producing an independent film. I really don’t even know what Zoje’s physical challenges are, but I suspect they loom pretty large. Her words in a recent blog stunned me, forcing me to look in the mirror.

Zoje was writing about her experience at Independent Film Week in New York, when she speed-dated through one-on-one sessions with industry experts who could make her film happen. She approached it with no expectations and a Zen-like grace. Her description was alluring, but, one paragraph particularly moved me:

"In spite – or because – of the state of my health, I was somehow in the perfect frame of mind to represent myself and Hands and Knees. I have fought a long, long battle with my body – beginning 29 years ago. We have been at odds, and it is truly unproductive and anti-wholistic for one to be so at odds with one’s body. But somehow during my troubles this summer I experienced this disconnect: I was no longer defined by my body. I finally achieved a necessary sense of being separate from it – which I know sounds in opposition to the idea of being “whole,” but this was necessary in my case. My identity had been very much tied together with this body that never did as I wanted, and always let me down or held me back. Finally, I have reached this point where I accept that my body is doing whatever it’s doing – but meanwhile, I’m going to do what I want!"

“How does she know?” I asked myself. I adore her new mantra and want to steal it:

I accept that my body is doing whatever it’s doing, but I am going to do what I want!

It’s acceptance, surrender, self-realization and being present all in one step. I am positive it has taken her each of those 29 years to arrive at this conclusion. I am so grateful that she did and has shared it. It helps me shave about 15 years off of my timeline to wisdom.

I also love how she ends her post:

"When a roll of film runs through a projector it stops, briefly, on one image at a time. Intermittent motion. Our brain puts it all together, perceiving constant movement, the flow of images. Life is like this too: one image, one second at a time. But it is usual to feel the pull of the future, the pull of what-happens-next. To the degree that’s possible, we need to experience our lives as that one stopped frame in the projector. Each of those moments is real, and leads to the next image with no need for hurrying or tugging on the film strip. Ultimately, that’s what I take away from Independent Film Week. I don’t know how the film ends. But I marvel in its creation. To experience a sense of magic is more than one could hope for."*
I am reading a book outlining St. Ignatius Loyola’s examen, a regular time of reviewing your day in the presence of God. I suspect it will help me see the stopped frames. In that looking back, I desire to be more aware of God’s presence and my own resistance to surrender. I believe this is where my dreaming and moving forward meet; where my body and mind work together, not apart. Where I discover the presence of God right in my own life and where I marvel in the creation.

• How or where do I fight myself?
• What aids me in that awareness?
• How can I begin to stop the frames of life and enjoy the moments?
• How can that help me see God in my life?
• What difference will that create?

push and pull
dream and do
feel and think

til I reach
the breaking

that is
the REAL

the breaking

for it’s
only then
I can
and accept

God is
with me,

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Need is so great

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Yesterday, I had a conversation with a local minister who visits a woman living in a tent in the woods behind a big-box store. She lived there while pregnant. The minister also knows of another woman sheltered in a public toilet. “If someone would have told me that a year ago, I would not have believed them, “ she confessed. “The need is so great.”

We had been discussing her help in recruiting a few more kids for Artsy Fartsy, the arts-exploration program I host monthly for under-served kids.

Her comments stopped me.

Here’s what else stops me:

My 80-something neighbor, racked with liver disease (complications from cholesterol meds) and a host of other issues that, no matter her state or condition, walks the neighborhood. We have always called her the Mayor of Walnut Street because she knows everybody and everything. She still insists on being mobile and active. She is fiercely independent.

A few nights ago, the paramedics made a visit and a neighbor and I went to check. She had tripped while on one of her walks and a couple looking to buy a house in the neighborhood called for help as she, of course, walked home. We patiently waited outside while the medics did their thing. As we did, Fran divulged that Betty, the one who tripped, appeared drunk because her liver creates ammonia, which, in turn, affects her brain and balance. She said there is a pill that would help, but it’s $100 and Betty needs two a day. There’s no way Betty, who formerly worked in the nursing field, can afford that. How ironic is that? A healthcare practitioner, who cared for so many others, can not even take care of herself because the medication far exceeds her meager means.

My dear friend Patia is currently recovering from a stint in the hospital due to a blood-vessel malformation, a chronic condition. She had been hospitalized a year earlier for heart issues, but had to visit a different hospital where she did not still owe money. She is on disability because of her heart. When she worked as a nanny, she had health insurance. When the child she cared for from infancy went to school fulltime, she was no longer needed and away went her health insurance. She got sick when she didn’t have the insurance.

This is another fierce and feisty woman who worked her way out of special education in high school and obtained a bachelor’s degree in early-childhood education. Her whole life she has been mislabeled. She’s another caregiver who can not afford caregiving herself.

It would be very easy to sweep these woman away under the broom of well, there are just some people who fall through the cracks. Again, they are marginalized.

If we only open our eyes to our own neighbors, we may realize there is great need right next door. What kind of a community allows this? What kind of a country allows this? What kind of neighbors allow this?

Both of these women have big hearts and deep faith. They’re not living in a tent or public restroom and yet they struggle with basic necessities.

These are not cases of entitlement, but human decency, concern and compassion.

• What need do I see in my neighbors?
• How do I respond?
• How can I get outside of my bubble to see what others need?
• How can I hold these people, conditions in prayer?
• To what else am I called?

my stylist
told me that
her mother
tried to kill her
three times

and yet,
she coaches
other, at-risk

I asked
what kept
her going:

one day
she’d had enough
and said that
if there is
a God, then
I don’t want a
beating today

she didn’t
get one

today, a
yoga buddy
said her mother,
a single parent,
to make
ends meet,

to help
an Appalachian
family that
had even less

the need
is so great

and yet,
God is greater

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The pill waiting at Walgreen's

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Doors keep cropping up along my waking path, though in places I am between worlds: 
• The sauna where it's dark and steamy inside and the glass door radiates light, beckoning me when I am ready;
• The shower, again a steamy place I prefer in natural light, even when it's dim, and the door appears dreamy, maybe even sinister, with it's glowing yellowness behind. I am uncertain that I want to enter; and
• The pool door, blurry from my goggles specked with rivulets and willowy lanes I don't wish to abandon. Crossing this threshold does not appeal to me. I desire to remain in the living water.

Their meaning is not clear beyond the invitation to open one and walk into something else. I also have a major decision I am moving toward and not an easy one. It will mean opening a door. Which is the right door?

Again, I find myself floundering healthwise, teetering between conventional medicine and, perhaps, a quick fix and a longer route that could be a more permanent solution, getting to the root. No quarantees. A few weeks ago, after getting really stirred up and feeling I had done violence to myself, I internally asked: "Is it always going to be like this?" A small voice returned, "There is another way."

I trust that voice and am trying to open to what that other way may be. Is it:
• Following the practice of the presence of God like Brother Lawrence, whose book I randomly picked up again after ages? Is that enough?
• Trying a new medication that someone facing similar issues, someone I am close to, has found major relief with? This is scary as I tried comparable a long time ago. It helped for awhile, then set me back many months.
• Once again, seeking out a new [natural] practitioner, trusting them with my story/history, going back to square one and letting them find the root and maybe helping, maybe not? That is an investment in time, energy and money.
• Going back to the physician that suggested after a summer cancer scare that if problems persisted he could clear them up surgically. Is this even related? How much of a setback would that be?

When I asked a healer friend about the medication, she said to clasp it in my hand and ask God if this is what will serve Her/me best. I don't actually have the medication, but got a prescription and placed it. I have not yet picked it up. I have cupped my hands to ask, but not received an answer. I wonder if I need the actual pill in my grasp to know.

I am soon having a conversation with the person for whom this medication has helped. It's uncanny how many concerns about health we share.

I am tempted to speak with my shamanic counselor. I know we have been through this before and he tends toward the natural and spent months with me negating the previous prescription catastrophe. He always guides me back to my core, planting it deeply into the earth/Spirit and then everything seems fine. But not in the wee hours when something wakes me night after night, feeding my pain and creating anxiety where there is none when I sleep soundly. Suffering through the days as a result is not living.

I also wonder about asking my spiritual friend who has introduced me to archetypal astrology; perhaps she has either an answer or bit of wisdom.

I also understand this week holds significance for me. It's the 14th anniversary of the trauma that began this journey. How much attention do I pay to that? Do I bury it or is there wisdom there ... of lessons learned?

More questions and no real clarity. My husband and I made a pact about raising our daughters. When it came to safety concerns and we disagreed, we would always take the more conservative stance. Does this mean more waiting or have I waited enough? Is it time to act?

I really don't want to swallow that pill without being certain.

I do know that last night, when I awoke, something helped me back to sleep and I am clearer today than the day before. The pain is less and I am more hopeful. Praising God for that would align with Brother Lawrence's wisdom. That's enough in this moment, but experience teaches me it won't last. I also hold the promise Jesus made to me last winter in a convent labyrinth that I would be provided with what I needed to accomplish what was asked of me. Is it the pill waiting at Walgreen's?

• What doors are currently in my life?
• How do I discern which to open?
• How do I see Spirit leading me?
• What do I do when it isn't clear?
• How do I experience the presence of God when I am struggling?

with weeks of
fitful sleep and

hope was a given

I was grateful and
revved up into

the promise
had been fulfilled
and I could
keep up my end

and what about
when the sleep
is patchy,
the pain
and my reserves

how can I be clear
as to the
the one that
serves God?

Friday, September 14, 2012

So like me on the inside

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How often do we deeply connect with someone immediately? That's always my desire, but, even if I want it, it's usually not so.

Relationships take time, trust and effort – mostly. Our culture does not teach us to trust very easily and we often bring layers of identity and persona: the public sides that we expose and, the more private, that we initially conceal. Then there is the rare occasion when you understand you were meant to meet someone.

Take Sara for example. She was invited to a family wedding in a distant state and was not sure what to expect. I was also invited, but live in town where the wedding was held and was pretty certain what to expect. That I'd be sitting with my husband's boisterous and fun-loving siblings and their families. Weddings the past several years have served as reunions of sorts, collecting members from scattered locations. We seem to have achieved a groove.

Instead, my sister-in-law assigned me and my husband to the bride's family table, along with the bride's mother, her husband and his family, my sister-in-law and her husband, the bride's father. There was some re-arranging as we began to seat ourselves and we seemed to play musical chairs for a few minutes and then we settled. I ended up next to Sara.

I can't even remember our first exchange, but it was so natural and we got deep fast. I barely touched my salad as we talked about spirituality. We delightedly discovered that, as a practicing Buddhist and an active Quaker, we value and know the silence of meditation and worship. I was so grateful for this conversation that would not have happened had we been surrounded by my daughters or the extended family. It was wonderful to have uninterrupted time to get to know Sara. After the deep introduction, we connected then and there on Facebook just so we'd have a means of getting back in touch. A few weeks later, one Facebook comment led to an e-mail and we made plans to have a phone conversation.

I had it penned in my calendar and was so looking forward to the call, scheduled for just after my Friday yoga class. Sara lives in the Mountain Time Zone, so we did need to coordinate a bit. I also wondered if it would be as easy as it was in person. Sara is beautifully elegant and poised. I feel messy and out there. So, of course, when she asked me how I was, I blurted out it had been a hard week. I felt no need to keep up pretense. She, too, shared her struggles. And, as we talked, we discovered that, although, our life experiences may be different, we share common values, conditions and a strong desire to be led by Spirit ... even if we don't always manage to create time for quiet and meditation in the busy-ness of our lives.

She's launching a new coaching business that sounds to me like her life's work: helping people with their pain often experienced in career, life and health transitions, she said. She asked a lot about my art exploration with under-served kids. She calls hers a business and I can finally name mine as ministry, but they're really not that different. We both burn to make a difference in the world, in individual lives. We also discussed how the way we live seems counter-cultural, how we both have health concerns, how we have weaned ourselves from sugar (her) and gluten (me) and how hard it is amidst the busy-ness to take time to center with meditation or prayer. She's in intensive training for coaching certification and building a new business. I'm starting a new program, helping my daughters get settled in junior high and high school and keeping an eye on my mother. So parallel. 

The hour floated by so quickly and we committed to chatting again. When I pressed the end button, I thanked Spirit for this bright spot in a tough week. And for the musical chairs that allowed me to meet and know Sara. God knew I was looking for a kindred spirit and She delivered.

I must confess that I may have been primed for this meeting earlier in the summer when I spoke my heart at a Quaker retreat, calling for companionship and a wonderful soul, unknown to me, immediately responded with an embrace that lasted through my tears. She embodied God's arms [http://salonforthesoul.blogspot.com/2012/07/remembering-i-am-loved.html]. Sara, I believe, is a mirror for me.

• When have I received the gift of deep connection with an apparent stranger?
• How has that affected me?
• How did I recognize it?
• What may have opened me?
• How did I express my gratitude?

preparing for the
family wedding,

watching the girls
get glamorous,
even Lily
was not in pants

I was ready for
a raucous time
with my silly

catching up
with the nieces
and nephews

meeting the
family's newest

I never dreamed

I'd make a new
friend, one
so like me on
the inside

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Feeling at home … together

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Beat-up orange lockers made them VERY happy. So much so, they began to argue over who got the top and who would be by Elizabeth’s. Who knew?

Then again, the theme for my first session of Artsy Fartsy Saturdays was “Creating a sense of place” and it began painfully apparent these girls – from a large subsidized apartment complex in my neighborhood – don’t have much to call their own.

After a caring neighbor safely delivered them via a local church van and we settled, I asked them to keep three questions in mind during the afternoon. Questions they could answer for themselves:
• Where do we feel at home?
• What makes a place special?
• How can Artsy Fartsy feel like home?

In the midst of a scavenger hunt designed to help them navigate the space, rules and what’s off limits, they clustered in the hallway, ten beats ahead of me, asking if they could each have a locker. That was on my list for after the hunt, when I would briefly mention they could keep things there during Artsy Fartsy, but take them home each time as they were not secure.

Can I bring a mirror from home? What about a lock? Oh, let me put this magnet (intended for the AFS schedule and their home refrigerator) on, it sticks. But I want a top one. This one doesn’t work. No, I don’t want those short ones. I don’t want to have one by myself. Can I have one down at the other end of the hall?

I almost dismissed it as pre-teeny female flightiness, but then I would have missed what it really was: these girls begging for a space. Just a tiny one. A 10”-by’12”-by-36” dusty, metal cubby. A private space they could call their own and fill with whatever they wanted to fill it with. How could I say anything but a resounding YES and tell them they would be provided with locks next time, unanimously consented to by my exceptional adult volunteer advisors, all teachers.

Layla was so intent on getting hers ship-shape that she quickly finished our main project, then toiled away with Windex and paper towels. It shone … probably more in her eyes than on the metal surface.

I am certain no set of lockers has ever been as fussed over as these vintage 1970s specimens in harvest gold and sunset orange in a 100-year-old school. Perhaps because they weren’t assigned or that they were chosen, maybe they called to these girls. I like to think it’s because these girls were making themselves at home.

I know how important it has been to have my space … a room of one’s own as Virginia Woolf termed it. Mine started as a small stand-up desk (an old hostess station from a shut-down restaurant) in a kitchen window, progressed to an eight-by-ten studio in my garage, and, now, a 400-plus square foot former classroom lined by lockers outside.

These spaces have been places I have tended to my soul. Private spaces where I could feel safe and escape when I chose or invite a selected few in …  all on my terms. What would it have been like to have my own locker, aside from at school, when I was in fourth, fifth or sixth grade? May not have made a huge difference in my life because I had things of my own. But, what if I hadn’t?

I would have been scrubbing away at a dusty old locker claiming it!

• Where do we feel at home?
• What makes a place special?
• How can I make where I am now feel like home?
• How can I do that for someone else?
• What difference has having a room of my own made in my life?

All smiles
bounding off
the van and

I had
their enthusiasm
two nights

as I delivered

a quick
task that
became a
at the hand
of my

I don’t think
she wanted
to let me

she knew
special awaited

the secret

that an
even more
gift would
help us all
feel at home


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Inviting Jesus in

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How far is knowing from believing? What creates the shift and how much of a difference does it make?

All of those are swirling in me ever since I read a poignant story in a local church newsletter about the writer's grandmother. She was his model of faithfulness not because of her belief in God, but rather, because she knew God.

Immediate goose bumps told me there was deep truth here for me, nudging me back, way back, into early childhood. Also to a conversation I had last week with my mother and to a revelation I had in meeting for worship the Sunday before last.

The conversation and revelation focused on the concept of covenant. As my mother is recovering from a long hospital stay, there are questions I feel compelled to ask. This episode solidly forced me to recognize she doesn't have all the time in the world and, neither do I in seeking some answers.

"Tell me about the church we went to when we were younger?" I asked. I wanted to explore its evangelical roots because I have strayed in the opposite direction – or have I? You had to publicly give witness about your relationship with Jesus to become a member, she recalled. "Did you do that and was it hard?" I whipped out. Yes, she replied to both. "Well, dad, he didn't do it did he?" She surprised me with an affirmative answer. Of course, now I want to know what they both said back then. That's another conversation.

This one, however, evoked images of Sunday-school cookies (you know, the flower-shaped butter cookies slipped over a finger) Kool-Aid in Dixie Cups, cotton-ball lambs on pastel construction paper, an upper room in the old house next door where we played, had lessons and I wondered, looking out the window, what the grown-ups were doing in church. And memories of: the inner-city African-American choir that shook the chapel to its core, especially the striking tall woman with the flame-red hair; the visiting African women who came to our house to dinner when my twin sister and I regaled them with slick color photos of topless women in National Geographic ... much to my parents' horror I am certain; and the street-wise but smart Hispanic girl, Martha, from a brownstone in downtown Chicago who stayed with us periodically and with whom we visited in her noisy, congested, wonderful neighborhood. All, rich morsels.

These flashbacks have emerged as others, darker, have receded; specifically, the small colored-paper book with blank pages where we learned that white was pure as snow, red was Jesus' blood and black was our hearts full of sin. That's when I began to tune out and, also, where I have been stuck for awhile.

Until, in this conversation with my mother, I also remembered they held '"little church" in the basement with the thick wooden school chairs in a semi-circle gathered round the traditional portrait of Jesus with flowing hair and a peaceful, but very Caucasian, face. We were gently commanded to ask Jesus into our hearts. I did as I was told, not realizing until now that it worked. Jesus was in my heart even when I heard that mine was black with sin, which, of course, I did not believe.

He had been there all of the time. That's what clicked during worship recently when our minister talked about God's second covenant in sending Jesus.

That covenant formed in my heart years ago at that church in Glen Ellyn, Ill, the place I felt religiously wounded until I was forced to open up and face the facts of the past. This Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church is where I was taught to invite Jesus in.

That has been the gift of my life.

• What is my relationship with Jesus?
• How has that changed since childhood?
• What religious wounds do I harbor?
• What gifts are underneath if I look?
• How do I continue to invite Jesus into my heart?

my favorite religious
book as a kid
was not
the Bible

it was full of
blood, sacrifice,
floods and

no, it was
a rather simple
picture book*

about Jesus
visiting a child

just like me

that was the truth
I knew:
Jesus had
come to visit and
with me

to this day

* If Jesus Came to My House by Joan Gale Thomas