Friday, December 21, 2012

Waiting-to-totally-surrender purgatory

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A January-7 deadline approaches and I noodle notes here and there: on my studio chalkboard, a scrap of paper, my laptop. Can’t find the focused time I need right now to hunker down and write the grant and that seems all right.

Underneath, there’s a sense that things will fall into place as and when they should. There’s time for the busyness, it tells me, later. Right now, I need to sit with the larger question than meeting a deadline. Can I do the projects that align with the funding? Will I have the personal energy, the volunteers and enthusiasm of others? This is clearly not a solitary endeavor, even though it seems so in this moment.

I’m wary of completely giving myself away to projects that will obviously companion and deepen Artsy Fartsy*. I stand at an all-too-familiar crossroads. I have given myself away countless times before. Is this one of those times or is it really where God is leading me? Could my surrender be to let go of the pretense of a livelihood and live my passion sans a paycheck? I struggle here. Earning my own way is so intrinsic to who I have been.

More simply, deeply and profoundly for me is that taking care of myself, independently, is all I’ve known. It’s a locked pattern, trapped in my psyche. Perhaps mistakenly, I’ve thought my task was to ask for help, human help.

I had a wide opening Wednesday during my monthly shamanic-counseling session. Insight into where, why and how I have been wounded. It’s almost too much to discuss yet. Generally, I was hurt and left alone to tend to the wound, then never given the opportunity to talk about it. Alone, alone, alone. That’s where I always seem to be.

Until I remember I’m not. This sucking up that I do whenever there is something that I [think I] have to do myself, which is most of the time, is so wrongfully inherent. I’ve been surrendering to God half-assed. Saying yes, but still feeling responsible and trying to control aspects. Surrendering some aspects is not surrender.

So how do I let this rip, I mean really rip? Like the way I felt a layer melt off Wednesday through breath work. I feel apart right now, like I’m living somewhere in between. Some kind of waiting-to-totally-surrender purgatory because I don’t know the next step.

I keep getting the message to pursue my passion and the paycheck will follow. Not sure what that means, but, I believe, it includes carefully discerning what is mine to do and what is not … not just doing because I have or can.

So through the holidays, the celebration of Jesus’ being in the world and anticipation of the clean slate of a new year, I will wait and see what settles and where I can surrender fully.

• How have I only half surrendered?
• What will it take for me to fully surrender?
• What’s holding me back?
• What patterns must I break?
• What is my prayer right now?

go it alone,

it has

 I crave
the solitude

don’t want
to be crowded
or smothered

and then,
I wonder
why I’m
always the one

to get things

I forget
that I can

to God

my prayer:
please, teach
me how

*an arts-exploration for at-risk kids I offer in my studio and for which I have received a Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment, a Good News Associates grant and one from the Clermont County Mental health and Recovery Board

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas comes early

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Christmas has arrived early. Unannounced, in smallish ways and yet, it's really here in my heart forever.

These gifts are altering my attitude about generosity, abundance and money – greatly. Oddly enough, I think this wave of Spirit began four weeks ago EXACTLY at the Alamo. The floodgates opened and anything is possible. I am proof.

To backtrack a bit, I arrived at the Alamo on a chilly-for-San-Antonio morning to visit the Mission. Yes, though remembered for its bloody battle in American history and the stirrings of Texas' independence, it was first built as a Spanish Catholic Mission – a sacred spot. Many consider it hallowed ground for the violent sacrifices that occurred. I stumbled in as an official gathering was happening and was encouraged to stay. It was an invitation I'll never forget: the presentation of Segways to American veterans of Afghanistan now rendered immobile ... as in missing or non-functioning legs, mostly. At its conclusion, I found myself third in line shaking each soldier's hand, looking him/her square in the eye and saying thank you. Some hung on, most thanked me and a few found the direct contact unsettling. I was just the vessel: a peace-loving, anti-war, gun-shy Quaker thanking soldiers. 

That experience has opened me. Forever, I hope.

To new encounters, new leadings, new openings, new friends, new understanding, new compassion.

Is this the New Kingdom of which Jesus speaks? I want to hope that it is, Heaven on Earth. Early Quakers believed it was in the here and now.

So odd for me to use that language. I'm typically more inclusive, yet it is what's on my heart.

My heart is so full right now – with only good, about to crowd out the doubt and worry fed by an attachment to the secular world.*

Thursday, I went to an interview with a wonderful BIG arts organization to see if my at-risk kids' arts exploration, Artsy Fartsy , was a match. Normally, I would have over-prepped and stressed. I wasn't nervous. I did my homework the day before (because that's all the time I had) and waltzed in joyful to find the interviewer easy. It was just a conversation. One in which I was affirmed in this work and encouraged to apply for a grant next month. I even expressed my philosophy that this project is about depth, not breadth and he agreed that was the right path.

Wow, I'm still pinching myself. I may get some new programming funded. Of course, I am still battling the idea that I can't yet fund myself ... but I am learning to trust that will come, just as everything else has aligned.

Today, I felt compelled to return a long overdue call ... I am almost ashamed to admit it took me so long because it was a reminder that something awaited me. Just before that life-altering trip to San Antonio, someone I respect from our days together mending the local racial divide said she had a bunch of stuff left over from the local Obama headquarters for Artsy Fartsy (AF) if I wanted it. "Yes," I said sight unseen.

Well out of sight and mind, I had forgotten until her gentle reminder call. So, today, I toddled on over the hill to her wonderful home and came back loaded with six boxes of binder clips, paper clips, pens, markers, highlighters, flashlights, hand warmers, hand sanitizer, paper towels, napkins, plastic cups, paper plates, sticky tack, tacks, clipboards, paint sponges, post-its, staplers, staples, staple-removers, giant flip charts, balloons and reams of printer paper. Unpacking it all was better than Christmas morning. All the ideas of how AF can use these flowed through my head. Can't you just imagine using twine and binder clips to hang a show of the kids' work? Let them create shadows with the flashlights ... maybe give them a ghost tour of Milford Main? Load them with school supplies when they run low or can't afford them? Make them feel important writing on clip boards?

And then I came across a plain, unmarked box. I gingerly lifted the lid to discover a stash of manilla file folders. Exactly what I had needed to get all of my forms, lesson plans, agendas, meeting notes and locker assignments organized. I'd been too busy and, perhaps, too cheap to purchase a box. God really had taken care of my needs! The room, especially the car, looked like Staples had exploded.

I am so thrilled that one AF kid's family for whom I am collecting to purchase a computer, printer and, hopefully, internet, has an almost-eternal supply of paper!!!

Christmas has come early and I hope its spirit stays forever ... in my heart and being.

• What happens when I let Spirit in?
• How does it alter my thinking?
• My way of being in the world?
• How am I opened?
• How do I express that opening?

wafting in and out
on this wave

of Spirit

a seemingly

that claims

and I
learn to
claim it

the impossible

the daunting,

a new vision,
a new order

grows within
strength and

to believe

* I wrote this Friday, turning off the radio when I heard there was going to be bad news and not yet knowing what it was. I was better able to handle it Saturday and Sunday, with my faith community.

You can read more about my experience at the Alamo:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Spirit moving

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I was wired in Meeting for Worship Sunday from the wonderfully wild drumming of the day before with my Artsy Fartsy kids. I tried to settle in, but it just wasn't happening. I was fully attentive to the minister's message on giving. She and I had had a conversation a few days earlier on the subject. I mentioned I was tired of an idea I had that kept meeting with conditions and restrictions. So I decided to sit with it awhile. My choice. 

I couldn't handle it Sunday, especially after her message. I fought it, pushed it out of my head and heart. Re-focused, yet it kept returning, making my heart churn faster and faster. In the Quaker tradition that usually means you have a vocal message you're meant to share in worship. So, up I stood. Struggling, even telling other worshippers I didn't want to do this.

I talked about Dorrian's family of seven. Mom, dad and five kids ages four to 6th grade. They live in a teeny house between a church and my best friend, just down the block from me. The kids are always outside playing ... no room inside, it seems. Lately, I've been seeing Dorrian and his younger brother on bikes all over the neighborhood probably getting off on their own. Often dad's with the younger ones. He's the caregiver.

I'd never seen mom until last Thursday, when I made a personal visit to ensure Dorrian got to Artsy Fartsy Saturday. There was a mix up last month and he'd forgotten. Mom opened the door and warmly welcomed me inside. She hugged me and thanked me for taking an interest in her oldest. "He forgot and went off to play last month," she confessed. "When he got back, he cried because he'd missed it. You know he has such beautiful writing, this will be so good for him. So does my son Dalton." Dalton pretends to be mad at me when I see him with Dorrian. It's because he's too young for Artsy Fartsy and keeps trying to charm his way in. I tell him he has to wait, but each smile he flashes chips away at my resolve.

Then mom pointed to another son, playing games and confided that he's on an IEP (individualized-education plan) at school for learning disabilities. She's battled leukemia for 13 years and through all the pregnancies. The only one she struggled with was his. I think she blames the chemo. She whispered so as not to get his attention. Then she looked me square in the eye, though her tone was conversational and casual, and said "we really need a computer. It would make such a difference for him."

I immediately recognized this as God speaking to me through this woman. Getting this family a computer has been on my heart two years. It gained momentum when I reconnected through Dorrian, a great kid with loads of potential.

I'd recommended this family to my Quaker Meeting as needing financial help this Christmas, though I really wanted to get them a computer. Over the years, when I have vocalized this concern, I am often kindly reminded that refurbished or used computers are easy to find.

My hearts silently screams: "But why can't they have new, like everybody else? Why does this family with very little and only what the mother's assistance check can supply, have to get castoffs?

All weekend, I plotted in my head what I wanted for them: a new iMac, two years of internet (because, frankly, what's the use of a computer these days without it?), printer, cache of ink and technical assistance. About three grand, I figured. 

I didn't share my financial noodling with my Meeting when I spoke. I wasn't asking for anything, just releasing what had a tight grip on me and requesting prayer. Unlike anything I have ever experienced in Quaker worship before, someone tossed cash in the collection plate and it made the rounds, landing at me. I could barely bring myself to touch the wooden bowl overflowing with money ... let alone count it. Someone else did and, in a matter of minutes, about 20-some people donated $500. Noting short of amazing.

Yesterday, a neighbor brought me a $100 Best Buy gift card. There's a printer, I thought.

Just as I wanted others to release their idea of used goods for this family, I am releasing mine of the perfect scenario. I have a feeling I will know when the collecting is finished (I'm not putting a Christmas deadline on it) and am confident there will be enough to purchase whatever this family is supposed to have.

Spirit is moving and I best get myself out of the way!

• When has Spirit pushed me to speak or act?
• What happened when I resisted?
• When I surrendered?
• How was the result better than I ever could have imagined?
• What have I learned as a result?

Friday, December 7, 2012

My heart's calendar

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The second Thursday, late afternoon, of every month is reserved. Without question. Not even marked on my calendar. That's when I dutifully pull out my log of Artsy Fartsy kids' names and phone numbers and begin the round of reminder calls.

The first time, I was a bit nervous. I hadn't yet met many of these parents. What if they have no idea what I am calling about? What if they hang up on me? Yell at me? Don't answer?

Get a grip, I told myself then. You were, afterall, a reporter and called strangers ALL of the time. Not just strangers, but important, intimidating people and you always more than ambled through those calls. You often had friendly conversations. Remember when your husband overheard once and asked how long you'd known the person on the other end? A half hour, you replied. Instant phone rapport: one of your gifts. Why should this be any different? Because this matters more; this isn't a job, it's a calling. So get CALLING!

That's pretty much how it began. It never hurts that I start in the order in which the kids came to Artsy Fartsy. Always, Layla and Justice, sisters, first. I remember the drive up the hill from my house, into the Oakbrook parking lot. How I pulled out the beautifully printed yard signs announcing this new program and art-filled afternoon of registration. Layla was right there, reading the sign, bobbing up and down with excitement. "When? When? When?" she asked.

She, her dad, and sister, were the FIRST in line (as if there were a line, more of a slow trickle throughout the afternoon), Right on the dot at one o'clock.

So I start with Brandon first. I consistently catch him live on the phone. "Oh, yes, they will be there!" He's one  caring dad, ensuring his girls make the most of their opportunities. He never fails to thank me for the program. Even wished out loud that he could volunteer to drive, but, at the time, his car wasn't running and he couldn't afford to get it fixed.

This week, I didn't catch Marilyn, Emijah's grandmother. We had quite a talk, getting acquainted over two of her granddaughters on that August registration afternoon. She's called me just to chat and I've bumped into her at Kroger's. Or Anjela's mom. A recording said the phone was no longer in use. This has happened before when parents can not afford the minutes. So, I asked another mom to check for me, though I may have to see for myself.

A few hours after I made my calls, this time disappointed to reach mostly voice mail, I answer my vibrating phone, unable to quickly recollect the familiar voice. "Did you call this number? she asks. "Oh, I made a bunch of calls for Artsy Fartsy a few hours ago and I'm sure I called you. "Oh, Miss Cathy, is that you?" "Yes, Nia, just reminding you about Saturday. You know your daughter was sassy this last time. I mean sassy as in fun. She's not so shy anymore." "Yeah, it takes her awhile to open up. And, yes, she knows it's this week."

I understand it's hard for the kids that it's once a month. It can seem like an eternity, even to me. That's one reason, midway through, I write them each a personal postcard. Parents usually mention on the reminder calls that the sons and daughters loved getting the mail. I feel it's a good way of nurturing the child by remarking on the exceptional project they completed last time, the way they helped another child or how much I enjoy their energy. When I have made similar comments to the parents about their child, I see that it buoys them as well.

This chore has really become prayerful and so filling for me. Plus, it builds the anticipation in my heart as I look forward to seeing these amazing creatures in two days. Sometimes I can hardly stand it ... waiting. Fortunately, there are a myriad of tasks to complete before they bounce off the van, up the stairs and into Artsy Fartsy every second Saturday afternoon.

But, always, two days before, the date – Thursday, late afternoon – is permanently etched on my heart's calendar.

• When has an ordinary task taken on a prayerful dimension?
• How have I witnessed that transformation?
• How does that influence other areas of my life?
• How do I own it?
• How does it connect me more deeply to others and also Spirit?

yes, a
to-do list

each time

not even a
direct connection

a device between
me and the other

at times, I
leave a message

but the
absolute best,
is when I reach
a live heart
on the
other end

with something
as simple
as a reminder

a mundane

that opens
my heart
as wide
as can

and leaves

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Strangers who haunt us

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Last week, I wrote about serendipitously meeting Rebecca at Whole Foods. Today, I believe that wave of Spirit put me in the path of Amanda and Scott, again, two strangers I encountered while having tea. 

I'd taken my younger daughter to Starbucks enroute to picking up her sister from band practice. I had to be fair, not necessarily by my accounting, since I'd schlepped the older one out earlier in the week for refreshment.

Hadn't but just sat down, when, the man sitting across from me noticed my keycard was the same as his wife's. He wondered if we worked at the same place. No, we just had the same brand of key cards. The conversation got deep very fast as I learned they have 5 sons, one of whom died in his mother's arms, was revived and, later, survived a heart surgery. There were two miscarriages. Amanda, who was also present,though more quietly so, was a stay-at-home mom until Scott found himself out of work. Their roles are reversed. They used to live close to me in Milford, but moved six years ago when busing was cut and they could no longer afford it here.

Once again, death entered the equation. But so did religion, spirituality and faith. We talked about so much distraction in the world when I mentioned I was Quaker and, for the most part, we wait in silence listening for God. That captivated Scott. He is an informal student of religion and open to new ideas. Scott and Amanda actually met at church. He spotted her all in black, beautifully playing the trumpet, when they were both pretty young.

It was a very even exchange of listening and being listened to: a rare gift, especially in the care of complete strangers. But then, were they – really? Scott didn't think so. Upon parting, which we were disinclined to do, he said he had felt not only blessed by the encounter, but certain we were supposed to meet. "Usually, we just get our coffee and go," he said. "But something told me to comment on your keycard; not what I'd normally do."

They both looked me back straight in the eye, which I liked. I think you get soul-to-soul that way. In the same manner I'd get naked-to-naked, skin-to-skin with my kids when they were babies. It's a way I like to connect and the manner in which I recently greeted wounded American soldiers back from Afghanistan. Mostly amputees and those with limited mobility that I think rarely get seen as whole. (link) Looking someone square in the eyes helps me witness their essence, their wholeness.

Scott's eyes told me more than his words. At some point in the conversation, I mentioned how wise they seemed for their ages, mid 30s. That blew Scott away. "Just today, I was praying for wisdom and right here, right now, you just gave me my answer."

How often do we experience this? Perhaps more than we recognize.

Well, they had to be on their way and we soon had to be on ours. We vowed to meet again at Starbucks because we just knew we would. They left ahead of us and as I was packing up, I used the last $10 in my wallet to buy a gift card for them next time they visited. A random act of kindness? A thank you for such instantly deep community? A desire to see them again? Who knows? Only Spirit. 

• When have I felt on a wave of Spirit?
• What was it like?
• What were my experiences?
• Who or what came into my path?
• How did I express gratitude? 

whisking in,
in tow

a quick
coffee break
before retrieving
the older one
from band practice 

about to settle
in on a nice,
hot chai,
when an energetic
stranger asks
me a question

the answer leads
to conversation
and a knowingness
by both parties

that we were not

we, reluctantly,
part company

I return to my drink 

 ... and it is still hot* 

 *homage to my favorite book, the last line, from Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are"