Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Counting sheep or being led?

Two crap nights in a row and I am beat. One, I laid half awake waiting for the phone since my dad had been hospitalized and sent home. The other, stressing over BIG changes in the non profit I run. Neither worth losing sleep over, except, alone at night, everything seems ominous. I even tried praying the 23rd Psalm and, eventually, my eyes closed.

This cluster of pain-inducing experiences makes me so much more appreciative of the drugs, even with the nasty side effects, that do help me sleep through, deeply resting my muscles. I am a different person after that sort of night.

This morning things don't seem as bleak, yet I am concerned. I had a three-hour conversation with a potential, new board member for Artsy Fartsy Saturdays. He's got the experience, passion and know-how, but boy did he throw me for a loop. I hadn't overly prepared, thinking it was just a conversion to see how we warmed to each other.

Our connection was quite serendipitous. I'd signed up and attended several weeks of ArtsWave training for arts organizations in building boards, then participated in an evening of speed dating with candidates desiring board positions. It was exhilarating and energizing. However, we elicited no candidates. Mostly, ArtsWave believed, because of our location away from the city center. A few weeks later, an e-mail titled "Guess what?" arrived, noting a professional with board experience and similar training was looking for a match with an arts organization. The bonus, he lives in Milford!

We communicated via e-mail and set a meeting date. Yesterday in my cold studio, since one of the boilers blew. Even his last name seem fortuitous: deJesus. I liked him immediately. Though a financial guy, he's also a guitarist and once had a job buying art. He's got three teenaged girls, so we have a lot in common. He wasn't scared away that we don't, exactly, have a board or our official, IRS-decreed, non-profit status yet. He'd recently been a part of a longtime organization that was doomed. I mentioned the irony and he perked up.

He told me that I had been at the top of the stack handed him by Artwave. Wow, I thought for a moment. Well, he confirmed, they were alphabetized. Still, I know ArtsWave was looking out for me.

We quickly cut through the clutter and focused on finances, which, after all, is the main purpose of a board – or so I learned at ArtsWave. After a beamingly successful December event and the usual family December events, I was tired. My Quaker care committee had advised taking some time off, January. So did the local, Milford church that wants to become involved. My potential board member didn't now how that was possible: "this is when you have to plan for the rest of the year."

He's right. He was right on a lot of counts, the counts I don't enjoy or have the time to do properly: a business case, balance sheets, income and expense reports. We repeatedly broached these subjects and he asked more than once whether I could remain under my Quaker Meeting's nonprofit umbrella. I am quite certain that I can not. Hearing this, he wanted to be certain that I understood that adopting non-profit status would put the board in charge. "It's a corporation, just like a business."

Of course, on some level, I understand and accept that. But I think it's also the crux of why I have been dragging my feet. "What about ministry and being Spirit-led?" I wonder. Can that be balanced with the financial aspects by a board overseeing my vision? I know that I am going to have to get over the my part. Won't belong to be anymore or at least, not in the same manner.

This is, however, the path to financial sustainability.

The question I hold is, is this the path toward God and what she wants?

Please hold this in prayer for me as I wrangle my way through, hopefully not losing any more sleep.

• What types of things keep me up at night, worrying?
• Can I turn them over to God?
• How?
• How do I balance everyday reality with a spiritual life?
• What message does the 23rd Psalm have for me?

Psalm 23 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
     He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
    for his name's sake.
 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
            Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
                                        all the days of my life,
            and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Light emerging from the darkness

Darkness surrounds me – and it's NOT a bad thing. I am talking about creative darkness, that mysterious, God-filled space where transformation happens, often without our awareness. Here, our only option is to surrender.

Or, as I learned Saturday, to consent.

It was so appropriate that I explored my darkness at a Winter Solstice retreat at the Milford Spiritual Center on the day of the longest night of the year. Though billed as a day of quiet, the idea of delving intentionally and consciously into the dark appealed to me. Perhaps, not a very typical Christmas activity.

The cold, cloudy day helped set the stark exterior tone. The inside fire, delicious food and soul tending seemed representative as well.

Pastor Mary from the local Episcopal Church and my spiritual director created the event. She had a variety of activities we could pursue in silence during the day. It was hard to select, yet two very much spoke to me: Divine Alchemy and Darkness is a Doorway.

The Divine Alchemy reading began with: "Why does a world created by the God of love contain so much suffering and unrest?" It spoke of the primacy of pain and unrest being the raw material of the "ultimate primacy of love."

In the margin, I scribbled pain + ? = love.  The unknown is transformative love, God's pure and unconditional love. Boy, did this jive with my word for the year, purification, that Mary had handed me last January.

Standing at the intersection of the cross and consenting to love
My personal exploration began with my relationship to my youngest and the dance we have: the invitation, the clash, repelling and pushing away, then dragging one another back. I recognized it as a means of control for both of us. What happens when I let go in the darkness? When I surrender? In the darkness, the fear of the unknown if consumed. It's where I wrestle and part of the purification process. Where I learned that I can lose it all when I clutch. That to receive, I must surrender. I eventually arrived at this prayer:

Holy One –
Please enter my darkness
though you are already present
I consent
I invite you into my soul

Please use your power of love
to transform
my pain
my dear
my anger
my frustration

Teach me
to surrender
to forgive
to change
to love

Re-shape me into the
person I can be only
with and through You

Your willful, willing Child
Alchemy, I discovered, means returning to oneness.

Between activities I walked the labyrinth, then paused to warm myself in the small chapel at the top of the hill. Perhaps inspired by the aroma of simmering soup as I left the retreat house, I began to think about how darkness is the primordial stew of the human soul. That it is our condition until we chose the light. We can remain individual ingredients, uncooked. Or we can simmer (by choosing the fire or heat source). The longer we cook, the better we become until we are finally consumed (death) in this form.

At the chapel, I rocked by the crucifix, observing that Jesus' head head lay directly at the intersection of the two wooden planks. That same intersection has haunted me all year. "What does the primordial stew have to do with the intersection of the cross?" I asked. It's binding agent is love: the broth, the path, the choice. And Jesus head lay at the intersection because it is a head choice as the heart naturally says yes.

With all of my being, I consent to this transformative love that, out of the darkness, birthed a pure and innocent child with whom we celebrate this season. Light emerging from the darkness. We now enter the season of light: the light of Christ, God's love and the gift of longer days.

• How do I observe the Winter Solstice?
• What is my current darkness?
• Where/how have I been transformed this year?
• Can my surrender become consent to Spirit?
• How is the light emerging from my darkness?

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Friday, December 19, 2014

Magical tableau of Christmas

The reality of Christmas is becoming much more clear to me this year in ways I could not have anticipated. Small joys that add up.

Last night, for example, I headed out the door at 10 p.m. for a late-night rondezvous with the mother of an Artsy Fartsy Saturdays' kid, who missed our celebration last weekend. She'd been down with the flu and I wanted to make sure she received some of the plethora of home-made cookies volunteers baked, the personalized Christmas card high schoolers created and the apron with her name in red, courtesy of the peace and social concerns committee from my church and my iron.

This single mom of four works the night shift at a local care center and was recently forced to uproot her family, relocating with relatives across town. I don't want to lose touch with them; her daughter is one of my original girls and they are the third family of the original five who has moved. Unlike some of us with stable homes, these families don't have the luxury of their own home, neighborhood and ability to become rooted.

I was especially eager to greet this mom because I had a donation from a neighbor who wanted to assist one of our families. As I was bent on delivering what I hoped would be help, I almost missed saying hello and exchanging hugs.The mom insisted: "We haven't seen you in ages."  I was delighted that she'd brought along her daughter, the one in Artsy Fartsy. Such a treat, well beyond what I thought I had to give, money. It was a wonderful connection and reminder what this work is all about: relationships, accepting people where they are and continuing to be amazed how God chooses to bless us, when we think we have a better idea.

It was close to midnight, and well past my weekday bedtime, when I arrived home. Yet I was exhilarated, much more so than when I'd been out Christmas shopping. Christmas is not about being in control of the giving. It's spirit is more concerned with opening to receive as well.

During the afternoon, I mailed off a package to one of the other families not currently in the area, then I traipsed to Oakbrook, the complex Artsy Fartsy serves, to deliver three other packages. I knew I'd miss the kids, but this was my window. As I sauntered from one apartment to the next, a guy leaned out and announced: "Aren't those for me?" Wish I'd had more.

With a heavy heart, I opened the door to what had been the home of the girl I'd meet up with later in the night. A boy, new to the program. lived on the top floor. We hadn't seen him since our registration in September. Still, I wanted him to feel welcome for the time when he could attend.

I knocked on the door, faintly detecting the lull of a television. I had no idea who I'd rouse. I knocked a second, then a third time and, as I was about to leave the package, a very small voice answered. I shared my name, organization and that I had a package for this particular boy. Lo and behold, he opened the door, stunned and delighted at the pile of cookies. I can't describe how my much my heart sang at this meeting. It felt as if God was using me as an invitation to this young man.

As I drove off, thoughts flickered to my maternal grandmother, delivering packages to the needy on Christmas Eve when, as a child, my mother, would have preferred her home.

The real miracle in all of this is that I receive every bit as much as I am given. Probably infinitely more.

Tad Barney photo
That was apparent Saturday when 17 Artsy Fartsy kids, ten adults, a dozen high schoolers, Santa and a film crew squeezed into my studio at Milford Main. My dear and talented friend Marianne was demonstrating, letting the kids hand color fondant, cut shapes, ice, then decorate the dozens of cookies family, two churches, friends and neighbors delivered. The intent was to provide these kids with the warmth of a holiday cookie experience. None I talked to said it was in their tradition.

I'd been communicating with a Mariemont High School Leadership Class for several months, planning a time they could work with these kids. Saturday was THE day as they arrived in batches (some fresh from the ACT exam) with batches of sugar cookies. They created beautiful, personalized Christmas cards for each child, made songbooks to lead caroling and were excited to roll up their sleeves and help. With the kids highly energetic from icing and cookies, the group spontaneously led them down the hall to a vacant classroom and played games.

In the interim, my Quaker pastor and two members of Christ Community Church, with whom I have been talking about partnering, assisted. My minister served as interface with the film crew, working on a documentary for our meeting's 200th anniversary next year. The Christ Community couple came armed with cookies and extra hands. They told me logistics was their congregational specialty and they weren't kidding. They counted kids, prepped cookie boxes and left me with no dirty dishes. Yet what delighted me most was the connection they made with my pastor. I left smiling that these two faith communities now had a personal relationship and both wanted to support me in this work. Never in a million years would I have figured out how to make that happen. Fortunately, God didn't waste any time.

Midway through the afternoon, one of my new favorite people, Johnny, arrived. He suited up as Santa, entered as the room chanted "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," delivered candy canes and chef aprons. For almost a year, every time I'd run in to Johnny at Kroger's, where he works, he'd insist that he wanted to do this. The kids thought they needed to fatten this Santa up and presented him with special cookies. Johnny changed before eating and one little girl confided in Marianne: "I think that's Santa 'cause he's eating the cookie I made."

Even the film crew became part of this magical tableau. As they arrived ahead of the kids, a wee voice echoed outside my door and in popped a toddler. He belonged to the crew and I worried he'd get lost in the crush until we found him a safe place behind my desk. When I introduced him to the Christmas-light labyrinth, his mother could hardly cajole him away for lunch. The filmmakers blended in with the chaos, pulling out a few kids for interviews, then sat me down in front of the camera as the cleaning fairies left me no work. Normally, I detest being front and center, but I was in an odd mood: blissfully tired and unwilling to say no. In their gentle questions and affirmations, I began to detach and really see what has been happening all these months in my studio. Today was the tangible culmination of Spirit working quietly and stepping out to bring new life and new people into the mix.

So do I care that we just got our tree up and it's half decorated, that I still have shopping, tons of wrapping and no time for baking? Heck, no. This Christmas has already been an incredibly rich gift and I'm headed off to a contemplative day of quiet tomorrow.

• How is my experience of Christmas evolving?
• Where do I recognize Spirit at work?
• How do I receive as well as give?
• What small, meaningful moments have I observed this year?
• Where do I find reflection time in the busyness?

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