Friday, December 27, 2013

friday five: not so festive edition

At RevGals this morning the Friday Five asks about the family traditions of Christmas, particularly as they pertain to the necessary adjustments when families begin to take new shape through losses and additions. Except for one, I find that I can't really answer the questions posed because they simply don't pertain to my/our new reality. That doesn't mean that the "five" hasn't spurred a whole lot of reflection. If anything, it has spurred perhaps a bit more than I would like to consider.

The gist of it is this. Our general experience--that of my husband and me--is that Christmas tends to happen without us. It is problematic that we don't live near any of our family, but that seems to underscore an emotional reality. When we are able to enjoy holiday time with our daughter or son and their respective families we are accommodated. We have never been invited to join either for Christmas Day. Some  years we have managed celebrations before or after, but the heart of the day has never included us. 

This isn't uncommon for divorced fathers, even when geography isn't an issue. When I was growing up my parents divorced when I was 13, and with rare exceptions Christmas Day was celebrated in the home of my mother. Even when Mom remarried and moved to another state, my brothers and I trekked to her abode,  relegating my father to second-class status. This happened for all kinds of practical and noble reasons, but it was perpetuated because my brothers and I made the convenient, self-justified choice of keeping my father second. Through those years my father enjoyed being part of the lives of the families of the women with whom he shared his heart, and I like to believe that those bonds offered balm for his battered family soul. The truth includes the reality that we never put him first.

I  have no children to bring to the present equation. My husband's family is now mine, so I am experiencing his place in the equation as my own. As he laments being "the hind tit" in the life of his children (his words) I feel a double dose of pain--his, as well as mine. Add to that my own, later-in-life perspective and new empathy for my father's experience, and regret taints the mix. What was once my favorite holiday has become a source of deep pain and longing for inclusion. We have few friends who might embrace us, taking the edge off the isolation we feel, and so we muddle through. 

I wage a debate within myself about speaking up, of being honest about feelings. The one time my father shared his feelings with us was on the occasion of my mother's remarriage.  Still carrying a torch for my mother he lambasted us for not considering how the day affected him and showing some sympathy for him. I seem to recall that my brothers were dismissive of his tirade, and frankly I don't remember how I responded to him. During a recent conversation with my daughter-in-law about managing the "family juggle" I mentioned that they hadn't been to see us since they were married three and half years ago. She acknowledged that truth with silence, a far better response than excuses or empty promises about different patterns in the future.

Somewhere in the mix we hold a share of responsibility in how this plays out--family dynamics are a reflection of all the players in the pool. I suspect we all lack the courage to face and address whatever hurts lie beneath, or attempt to clear the clouded air that perceptions, accurate or otherwise,  have created. Somehow or other we haven't learned how to love adequately, either, so that respecting the dignity of each others feelings can be something that is honored and cherished, rather than held hostage (which is sometimes how it feels). 

I don't have answers, but I do know that honesty and effort need to be part of whatever will help move us through our present experience of feeling marginalized.  Most importantly, love will need to lead the way. For that, I pray.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

remembering the family

There are surprisingly few posts on facebook this morning recalling the loss of life in Newtown a year ago. The usual news outlets that show up on my page are quiet, and individual posts are scarce. It's been a long year since that fateful day, and maybe there's really nothing to say that hasn't already been said. Except this.

Nancy and Adam Lanza's family. 99.9% of the stories refer to the 26 victims at Sandy Hook without reaching out to include Adam's first victim, his mother. 26 is an accurate number reflecting the loss at Sandy Hook Elementary School and tells part of the story, but the whole story includes 28 victims. Yes, I'm including Adam in that number because he, too, lost his life by his hand. But it is Nancy that is so frequently excluded, as though to punish her for the actions of her child. It seems that a scapegoat is necessary on occasions such as this, and since she cannot speak for herself she is a convenient target for blame. It's not up to me to determine her culpability, though I don't hold her responsible for Adam's choice.

This morning I am writing because I am mindful of the Lanza family. They lost two of their own, and because of the circumstances surrounding their deaths the family's grief is unbearably private. Is there anyone reaching out to them? Is there anyone offering support when the "if only" questions plague their days and haunt their nights? Have they been shunned by friends, and when this, and other anniversaries break into their cycle of healing do they experience the setbacks of interrupted trust and the kind of isolation over which they are powerless to alter? I wonder if, unbeknown to the rest of us, there is a solidarity among surviving family members from situations similar to this who have no one else to whom they can turn to express their needs and inch toward some kind of normalcy now denied to them. 

As compassionate a culture as we can be we are perhaps more cruel to those who don't deserve our disdain.  Our penchant for exclusion comes with a price that we all pay, though some more tragically and dearly than others.  Today is a day to remember that victims surround us, ready and eager to be survivors through the generosity of compassion each of us can extend.  Tomorrow is the day that we begin to extend that memory toward a commitment in practice.

It is my prayer for the Lanzas, and others who trod the path they travel involuntarily, that hands and hearts are reaching out, that prayers are offered on their behalf, and that peace may fill their hearts and days sooner than later.

Friday, December 13, 2013

friday five: december's random

our living room several years ago 
 
From Karla at RevGals:

1.  How are you?  How can we pray for you?
Since we were without Internet access for a good part of the day for last week's Friday Five I didn't even get a chance to play my own post, which posed this question! I'm overwhelmed, inspired, energized, enthusiastic, physically dealing with a very stiff and painful neck, and generally unprepared for a Christmas that will be different from any other I've known.  This is a rough Christmas. We have no money to spend on anyone, and it is likely that the only gifts under the tree will be what comes from my mother, and maybe something from our kids. It depresses my husband in a big way (in spite of trying to talk to him about creating our own good memories and making lemonade out of lemons), and it saddens me. I am cross-stitching ornaments for our grandsons, and that will likely be the only thing we are able to give. And maybe some truffles that I make.  How might you pray? For peace with what we have, and better times soon.
2.  On another level, I am sure that many of you have treasured Christmas ornaments.  Tell us about one of your more treasured, and why it is special.
Eight years ago my best friend was diagnosed with a cancer that she did not survive. Kathy lived in St. Louis, and I was fortunate at that time to have the freedom to travel there once a month on a weekend to visit with her and do what I could to help her as she fought her battle. A lot of people in Kathy's life pitched in to make her life run as smoothly as possible and feel as normal as possible. At Christmas that year she gifted many of us with angel ornaments, to thank us for being angels to her. This angel ornament was her gift to me, whom she dubbed as the Angel of Angels. 
3.  Since I have started in a new call in a new city, I have a new guilty pleasure called Shubies which is a store of wine, cheese, craft beer, gourmet foods, fun kitchen gadgets and more, besides a bakery/lunch counter.  I am currently enjoying an (overpriced)  kale-avocado-goat cheese pressed sandwich on cranberry sunflower seed wheat bread. O.M.GOODNESS.   What is one of your current guilty pleasures?
In another turning-lemons-into-lemonade moment about a month ago I learned how to make truffles/cake balls.  Although I enjoy popping one into my mouth here and there, they look so decadent that I can't resist giving away and enjoy seeing eyes go wide at their appearing.
4. I picked up a beautiful hank of handspun wool in heather grays and purples in October that I am sending my sister for her birthday this month.  I have been looking forward to giving it to her.  What is something (tangible or less tangible) you are looking forward to give in the next few weeks?
As noted above, we have no money to buy anything to give this year. I am making ornaments for our grandsons, and if I can squeeze out the time I will make them Christmas pillowcases (none of our family live near us, so everything must be shipped). My mom made pillowcases for us when we were kids (I still use mine at Christmas!), and at her request I made some for my goddaughter's kids a few years ago (I had made some for her and her sister when they were kids). I've got the materials to make things, so I'm going that route this year. We'll probably share some goodies from the kitchen, too. 
5.  We must have random words for a random sentence or story, right?  So, here are your words (or forms of) to use in a sentence or two:   earth, cranberry, codfish, kettle corn, pitcher, love, joy, hope, peace, Santa, artist.
With a pitcher of wassail for refreshment decorated with an artist's rendering of Santa, we strung the tree with garlands of cranberry and kettle corn, woven with seasonal yearnings for love, joy, hope and peace.  The codfish remained in the refrigerator for another time.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

a funny thing happened on my way to a homework assignment

A few weeks ago I wrote about a "small business boot camp" seminar/workshop that I attended. There were a multitude of gifts from that day, one of which was a follow-up one-on-one coaching session with Amber Hurdle, executive coach extraordinaire and creator and facilitator of the boot camp. When I met with Amber for that session she invited me to participate in a more in-depth, group coaching opportunity that began this week. There are eight sessions all together, held via conference call and include people from as far away as Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Ottawa, and as nearby as a friend and mentor just down the street. Each and every person in this group qualifies for rock star status in one way or another, and I am humbled and honored to be in their company.

To make the most of this opportunity Amber gives us meaty homework assignments. I'm not writing today about the grist being ground in that mill, but something that happened as a result. The processes that we're engaging to do the work to help ourselves achieve success as small business entrepreneurs isn't new to me. I've encountered it in various places along the road of my life, from YWCA development programs to Pampered Chef coaching calls with my director (and reinforced more broadly by the corporate office). What is different is that I am in a different place, and as a result everything looks different. Contexts are altered, lessons have been learned and perspectives have shifted. 

After our session the other day I revisited some of my homework and had an a-ha! moment. A couple of them, actually. I shot Amber an email to share with her some of my reflections about what had happened, and she replied with encouragement, enthusiasm, and affirmation. In recent years I have felt deprived of much affirmation, so when it comes I take a long drink from the offering of it and savor it. As I took heart from Amber's affirmation this morning I decided to pay that forward, and committed to taking the time to offer affirmation to others as I encountered their posts on facebook. 

It felt good. A few people responded with words of gratitude, others "liked" the post, and a few others did not respond at all. That's all fine. I didn't start the effort for reciprocation, but to give. And shock of shocks, the effort of itself gave back to me. 

You may recall a post a few weeks back about my struggle with maintaining energy levels as a result of constant pressures and stresses. After leaving a slew of affirmations on people's facebook pages this morning a reserve of energy opened up. I did some thorough kitchen cleaning, some laundry, and vacuuming. I'm getting ready to take Juliet for a walk, to help her shake loose some stress of her own. I'll be baking shortly for tonight's church supper, and then head out to tackle a bunch of errands. Much of this is in the course of anyone elses day (or half day!), but for yours truly it's a landmark shift. All because I gave. 

This isn't rocket science. For me, however, it's scraping off layers of accumulated crud from an extended period of hardship. It helps me cope, at least for today, in a way that lets the light shine in with more brightness and clarity. It helps me turn my face to the sun and the love that is out there in the world. It is a shift of energy that in turn helps restore the alignment of my being, much like massage impacts the natural balance of dogs. It is healing, and blessed, and I am grateful. So very grateful.

Friday, November 29, 2013

friday five: advent confidential

At RevGals MaryBeth invites us to Advent Confidential. What are your favorite traditions, observances, hymns, or memories of Advent? Is there something you remember from childhood that you’d like to do again? A funny story you can share about the time the Advent wreath got a little over-lit? We are here and listening!

Growing up we were awash in traditions, some of which were distinctly Advent. I have so many great memories of that time, which makes this a particularly meaningful season for me in very personal, nostalgic ways.  As Quakers we had no liturgical traditions, but the season was full of wonderful, anticipatory activity.

1) The Advent Calendar. Hung on the back of our front door was a felt version made by my mother. My brothers and I took turns emptying the appropriate pocket each night to decorate a felt tree with tiny ornaments, culminating with a star at the top of the tree on Christmas Eve. 

2) Family shopping night. I don't know how many years we actually did this, but I think of it as a tradition. We headed downtown to the department store where my parents would help each of us kids shop for certain presents. Dinner at a nearby restaurant and a walk around Hartford's Constitution Plaza to view the holiday festival of lights was a part of the deal. I remember snippets of this activity, but the fact that it stands out in my memory must mean that there was some deep joy with much greater impact than the cold of a winter night.

3) Christmas themes. Every year my mom chose a theme that was the focus of decorating the house (and sometimes for our family Christmas card).  Among the themes were the Three Kings, the twelve days of Christmas, Noel, and Peace. She saved cards we received from year to year that depicted these themes, and there was usually a banner filled with several of them that was displayed hung on a doorway.  It is a tradition that I have only recently thought about putting into action myself.

4) The Advent candle. At times, rather than a wreath we had a single pillar candle with 24 marks down one side. Each night at dinner the candle was lit and allowed to burn down to the appropriate date before it was extinguished.

5) Baking and delivery of the goods. My mom had two consistent holiday kitchen specialties: homemade toffee and spiced tea mix.  There were several family friends who were regular recipients of this kitchen largesse, and as a family we would bundle into the car and go to the homes of these friends, standing outside the door and announcing ourselves by breaking into song--a carol, of course. The front door light would come on and the door would open with wonder and joy, and we would spend some time with our friends as we delivered our gifts. It is another treasured family memory.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

comfort, then and now

I don't suppose I thought to mention that, now that I don't have a regular altar gig on Sundays, I have joined the choir. Yep. We don't sing every Sunday. In fact, we've only sung on one Sunday so far since fall kicked in, but we're now preparing a couple of pieces for Advent Lessons and Carols. 

We're sort of a pick-up choir, since people who are part of the St. Augustine's family have schedules that demand their presence elsewhere with some regularity. Like a multitude of other volunteer organizations in the world, we work with what we've got. Let me just say that I'm glad it's a group that is willing to work with me. St. A's is littered with song-writers and musicians, and there are folks who show up once and are ready for their solo. I don't have any voice training. I can carry a tune, but learn best by ear rather than reading music (which I don't exactly know how to do). It doesn't hurt that I know how to play the piano and can play the recorder, which means that music is not a foreign language. It's just not my best language.

Anyway. Lessons and Carols. One of the pieces we're preparing is "Comfort, Comfort," arranged by John Ferguson. All good 'piscies reading this are no doubt humming the tune of that Advent hymn right about now. This is the same song, but written for four parts. I can't find a good video on you tube to share (oh, wait, I did find one, linked below), but maybe--when the time comes--I can get Ken to record it on his phone when we perform it. 

The hymn to which I refer is better know by the words of scripture that are set to this tune. "Comfort, comfort ye my people," hearkens from Isaiah. It has a special place in my life, a prelude, if you will, to my transition into the Episcopal Church. It is, as well, a sort of anchor memory for me of a time and place in my life. 

The first house I owned was just down the hill from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, in the neighborhood known as "behind the rocks." Trinity sits up on a bit of a precipice, a rocky crag, if you will, hence the name. The crown jewel of the campus' picturesque architecture is the college chapel, a neo-gothic beauty designed by the same architectural firm as The National Cathedral. Yes. Sigh. It is utterly lovely. Because of the geographic setting of the college the spire of the chapel can be seen from afar, a sort of beacon of the academic life that hums around it. (And to think I turned down an opportunity to serve there as seminarian!)

Among other things Trinity's steeple includes a carillon, and during the summer carillon concerts are a popular weekly offering that many enjoy while picnicking on the broad lawn outside. Because of the proximity of my house to the college and chapel I didn't have to wander up for concerts (although I did). I enjoyed them from my home. 

I also enjoyed the practice sessions of the carilloneur during the week as he prepared for Sunday's prelude. One such practice session stands out. With leafless winter branches now framing a view of the chapel spire from an upstairs window of my house, I remember looking out to it, aglow from the floodlights at its base. The tune that rang out was "Comfort, comfort ye my people." It was unfamiliar to me then, but burrowed a place in my heart and memory as I listened to its distinctive rhythm drift across the night and behind the rocks. My spiritual journey was moving toward baptism, and the childhood rituals of my family's observance of Advent were about to take on new depth and meaning. Always a special season for me by virtue of those family traditions, the sight and sound now associated with this hymn formed a touchstone that has since been foundational for subsequent Advents. 

Now, as I learn my alto part for this arrangement our choir is preparing, that history returns with a poignant twist. My home parish was also in the "behind the rocks" neighborhood, just six blocks from my home. A couple who were an integral part of my formation there, and who became dear and valued friends, had their own connection with Trinity. A year or so after my ordination and relocation to Missouri, Al died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 51. Having worked at the college for many years his remains are in the chapel's memorial garden. Two weeks ago, Lynne, Al's widowed bride (as he always called her), died peacefully after too many years struggling with diabetes. She, too, will find her eternal rest there in the memorial garden. As her sons have dealt with the closing issues of their mother's life, pictures of Trinity have made appearances on facebook, escorting me back to another time and place, to a season of beginnings, the dark nights of Advent, and the anticipation of things to come.  It is a blessing for me, so many miles now removed from that place, to be able to reconnect to it and remember and honor Lynne (and Al) through these memories.

As we live through our own challenges approaching Advent this year I do take comfort in Isaiah's words, and in the music that has become part of my song:
For the glory of the Lord
now o'er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.
 (Can't remember how to embed video in the blog. Click the link with the "music" for a video of the tune.)

Friday, November 08, 2013

friday five: random is as random does, or something like that

Kathryn at RevGals gives us a random Friday Five. Here goes!

1.  What’s up?  How are you?
I'm rather well, thank you! I've got some good mojo going on with my fledgling business, have two clients (gotta start somewhere!), am connecting with some marvelous women in business who know their stuff and help other women without blinking, and it finally feels like a real fall here in middle Tennessee. All of this is good, but what is great is that my spirit is aligning in ways it hasn't felt aligned in a very long time. To quote Josh Lyman, "Outstanding!"
2.  You are moving to a new office.  You can only take five books with you (pretend there is no thing such as kindle, nook, etc.).  What would they be BESIDES teh Bible, which is already written on your hearts, yes?
  • A Thesaurus. I love words, and a thesaurus is one of those tools that adds verses of meaning to a single thought. Not to mention that it is useful when working crossword puzzles. 
  • Frederick Beuchner's Listening to Your Life daily meditations
  • A comprehensive book of puzzles that included crosswords and sudoku (for those times when a mental gear shift is helpful)
  • A coffee table book of photographs of  prayerful communities around the world, Talking to God, Listening to the World at Prayer. Wonderful book that inspires me consistently.
  • A blank journal as a space to ponder, reflect, draw, and ...
3.  If you had a superpower that could give you a five hour retreat, and you could go anywhere in the world to spend those five hours on retreat (because you have superpowers, ya’ know?), where would you go?
The Isle of Iona. It's got sacred space, a view of Mull, the sound of water lapping the beach, sheep, good walking and great memories.

4.  What piece of music, song, hymn, etc. are you diggin’ right now?
A tune written for the pipes, Highland Cathedral. Can't get it out of my head and I don't want to. I can't seem to recall how to embed a video, but if you love bagpipes, visit the link.
5.  Use the following words in a sentence (or two):  Tangle, dribble, hook, Panda, shark, smile, worry, island.
The Panda and shark tangled about who would be voted off the island, unable to come to terms about which competitor had the best hook shot and who was most guilty of dribbling during the basketball competition. The Panda did not worry, however, smiling with the knowledge that immunity would trump home-court advantage.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

a hedgehog went into a bar...

Yesterday I spent a stimulating day at a local event called Small Business Boot Camp. I was invited to attend as the guest of one of the women to whom I referred in an earlier post that has been encouraging to and supportive of the new venture in my life. In spite of the fact that our county is adjacent to Davidson County--aka Metropolitan Nashville, a savvy city in many respects--we can be a backward place, stuck in "old boy" thinking and decision making (don't get me started on our city council), with a business that proclaims "We'll trade for anything that don't eat!" (cringe), and women whose hairstyles have been stuck in the 80's far too long. This doesn't mean there aren't forward thinking, highly competent people in our midst, and yesterday's seminar proved it. 

Led by Amber Hurdle, an executive coach, a team of women presented on a variety of topics of concern to small business owners that ranged from strategic planning, to marketing, to time management (which has become far more than the concept of not handling a piece of paper more than once). Some of the information was a review of familiar concepts--repurposed, if you will--while other take aways were new and thought-provoking. 

One item for consideration was something called the Hedgehog Concept. Because I've been away from the world of business and its associated models for a long time now, I hadn't been aware of this particular item, its name derived from an ancient poem about a hedgehog and a fox, and the hedgehog's ability to survive an encounter with said fox because of its ability to do one critical thing very well (roll up into a spiny ball so that it can't be eaten by the fox). In short, for us modern types, the Hedgehog Concept concerns itself with identifying what thing a person (or company) does really well, and capitalizing on that ability to achieve success. It doesn't stop at identifying the skill, however, but incorporates three components that lead to success: the skill, one's passion, and the junction where the marketplace utilizes the skill and passion. The conjunction of those three is literally the core that leads to success.


As the presenter was sharing this portion of her talk I thought immediately of Frederick Beuchner's definition of vocation: the place where one's deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet. This may not sound like a formula for business success, but I would suggest that its application undergirds the success of all sorts of people. One such individual is William Penn, about whom it is said that he came to the New World to do good and ended up doing well as a result. Okay, so that may only be a common adage in Quaker circles, but you get my drift.

I made an attempt to share Beuchner's definition as a means of understanding the hedgehog concept through a different lens--not all people who are in business would describe themselves as business people, after all, and allowing for different frameworks through which to experience an "a-ha!" might be helpful to fledgling entrepreneurs--but as soon as I invoked the word "theologian" the presenter didn't know what to make of me. Though I confess to being a little disappointed that she didn't immediately embrace my addition to the conversation, her response brought home an important truth about the entrepreneurial and business world where I now make my vocational bed, a truth reflected by the Hedgehog Concept: we are each individual and unique, and just as who we are and what we have to offer will have its distinctive place in the marketplace, so will our manner of connecting the necessary dots to be successful in that marketplace be distinctive and unique.  

I don't think of myself as a business person, but that doesn't mean that I'm not capable of applying the necessary concepts to my work to help me succeed in business. Yesterday's seminar was an important affirmation of that self-understanding, and reminded me that I already have many of the tools that I need. And those that I don't? There's a whole community of others in the same boat who are there to help, many of whom don't think of themselves as being a business person either.  And here's a little aside: Of the group yesterday, numbering roughly 25, only three were men.  That's an entirely different post.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

the mojo returns

Do you remember Shannon Faulkner? She was the woman who fought to be the first female cadet at the all-male bastion of southern military education, The Citadel. It's been a while--1995, to be exact--so I can't say that I blame you if the incident isn't right there at the edge of the memory pool ready for recollection. Shannon won a lawsuit filed against The Citadel for discrimination when they rejected her application for admission on the basis of her sex. She lasted a week once she was finally enrolled and attending classes, resigning voluntarily. She attributed her decision to extensive emotional and psychological abuse throughout the ordeal that led to illness and total exhaustion.

I remember this little piece of history because the timing of Shannon's very public effort to fight for her cause coincided with a more private battle going on in my own world. I wasn't trying to be the first at anything. What Shannon and I shared was a dedication of energy poured into something in which we believed (I was seeking ordination). In Shannon's case her energy tapped out. In my case, my energy was so singularly focused that there was nothing left for anything or anyone else in my world. Shannon was ridiculed for her departure from The Citadel, those eager to see her go (never having wanted her there in the first place) citing her decision as evidence of why she should never have been granted the privilege of attending. I never saw it that way. I understood that when you are engaged daily in an effort that requires every ounce of energy you have, every moment of every day, eventually that energy will be depleted if it is not renewed. The attacks against Shannon were relentless and public. She had little support, and threats against her required the protection of U.S. Marshals while she was on campus, and security cameras were an attempt at preventing bodily harm. I don't blame her one bit for saying, "enough."

I wish I could say that the experience of energy maintenance was a memory on which to draw for ministerial purposes, or to remind myself that I came out on the other side of a difficult time, evidence of inner gumption and chutzpah. Instead the experience of channeling energy into maintaining an inner equilibrium while the chaos of my world threatens the very same is all too familiar. The gift of that time in 1995 taught me how to navigate this kind of season in life, and in subsequent years I have gotten better at that navigation. I know what things to dismiss and what things to take seriously. I covet the moments when the energy to do more than prepare a meal or do the laundry means that I have created memories or enjoyed something outside of myself. I have learned to hold on to a sense of competence, even if confidence lags.

Not long ago, during a cherished afternoon spent with a friend over coffee laced with conversation, I lamented the loss of my creative mojo. "I used to..." I mourned. Then she covered my hand with hers and assured me that I hadn't lost my creativity. Rather, the energy devoted to putting one foot in front of the other left none for anything else. The core of my being was intact, just obscured by the detritus of the daily grind.

She was right. Is right. And the good news is that there is evidence that my energy is being released from the stranglehold of survival-mode for other, more life-giving expression. Like searching out and deciding on patterns for mug rugs to make for a fellow RevGal. Like following through on Pampered Chef leads, resulting in four--count 'em, four!--shows scheduled for November (until a party I did last weekend, I hadn't had a show since February). Like putting on my extravert face to promote my massage business, and not being discouraged that my calendar isn't filling up with appointments. Like securing a twice-monthly massage gig with a dog! 

It has taken a lot of energy to keep my head above the proverbial water over the last few years as the parameters of how my life was understood and defined shifted or disappeared.  Now that I am in a groove that positions me to move forward with a new purpose, inner alignment is yielding outer results. I recognize the signs of transformation that I trusted to be at work, and my soul is sighing too deeply for words.  

It's not just mojo, it's life, but the two are inextricably related. I'm not so naive as to think it will all be smooth sailing now that there is wind in my sails.  After all, wind also churns the sea. But the shift is happening, and the momentum is forward. As Tom Ryan says, "Onward, by all means."

PS. By 2009, The Citadel had graduated 205 women from it ranks.  No matter how far we've come, we've still got a long way to go.

Friday, November 01, 2013

friday five: super stah!

As I transition from a vocation as a parish priest to a very different kind of ministry I have been astounded by the kindness and helpfulness of others. Their words have encouraged and affirmed me, and they have shared ideas and initiated actions to benefit my new venture.  All of these individuals are women, and I am blessed and a little overwhelmed by the genuineness of their support. It stands in contrast to too much of my experience serving in the Church, which is often plagued by pettiness toward and criticism of its clergy.

Because there is far too little of it, for clergy in general and clergy women in particular, today I want to focus on affirming what we do well. Let’s practice giving ourselves complements, and—gasp!—accepting them with grace! It may be challenging, but I promise it won’t hurt.

List five super powers that you use in your vocational life. This isn’t bragging. It’s naming the light that shines from your lamp stand.

Go!

1) Preaching is one area where I get good marks consistently.  I am so grateful to partner effectively with the Holy Spirit in this department!

2) Creative marketing: I may not have the most original idea out there, but I have been known to generate new ways of looking at old challenges and respond to them with a twist. After Hurricane Katrina a number of displaced families were settled at a campground not far from the church. I took the "Blessing of the Animals" service to them, and it was an entirely new experience for all of us. 

3) Listening is something I do really well. It will be interesting to see how my listening skills adapt as an animal massage practitioner where I use my hands more than my ears.

4) Compassion that cuts through the crap. When someone is hurting, frightened, or sad--I don't care if they're a butt-hole the rest of the week--I care about the human tie that binds.  This has helped me learn to love people I don't like.

5) Partly because I have the "efficiency" gene I'm a good facilitator. Not only do I hear between the lines to make sense of conversation and ideas being generated, I keep a group on track.  It doesn't hurt that as an INFJ I'm all about possibilities. 

Phew!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

that "letting go" thing

While drooling through Pinterest earlier I came upon this quote pinned by a friend. "Letting Go" mantras can run the gamut from eliciting eye-rolling, "oh, pleeeeeze!" responses, to making one stop to consider a candidate for allocation to the "wisdom" category. Where the one I've included here, prompting this post, will wind up is as yet undecided. It did, however, draw me here for reflection. It seems I really only reflect on the blog these days.

Letting go is a very personal thing, one reason the plethora of adages can appear so trite and, at times, seem dismissive.  Before one can really talk about letting go it's important to consider why one is holding on. Is it a precious memory? A lesson learned the hard way that continues to be instructive when revisited? Is it a thorn in our side that provides a masochistic pleasure? Is it immaturity? Unrequited love? Long-suffering patience? Sage endurance? Is it like sand in our inner oyster, working its way toward pearl-like perfection? Does someone else's action (or lack thereof) hold us captive to a particular set of baggage?

I've done my share of holding on, and I'd like to think that most of what has been held has also been released.  There are probably as many paths that led to each release as contributed to the matter lingering in my possession in the first place.  In some cases I have gone to bed carrying a particular weight on my soul only to wake without it. Call it magic, mystical, or early dementia--poof! gone.  At other times shedding the cling-on was like trying to flick scotch tape off your finger. It would not go into that good night.

Other matters have lived with me almost like a comfy cardigan. Their presence kept me processing whatever led to me holding on in the first place, and in due time resolution was achieved and transformation experienced. Frankly, that's really the best kind of holding on.  It gets you somewhere in a purposeful way.

Lately I've come to believe (because this quote had me stop to realize it) that holding on just isn't worthy of my time, I don't care what it is that begs for holding. More often than not holding on doesn't accomplish anything but to drain and redirect our energy in ways that just aren't helpful. As I age I am more respectful toward the limits life imposes on us, making my time (and what I do with it) more valuable. 

I still watch too much TV, for instance, but at least now I do other things while watching: I cross-stitch, or plan menus, or massage a dog or two, or make an effort to clear the kitchen table of its clutter. I shift loads of laundry or do dishes. I get up and move, even if it is only down the hall and back to relocate some object that has been kept out of its place for too long. Or I dust the piano. Pick up bits of dog hair that have collected in front of a chair, or between pieces of furniture.  I don't have the time, according to the clock or my psyche, to be bothered with hanging on to things. I have no use for the weight of the issues that dance through  my days or clog my thoughts. I'm more interested in engaging my molecules in other ways.

Sure, there are loiterers, but they're not around without my consent and an established purpose. I think that's okay.  I really prefer to travel light, though on occasion my "leisure activity" totes mean multiple trips to load and unload the car. You know, camera and books and cross stitch and other assorted projects to tend when I have the luxury of leaving home.

As I've worked my way through this post I have concluded that as nice as the quote at the top of the page is, it still lumps the notion of hanging on and letting go into a single, unpleasant mass.  That won't do. It doesn't honor our unique stories or the way that our "stuff" shapes us--for better or worse. It is true that our baggage can be heavy, but it can also teach us things that we wouldn't learn without learning how to carry it. I believe that when we do carry our loads for a tad longer than might be necessary, the day does come when we are ready to set down the weight and say, "enough!" 

If we don't, we'll get out of kilter, lose our balance and stumble, and we'll get crushed under the power the unpleasantness has had over us all along.

Letting go? Strive for it, but honor the process of getting to the point of release.

That is all. 


Thursday, October 17, 2013

from crawling to standing almost upright

These are somewhat magical days. It's exciting to be on the other side of the slope of launching Cumberland Animal Massage. 
  • My training was spectacular, phenomenal, exceeded expectations and inspired me in ways that I value deep in my bones. 
  • My web site is "official!" I am so grateful that our trainer is so proactive in wanting to help his students succeed--among other things he makes a point to take photographs of all of his students in training so that we have images to use to promote our businesses. Gold star! Double gold star! A fellow classmate also took pictures on her phone that she shared, and I'm using two of them on the web site.
  • I finally have my business cards in hand and have had opportunities to distribute them.
  • A friend and small business owner here in town has offered to sell gift certificates on my behalf to her clients, and will allow me to market my business through hers.
  • I've attended a local networking gathering and received some wonderful affirmation.
  • A draft of a brochure is complete, awaiting review by other eyes to see if says all the right things.
  • I have a Twitter account! I'm not actually thrilled about this, but a business consultant I trust assures me that Twitter is the best social media outlet to use to promote my business. I'm learning.
  • I have lots of ideas of people and groups to contact to let them know I'm in business--the opportunities abound! 
  • I'm working my way through the certification requirements: two massages on five different dogs not my own, and two tests (one of which doesn't test knowledge but functions more as a task list to help build my business). It's actually fun!
I'm beyond grateful that there is so much good energy around all of this, because as is typical of life, for all the pluses there are also some challenges. It's clear that I need more revenue to cover some start-up expenses. I need a grooming table, and am combing through craigslist to save money there. I need to print promotional materials and gift certificates, and buy ink for my printer. I need vendor materials: a banner, display board, etc. At least I have a stuffed demonstration dog! I need to upgrade my professional membership in the International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork. I need to buy insurance. I need to pay for the window decal for my car.

I really need a fixed location from which to practice. Experience already suggests that although pets may be more comfortable in their own surroundings, those same surroundings are highly distracting to them--almost too comfortable. Distractions are counterproductive. A fixed location will have to wait, however, until there is some money coming in. 

The hours of my day swell with activity related to all this, and at times I feel a bit overwhelmed. I am so out of practice having such meaningful work to do, not to mention that the responsibilities of "real life" press in.  Breathing is a critical component of massage work, and that plumb line also helps me focus on the components of the rest of my life. Everything is shifting, for good, but I am also reminded of how badly my confidence has taken a hit in recent years, so securing my "land legs" can take some doing. 

I am so grateful during a season of life like this for the wisdom of Dame Julian of Norwich: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

trumping exile



A sermon for Breast Cancer Awareness Sunday at a local church. 
Text: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7

It was about twenty-five years ago that my life was first knowingly touched by breast cancer. Among the Christmas cards I had sent that particular winter, one went to my friend Katie, a colleague with whom I had worked in my first “real,” post-college job. A month or so after Christmas, I received a letter back from her husband, telling me that he and his family had buried Katie two days before Christmas, a victim of the ravages of breast cancer. In the years that have followed I have known, prayed for, ministered to and buried women whose lives were forever altered by the diagnosis of that same disease. Of that number too high to count, some died, and some underwent life-saving procedures and treatments; blessedly, many, many are alive today to bear witness to the battle that helped them triumph over two words no woman ever wants to hear spoken to them.

Today we remember people like Katie, who lost her battle; we honor people like my sister-in-law Barbara, and your own Pat R., who triumphed; and we support people like my friend Kellee, who is confronted each day by concerns about her chances for victory and who longs, with hope, for a future where breast cancer is but a piece of her life-altering past. Today we are also mourners and care-givers, friends and family to all of the above whose lives have felt the cold shadow of breast cancer fall upon them. For each and every one of us, the full awareness of the disease, its prevention, cessation, treatment and recovery are paramount. Today we to pray as a community with a common enemy, and to raise our hearts and voices toward a future that will one day see the eradication of this foe.

In this morning’s reading from Jeremiah the prophet seeks to comfort the exiles in Babylon by commending to them a life of normalcy. “Build houses,” he tells them. Plant gardens, marry, and have children. In spite of being captive in a foreign land, their days may pass as they would have in their homeland. There is grace to be found in ordinary things, and the future of which the exiles dreamed may yet come to pass. But note this, Jeremiah tells them. Tend to the welfare of the community, for in doing so the welfare of all is assured.

Women and men who receive a diagnosis of breast cancer—or any cancer or life-threatening disease—may well feel as though they have been exiled from their life. Even as people and places and routines are the same, each day is experienced through a new lens of separation and isolation. From one day to the next one’s physical health is unpredictable and, one’s future becomes obscured by the necessity of focusing on the here, the now, the immediate. This day is what matters. This moment becomes more precious than the last. The thief that lurks beneath the breastplate may threaten to separate us from the people and life that are loved, but it cannot separate us from the love of God. The tending community, our very own satellite branch of the communion of saints will see to that, and in spite of the loneliness that hovers, it can never completely descend.

For those here who can raise a triumphant fist as a survivor of the disease, we join you in celebrating this victory. Your very beings have reverberated with the feat that strikes anyone who faces the prospect of an illness that can be combated but not controlled. You have known the darkness of uncertainty, the misery and fatigue of treatment, and the depth to which you are able to dig within yourself to persevere in faith with dignity and determination. Your priorities have been adjusted and your dreams refocused. Ordinary moments have become precious opportunities to know and taste life. Nothing is taken for granted.

For those here presently waging war against breast cancer, we lift you with our prayers, our love, our support, and whatever else you require as you face each day. I offer a familiar passage of scripture from the gospel of Matthew to you. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells us. “Take my yoke upon and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30). You, and those who have journeyed the road you now travel, know well the desire and value of rest. Cancer takes a toll on more than the body. Emotions are dragged through every quarter of our being. You are surprised by grief as well as joy. Vulnerability and inner strength negotiate a tenuous co-existence. You strive to make hope an unshakeable ally.

The invitation to come to Jesus and find rest is welcome, and one for which you long. He offers his yoke, not as a burden of weight, but as a means of lightening the load. In taking up his yoke we harness the strength and power that is uniquely his, making it possible to face challenges that we could not fathom tackling alone.

The companionship of Christ is one of the greatest comforts and blessings of the Christian life. It is so because the gentleness of his spirit envelops us with compassion, and the humility characteristic of his heart bestows upon us an awareness of our own unique being. In the light of that awareness we find ourselves capable of drawing on our strengths, even as we accept the gift of his help to compensate for our weakness. There are times when the yoke Jesus offers us is the freedom to be carried by his love and his grace. At other times we find that in sharing the load we learn that we, too, have strength to share, and the deepening of our faith becomes a yoke of its own.  It is my prayer for those carrying the burden of illness that you may find the rest Jesus offers your soul.

For those who mourn, I want to share an experience of my own with you. Several years ago one of my dearest friends battled a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer. She fought against her disease valiantly and boldly, and until two weeks before her death the determination of her own will, and the efforts of the medical team who treated her seemed to be headed for triumph.  At that time she was hospitalized, breathing with difficulty, and the signs seemed to suggest that triumph was not in the offing after all.

It was spring, and I drove from here to St. Louis, where Kathy lived, to see her during her hospitalization, wrestling during those hours on the road with the shifting reality that was taking place for her, and that would have an impact on all of us who loved her. Particularly jarring to me was the contrast between the pain in my heart, and the beauty that was unfolding everywhere as I drove through an awakening landscape of spring blooms and brightening greenery. I adore spring, with all its colors, contrasts and promise, and my appreciation for its glory on that occasion was pierced by enormous sadness. The world was coming to life as my friend’s life was fading, and there seemed no way to reconcile these opposing truths.

It was Holy Week, that time in the Christian calendar when the culminating events in the life of Jesus resulted in his death and resurrection, and through that spiritual lens I poured out my distress to God, seeking comfort from the One best equipped to deliver it. As the miles rolled by I yielded my heart along with my prayers, and I discovered ultimately that the spring of my joy also contained the seeds of my peace. Though Kathy’s earthly life and journey might be coming to an end, a new dimension of her life with God was being birthed. Like the buds and blooms that filled my view, she was about to blossom in God’s eternal presence, radiant and fragrant and perfect.

The image of Kathy’s soul in full and divine bloom flooded my heart not only with peace, but with a joy unlike any I had experienced before. My pain was still deep, but it was mitigated by a deeper truth that buoyed me and kept me from the abyss of grief that I had feared. I found myself smiling, thankful to God for the grace of extending his comfort to me through a means that had always been a source of delight, and for the gentle and loving care with which he was drawing my friend to his heart. That very source of joy turned out to be a yoke offered by Christ to help me find rest. The days ahead would bump and bruise all of us, but the salve of God’s peace would soothe and heal.

In Mitch Albom’s book Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie is quoted as saying that “death ends a life, not a relationship.”  In the years since Kathy’s death I have come to understand something about the truth of that statement, and daily I discover how much our friendship is integrated and woven into the fabric of my own life. Yet even as I am appreciative of that gift, I am more deeply indebted to God for his peace. It brings home to me in a profound and significant way the promise of Easter, and the hope that is ours in faith.

When, as a community, we tend to the welfare of our members and invest ourselves in their concerns, their struggles and their triumphs, we each hold a share of the experience of exile. Whether we mourn, grieve, battle, or exult in victory, it is Easter hope that serves to permeate our doubts and fears, and infuse us with the confidence of Christ.  Each of us has our own story of loss, struggle and victory. We tend to the welfare of our community through sharing these stories. We honor the experience of exile supported by the love of family and friends, and nurtured by faith in the one who gives us hope.  We live in the houses we have built and reap the fruit of the gardens we have planted. We marry and have children, we dream live into the reality of dreams come true.  Above all, together we find ourselves bathed in the light of God’s triumphant love, and in that light we discover that we are home.

Friday, October 11, 2013

friday five: baby, baby, baby!

I never had a chance to play last week's Friday Five (of my own devising!) since we were away visiting the newest grandson, but thanks to Jan, this week's ff gives me another chance to ooh and ah as Nana x 5!

She writes: Today’s Friday is about babies. Tell us about babies in your life, of all kinds, even ideas! Tell us about the babies you’ve paid attention to in your life:

1. babies of family or friends

Meet Hunter, our newest grandson, two weeks old today! He's the sweetest little bundle of love, but what would you expect his Nana to say? We were fortunate to have a few days of just us and the new family configuration. For me it was sublime--I essentially parked myself on the couch and held Hunter! Ken got put to work helping Kenneth configure the interior of the storage shed at their new house.  Yes, I definitely got the better end of that deal!
2. animal babies
I was fortunate to help my own dog (above) as she birthed four pups many moons ago--I was twelve-- and more recently I had the opportunity to foster some orphaned litters of very young puppies. Can't get enough of puppies, and wish we had the space and means to do more fostering.
Then, of course, there's Emma, our son's dog when we cared for her for a stretch of time when she was a pup. And let's not forget my neighbor's baby goats when I lived in Sewanee, TN. I loved to play with them!
3. babies you remember in movies or on tv
In a high school class we watched a movie of a baby being born, and that planted the seed of desire for children of my own. Alas, such was not to be my lot, but I have loved on other peoples children and am a better person for those bonds.
4. babies in the Bible
Well, Moses sort of stands out...
5. anything that may be a “baby” arising in your own life
My new animal massage business is beginning to crawl and is picking up speed! I've completed training and am working on certification requirements. Business cards are in hand, networking is in progress, facebook and twitter are up and running, and the web site is operational. Now all I need are some clients. I'm so excited I get verklempt!
Be creative! Add pictures.
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