Saturday, April 30, 2016

in which a single word generates a stream of unusual consciousness

Confession. There is a group of bloggers who have committed to resuming the art of writing a blog. For myself, facebook is one of the culprits responsible for my slack, but other factors contributed to my absence from these pages. To help us renew the habit, one of our group offers a prompt on Saturday morning to help get thoughts and writing juices flowing.

Today's prompt is one word: falling. I'm going to go for the free"fall" and do a little word association with this, like a round of "fast money" on Family Feud. It might go something like this: "Name a word or phrase that begins with the word 'Falling.'"

falling in love
falling fast
falling in line
falling apart
falling together
falling short
falling through
falling asleep
falling behind
falling down
falling silent
falling temperatures
falling snow
falling rain

...and I'm sure there are more. Here's the thing. It took me reading down this list a few times before it struck me like a head slap that falling is an active verb. When I first read the word in the prompt my initial thought was of falling down, like a toddler who is working to master the upright position on all twos. Said child might lose his or her balance and teeter a bit before taking a big ol' plop onto the floor. Like the children's song claims, "we all fall down!"

Most of the time, we all get up, too. Sometimes we jump right up and brush off the ol' behunkus and carry on. Other times it may take several moments to consider how we ended up in the down position before getting reoriented and back on our feet. At still other times we are laid out, unable to move for fear that what knocked us down is ready and waiting for another opportunity for an instant replay. And perhaps most debilitating of all are those times when we are so exhausted that when we find ourselves down we have no energy to get ourselves up again. This falling down and getting back up stuff can definitely wear you out. Heck, Brené Brown wrote an entire book on the subject, Rising Strong. Highly recommended.

I don't want to dwell on the falling down action, however. I really like some of the other pairings with the word, like falling together, falling asleep, and falling snow. There are implications of unity, rest, and quiet beauty held in those words, and collectively they suggest a kind of peacefulness that stands in contrast to the more disruptive action of falling down. Can't you just see the gentle swirling of stardust and the hint of harp strings reverberating just a wee bit away? I'll take some of that kind of falling any day.

And then, of course, there is falling in love. Explosive action, that! Gobsmacked, grab your heart by the seat of its luxurious palpitations, take your breath away, transforming love. It can happen so slowly as to tip the scale of your existence when you least expect it, or pull the rug out from under your carefully planned five-year plan. However it comes for you, there's no escaping the life-altering shebang that is love of the falling variety. No siree-bob. Whew!

Which way are you falling today? In? Out? Here? There? Gently? Cataclysmically? 

Tell us all!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

a father's gift

It was worse than a slap in the face.

After some intensive one-on-one vocational and personal counseling as part of the process toward ordination, I made the commitment to work on the problematic relationship I experienced with my father. I attributed issues with self-esteem as stemming from the passive-aggressive criticism he leveled my direction, as well as the lack of affirmation that characterized his apparent view of me. Over dinner a few nights after returning from the combined counseling session, I told my dad that I felt there were issues interfering with a healthy relationship between us, and I wanted to work to address them together. He paused briefly as his fork pushed some food around on his plate. Then he looked at me and said calmly, "I'm not interested in doing that."

I don't remember the rest of that evening, but I do recall that the "dead end" sign planted by my father's words catalyzed a journey of new awareness for me. Though disappointed, and not terribly surprised,  that the hoped-for, tandem effort of father-daughter transformation was not in the offing, I knew that I could undertake my side of the work without his participation. 

In short, what was required of me was to step back from what I needed and wanted from my father and to consider him as an individual. When I did that I was able to consider what I knew of his life and experiences, and his own hopes and heartbreaks.  In doing so, what I saw was a wounded man who embraced blaming others as a way to come to terms with mistakes and poor choices.  No one helped him in his formative years to develop healthy coping skills, and in spite of spending several years in therapy to deal with a divorce, he grabbed onto the idea of the tools and techniques toward healthy relationships to which he was exposed rather than actually integrate them into his being.  

When I stepped back, I saw a man limited in terms of what he could, and would, bring into his relationship with me.  Once I recognized this reality, it freed me from the expectations of who he could be to me as a father. It was a sad realization, but accepting it opened the door to enjoy my father for who he was, rather than be disappointed that he was not who I wanted him to be.  It altered our relationship, at least for me, and probably for him. It also provided for me the tool of learning to step back and take a second look at other relationships in my life. My father's refusal to engage with me at that critical period of growth opened a pathway of compassion and empathy that has made it possible to love and embrace others when their words, actions, or choices made it otherwise difficult to do so. What began as a stinging setback became, instead, a gift that has served me well in ministry, and in my own life. The depth of my gratitude for that cannot be measured.

One of the wisdoms of the world is not to take things personally. Adopting this new paradigm of relating with my father hugged the learning curve of that wisdom. What he did or did not do, said or did not say, was a reflection of him and his world, and not about me. This applies to all of us and to the ways that we interact with and react to the world. 

When my father died, others in his life spoke of him as a kind of hero. I accept, gladly, that he could be that person to them, and that his impact on the world was a positive force that helped shape lives in helpful ways. We never know the fullness of who a person is, even when we share some of the most intimate and battle-tested episodes of their lives. It is part of the joy, frustration, and mystery of life that we are given glimpses into the beauty that is another human being. The challenge to each of us is to work to believe that there is goodness and value in every person, even when the image we see reflects less than that reality. 

My father gave me this gift. It is with a deeply loving heart that I share it every day with others, with gratitude.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

beginning again

Early in the year, with a blank slate of expansive possibility ahead of me, I declared that I would blog more frequently. I haven't. 

I don't think that there is any particular reason for this, but two stand out as contenders. 1) I had fallen out of the habit. During an extended period of recovery from an assortment of difficult, awkward, and painful situations, what yearned for expression from my inner world wasn't really suitable for these pages. That isn't to say that I can't, don't, or won't do such sharing here, but the awkward part of it all just made revelations here unwise. 2) Too much of the rest of what was happening in my life might well have come across as whining. I wanted to spare those who took the time to come here and catch up any sort of litany of woes, no matter how significant. Shit happens, and it was happening at my place. 'Nuff said.

What has changed? Why return now in an effort to reconnect with that dormant writer who succumbed to the temptation to believe that she had nothing to say? Because it's time to reclaim that there is lots to say. It doesn't hurt that there is plenty of activity in my life right now that serves to turn over the earth of my being. You never know what will appear and catch the rays of life's light, causing one to pause and consider--or reconsider--a particular piece of who I am, or some signpost to where I might be headed. But even if my days were following a pattern of familiar comings and goings, the world is full of shenanigans and surprises that evoke all kinds of responses. That alone, makes being here regularly worth the effort of showing up.

So here's to showing up, and having something to say.

Thursday, April 07, 2016


I took a road trip last week. My 15-year old Akita-mix, Juliet, had a tumor on her upper gum, and a good friend is very generous to offer free vet care to my pooches when I bring them to her. So off to St. Louis we went.

When we got there Juliet was the first priority. After x-rays, consultation with a radiologist, and a dental cleaning, surgery began. Three front teeth were extracted, the tumor (which encased one of those teeth) was excised, two additional teeth that had cavities and had the potential to cause trouble down the road were extracted, and her nails received a long-overdue trim. I am grateful that Caroline lets me be present during such things. I got to lay a gentle, energy-affirming hand on Juliet's shoulder and hip while I watched and learned.

Once Juliet was awake and sufficiently alert, she got to spend the evening recovering gently while the adults shifted gears to more fun stuff. I didn't realize how badly I needed this road trip.

For dinner we visited a trendy section of St. Louis where ethnic restaurants abound, settling on Ethiopian cuisine. No silverware, just a thin, spongy bread for grabbing hold of food and getting it to your mouth. I managed not to spill a single thing! A flavorful avocado salad started my meal, and an even more delicious lamb entree filled me up. Having pulled out of the driveway shortly before 5 earlier in the day, however, I was toast. Once back at the ranch I was off to bed.

Thursday was play day. Caroline and I went riding, which was pure joy. Her dog, Wendy, ran and ran and ran through the fields with such delightful abandon while we directed the horses across open meadows and through old woods. It was such fun to watch Wendy romp, roll, splash and play. In one area an old, log cabin outbuilding hinted at the rows of forgotten daffodils that had just bloomed further in the woods. It was like listening to the whispers of a former life, and I hope my smiles of homage were felt by the spirits of those who had gone before.

After riding and a break for lunch we headed to the Missouri Botanical Garden, a favorite haunt from my days living there. Varieties of daffodils displayed themselves as either sentinels of what had already bloomed, or showy heads of the days best offering. It's a spectacular garden, well designed with pleasing walks and niches for respite. I wish we'd had more time to wander through the Japanese Garden and catch the flutter of falling petals from the blooming cherry trees.

Next stop: Ted Drewes, home of its famous frozen custard "concrete." It's a St. Louis staple, not overly sweet, and a perfect afternoon snack. Then--off to Caroline's Mom's to meet and pick up three of Caroline's nephews for an outing at a local go-cart establishment. Confession: I had never gotten behind the wheel of a go-cart. There's a first time for everything! Although I didn't win any races my performance behind the wheel was more than respectable. And let me just say that these were three very fine young men with whom I shared this adventure.

Having talked earlier about Grant's Farm, we popped a few blocks over from the racing venue when we were done to see the Budweiser Clydesdales enjoying the beautiful spring day. Of course I had to get out and take a picture! 

Our full day wasn't quite over. Back home over wine and cheese Caroline shared with me a slideshow of photos from the recent trip to New Zealand that she took with her husband, and then we enjoyed a late dinner at a local eatery. In all it was a perfect day, filled with activity outside of my usual range of offerings and opportunities, and nourishing languishing parts of my being. 

On our way out of town the next morning Juliet and I stopped to visit the daughter of my late and dear friend Kathy. It had been far too long since we had any time together, and the time flew but, as Carrie herself says, it filled my tank. Blessing. It was all blessing.

I'm not generally a fan of using a blog to write a "what I did on my day off" kind of post, and I'm sorry if this reads that way. This post was written for my own sake, for sharing a time that was uplifting, affirming, and life-giving, filled as it was with more or less ordinary activity. I am so grateful for Caroline--for her care for Juliet, for taking time out of her busy life to spend with  me, for being someone with whom I can just be--and for opportunities to dip into an experience outside my usual habitat that help remind me to revisit dormant joys and dreams. It was all good.


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