Angry Conversations with God:

A Snarky But Authentic Spiritual Memoir

Got your attention, huh?  Susan E. Isaacs wrote the book with that title. I had to explore her story so I got it from the library.

Summer reading lists appear everywhere this time of year. Oprah’s magazine, the newspaper, Parade (that slick section of the Sunday paper that hides in with the ads and comics), blogs I read online. The NPR website must have a list–I haven’t looked.

I don’t buy books much anymore. Partly because the retired man I live with and I have a fixed income these days instead of a refillable well of money.  Partly because I have so many books already that some live in a big Rubbermaid bin in the corner of my office behind the open door. They call to be released from their box every time I notice the blue bin in the corner.  Not so good feng shui for creativity.

I’ve rediscovered the library.  When a book on a list looks interesting, I add it to the Books list on the Notes app on my phone.  (Just writing that cracks me up.) Or I go to my computer and add it to my Wishlist on the Greensboro Public Library website.  Isn’t the internet great? I never remember what the books are about later so I just randomly pick one when I request a specific book be sent to the branch closest to me.  At least I don’t waste money on so-so books.

These days I allow myself not to finish a book that doesn’t interest or entertain me.  I couldn’t do that when I was younger.  (Why?) Now I figure I don’t have the time to waste.  I feel bad for the writer, even though I’m the only one who knows I didn’t finish.  Some books I slam shut astonished that some publisher gave the author a contract.

I’m almost halfway through Angry Conversations With God.  Susan E. Isaacs takes God to couples counseling with an ex-pastor therapist.  The book includes dialogue with God, Jesus, herself and the ex-pastor therapist.  The book is witty, a tad irreverent and funny.  It’s also thought-provoking. And as goofy as it sounds.

Isaacs is an actress/comedian, and participates in improv performances. She has plenty of reasons to be mad at God. She works on her relationship with God through role play.  I can’t decide if it’s just too cute.  I keep reading so I think it has something for me to ponder.

How is my relationship with God?

“What do you do for fun?” every counselor, therapist, minister, friend asks.  The question nags at me every time someone asks.

What do God and I do for fun?

I need to ponder that some more.

What do you and God do for fun?

(to be continued…)

Published in: on May 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm  Comments (7)  
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I Better Live a Long Time

I must possess at least 6-7 books about how to be organized.  If I ever purge, sort and organize my books into  categories, I’ll know for sure and be able to list the titles and authors.  Hasn’t happened yet.

I worked on my office this afternoon.  I emptied two big baskets (left from another attempt to organize) full of books and magazines and paper.  Don’t use baskets.  As my organizer-friend, Beth, pointed out one time, out of sight is out of mind.  But it’s still there.

I sorted and purged and filed.  I re-shelved books.  And I didn’t move from those baskets to sorting and purging my books.  I controlled my low-grade ADD.

In one of the baskets, I found this book:  Organizing From the Inside Out: The Foolproff System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern.  She had me at the title.  I flipped through it.  Page corners are turned down.  That means I was reading without a pen to underline with, probably in bed.  A bookmark stuck out of the middle–I guess I never finished studying it.

Believe me when I tell you, I already KNOW this stuff.  All the books come down to the same thing:

Get rid of the majority of my shit.

Find a place for things I love.

Don’t buy anything new unless I give something away.

Put my shit away in its designated place (labeled?) every day.

I get it.

And I also get that it feels good to see my cleaned out corner off to my right and all the paper in my recycling trashcan.  I stacked paper that was only printed on one side on top of my (broken) printer  to use for printing rough drafts.

The problem is what’s left.  I start an organizing project well.  I control my need to do the whole room straight through until it’s done.  I don’t have the desire or the stamina to work that hard anymore. anyway.

Today fear kicked me into gear.  Did those baskets hold something important that I should have taken care of weeks ago?  The paper breathed on me every time i sat down at my desk.  I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t work on a project for church.

Now, my desk is clear.  For me anyway.  The (very) few papers that need attention are in a nice wooden inbox behind my laptop.  So I know they are there, but they’re not breathing so loud anymore.  And I am writing.

I feel good.

The retired man I live with came upstairs,  looked around the room, and said “Doesn’t look any better to me.”

Did I ask?

I think I’ll have a Hershey’s kiss and go down to the basement where piles of laundry wait patiently.  You know, if got rid of some of my clothes, I wouldn’t be able to ignore laundry for so long because I would run out of clothes.  Instead I wear all the stuff I don’t love and then have to wash them before I can get rid of them.

I’ll never be finished.  I’m afraid that when I die my poor daughters will be left to deal with my clutter.  Because I’m damn sure not putting this house on the market and moving.

In July, 2010, I wrote a blog post titled “I’m Workin’ On It”  about my friend’s idea to make buttons for all of us to flash when questioned by others about progress on tasks.  In bright letters big enough to see easily my button would say “I’m workin’ on it.”

So, dear daughters–

I’m workin’ on it. Pray I live a long time.

Published in: on March 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm  Comments (11)  
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A Rabbi, A Sheikh, and A Pastor…

…waited for the room to fill.  They had a story to tell.

Don Mackenzie, Jamal Rahman, and Ted Falcon were leading a break-out session at the 2010 Spiritual Directors International Conference in Atlanta based on their book, Getting to the Heart of Interfaith: The Eye-Opening, Hope-Filled Friendship of a Pastor, a Rabbi & a SheikhThese three men came together in their community after 9/11.  First they got to know each other;  then they  included others in their interfaith discussions.

I could have listened to them all day.  Their well-practiced “act” was informative and funny.  They laughed at each others’ jokes and listened carefully to each other as they taught. The speakers described their faiths, emphasizing how each incorporates compassion (the theme of the conference).

The Book of Mormon Girl  filled my morning reading time last week.  Joanna Brooks, the author, is a Mormon mom who supports a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage, not the usual Mormon positions.  Her book describes her childhood as a Mormon in Southern California and the evolution of her faith as she matured.

Julie Peeples, my pastor, suggested  Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong.  These Twelve Steps include:  (3) Compassion for Yourself, (4) Empathy, (5) Mindfulness, (8) How Should We Speak to One Another?, (11) Recognition, (12) Love Your Enemies.  Armstrong never says the Steps are easy, just necessary.

I watched the Republican convention and the Democratic convention is on as I write.  I know who I will vote for in November and why.  As a lifelong learner, I enjoy listening to and reading about others’ values and beliefs, even when I strongly disagree.

We are all children of God doing the best we can.  We may worship differently (or not at all).  We may take different stands on issues.  We must all live together on this planet and in this nation.

Everyone has a story to tell.  Listening leads us to our commonalities rather than the contentious issues.

Please, listen to each other, respect each other, get to know each other.  We can and should let go of the anger.

Children are watching and listening.

Published in: on September 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm  Comments (6)  
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Computer Down!

My laptop got sick.  I took it to the computer-fixers.  It lived with them for almost a week.  I missed my friend, my buddy.

I know now how much I look at Facebook (embarrassing) and how often I go to Google to look something up.  It’s kind of like forgetting your watch if you always wear a watch–you learn how many times you look at your wrist.

What a marvelous excuse for not writing anything for my blog or my writing group.  I couldn’t write on Mike’s laptop or iPad.  It felt wrong to my hands.  I needed my own computer.

I did read a lot.  The Greensboro News and Record, O Magazine, Time magazine, and a parenting book called Love and Logic.

I always read at least part of any childcare book I might give my daughters.  If I don’t like what it has to say why would I give it to them?

A young friend recommended Love and Logic along with The Happiest Toddler on the Block.  Love and Logic passed my tests.  I’ll let you know about the one with the dopey title.

The retired man I live with bought this laptop for me a few years ago.  Rheumatoid arthritis chewed up the joints in my hands and wrists enough that I can’t lift or hold much weight at all.  I love it.  It’s very thin and light, I can carry it around and it fits in the Vera Bradley backpack purse.  My hands and it know how to work together.

When it started to run slooowly, I took it to IT Worx. On Friday the 13th.

It needed a new hard drive.  We had an Apple Care warranty good until July 17.  The little dent on the side negated the warranty.  No kidding.  (I dropped it.  More than once.)

Now you know why I don’t pick up babies after about 10 pounds.  They dent. They have no warranty.

I’m sure I’d lose my Amma privileges if I dropped one of them.

Time Out

Adaline is learning about Time Out.  She is 2 1/4 years old with a 6-week-old baby brother.  It took a few weeks for her to start acting out.  Normal temper tantrums now erupt and she throws stuff.  (Directed at her mom and dad, not Atticus, thankfully.)

They consulted Dr. Sears’s Discipline Book.  (Yes, that’s the guy in the Time magazine article.) In our family, we solve problems with information.  Knowledge=Control, you know.

Dr. Sears suggests one minute of Time Out per year of age.  At first, her parents felt so bad about punishing her that they hugged and babied her after the Time Out.  I gently suggested the Time Out might not work well that way, since in the end, Adaline got the attention she was looking for, sightly delayed.  It’s all going better now, I hear.

I’ve spent the last week recovering…slowly…from pneumonia.  Dr. Green told me to stay away from my grandchildren.

Dr. Green put me in Time Out.  Or maybe God did.

“You’d feel awful if you got one of them sick, you know,”  say my daughters and my friends.

I know they’re right, but I’m in withdrawal!

Dr Green told me today that people our age (what??) can take a month to get our energy back after pneumonia.  Great.

My daughters consulted and asked me to please slow down because they need me.  Odd to be on the other side of care-taking.

I feel mortal today.  Angry and disappointed with my body, once again.  My vulnerability shocks me.

It is clear to me that I must stop “doing”.  So I am taking these days of healing to assess how I balance my commitments and my energy.

I have a book called The Extreme Art of Self-CareIt is time to practice what I preach.

I want to my limited energy to matter.

Change is next on my agenda.  Damn it.

My Friends, Anne Lamott and Bonnie Raitt

When I first heard that Anne Lamott (my favorite author) wrote a new book about being a grandmother (Some Assembly Required), I got excited like a five-year-old on sugar on December 23.

I bought the book, but waited a few days to read it.  It was dark chocolate with toffee bits waiting in the chair in my room.  I prolonged the anticipation.  I wanted to slowly and lovingly savor and devour it.

As I read, I underlined the good parts with a turquoise-ink pen.  (I think Anne would like that.)  There’s a lot of turquoise underlining in my book.

I know Anne and I are good friends because we think each other’s thoughts and then put them in words for others to read.

Bonnie Raitt has a new CD (Slipstream) out, her first in 7 years.  She is my other imaginary friend.

In my imagination we are buddies chatting at a sidewalk cafe on top of a hill near San Francisco with a view of the water.  Wine and coffee are not good for any of us anymore, so we drink tea.  We do eat, each of us, a decadent pastry.

All three of us–Anne and Bonnie and me–with our crazy hair, are having the best time laughing and telling stories.

Want to come with me?

link to Bonnie Raitt:  www.bonnieraitt.com

link to Anne Lamott:  CNN interview

Published in: on April 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm  Comments (14)  
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Gray is Gray

Remember burnt sienna?  That’s always the first color I think of when I see a tiered box of 64 Crayola Crayons.  I don’t know why.

The Crayola box of 64 is 50 years old.  If you click here you can go to an interactive quiz of all the color names.  It’s really fun.

An open box of 64 sits in front of me as I write.  I started to take it downstairs the other day for Adaline.  Then I remembered her mother’s warning:  “Buy washable crayons, Mom.”  She probably learned that lesson the hard way.

Does Crayola still include a burnt sienna crayon?  I pulled out all the brownish crayons to read the names–

sepia

brown (not kidding)

tan

chestnut

brick red

bittersweet (huh?)

raw sienna (?)

burnt sienna!

“Sienna is a natural earth containing ferrous oxide that is used as a yellowish-brown pigment when untreated (raw sienna) or a reddish-brown pigment when roasted (burnt sienna)”,  according to dictionary.com.  Didn’t you always wonder?

Do you find it sad that brown is “brown” and gray is “gray” in my box of 64?  Remember “magenta”?  It’s in the red family.  So are “wild strawberry” and “red”.  I found a “violet red” and a “red violet”.  They are not the same color.

The name on each crayon, not capitalized, is listed in English, Spanish, and French.  They didn’t have that when I was a kid.

On the other hand (it’s a pun–you’ll see)…

Suzi Weiss-Fischman, OPI [nail polish]Executive VP & Artistic Director explains that her recent cross country road trip inspired these destination shades. Colors feature clever names inspired by some of her favorite stops like A-taupe the Space Needle, a rich chocolately brown and French Quarter for your Thoughts, a soft grey hue.  Others reference what it feels like to be on the road like Get in the Espresso Lane with its dark brown color, and Are We There Yet?, a cheerful melon.

I love America.

I use crayons and markers and Model Magic (new-age clay) when I lead retreats.  For adults.

I always include at least an hour of silent free time.  Sometimes I use mandalas (a circular meditation/prayer tool) to make coloring a bit more sophisticated.  I have a book called Praying in Color.  It really makes coloring seem important.

Adults like to color.  Even men, I’ve learned.  I wonder if anyone ever colors on their own after the retreat.

Why is it so hard to give ourselves permission to play?

Published in: on October 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm  Comments (6)  
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Closet Radical

My first date with my husband was a protest march in 1972.  I was against the war in Vietnam, but I mostly remember sitting on his lap in the back seat of Gary Ulicny’s VW bug.

When my girls were little, I was a group leader in La Leche League, a breastfeeding support group.  We advocated for what is now called “attachment parenting” and wondered whether stay-at-home moms could be feminists.  We felt pretty radical at the time, with our Snuglis and our homemade baby food.

In 1995, I was part of the “Mothers’ Bar Brigade”, sponsored by the local AIDS Service Agency.  We took baskets of condoms in multi-colored wrappers into the bars of Greensboro the night before Mother’s Day. We went to gay bars and we went to another bar that had so many strobe lights I went temporarily blind. It was way past my bedtime.

At one bar,  I handed one of my colorful condoms to my daughter’s friend and said, “Your mother would want you to use this.”  I’m sure I ruined his evening.  The next morning, Mother’s Day, a reporter who had followed us around for a while quoted me in the newspaper.  Monday, I think my kids bragged about their cool mom.

I’m reading a book called Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media Are Revolutionizing Politics in America (why do books have such long titles these days?).  In 2010, more than 2000 people, mostly women, attended a BlogHer convention in NYC.  That is too many women to ignore.  The more I learn about the world of blogging—“The Blogosphere”—the more I feel kind of radical again.  I want to go to a BlogHer convention.

I started this blog so my grandchildren would know me.  Of course I hope to influence their values and beliefs.  And maybe make them laugh.

I hope they’re proud of me.  And I hope they’re a bit radical, too.

Published in: on September 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm  Comments (8)  
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Changed for the Better

(My friend, Lisa, asked for guest posts on her Cheap Therapy blog.  The prompt was “My life was changed for the better by…”  This is my response.)

God changed my life for the better.

I first got to know him (her?) personally at 12 Step meetings.  He likes the energy in those rooms where people who know him teach me how to live honestly and bravely.

Our 1st next-door neighbors talked me into trying Congregational United Church of Christ.  One of the first sermons I heard (from a woman minister!) included quotes from Anne Lamott’s Traveling MerciesI bought it the next day.  I wanted to know more from Pastor Julie at the UCC church.

I left a job I loved at Hospice in September, 2000.  I joined a Servant Leadership covenant group committed to exploring “call” together for 20 weeks.   I floundered.  I listened.  I prayed.

I listed my strengths and gifts.  I am a good listener.  That’s like saying “Bless her heart, she has such a sweet personality.”   Counseling?  That requires graduate school and I really didn’t want to take that GRE test or even go back to school.  One of my kids asked if I wanted to sit in a little room and listen to unhappy, screwed-up people all day.

Julie listened patiently to my confusion and frustration while we ate lunch at the old Southern Lights.  “What about spiritual direction?” she asked.  “What is it?” I said.  I don’t remember her answer.  I do remember the hair on my arms stood up and tingled.  Really.

“Check out Shalem,” she said.  I found them on the internet (here’s the link) and applied for the Spiritual Guidance Program a couple of months later.

At the 1st 10-day residential session, I met Barb, another female UCC minister.  She was funny and irreverent (she even said bad words) and deeply spiritual.  I had a friend and a role model.  I’m pretty sure God spoke through her, too.

I believe we are surrounded and supported always by a loving Higher Power.  He (?) sounds a lot like Julie and Barb and Mark and Lisa and Susan and Mike and Audra and so many others.

I help people tell and interpret their sacred stories.  We each have one.

“And what do you do?” someone kindly asks.  I groan and then God and I laugh.

“Always do your best,” they said.

I read this chapter-title in a book this morning:

Perfectionism–>Procrastination–>Paralysis

I ate lunch downtown with a friend today. When I got home, I moved my laptop to my office to write.  I spent the next hour checking email, catching up on the other blogs I read, and trying to figure out if I’ve already written about procrastination.  I don’t think so.

I have lists of things I want to do. Where and how to start is the easy part. At least 7 “How To Organize” books sit in random bookcases in my house.  I’ve read them all.  I even have one called Making Room for God, Clearing Out the Clutter.  It lives in the pile of books beside my bed, I think.

I know about purging and sorting and donating and “when did you last wear/use this?”.  I pulled clothes off hangers and out of drawers.    Should I take them to Goodwill, Salvation Army, the Disabled Vietnam Vets’ thrift store or the halfway house for moms with addictions?  What’s the best thing to do?  They’re still on the floor of a closet in my bedroom.

Perfectionism–>Procrastination–>Paralysis

I explored The Container Store in Raleigh for the 1st time in April.  Oh. My. Goodness.  I drooled over the elfa (“Everything Can Be Organized”) Storage System.  It can be custom-designed for closets, pantries, drawers, and offices.  I bought a few (cheap, not elfa) boxes and containers for my office shelves and drawers.  What’s the best way to use them?  Some (not all) are still in the bag behind the closet door.

Perfectionism–>Procrastination–>Paralysis

My husband has very little patience with people who put things off.  That’s not his way.  One way he deals with stress is to reorganize the garage.  He used to do the same thing to his office.  He retired 2 years ago.

Now it’s my kitchen.  I organized my kitchen 20 years ago.  Cooking tools always lived in the same place and I didn’t have to think much to cook.  Now, like a stupid cartoon, we fight over where my casseroles and pot lids are and whether I ever actually use loaf pans (“I might”, I say.)  Random items completely vanish.  I am not in control.

I’m really afraid he will go to my office next.