The Paper (or Cloth) Bag Story

Take your problems, all of them, from the tiniest annoyances to the most horrific, difficult challenges and put all those problems into a brown paper bag or a politically-correct cloth eco-bag.

Then imagine if everyone else took all of their problems, put them into their own bags and brought them to the center of town.

Think of how many bags there would be, all piled up in one big mountain of brown paper and brightly-colored cloth bags.

If you were told you could pick any bag of problems and take it home with you, do you think you’d want someone else’s problems?

(Story borrowed from The Faith Club, by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner)

“Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”  The Familiar can be quite comfortable.  It’s predictable, we think.  It’s known.  We’ve practiced dealing with it. We assume we know how things will turn out and we get ready.

My body and I have lived with rheumatoid arthritis for over 20 years.  Pain and discomfort vary.  My pain–physical, emotional, spiritual–is invisible if I choose to disguise it with humor or stoicism.  So is yours.

Remember PacMan?  That’s how I pictured my arthritis in the beginning.  The disease was an enemy force of scary little critters using my blood vessels as a superhighway to randomly chomp on my joints.  I hated them and the medications I was trying were losing a lot of battles against them.

Eventually, I gave up the anger and war images.  I had to make peace with those mean monsters inside me.  If I could be compassionate and forgiving, they might be gentler.  So I prayed for willingness.

Today we are next-door neighbors inside my body, the critters and my Spirit.  Sometimes they are noisy and intrusive, but I can shut my windows and ignore the doorbell.  They are familiar and they could be worse.  I accept them as they are and I deal with them one day at a time.

I know how to do “hard”.  I’ve had practice.  We all have.  I know I can probably handle most any problem that pops up next.

If I could pick one bag from the pile, would I pick my own again?  I’m not sure.

Rhinestones on Rubber

Adaline’s mother asked us to shoe-shop while we babysat on Friday.  I think shoes hinder walking for beginners.  Grandpa was excited. Grandpa likes to shop.

Before shopping, Adaline (and Grandpa) napped, she devoured a carton of peach/squash YoBaby yogurt (Grandpa had coffee), and we changed her diaper. We remembered the diaper bag and brought the pink and white cart cover (see what that is here). We headed off to WendoverWorld, the area with every chain store imaginable.

Old Navy, Target, Kohl’s or Babies-R-Us?

We picked Kohl’s.  I pushed the stroller up and down the aisles while Grandpa wandered. We found him in the cramped shoe department in the back corner.  One pair in her size were not pink. They were clunky, purple-flowered, non-prissy sandals perfect for hiking mountains and fording streams (think Teva or Keen).  We saw dark pink maryjanes with a white flower on the toe and white sneakers with a big pink Nike swoosh on the side (Just Do It?).  Where were the little red Keds?  Grandpa wanted to buy black and white and pink (fake) Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars with rhinestones on the rubber toe-bumper.

Obsession with everything pink and princess is the focus of Peggy Orenstein’s new book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  (One of the best book titles ever!).  Halfway through the book, I decided to boycott pink.  (Click here for more about why.)

I shop in the boys’ department to find non-pink or non-lavender or non-pastel.  I found a pair of army-green cargo pants made out of sweatshirt material at Walmart.  Not so flattering (short legs and a rather bulky butt), but you know they’re comfortable.

Adaline’s mother loved to dig in the dirt and splash in mud puddles when she was little.  She is a zookeeper and is in many kinds of dirt all day.  She understands the value of exploration and that a bath fixes many a mess.  She was a bit irritated the first time she picked up Adaline with dirt under her fingernails.  We suggested cutting them.

Frilly dresses and rhinestones (won’t she pull them off and eat them?) have a place.  They make for some precious pictures, after all.  Jeans and t-shirts and little red Keds make more sense for exploring Grandpa’s backyard.  (Where can I buy little red Keds?)

We bought the pink maryjanes with a big white flower on the toes and the clunky purple sandals that she’ll probably never be able to walk in.

Those rhinestone-studded Chuck Taylors were really cute…

The True Story Of Rudolph

(I really hope this is a true story.  Thank you, Sam.)

A man named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night.

His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing. Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer.  Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?” Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob.

Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in. Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums. Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938.

Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – a storybook! Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn’t end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on to print  Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.

In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter. But the story doesn’t end there either.

Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.  “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.”

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn’t so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.

Bicycle Built for Two

(an excerpt from How Can I Let Go if I Don’t Know I’m Holding On? by Linda Douty)

At first I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die.  God was out there sort of like the President.  I recognized the picture, but I didn’t really know God.

But later on, it seemed as though life was rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed God was in the back helping me pedal.

I don’t know just when it was that God suggested we trade places, but life has not been the same since.  It’s much more exciting.

When I had control, I knew the way.  It was rather boring, but predictable.  It was the shortest distance between two points.

But when God took the lead, God knew delightful long cuts, up mountains, and through rocky places and at breakneck speeds; it was all I could do to hang on.  Even though it looked like madness, God said, “Pedal”.

I worried and was anxious and asked, “Where are you taking me?”  God laughed and didn’t answer, but I started to trust.

I forgot my boring life and entered into the new adventure.  And when I’d say, “I’m scared”, God would reach back and touch my hand.

God took me to people with gifts that I needed, gifts of healing, acceptance and joy.  They gave me their gifts to take on my journey…my journey with God.

And we were off again.  God said, “Give the gifts away; they’re extra baggage…too much weight.”  So I did—to the people we met.  And I found that in giving I received, and still our burden was light.

I did not trust God at first, in control of my life.  I thought we would wreck.  But God knows “bike secrets”—how to make it bend to take sharp corners, jump to clear rocks, fly to shorten scary passages.

And I am learning to be quiet and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my constant companion, the Spirit of God.

And when I’m sure I just can’t do any more, God just smiles and says, “Pedal”.

Published in: on September 14, 2010 at 8:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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I was bad last night.  This morning I was hung over.  And it’s Paul Newman’s fault.

I didn’t drink any alcohol or do any drugs.  Thank God.  It was cookies.  Newman-0’s, like Oreos, but made with organic flour and organic sugar.  I really don’t know how many I ate (bad sign, huh?), but I do remember at one point thinking I had crossed the line between eating and bingeing.  I didn’t stop until they were all gone.  (Mike ate some.)

I didn’t feel good when I went to bed.  I was afraid the chocolate would keep me from falling asleep.  And I forgot (!?!) what sugar can do to me.

My body and I live with rheumatoid arthritis.  The disease causes inflammation in my joints.  Inflammation causes pain.  Sugar increases inflammation. And so increases pain in my body.  Which I remembered when I got out of bed this morning.

Sugar hangover.  Will I never learn?

I’ve read books and articles about the mind/body/spirit connection.  I’ve even read a book about chronic illness as a spiritual practice.  I know my attitude and behavior influence how my body feels.  I resisted the sugar/inflammation/pain idea for a long time, but it’s true.

Here’s what else I know is true, for me:

1.  My body is the container of my soul.  I am an embodied Spirit.

2.  My body deserves reverence, respect, and gratitude.

3.  Exercise can be a spiritual practice.

4.  Nourishing my body with healthy food feeds my soul.

5.  Living in my body is a spiritual practice that teaches me patience and acceptance.   I’ve learned how to feel anger, how to love imperfection, how to grieve.  I now understand joy and awe.

6.  I am a child of God.  I was made in God’s image.

7.  My body and soul deserve fresh, local peaches and Goat Lady Dairy cheese, not cookies.  Not even organic ones with Paul Newman’s picture (those eyes!) on the package.

Pray Naked

It is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body.  “Here I am.  This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped.  I live here.  This is my soul’s address.”

I’m reading the book An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Each chapter discusses a spiritual practice for daily life.  Most are not as challenging as praying naked.

Like so many women, I have struggled since adolescence  with my feelings about my body.  Several years ago I realized my mother was probably anorexic most of my life.  She is the source of my continuing angst about my rear end.  I was awed by my body when I was pregnant and nursing.  I felt betrayed by my body when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 35.  While my body has given me pain over the years, it has also given me lots of learning opportunities.  I know now where my daughter’s dogged determination and persistence may come from.  And no wonder my daughters are driven to be independent and self-sufficient.

Dogged determination has gotten me through numerous surgeries and frustrations.  My need to be self-sufficient has made it hard for me to ask for help easily.  I don’t want to share my vulnerabilities.  And I really don’t like that my hands and feet look weird and that I don’t always walk smoothly.  I don’t want my disease to show.  I want to control who knows and who helps and, God forbid, who might feel sorry for me.

My body is my soul’s address?  God thinks my soul can handle challenges, I guess.  I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without rheumatoid arthritis.  Once in a while, I’m even grateful for the gifts of compassion and acceptance that I can share.  More often it is simply hard work–emotionally, physically, and spiritually–to be okay with my physical self.  I get tired sometimes.

So, pray naked?  I haven’t tried that yet.  But the idea has been stuck in my mind for days.  That usually means my Higher Power is nudging me toward something I don’t really want to do.  Which I will eventually do because it’s the next right thing.

How about if you go first and let me know how it was for you?