Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.

(Here is why I haven’t written much lately for this blog.  And why it may be a while before I post again.)

My younger daughter (with her husband, 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 5 month old son) has been moving from our town to the next town over, 30 minutes away, for the last 2 weeks.  Their leases overlap so everything didn’t go at once.  Maybe not a good thing for a couple who are organization-challenged and procrastination-inclined.  (She didn’t get those traits from her daddy.)

The retired man I live with has helped A LOT.  My job has been to watch and care for and amuse the children.  The toddler still takes a good nap.  That helps.  The 5-month-old is still totally nursing, will take a bottle of pumped milk and can go about an hour or 2 before Mommy-withdrawal sets in.  One day we drove to the new house to get his mom–we couldn’t settle him down.  After that, my child care and his mom stayed together.

My older daughter’s 8-month-old baby is having heart surgery on Thursday, 9/27.  Her abnormality was diagnosed the day after she was born and she has grown and developed well since then.  The surgery is necessary to guarantee a normal life as she grows into adolescence and adulthood.

We know a couple of grown women who had the surgery 30-40 years ago.  Each has lived with no restrictions ever since.  We have confidence that all will go well for the baby.  Our concern is mostly for our daughter and son-in-law.  When one of our children hurts, we hurt.

Our mantra these days is right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe. (Thank you Anne Lamott.)  We know that love and prayer and support always help.  We are surrounded by many friends who are praying.  We feel it.  And we are all grateful.

Do It Anyway

People are often unreasonable,                                                                                                                                                 illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Mother Teresa
1910-1997

[Reportedly inscribed on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta, and attributed to her. However,  an article in the New York Times has since reported (March 8, 2002) that the original version of this poem was written by Kent M. Keith.]

Published in: on March 4, 2012 at 6:31 pm  Comments (10)  
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Baby Whisperer

My first blog post, in June, 2010, a few months after my 1st granddaughter was born, was an explanation of “Amma”–

It’s my grandmothering name.

According to Mary Earle, author of The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness, “these women lived in the fourth and fifth centuries, C.E. The ammas, as they were called, help us to find ways to gently pay attention to God’s presence with us…The word means mother. It came to refer to those women who were spiritual mothers to many. Their insistence on practicing silence, solitude and stillness provides a kind of medicine for our over-heated, frenetic culture.”

That’s what I want to be for Adaline. Her Amma. I don’t think I’ll be running through parks with her or climbing jungle gyms. But I can be a quiet, restful, peaceful presence in her busy and stimulating world. I’m already good at getting her to sleep, so I think I’m on the right track.

My older daughter and I have had a tempestuous relationship over the years.  When it was good it was really good, but when it was bad, it was pretty bad.  Normal stuff, but unpredictable and inconsistent.

Last week I got to be Amma for Maggie–“a quiet, restful presence in her busy and stimulating world.”  I was able to give Stephanie several breaks (long enough to take a shower) over the three days I was in Raleigh.  Maggie was content when I held her.

Stephanie called me “the Baby Whisperer” and told me she was grateful for my presence.

I asked her to tell me again.  She laughed and repeated her sweet words.

Parenting is hard work from the 1st day.  And, if we’re lucky, it doesn’t ever really end.  The rewards and thank you’s, however,  can be rare.  (My girls did thank me a few years ago for teaching them manners.)

I was not the mother I wanted to be when my girls were small.  Almost 25 years ago, I made a tough choice to work hard to change myself and my behavior.

With God’s grace I became a better mother.  My daughters think my guidance is worth listening to.  They trust me with their daughters.  I am so grateful for their respect and love.

Now, with God’s help, I’m learning how to be Amma.  I (try to) wait until I’m asked to give advice.  I listen a lot and say, “That’s normal.”

I’m taking better care of myself–eating healthy, exercising, washing hands, getting enough sleep.  I am determined to live long enough to see my daughters parent teenage girls!

And I will pray for all of them.  (And then giggle from the sidelines.)

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 8:34 pm  Comments (7)  
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Today Is World Aids Day (Dec. 1, 2011)

There is a giant red ribbon hanging on the front porch of the White House today.

December 1 is still World AIDS Day.  There still is no cure.  People still get sick and die because of AIDS.

People are also living much longer and are taking medicines that really do help slow the progress of the disease.

The drugs that work are very expensive and state and federal programs that help pay for them are in danger of being cut.

Sometimes the side effects and the dosing schedule are so difficult and intolerable that folks stop taking the drugs.

I spend a lot of time helping out at Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.   It is a free-standing program of Triad Health Project, the local AIDS service organization.  Three days a week, every week, local churches and other groups provide lunch for 25-40 hungry clients and volunteers and the one paid staff person who tends the souls and cleans the toilets for all who come through the doors.

Higher Ground is a place of acceptance for many who have been turned away by family, churches, and friends.  Believe me when I say, God is in this place and miracles do happen here.  Like crack addicts who are able to stay clean and have their own apartments for the first time in their adult lives thanks to case managers at Triad Health Project and the support and love of peers at Higher Ground.  Or men like my friend Bill who has been HIV positive since the 1980’s.  He had a leg amputated above the knee a while back because of HIV complications and was back at “The House” a few weeks later, smiling.  Many volunteers over the years, from high school students to those of us with gray hair, have been profoundly touched by the courage and faith of the men and women who pass through Higher Ground.

Did you know all this was still happening?

Today, there is much more hope.  But AIDS is not gone.  If you can, please donate your time and/or money to a local AIDS service organization.  They still need you.

Triad Health Project’s vision statement:

We will stand together for as long as it takes until HIV/AIDS is no more, promoting enlightenment, dignity, acceptance, understanding, and love; demonstrating that we are not only enduring this epidemic, but also prevailing over it.

Still.

(This is the same post I wrote a year ago.  It’s all still true.)

Published in: on December 1, 2011 at 4:06 pm  Comments (4)  
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Children of God

 She is 91.

She is small.

She is powerful.

She is filled with God’s Spirit.

She wears bootcut jeans

with a white shirt

and a leather belt.

She comes to Higher Ground

to pray

and play the piano

for the hymns we sing.

She brings lunch

for the folks who gather

and are hungry.

Finding her center and balance,

she puts one foot in front of the other.

We hold our breath

as she goes down the steps.

She follows her walker

to the curb.

It takes a while.

Her ride waits.

A red sports car slows to a stop.

The driver must idle

as cars pass on the other side.

His tires squeal his anger

as he accelerates

past the older black sedan.

Our writing group pauses.

We lift our heads up, shocked.

She buckles her seatbelt.

Her driver takes her home.

We take a long, deep breath.

We are all just children of God

doing the best that we can.

Published in: on October 21, 2011 at 9:40 am  Comments (6)  
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So What Do You Expect?

(an excerpt from Sacred Healing by Janet Davis)

Though most of my friends and acquaintances experience me as a positive person, I’ve come to recognize that I’m really not.  I am quite the pessimist, always expecting and preparing for the worst.

Such “negative thinking” is, at least in part, simply the overuse of a positive penchant for planning.  A critical part of effectual planning is anticipating bad things and arranging life so that you can avoid those hazards.

I, however, take this to the extreme, seeking to banish all grief and pain, loss and harm from my life and the lives of those I love.  With that goal in mind, I am disproportionately aware of hazards around me.  And there are many.  Thus, the pessimism…

God wants me to expect goodness and abundance rather than evil, abandonment, and scarcity.  Even in the midst of pain and loss, to expect grace, comfort, and provision.

Now, I don’t think God is interested in the power of positive thinking as much as reshaping what I believe about the God I serve.

My negativity says that ultimately I do not trust God’s ever mindful, ever effectual love to be very loving or to be very good.

Will I ever grow up?  Will I ever learn to trust this God who has carried me every step of the way?   Will I ever begin to expect goodness and abundance?

My Trainers

I changed gyms and paid for one-on-one hours with a trainer.  I got Jodi.  She’s 25 (sigh) and kind.  She challenges me, but she listens when I describe how my body works.

I’ve written before about having rheumatoid arthritis (click on Rheumatoid Arthritis in the cloud of words down below on the right).  Life can be a challenge some days.

So can an 18-month-old granddaughter.  Someone asked me yesterday if she’s walking.  I said, “No, she runs.”  She’s not chubby anymore, but she is solid.  And sometimes squirmy.

So Jodi helps me strengthen my upper body and core.  And we do cardio stuff.  Ever try an elliptical machine?  I am awed by people who do it for a long time.  An hour?? My goal is to move beyond 5 minutes.

Humility and a sense of humor go to the gym with me.  (There’s a fine line between humor and self-denigration.)  I am grateful for all my body can do.  Jodi pushes me past stopping just because I want to.

I led a writing group at a drop-in center for people who are HIV-positive yesterday.  The prompt was a quote from an article by Nancy Copeland-Payton in Presence (the journal of Spiritual Directors International.)

It’s a roller coaster.  I didn’t buy a ticket, never wanted a ride…the illness will keep recurring and I will die of it.

Who am I…?  I’m no longer the person who used to be in control, who had energy to take care of tasks and other people.  Rather, I’m the one who needs care.  I’m the one who is vulnerable.  This is not an identity I choose.  Buried inside are losses that need to be cried out.  This is a long mourning process.

I finally let go of my control and let myself be vulnerable and cared for by others.  When I learn to receive their care with profound gratitude, I receive the greatest gift.  I realize how much I am loved.  It’s extraordinary.  This love lets me be even more vulnerable.

While we wrote I played a Kenny G CD (they like soft jazz).  As we finished, we listened to the music and rested.

I wrote a whiny page about not liking roller coasters and not wanting to be vulnerable.  They wrote and shared about God’s love and how their disease saved them from drugs and a wasted life and changed them for the better.  I didn’t want to share mine.

The last song we listened to (not planned by me) was Louis Armstrong singing “It’s A Wonderful Life”.  They sang along and smiled when it ended.

Amazing grace, again.

W W J D?

(What would Jesus do?)

“I can’t usher or help with the Lord’s Supper.  And I can’t mentor the Boy Scouts either.”

He has been an active and faithful church member for years.  He has worshiped and participated regularly and enthusiastically.  He turned to his pastor for support months ago when he was diagnosed HIV positive.  He trusted his pastor with the truth, to be held in confidence.

A member of the congregation complained to the pastor.

This pastor told my friend he could not participate in the activities and fellowship of the church.  He could worship if he sat in the back row.

My friend feels hurt and betrayed.  He still believes God loves him just as he is.  He also believes God loves his pastor.

I am humbled by my friend’s genuine desire to forgive.

I am awed by such faith.

Published in: on August 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm  Comments (10)  
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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.

Cracked Souls

I heard a man say that his HIV-positive diagnosis was a blessing.  I know a woman who says she is a grateful recovering alcoholic.

The man who is HIV positive says his diagnosis stopped him from following a path that would have killed him.  My friend in recovery says her worst day sober is better than her best day when she drank.  Both talk about the people they wouldn’t have met otherwise.  They know the meaning of self-compassion and they live healthy lives, physically, and spiritually.

Maybe that’s the common denominator–the spirituality thing.  They talk about a higher power that has kept them alive for a reason.  They share with others where they have been and where they are now.  The cracks in their souls that were caused by pain and sorrow let their light shine through.  They are wounded healers walking among us.

Some people are bitter and angry because their lives are not what they expected.  We all have hard stuff,  eventually.  Loved ones die, illnesses are diagnosed, jobs are lost, and children make dumb choices and get hurt.  It might be tornadoes or hurricanes or floods.  Relationships flounder and addictions are rampant.

We have choices.  We will feel the anger and sadness and panic and confusion that follow a crisis.  Then what?  How do we keep putting one foot in front of the other?  How do we find the strength to do the next right thing with some grace and dignity?

The man who is HIV-positive has connected with others who have that diagnosis.  My alcoholic friend has a recovery community for support and encouragement.  They have found compassion and understanding.  They have found others who can laugh at the absurdities of life.  They are not alone.